Henry Clinton papers  1736-1850
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Duncan, Andrew J., 1836-1912

Rank : Pvt.

Regiment : 23rd Ohio Infantry Regiment. Co. E (1861-1866)

Service : 1861 June 10-1866 January 18

In June, 1861, Andrew Jackson Duncan of Poland, Ohio, enlisted in Company E of the 23rd Ohio (the Poland Guards), a regiment most often remembered for having two future presidents on its rosters, Rutheford B. Hayes and William McKinley. Duncan, in fact, married Sarah McKinley, William's sister. Despite the apparently impressive pedigree of the regiment, Duncan's unusually frank journal highlights not only the brutality of warfare and the polarized atmosphere, but also the indiscipline, insubordination, and inadequate training of troops rushed into the service.

The 23rd Ohio mustered in at Camp Chase early in June, 1861, and was sent to western Virginia on July 25th to assist Rosencrans' Army of Occupation. Arriving shortly after the Battle of Rich Mountain, the 23rd was involved in maintaining order in the still-contested area from Buckhannon in the north to Carnifex Ferry in the south. Like much of the new state, the area was divided in sympathy, with soldiers receiving food and information from pro-Union civilians, while at the same time being spied upon and, occasionally, shot at by secessionists. During the late summer, 1861, the 23rd was involved mainly in occupation, and operations against guerillas and pro-Confederate civilians, though the Confederate forces in the area were very much active.

Duncan's journal suggests that at this stage of the war, at least, Ohio regiments were not exemplars of military discipline. Even while still at Camp Chase, the enlisted men of the 23rd displayed a particular truculence in refusing to accept government-issued muskets, considering them to be inadequate. Only after being cajoled, threatened, and finally allowed to prove for themselves that the weapons were indeed up to the task, did the soldiers finally relent. Once in western Virginia discipline problems continued; soldiers were caught illegally selling government goods (pp. 66-68), and refused orders from a Captain while on march (pp. 44-47). The Captain, urging his men not to lag, threatened to shoot stragglers, but, as Duncan wrote, "if he had resorted to this power, he would have been riddled through himself in two minutes." In another incident, a soldier from the 12th Ohio, drunk at his post, was shot after he threatened the men arresting him, while at the same time "two [others] are also in the jail for a most heinous offense and for which I think probably they will loose their lives" (p. 72).

The Ohio soldiers were a rough lot, according to Duncan, in training and in behavior. When Rosencrans was in camp, one officer inadvertently placed a guard at the telegraph office, not knowing better where to post him, while on another occasion, 23 enlisted men were brought before a court martial at once for sleeping on duty, one of whom was to be selected and put before a firing squad. In the field, the men helped themselves freely to the goods of civilians, and, on one occasion, beat and threatened to kill a suspected guerilla in an effort to extract information from him. "Big John Riphel," another suspected guerilla, was summarily executed by members of the 10th Ohio, supposedly while trying to escape, and the Captain overseeing the prisoners did his best to hush up the incident.

The 23rd Ohio was engaged in a small skirmish at Bulltown on August 17th, and took part in the fierce fight at Carnifex Ferry on September 10th. In the latter engagement, members of the 13th and 28th Ohio, mistaking each other for Confederates, began firing well before the scheduled attack. As a result, 20 were wounded.