Civil War: December 1864, the beginning of the end

By Sandy Vasko

Beginnings and ends – December 1864 was full of them. Things were looking up for the Union, but it wasn’t over yet.

Henry Ohlhues, private Co. E, 39th Ill. Inf. Photo property of Kay Luckey, Custer Park.

At home, hearts were light at the thought of the end of the war, but heavy because another call for 30,000 men from “Father Abraham” meant a draft in Will County. Ups and downs, beginnings and ends, life and death, it was all here.

For the 100th Voluntary Infantry, the beginning day of December was hardly noticed. They were still at war. We read in George Woodruff’s book, “Fifteen Years Ago,” about the end of the battle of Franklin, the beginning of the battle of Nashville and the defeat of Hood’s army.

“The next day after our arrival, (the 3d), the enemy was seen advancing in two lines of battle, and our boys were ready and anxious for them to attack. But our artillery soon drove them to their holes literally to their holes, for they had actually commenced to burrow in the ground to protect themselves from the cold, and our sharpshooters and parrot guns. Reinforcements were constantly concentrating here, and Thomas waited until he got a ‘good and ready’ before going out to give Hood battle.

“On the 14th, the order ‘forward’ came, and we moved out quietly, but boldly for the works of the enemy, and by two o’clock p.m. had reached, stormed, and carried them in our front, driving the enemy from Montgomery Hill, capturing 10 or 15 pieces of artillery, and turning them upon the fleeing foe, we followed them until darkness closed the engagement.”

Col. Wood’s tactics were sound and with the help of a brigade of colored troops he put flight to Hood’s army. Woodruff describes it like this: “Ere long Hood’s entire array was one mass of fugitives. As we were pursuing them by column, enroute, the enemy had opened a battery, one or two miles in front, and commenced shelling our troops. One of their shots passed directly between the colonel and adjutant who were riding side by side, striking the ground near the horses’ hind feet, and bounding with a right ricochet just so as to miss going through the regiment lengthwise.”

Maj. Rodney Bowen

One of the things that gave the 100th the will to go on was revenge, for on December 3, they learned that Major Rodney Bowen had died of his wounds at the hospital in Nashville. Bowen was not only a military leader, but a moral leader as well. A sad ending to a glorious triumph over the Confederates.

Rodney was a Will County boy if there ever was one. His father, Dr. Albert Bowen, was one of the first settlers at Joliet, and later was one of the three men who petitioned the State for the creation of Will County itself.

Bowen was a very religious man, though not a very hardy sort. He was so infirm, that it was thought he would have been exempt from the draft. Rodney said once that he could not sleep at night for thinking about his friends at the front while he lay in his pleasant bed at home. When the 100th was organized in the summer of 1862 Bowen helped to organize it.

His last letter home showed his sensitive side and his fatal determination to end the rebellion. He wrote: “Our dining table stands upon what was once a bed of flowers, and a peach tree that was once capable of bearing bushels of fruit, serves us for a hitching-post. A few roses and honeysuckle still remain to mark the paths, and our cook hangs his wiping cloth upon a shrub of some choice vine unknown to me. And although the owner is said to be rebellious, I could not have been the first one to trample upon such a place.

“They have sown the wind, and are now reaping the whirlwind. They have sown the dragon’s teeth, and the armed men that spring up are now tearing their vitals.”

The battle of Nashville was the last major battle that the 100th was to take part in, for them it was the beginning of the end.

For one young man from Florence Township, it was the beginning of his life of happiness. Henry Ohlhues enlisted in February of 1864 at the age of 20. He was paid a bounty of $302 to join. Although eager to fight he spent from July through October of 1864 in the hospital. In November, he obtained a furlough home before he rejoined the 39th Voluntary Infantry.

The reason is made clear in this small printed announcement in the December 21, 1864, Wilmington Independent; “MARRIED – At the National Hotel, Joliet, Nov. 17th, by the Rev. J. Kidd, Mr. Harry Ohlhues of the 39th Regiment Illinois Volunteers, to Miss Nellie Hixman of Starr’s Grove.”

As 1864 drew to an end, the call went out one more time. “Peace on earth, good will toward mankind” reverberated through the nation. The yearning for peace was strong and the Union called out to the Rebellion to surrender and all would be forgiven.
Would the beginning of 1865 signal the end? Time would tell.




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