Col. Wager Swayne, 43rd OVI

From the journal of Harry Swayne Lybarger, son of Edwin L. Lybarger, 43rd OVI:

“[My father’s] first Colonel Smith, a Westpointer, was killed in action. His next colonel, Wager Swayne, he probably thought more of than any man living, so much so that he named his only son Harry Swayne Lybarger.

Col. Swayne lost a leg from a cannon ball shot, crossing a bridge, on a charge ordered by General Mower, which my father always said was unnecessary. I met the great colonel once at Mt. Vernon, Ohio, in 1897, when he came from his law office in New York City to attend the Grand Encampment of the GAR while my father was Grand Commander of Ohio.”

Oct. 4, 1862

(2nd) Battle of Corinth, Mississippi, Oct. 4, 1862

After days of hard marching, on Oct. 3, 1862 the Ohio (Fuller’s) Brigade arrived in Corinth, Mississippi late in the day on Oct. 3 after the Army of the Mississippi’s fight with the enemy had come to a stop for the night. One of four regiments in the brigade, the 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry was commanded by a West Pointer, Col. J. L. Kirby Smith, and Lt. Col. Wager Swayne, an Ohio man.

In 1887, John W. Fuller recounted the battle in “Our Kirby Smith,” an address to Ohio Commandery of the GAR (Union veterans):

“The Ohio Brigade was ordered to the crest crowned by Battery Robinet, to resist any further advance of the enemy. Col. Smith’s regiment was formed on the left of Battery Robinet, facing on the west; the other regiments of the Brigade (63rd, 27th, 39th Ohio) were to the right of the Battery facing to the north…As soon as it was light enough to see, our own batteries drove the Rebels back…As the Ohio Brigade occupied the crest of a ridge near the center of Rosecrans’ line of battle, we had a magnificent view of the enemy as he came out of the woods, in fine style, and marched over and through the obstructions with such noticeable gallantry. Our guns were all turned in that direction…[Col. Smith was executing the order to ‘change front forward’ to face the advancing enemy.] An enemy column which advanced along the west side of the road got close to the battery, and our men sheltered themselves behind stumps and logs and fired sharply.

‘Those fellows are firing at you Colonel,’ said one of the 43rd’s men. ‘Well, give it to them,’ answered the Colonel and immediately thereafter fell from his horse…I saw some men picking up a wounded officers whose face was stained with blood. I did not then know it was Col. Smith…[Amid shouts that their colonel was shot], the regiment seemed dazed and liable to confusion; but Lt. Col. Wager Swayne immediately began to steady the ranks…”

Fighting was fierce. In his official report, Fuller described the brigade’s impassioned defense of the battery: “…and every rebel who showed his head above the parapet of the fort, or attempted to enter it by the embrasures, got his head shot off.”

Stunned by the loss of Col. Smith, the 43rd rallied behind Lt. Col. Swayne. The Ohio Brigade held Battery Robinet, and Gen. Rosecrans’ Army of the Mississippi won the battle. The 43rd had 25% casualties, the 63rd had 50% casualties. Swayne gained command of the 43rd OVI and the rank of colonel.

Nov. 25, 1863

An invitation to the first national Thanksgiving dinner

Col. Swayne wrote a letter to Lt. Edwin Lybarger, on Nov. 25, 1863, inviting him to dine the following day, Nov. 26. My great-grandfather kept that dinner invitation for the rest of his life, and it took nearly 150 years to find out why. See Lookout Mountain or dinner with the colonel

Feb. 3, 1865

The Bridges, on the Salkahatchie in South Carolina

From Edwin Lybarger’s journal:

Feb. 1, 1865: The Army of Sherman being now in readiness to move started for some point, Sherman and God, only know.

Feb. 2, 1865: The enemy found in our front, harasses us all he can and seems determined to dispute every inch of ground. We lose several in killed and wounded during the day. Notwithstanding the resistance we made about ten miles.

Feb. 3, 1865: The enemy more stubborn than yesterday. Col. Swayne has his right leg carried away by a cannon ball. The first division ordered to cross the Salkahatchie river and drive the enemy from his strong position. Sprague’s Brigade, the 43rd, in advance took the main road, with a deep swamp on either side. Two rebel batteries were in front completely commanding the road for a distance of half a mile. There were eleven bridges to cross with plank torn off. The last one about 60 yards long over the river and not more than 150 yards from the enemy’s main line. The 1st and 3rd brigades were to effect a crossing higher up stream. Two companies of the 43rd were armed with boards to plank the bridges. Ten men were to carry axes, to cut away the Arbutis, whilst the remainder of the regiment with fixed bayonets were to charge over the bridges, and river, and if possible take the forts. At the same time, the 1st and 3rd Brigade were to charge the enemy in front and rear. The 43rd behaved exceedingly well under most trying circumstances, marched up the only road that was passable under a heavy fire of shot and shell, under which some 20 of our brave soldiers fell. The 63rdOhio following lost equally severely but the enemy’s works were taken.

Capt. John H. Rhodes, Co. K, 43rd OVI

After the April 1862 resignation of Capt. William Walker, John H. Rhodes became captain of Company K, 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a position he held for virtually the rest of the war. When Company K Private Edwin Lybarger was promoted to 2nd sergeant, he began studying military tactics., and Rhodes sketched him in the act.

Battle of Corinth, Oct. 4, 1862

Company K and the 43rd OVI fought in the Battle of Corinth on the second day, Oct. 4, 1862, in fiercely fought defense of Battery Robinet. Edwin was severely wounded, but recovered and rejoined Company K the following January. Eight other Company K men died of their wounds at Corinth. The injury affected Edwin for the rest of his life, according to his son Harry Swayne Lybarger: “A minnie ball went through Father’s knee, and while he was able to return and finish the war, he was always slightly lame, and as a boy, I could always outrun him. From the time I first knew him he carried a cane frequently.”

Battle memories still vivid after 50 years

John Rhodes wrote to Edwin on Oct. 4, 1914:

My dear old comrade: I don’t forget fifty-two years ago to-day – nor will you or any other of our comrades who participated with us in that fierce little battle of Corinth, Miss. Not as large as many other battles of that war but few of them excelled it in close contact and fierceness. Hand-to-hand fighting at the right of our regiment at battery Robinet but I don’t remember that it extended to the left as far as our Co. K. I do remember that it looked at one time as if it would reach us and changing my sword from my right hand to my left I got a little Colt revolver I had carried into my right to be ready but I don’t think I fired a shot. I have no recollection of the revolver since. That Oct. 4 was…a nice bright warm day I remember, perhaps not as warm as to-day, it was certainly hot enough while the engagement lasted.

Facts to Fiction:

Read an excerpt of Jennifer Wilke’s historical novel-in-progress, The Color of Prayer,

inspired by these historical facts and Edwin Lybarger’s Civil War diaries.

"Nothing nice to eat, and nothing good to drink."

Edwin Lybarger’s Civil War diaries make frequent reference to food, sometimes disparaging the Army’s rations, or half-rations, sometimes rejoicing in abundance, especially from foraging.

April 5, 1862: In New Madrid, Miss, received orders to cook three days rations & get ready for a march against night. The order countermanded.

May 5, 1862: In camp at Corinth cooking & drying our clothes.

Sept. 18, 1862: Marched all day through the rain & camped at 9 P.M. near Jacinto, Miss. Crackers & coffee.

Sept. 22, 1862: Called in to line at daylight, marched until 12 P.M. with out any breakfast. Drew rations & went to cooking.

From the 1862 Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field:

Camp cooking. Bones should never be thrown away, but broken up and boiled repeatedly. Meat or bones should always be put into the cold water for making soup, and boiled with it, not put into boiling water. Meat, previously wrapped in paper or cloth, may be baked in a clay case, in any sort of pit or oven, well covered over, and with good economy. Upon giving men time and opportunity to cook, and enforcing attention to comfort, depends much of their cheerfulness and efficiency.

From Edwin Lybarger’s diary:

Dec. 25, 1862: In St. John’s Hospital Paducah, K.Y. Ate a Turkey roast for dinner and oyster supper at night.

Jan. 9, 1863: Found the 43d Regt. At Bolivar, Tenn. Boys all well but living on half rations.

Mar. 11, 1863: Camped at Ft. Hooker, Tenn. Have nice log houses to live in get plenty to eat such as eggs, butter, milk, chicken, & fruit.

Nov. 4, 1863: Crossed the Tenn. River at Eastport, Miss.and went into camp on the Alabama side. The boys killed and brought in one deer and several wild turkeys.

Nov. 7, 1863: Resumed the march about 12 M, marched until after dark, and camped in the open field near Florence, Al. Forage every thing we see.

Nov. 9, 1863: Resumed the  march at daylight. Passed through Lexington Ala. Foraged heavy on the country. Marched twenty miles & went into camp. Had plenty of chicken for supper and sweet potatoes in abundance

Nov. 12, 1863: Resumed the march after breakfasting on stewed chickens, boiled sweet potatoes, corn bread, and the usual ration of coffee & sugar. Went into camp near Prospect, Tenn.

From the 1862 Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field:

Stewed Salt Beef and Pork. Put into a saucepan about two pounds of well-soaked beef, cut in eight pieces, half a pound of salt pork, divided in two, and also soaked; half a pound of rice, or six tablespoonfuls; one quarter of a pound of onions, or four middle-sized ones, peeled and sliced; two ounces of brown sugar, or one large table-spoonful; one quarter of an ounce of pepper, and five pints of water, simmer gently for three hours, remove the fat from the top, and serve. This dish is enough for six people, and if the receipt be closely followed, you cannot fail to have an excellent food.

 From Edwin Lybarger’s diary:

Nov. 18, 1863: Nothing of importance going. Have plenty to eat and nothing much to do but write letters and study logic.

Nov. 25, 1863: Two years in the service today. Received in invitation to dine with Col. Swayne tomorrow. Accepted.

Nov. 26, 1863: “Thanksgiving day.” Dined with Col. Swayne together with all the officers of the 43d. & Col. Fuller our brigad[e] commander. Had a splendid dinner, served up in good style, to which I think I did ample justice.

From the 1862 Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field:

Kabobs. For a hurried dinner, boil the rib-bones, or skewer your iron ramrod through a dozen small lumps of meat, and roast them. In all cases, if your meat is of a tough sort, hammer it from time to time, when half done, to break up its fibre, and then continue the cooking.

From Edwin Lybarger’s diary:

Mar. 26, 1864: Left for Pulaski, Tenn. early and went into camp at 12 P.M. Had aplenty of eggs to eat.

Apr. 13, 1864: At Decatur. All quiet. Have a plenty to eat, viz. soft bread, meat, butter, canned peaches, tomatoes & etc.

May 13, 1864: The army in motion at 5 A.M. in fighting trim. Encountered the enemy near Resaca. Drove him steadily back with severe loss. Morgan Ulery killed. Our batteries get in position and silence the rebels’ guns. Laid on our arms all night. No blankets and nothing to eat but hard tack and sow belly.

June 1, 1864: McPherson retires his right by falling back some three miles northeast of Dallas. The rebs having caused something by their … charges & repulses, do not attempt to crowd us as we fall back. Hooker moves to the left. The soldiers on short rations. Our “grub” not of as fine a quality as I have eaten.

July 3, 1864: In the officers’ hospital near Rome, without any accommodations … Get a few berries & some sweet milk. The citizens as a general thing gone.

July 4, 1864: In hospital. Rome, Ga. No guns fired nor nothing else done to commemorate the day. Left Rome at 7 P.M. for Chattanooga. Arrive at Kingston and remain for the night. Fed by the sanitary. [U.S.Sanitary Commission].

From the 1862 Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field:

Salt Meat, to prepare hurriedly. Warm it slightly on both sides; this makes the salt draw to the outside; then rinse it well in a pannikan of water. This is found to extract a great deal of salt, and to leave the meat in a fit state for cooking.

Edwin Lybarger’s diary on the March to the Sea with the 17th Corps:

Nov. 16, 1864: Marched towards McDonald, Georgia. Find abundance of forage in the country, and we have no scruples about taking it.

Dec. 3, 1864: Marched to a station numbered 7. Encamped for the night. Forage plenty, soil sandy, affording abundance of sweet potatoes; we didn’t take any, no, not any.

Dec. 13, 1864: In front of Savannah; news received that Hazen’s division of the 15th Army Corps has taken Ft. McAllister at the mouth of the Ogeechee river. Out of provisions and living on sweet potatoes and rice.

Jan. 1, 1865: The 43rd on the Ogeechee Canal, 15 miles from Savannah with nothing nice to eat and nothing good to drink.

From the 1862 Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field:

Plum pudding. Put into a basin one pound of flour, three-quarters of a pound of raisins (stoned, if there is time), three-quarters of a pound of the fat of salt port (well-washed, cut into small dice, or chopped), two tablespoonfuls of sugar or molasses; add half a pint of water, mix all together; put into a cloth tied tightly; boil for four hours, and serve. If time will not permit, boil only two hours, though four are preferable. How to spoil the above–add anything to it.