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The Untried Life

The Story of the Twenty-Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War

James T. Fritsch

Publication Year: 2012

Told in unflinching detail, this is the story of the Twenty-Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, also known as the Giddings Regiment or the Abolition Regiment, after its founder, radical abolitionist Congressman J. R. Giddings. The men who enlisted in the Twenty- Ninth OVI were, according to its lore, handpicked to ensure each was as pure in his antislavery beliefs as its founder. Whether these soldiers would fight harder than other soldiers, and whether the people of their hometowns would remain devoted to the ideals of the regiment, were questions that could only be tested by the experiment of war.

The Untried Life
is the story of these men from their very first regimental formation in a county fairground to the devastation of Gettysburg and the march to Atlanta and back again, enduring disease and Confederate prisons. It brings to vivid life the comradeship and loneliness that pervaded their days on the march. Dozens of unforgettable characters emerge, animated by their own letters and diaries: Corporal Nathan Parmenter, whose modest upbringing belies the eloquence of his writings; Colonel Lewis Buckley, one of the Twenty-Ninth’s most charismatic officers; and Chaplain Lyman Ames, whose care of the sick and wounded challenged his spiritual beliefs.

The Untried Life
shows how the common soldier lived­—his entertainments, methods of cooking, medical treatment, and struggle to maintain family connections­—and separates the facts from the mythology created in the decades after the war.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

The state of Ohio organized nearly 230 infantry regiments for service in the Union army during the Civil War. This is the story of one of them, the Twenty-Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, told by the soldiers and officers who marched under its flags. Years ago, I was driving through northeast Ohio ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Without John Gurnish of Mogadore, Ohio, this book would not have been written. He invited me into his home on a rainy October evening fifteen years ago, and the story he told me provided the spark for this project. The book would be far poorer were it not for John’s lifelong pursuit of the history ...

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pp. 1-8

Its soldiers came from many places in northeastern Ohio, but Jefferson, seat of Ashtabula County, was the hometown of the Twenty-Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The men who came up with the idea of founding the regiment lived in Jefferson, as did J. R. Giddings, the famous politician who led them in their quest ...

Part I: “Madly from Their Spheres": The Long Road into Battle

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1. “We Are All War”: April–July 1861

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pp. 11-22

On a warm autumn morning in 1861, a group of nine young men hiked south the few miles from the hamlet of Kingsville, Ashtabula County, Ohio, to the village of Jefferson. They passed through the village and out the few blocks to the fairgrounds. The Kingsville squad had come to be soldiers in a new regiment, ...

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2. Founders’ Club: July–September 1861

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pp. 23-28

On a raw day in late November 1861, Giddings made the short buggy ride out to the Ashtabula County fairgrounds to present his regiment with the flags it would carry in the war. He told the soldiers drawn up before him that a “few gentlemen,” residents of Ashtabula County, had determined on raising the regiment.1 ...

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3. Camp Giddings: Early Promise, Fall 1861

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pp. 29-38

Although every outfit stepping forward now was sure of a chance to fight, fresh memories of being left behind in the ninety-day war nagged the founders in Jefferson, and to increase their anxiety, recruiters for other regiments were already beginning to appear in their neighborhood. ...

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4. Recruiting Wars: Fall 1861

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pp. 39-51

The days of the Ashtabula County fair of 1861 represented high times in Jefferson. At last the folk of the village had something to crow about. The Giddings Regiment was off to a rousing start. When the Jefferson company and those of many of its neighbors were excluded from the ninety-day war, the residents had felt besieged. ...

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5. Camp Giddings: Season of Complaint, Late Fall 1861

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pp. 52-60

The goodwill the fair had engendered spread through the whole of September and on into October. Jefferson opened its arms to the soldiers, so that the camp seemed an extension of the warm society of the village. Citizens brought out baskets filled with enough supper to feed several hundred soldiers, and the soldiers repaid their kindness ...

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6. “The Emblem of Universal Freedom”: Late Fall 1861

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pp. 61-69

One morning in late November, the villagers looked out from their warm houses and saw snow falling, and falling hard. A sleigh was seen cutting a path down the village streets of Conneaut, and the newspaper declared that the “merry season” was at hand.1 Some of the soldiers in camp enjoyed themselves by throwing snowballs, ...

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7. “At the Threshold of an Untried Life”: Camp Chase, Columbus, December 1861–January 1862

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pp. 70-80

The road up to the town of Ashtabula was piled deep with sticky snow that almost pulled the soldier’s shoes from his feet. This march was hard work compared to what the Boys of the Twenty-Ninth had been used to at Camp Giddings. Although some of them had been to war, all of them were green as grass, ...

Part II: With the Eastern Armies

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8. A Good “Breaking-In”: Winter on the Upper Potomac, 1862

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pp. 83-101

The regiment rode in first-class cars on the Central Ohio Railroad eastbound out of Columbus.1 A half day out of Columbus it was clear they were headed east, in the direction of the war’s big things. At the end of this road lay the land of newspaper headlines and mighty armies. Their competitors in Wade’s Second Ohio Cavalry ...

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9. The Ball Opens: The Battle of Kernstown, March 23, 1862

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pp. 102-116

On March 8, Tyler’s brigade marched down to the railroad, where they were to take the cars to Martinsburg, Virginia, twenty miles north of Winchester. Sixty-nine of the regiment’s soldiers were culled out near the railhead and sent off to Cumberland. They were too sick to keep up with the regiment. ...

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10. Chasing Jackson: March–June 1862

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pp. 117-128

There was a fine home in Luray, Virginia, up in the Shenandoah valley. Its owner had left it weeks before without locking the door. That would have been useless with thousands of Union soldiers passing back and forth through the village in their movements up and down through the valley in the past weeks. ...

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11. “Up the River and Back of the Mountains”: The Battle of Port Republic, June 9, 1862

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pp. 129-141

Nathan Parmater was too weak to walk back to the valley. He and the other sick rode on boxcars to Manassas, where the line quit.1 The lame and halt would have to ride in ambulances. There were only half enough ambulances to haul them further, and Parmater gave up his spot and started out on foot. ...

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12. “Rest Now, Rest”: Alexandria, Virginia, June–July 1862

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pp. 142-155

Shields’s division had been wrecked. Some if was not entirely his fault: the long marches ordered by others, the gear that was already half worn out when he took command back in Martinsburg, the mix-ups in supply that kept the soldiers nearly starved. The rest lay at his doorstep. ...

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13. “South of Anywhere”: The Battle of Cedar Mountain, Virginia, August 9, 1862

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pp. 156-165

At the dawn of this day, an orange sun came up in a sheet-iron sky unshaded by a single cloud, and it was immediately so hot that is was impossible to draw a full breath. Each soldier carried a knapsack, a full canteen, and a musket that alone weighed fifteen pounds. The twenty pounds of ammunition each carried was stuffed into ...

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14. “In the Hands of Devils”: Prison Stories, 1862

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pp. 166-174

When Wallace Hoyt and the boys captured at Cedar Mountain were herded into the rebel prison camp set up on an island in the James River in Richmond, they were greeted by old friends. The 120 boys captured at Port Republic were already there. Belle Isle, however, had not been their first stop in the rebel prison system. ...

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15. Narrow Escapes: The Second Bull Run Campaign, August 1862

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pp. 175-184

A few days after the battle of Cedar Mountain it was discovered that Jackson had slipped away, and that was happily interpreted by the Federals to mean Jackson had been beaten into retreat. While the soldiers who had fought at Port Republic were still reporting the details of that fight to the Ohio newspapers, ...

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16. Restoration: Frederick, Maryland, Fall 1862

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pp. 185-200

Normally, September in Frederick, Maryland, was bone dry. But people living in the vicinity of the places where the armies collided began to observe that battles seemed to produce their own weather. At Antietam a hundred thousand soldiers had each fired forty rounds and more, which made for countless rifle discharges ...

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17. Our Valley Forge: Dumfries, Virginia, Winter 1863

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pp. 201-215

In early December 1862, the Twenty-Ninth Ohio left the Frederick camp they had occupied for nearly three months and marched down to the depot to rejoin the Army of the Potomac.1 They had not gotten far when news came of the ugly defeat of the Union army at Fredericksburg.2 ...

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18. Saving the Life of the Army: The Battle of Chancellorsville, May 1–3, 1863

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pp. 216-235

Sgt. Allen Mason wasn’t a soldier who was inclined to worry too much about his welfare. Like most of the Boys, he was trusting in fate, and his experience to this point had shown him that he could survive most anything the soldier’s life brought his way. He had been wounded at Kernstown and had earned a reputation for fearlessness ...

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19. Aquia Creek Interlude: May–June 1863

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pp. 236-247

The regiment came back to the same campground at Aquia Creek they had occupied for a week on their way down to Chancellorsville. They had left this same place a few days earlier the best equipped army on the earth and came back to it looking as if they had been tossed about inside a cyclone. ...

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20. Saving the Life of the Nation: The Gettysburg Campaign, June–July 1863

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pp. 248-264

Leaving their camp near Aquia Creek, they pushed north, in the direction of Washington, which struck soldiers like Nathan Parmater as yet another “falling-back.”1 Their purpose would not be revealed for a few more days. Lee’s army had crossed the rivers below them and slipped off to the west and was moving north ...

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21. Journeying Forth: Summer–Fall 1863

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pp. 265-276

With plenty of prodding from Lincoln to run Lee down before he got back over the Potomac, Gen. George Meade finally got the army on the roads down to the river. The Boys commenced to log daily marches that began before sunrise and did not end until long after dark. In a single day’s rainy march the regiment covered twenty-seven miles. ...

Part III: With the Western Armies

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22. The Battles around Chattanooga: Fall 1863

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pp. 279-291

Geary’s command was somewhere out ahead on this mountain road to Chattanooga. He had sent orders back for them to come up as fast they could. Chattanooga was twenty-five miles to the east, the way the crow might fly, but by the course the soldiers would march, far longer and much more difficult. ...

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23. Home and Back Again: Bridgeport, Alabama, Winter 1864

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pp. 292-303

On New Year’s Day 1864, the Boys awoke in their barracks outside Cleveland to find the bottom had gone out of the thermometer, and the way the north wind was shaking the barracks, the temperature was likely to plunge further. The regiment shivered and suffered through the first days of the area’s coldest winter on record. ...

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24. “They Called It a Demonstration”: The Fight for Dug Gap, May 8, 1864

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pp. 304-317

The first day’s march was uncomfortably warm, and heavy traffic on the road forced many stops and starts, which for boys standing in place saddled with heavy packs was a torture. Not a single soldier fell out this time, and they arrived at Shell Mound, Tennessee, with every boy in the Twenty-Ninth “feeling finely.” ...

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25. Continuous Battle: The Approach to Atlanta, May–August 1864

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pp. 318-338

One week after the fight at Dug Gap, Chaplain Ames rode south to catch up with the regiment. The noise and motion he rode into west of Resaca told him a major battle was being fought just ahead. He could not penetrate the masses of wagons, artillery, and thousands of troops maneuvering for position and gave up trying. ...

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26. Closing on the Prize: The Fall and Occupation of Atlanta, July–November 1864

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pp. 339-352

Nathan Parmater had been left with the sick on the final approach to Dug Gap and was sent back up the line to Division Hospital no. 8, in Chattanooga, where he was put in a tent with four other boys. The same illness that had hit him on the march to Fredericksburg, back in 1862, was upon him again. ...

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27. Tearing It Up: The March to the Sea, the Fall of Savannah, and the Carolinas Campaign, November 1864–April 1865

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pp. 353-367

So the story went, one evening deep in the Georgia interior, with his army arrayed around him, General Sherman sat at the fire in front of his tent. His ear caught the music of a song known to everyone in that day and he was mesmerized; so much so, that he let his famous cigar go out. ...

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28. The Long Way Home: May–July 1865

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pp. 368-380

Chaplain Lyman B. Ames got the regiment’s pay safely back to Ohio. He returned to Savannah in early February to find the Twenty-Ninth Ohio long gone. Getting back to them would not be easy. He boarded a ship heading north up the coast, hoping to catch up with them in their march through South Carolina. ...


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pp. 381-466


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pp. 467-476

Twenty-Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment Index

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pp. 477-486

General Index

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pp. 487-501

E-ISBN-13: 9780804040471
Print-ISBN-13: 9780804011396

Page Count: 512
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • United States. Army. Ohio Infantry Regiment, 29th (1861-1865).
  • Ohio -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Regimental histories.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Regimental histories
  • Soldiers -- Ohio -- Biography.
  • Ohio -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives.
  • United States. Army -- Military life -- History -- 19th century.
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