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United States. Army. Ohio Infantry Regiment, 21st - MS 562

Includes papers from the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, the 86th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and Arnold McMahan

Introduction | Agency History | Biographical Sketch | Scope and Content
Series Description: MS 562: Introduction | 86th O.V.I. Records | Arnold McMahan Papers
Abstracts: Part 1 (McMahan Correspondence) | Part 2 (Box 12) | Part 3 (Box 13) | Inventory | Transcript List


The William J. Sullivan Collection/21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry Records consist of approximately 10 linear feet of morning reports, muster rolls, battle reports, equipment and ordnance lists, orders, correspondence, and miscellaneous loose papers of the 21st Regiment O.V.I., dating from 1861 through 1865. The collection also includes postwar correspondence from 1866 to 1891 of Arnold McMahan, Colonel of the Regiment, primarily relating to the Battle of Chickamauga.

The collection, which was received in the original Adjutant's field desk, had been passed down from George Scheets to his great grandson, William J. Sullivan, and was acquired through donation and purchase by the Center for Archival Collections from October 17 through November 30, 1989 from Mrs. Donna M. Sullivan, Toledo, Ohio. The materials were processed by Carol Amos, Tara McClaskie, April Dougal, A.J. Dufresne, Sharon Nidy Ross, and Joanna Baker Russ, BGSU Graduate Students in History 556 (Archives Administration) during Spring semester 1990. This register was edited by Marilyn Levinson, Curator of Manuscripts, Center for Archival Collections, October, 1990, with correspondence abstracts completed by James Kaser, BGSU doctoral student in American Culture. No restrictions exist on the the use of this collection.

Agency History

The 21st Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, was organized for three years of service at Findlay, Ohio, September 19, 1861. Composed of men from Hancock, Wood, Lucas, Defiance, Fulton, Williams, and Henry Counties, the Regiment was commanded initially by Jesse S. Norton, succeeded by James M. Neibling, Dwella M. Stoughton, and finally Arnold McMahan. In January 1864, upon expiration of the original term of service, the majority of the Regiment re-enlisted as Veterans, serving until July 25, 1865.

The Regiment, as part of the Army of the Cumberland, was involved in several major battles, including Stones River (Murfreesboro), Tenn., Chickamauga, Resaca, Vining Station, Atlanta, and Jonesboro, Georgia, and Bentonville, N.C. In addition, nine members of the 21st, under detached duty with General O.M. Mitchell, were participants with the unit known as Andrew's Raiders. Although the Chattanooga Railroad Expedition, as the action was called, was a failure, the participants were the first recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

At the Battle of Stones River the Regiment was engaged each day between December 31, 1862 and January 3, 1863, earning McMahan a commendation and a promotion from Captain to Major. Also during this battle the Regimental wagons were attacked and burned by the Rebels, resulting in the loss of most of the official records of the 21st from 1861 and 1862.

The most important action of the Regiment took place at Chickamauga, Georgia on September 19-20, 1863. The 21st was involved actively in both days of battle, but the events of September 20th were significant. Armed with Colt revolving rifles, the Regiment was posted near the Snodgrass House in the area known as Horseshoe Ridge, where they remained from 11:00 in the morning until the close of battle. By the end of the afternoon the Regiment was out of ammunition, but they continued to hold their position on the ridge. At dusk, as many units of the Federal forces were withdrawing, the Regiment was confronted in front and on the right by Confederates under Kelly, coming through a position vacated by Steedman's troops. Then a Rebel force led by Trigg reached their rear, having moved around a wooded spur of the ridge. In the crossfire, part of the 21st was able to get away, but a large part of the Regiment was captured, as were the 89th Ohio and 22nd Michigan.

The remainder of the Regiment retired to Chattanooga, where they stayed until March of 1864, about which time McMahan was exchanged and returned from Libby Prison. They then joined Sherman's army through the Georgia campaign, distinguishing themselves at Resaca, Vining Station, Atlanta, and Jonesboro. The Regiment was present in Washington, D.C. for the grand review on May 26, 1865. They then went to Louisville, Kentucky, where they were officially mustered out July 25, 1865.

The complete regimental history, History of the 21st Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, in the War of the Rebellion, was written in 1893 by Silas S. Canfield. The work, which had been initiated by Arnold McMahan before his death, contains a detailed examination of the controversy surrounding the surrender of the 21st at Chickamauga. Much of the basic research done by McMahan for the history is included in this collection.

Some scattered records of the 86th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, appear as a minor inclusion in the collection. The 86th Regiment was organized at Camp Cleveland, Ohio, July 14, 1863, for six month service. The apparent link between the two regiments is Joab Squire, Jr., who was a 2nd Lieutenant in Company H of the 21st O.V.I. between September 19, 1861 and March 10, 1862, when he resigned. Squire reentered the service with the 86th O.V.I. on June 18, 1863, and was appointed Captain of Company F of that Regiment. The 86th Regiment was mustered out February 10, 1864.

Biographical Sketch

Arnold McMahan was born in Ireland, March 10, 1835, the son of Peter and Nellie McMahan. Before the War McMahan lived with his family in Perrysburg, Ohio. He was mustered in at age 26 with the 21st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry on September 19, 1861 as the Captain of Company C, promoted to Major on June 14, 1863, promoted again to Lieutenant Colonel on February 29, 1864, brevetted Colonel on March 13, 1865, and was mustered out with the Regiment on July 25, 1865. During the second day of the battle at Chickamauga, September 20, 1863, McMahan assumed command of the Regiment when Lieutenant-Colonel Stoughton was shot and mortally wounded. Late in the day, McMahan, along with 11 other officers and 120 enlisted men, was captured by the Confederate forces and imprisoned at Libby Prison until exchanged on March 1, 1864.

After the War McMahan went into partnership with George Scheets, opening a general merchandise store in East Toledo in 1865. The partnership was dissolved the following year. He continued to practice law in East Toledo, was a Justice of the Peace, and operated as an insurance, real estate, and claim agent, but due to poor health his practice did not prosper. Suffering from progressive paralysis, McMahan died on August 4, 1891, leaving a family of five children.

George Scheets was born in Kirchehrenback, Bavaria, November 19, 1842, coming to the United States at age 10. Prior to the War, his family also lived in Perrysburg, where he worked as a clerk, first in a bookstore, then in a dry goods store. He was mustered into the 21st Regiment on August 25, 1861 at age 19 as a private in Company C. On March 1, 1863 he was promoted to Quarter Master Sergeant, was appointed 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant on February 10, 1865, promoted to Captain on July 12, 1865, and mustered out with the Regiment on July 25, 1865.

Returning to Toledo, Scheets operated a successful general merchandise store, initially with McMahan as his partner. In 1871 he was elected to Toledo City Council from the 6th Ward and was active in getting a bridge built across the Maumee River to join East Toledo with the rest of the city. In early March of 1885 Scheets was appointed interim Mayor of Toledo, completing the unexpired term of Jacob Romeis through April. Later, he served as cashier and chief bookkeeper in the County Treasurer's office. George Scheets died February 3, 1929.

George E. Dolton was born in Cook County, Illinois in 1840, and served with Battery M, 1st Illinois Light Artillery, at the Battle of Chickamauga. After the war, Dolton operated a general merchandise store in St. Louis, Missouri. He was actively involved in coordinating the Chickamauga Battlefield Reunion in 1890, and conducted extensive personal research on the Battle. Dolton died in St. Louis, Missouri on July 22, 1906, leaving a widow, Minnie C. Dolton, and children, Luzettie, Arthur, and Edward.

Scope and Content

The William J. Sullivan Collection consists of 10 linear feet of the records of the 21st Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, scattered records of the 86th Regiment, and personal correspondence of Arnold McMahan, the commanding officer of the Regiment at the close of the Civil War. The Regimental records cover the entire period of the Civil War, but due to the destruction of the early records during the Battle of Stones River, the date coverage is weak for 1861 and 1862. The McMahan personal correspondence is primarily from 1889 to 1890, but includes some material from the immediate postwar period.

The Regimental papers of the 21st O.V.I. include proceedings (particularly membership records), correspondence, administrative records, reports, financial records, and printed material.

The membership records include muster rolls and descriptive lists. They contain information on name, rank, age, and service details. Some of these lists also provide data on place of birth, occupation, and physical description. These series have their greatest value for genealogical research.

The correspondence series include topical files on appointments, Chickamauga battle reports (by Company), movement orders, personnel lists (including lists of men who died while prisoners of war), charges against individuals, correspondence regarding stores/equipment, leaves, payments, and paperwork/procedures, and a file on personnel involved with the O.M. Mitchell Detachment (Andrew's Raiders). The official correspondence also includes items to McMahan in his capacity as commanding officer, including letters from Generals Brannan and Negley dealing with the surrender of the Regiment at Chickamauga. Of the official records, these series provide the most detailed information on individual Regimental activities.

The administrative records consist primarily of handwritten copies of those General Orders, Special Orders, Special Field Orders, and Circulars that pertained to the operations the 21st O.V.I. These documents include orders regarding individual assignments, musters, the distribution of supplies, military justice, and general administrative matters. In combination with the series of printed orders, these records illustrate the structure of the military command, with reference to the control of all aspects of the life of the soldier.

The reports in the collection include bound and loose consolidated morning reports, inspection reports, and periodic returns, abstracts, and statements. The morning reports give date, station, name of commanding officer, duty officers, and total commissioned and enlisted men. The periodic returns (monthly, quarterly, and annual) give similar information as well as providing aggregate figures for the period covered. There are also special reports for casualties, absentees, and deserters. Reports dealing with clothing, camp, and garrison equipage include details on the type and condition of materials used by each soldier. The records of ordnance and ordnance stores cover the weapons, accoutrements, and ammunition used by the Regiment, including the issue of Colt's Revolving Rifles just before the Battle of Chickamauga. These report series provide a detailed picture of the material life of the soldier, and are of value to the Civil War historian and amateur reenactors.

The financial records of the 21st O.V.I. deal primarily with the Regimental Fund and a Council of Administration that was convened to deal with a problem with the Sutler accounts.

Printed material in the Regimental papers include a general training manual on target practice, regulations for recruiters, and instructions for filling out forms. Also included are printed series of orders, some of which duplicate the handwritten orders in the administrative series.

The Regimental papers of the 86th O.V.I. generally cover the period from 1863 to 1864 with scattered records. The collection includes some muster rolls, a descriptive list, and a small number of clothing and ordnance returns. This group of documents is useful as a point of comparison with the 21st O.V.I., but provides limited historical or genealogical information.

The personal papers of Arnold McMahan give a human dimension to the more impersonal information provided in the official Regimental records. McMahan's career with the 21st is representative of service by a soldier working his way up through the ranks, giving insight into administrative structure and the interpersonal relationships. Although some of the personal correspondence deals with postwar readjustment to civilian pursuits, the bulk of the papers relate very specifically to the events surrounding the capture of elements of the 21st O.V.I. at Chickamauga.

Precipitated by the appearance, in 1888, of letters in the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette by Henry Boynton relating to Chattanooga and Chickamauga, McMahan began a series of correspondence intended to set the record straight. The network of correspondents included former officers of the 21st O.V.I., as well as officers from such other regiments as the 89th Ohio, 2nd Minnesota, and 115th Illinois. The correspondence abstracts provided at the end of this register should be referred to for details on content and for cross-references to related letters.

The most remarkable correspondence series is that between McMahan and George E. Dolton of St. Louis. Dolton was with the 1st Illinois Artillery, Battery M, and was involved with the "Reunion" of involved troops at Chickamauga in May 1890. The collection includes drafts of some of McMahan's early letters to Dolton, as well as a series of extremely detailed correspondence from Dolton to McMahan. These items cover attempts to reconcile conflicting accounts of troop movements, positions, and chronology of events during the second day of battle at Chickamauga.

The Sullivan Collection as a whole provides a comprehensive picture of the organization and activities of an Ohio volunteer infantry unit during the Civil War. The correspondence in the postwar segment gives further insight into the veterans' world, which included personal friendships forged by war, official components such as Reunions and Grand Army of the Republic units, and a view toward the "historic" nature of their experiences and the desire to set it down for posterity.

MS 562: Introduction | Transcript List
MS 562 Series Description: MS 562: Introduction | 86th O.V.I. Records | Arnold McMahan Papers
MS 562 Abstracts: Part 1 (McMahan Correspondence) | Part 2 (Box 12) | Part 3 (Box 13) | Inventory
Manuscripts by Subject | Civil War Collections