The death of Lt. Alson Dilley

Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, June 27, 1864

For three weeks in June it rained. Army wagons slushed through mud. The assault on Kennesaw Mountain took place on June 27, 1864, but according to Gen. Cox, Sherman had been trying to flank Gen. Joseph Johnston’s Confederate Army for weeks. By June 18, the Confederates retreated from their entrenchments behind Mud Creek to Noyer’s Creek and held the rocky crest of Kennesaw Mountain. On June 22, Gen. Schofield joined his advance men who held the bridge over Sandtown Creek. Schofield encountered a ferocious attack by Gen. John Bell Hood, so it was decided that flanking was not the way. All this movement was slow with fierce fighting causing many casualties. Gen. Cox and Sgt. Ralsa Rice of 125th Ohio Volunteer Infantry agreed that Sherman was under pressure to advance. This criticism caused Sherman to search for a weak spot.

Alsa Rice wrote about the 125th OVI. He had joined the 2nd Ohio Volunteer Cavalry at the beginning of the war, leaving behind in Greene, a wife and two infant children. Given a medical discharge for bronchitis he returned home, however when he recovered he joined the 125th OVI. After the war, he was a gunsmith in Warren, served as county auditor through 1883, joined the Bell-Harmon Post 36, Grand Army of the Republic, then was president of the Association of 125th OVI.

He writes that the 125th OVI was ordered to lead the charge on June 27. At 3 a.m., they were awakened to eat breakfast and fall in line to be ready before sunrise. As soon as the sun dispelled the fog, the confederates fired on them. Col. Opdycke was division officer of the day and in charge of the skirmish line across the division. Rice was selected to choose a man to guard the gear left behind, he chose the oldest man present, as all the younger men had determined looks. When the bugle sounded they had to run for about 200 yards across an opened field, to a tree line and a rail fence. Their dash surprised the Johnnies so much that they all surrendered. Then the prisoners were sent to the Union line because the confederates were shooting at all. Orders came to halt for the next move would be up a steep incline. The next confederate entrenchments were not rail fences but an abatis, which is constructed from long logs holding sharpened stakes driven through holes. A strong protective shield from which to shoot. Three soldiers loaded and handed weapons to Rice, who fired at the confederate lines until he was struck on top of the head, he lay long enough to be counted dead in a Cleveland newspaper. He attributed his survival to his new army hat.

At this point, Gen. Charles Harker, educated at West Point, rallied the men to follow. Harker on horseback was mortally shot, his adjutant was also wounded. Paces away from the confederate lines, Lt. Alson Dilley was shot as well as Lt. Thomas Burnham, both leading Co.I. The firing had been so rapid, vegetation caught fire, prompting men on both sides to rescue wounded. Sgt. Rice stayed in position until ordered to fall back at 11 a.m. Rice noted that they had begun the charge with 260 men, 58 men were killed or wounded.

Days after the battle the Dilley Family in Howland received word of Alson’s death.

Alson Dilley was the sixth child of Patrick Dilley and Lydia Collins Dilley. Born about May 21, 1840, his mother died Feb. 3, 1842 when Alson was not yet 2 years old. His father Patrick married Hannah Broun in August 1843. Alson’s brother Lewis Sieley Dilley was also a lieutenant then captain in the 103rd OVI, he died in 1868. Alson’s cousin, John Dilley, born in Bazetta, joined the 6th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry and was sheriff of Trumbull County from 1894 to 1898.

According to the 1850 Annual Report of the Board of Agriculture of Ohio, Patrick breed full-blood Durham cattle, he won second best premium, $2.50 for Durham bull and third best premium for bull calves, at the Trumbull County Fair. Alson’s father lived until 1877 so he received the notification of death and Alson’s belongings from Capt. Edward P. Bates, who was from Hartford. Alson was 5 feet, 6 inches, fair complexion, blue eyes, black hair and his occupation was listed as farmer. He died as a result of a gunshot wound to the head. His uniform, gloves and sword belt was on the list of items returned. Other items were a Pocket book, memorandum book, Casey’s tactics, one Bible, a photograph, two toothbrushes, a pocket knife, a watch and chain, a compass and haversack. This inventory list was dated Sept. 13, 1864 and signed by Capt. Edward Bates.

The Western Reserve Chronicle published a letter Aug. 3, 1864 from one of the men of the 125th OVI who wrote letters using the name Ceylon. This letter described the fighting of June 27, saying, “Every man who attempted to scale the rebel works was either killed or wounded. Our own brave Lt. Dilley fell in advance of his company within three rods of the enemy’s works, shot through the head. I can find no more appropriate place than this to speak of his noble qualities. Brave to a fault, he seemed to fear no danger; generous and kind on all occasions and under all circumstances, none knew but to love him he will be welcomed to a seat near the eternal throne.”

Several men wrote anonymous letters to papers but Ceylon has been identified. He is Lt. Ridgley Ceylon Powers, a descendant of Mayflower pilgrims, born Christmas eve, 1836 in Mecca, Trumbull County. He attended Western Reserve Seminary and the University of Michigan, graduating from Union College, N.Y., with honors in June, 1862. Col. Opdycke regarded Powers as a warm friend and confidant. Spring of 1863, Powers was promoted to first lieutenant and in March he was the regiment’s adjutant. After he mustered out in June 1865 he received the ranks of brevet major and lieutenant colonel. In 1869, he was elected lieutenant governor of Mississippi then became Mississippi’s 27th governor.

Col. Opdycke mentioned Dilley in a letter to his wife saying that he could not speak too highly of this gallant young officer who fell dead a few paces from the rebel works. In a July 1, 1864 letter he mentions that the 28th of June was hot, sultry and quiet, the 29th pleasant. A short truce was called and they identified Lt. Dilley along with others and buried them all, adding in the same sentence that the havoc of war is truly awful.

May 25, 1864, the following was in the Western Reserve Chronicle along with Alson’s letters.

Mrs. H.A.B. sent this, she was the wife of Henry A. Bell of Co. C.

“Eds. Chronicle: I am aware how anxiously those at home await news from absent ones in the army, and therefore, I send you the following passages from recent letters received from Lieut. A. C. Dilley, Company C, 125th OVI. And yet what is it to receive news from a dear soldier, but the waking of a deeper desire to hear again; the opening wider of the lips of prayer for the imperiled one! We must all bear hearts schooled to hear the worst tidings, for to many of us how soon must such tidings come.” Mrs. H.A.B.

Source: Yankee Tigers II, Civil War Field Correspondence from the Tiger Regiment of Ohio. Ed. By Richard A. Baumgartner, Blue Acorn Press, Huntington, West Virginia, 2004

Yankee Tigers, Through the Civil War with the 125th Ohio, Ralsa Rice, Ed. By Richard A. Baumgartner & Larry M. Strayer, Blue Acorn Press, 1992.

Compiled by members of the CW150 Committee of Warren’s Sutliff Museum.