Local boys are heading for Atlanta

During this week in the Civil War 150 years ago, hundreds of Trumbull County boys in many units were emerging from winter quarters and starting advances from several directions to join up with combined forces under General William Tecumseh Sherman to wage the important Atlanta Campaign. Not the least of those units representing Trumbull was the 125th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, known as ”The Yankee” or ”Ohio” or ”Opdycke’s Tigers.”

In a letter to his wife, Lucy, dated April 16, 1864, Col. Emerson Opdycke of Warren, commander of the 125th, wrote ”We are ordered ready to march by Monday (April 18, 1864). Some new troops from Indiana (not identified) are to relieve us. We expect to go to Cleveland (Tennessee) to be ready for the opening of an offensive campaign.”

Indeed, the 125th left its winter quarters in Louden, Tenn., marching southwest toward Cleveland, Tenn. In another letter to Lucy, dated April 19th, Opdycke wrote: ”We broke up winter quarters on Monday and marched out of our delightful barracks at 8 1/4 A.M. The ‘Tigers’ in the lead, with their fine, martial band. The regiment never made so imposing an appearance except in battle. I am proud of it. The day was fine, the roads good, and all were in the best of spirits. By 1 P.M. we had made thirteen miles and camped at Sweet Water. Resumed march at 7 this morning and made fourteen miles by noon, when we camped again and are not to move again until 6 in the morning, all well.”

Two days later the 125th passed through Cleveland, Tenn., at noon and camped on pleasant ground. Opdycke said: ”We expect to remain here for a few weeks.” It turned out that their time there did not even exceed three weeks.

In his April 16, 1864, letter to Lucy, Opdycke wrote ” … we hope not to have much fighting until near Atlanta. It will be weeks before we get there, so you will please to feel at ease about me. We are in God’s hands and ‘He doeth all things well.”

Opdyke’s prediction about little fighting until reaching Atlanta turned out to be far from reality. Before it reached the Atlanta city limits the 125th fought in 10 major engagements, starting with the Battle of Rocky Face Ridge, which started on May 7 and lasted until May 13, 1864. He was correct, however, that it would consume several weeks to get to Atlanta. John Bell Hood, commander of the Confederate forces and successor to the popular General Joseph E. Johnston, did not surrender the city until Sept. 1.

The 125th was not the only unit with significant Trumbull representation that participated in the Atlanta Campaign. I would be remiss not to mention the 7th, 26th, 19th, 171st, 29th, and 105th OVIs and the 14th and 15th Light Artilleries.

The Battle of Plymouth, North Carolina

Another event occurred during this week that gets scant attention in the history books, but does have military significance for the Confederate side of the war. It has been cited by some scholars as the ”most effective Confederate combined-arms operation of the Civil War.” The Battle of Plymouth (North Carolina) featured the land forces of Confederate General Robert F. Hoke’s Division and the naval support of the Confederate ironclads Albemarle and Neuse.

General Hoke began the operation on April 17, 1864, by advancing with 10,000 men on the Plymouth garrison, defended by 3,000 well-entrenched Union troops. The latter did not give up easily. On April 19th the newly-commissioned, Confederate ram CSS Albemarle appeared on the Roanoke River, sinking the USS Southfield, damaging the USS Miami and driving off the other Union ships defending the Plymouth garrison.

On the 20th, General Hoke got naval artillery support that ultimately forced the stubborn Union commander of the Plymouth garrison, General Henry Wessells, to surrender. The victory opened Washington County back to the Confederacy, and much-needed naval stores were made available to the army once again. In addition, the Roanoke River was freed from Union blockaders, allowing for a trade and military transportation route for Confederate forces.