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100 Years Ago

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Feature Article on the Swander brothers. Topic: CIVIL WAR
Written by Jim Sayre in April, 2000


The United States Government owed Quincy-area resident and Civil War soldier William Sayre $340 on the day he died in the spring of 1864. This was most of the bounty money his commanders had promised him, but had not yet delivered, if he would re-enlist with his infantry regiment for 3 years.

The 5-foot, 8-inch, 21-year old farmer, described as having a dark complexion, with blue eyes and light hair, did re-enlist, at Wauhatchie, Tennessee, the wintering-over camp of the 66th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Regiment. On the strength of the $400 cash bounty and a 40-day trip home to recruit others for the 66th, Sayre committed himself to the final outcome of the war. His outcome, as it happened, came before the war's. He did, however, get 60 bucks and a trip home which lasted until Jan. 27, 1864.

Planning a future
Sayre was confident that he would survive. He had, after all, escaped injury in two of the bloodiest conflicts yet in the war: Gettysburg and Chancellorsville in the war's eastern theater. He described these battles and others in a series of letters home to his father, Ziba Parker Sayre. And he had at least been within cheering distance of Hooker's famous, if not particularly significant, "Battle Above the Clouds" on Lookout Mountain just the month before.

It seemed natural to re-enlist: it was December (an off month for fighting), he was young and his peers were re-enlisting, and besides, $400 is $400. But, it was spring now and the fighting had resumed. Sherman was pushing hard against Confederate General Joe Johnston as part of a nationally coordinated Grant-Sherman campaign to bring the war to conclusion. The battles differed now; no more marching to one place for an all out slug-fest with a subsequent period of wound licking by both armies. This new warfare was total: push, fight, push, fight some more, continuously.

The morning
It was getting on toward 10 o'clock in the morning and time to move up. Sayre, the veteran soldier, picked up his rifle as he had so many times before, kicked the mud, and slogged on up toward the skirmish line. He had new responsibilities now; his captain, William Sampson, just a few hours ago, had appointed him to be a sergeant " place of one who had forfeited all claims to consideration or position by his cowardice." It is not hard to imagine that Sayre called to his companions as they approached the line: "Boys I guess we'd better lay into them now..."

This is how Sayre met his death, not in a famous battle nor in a glorious charge. He just got a stray bullet in the shoulder while on a muddy skirmish line at a place called Pine Knob, Georgia. It took him hours to die, and his friends and commanding officer were not present to console him. They had to keep moving, following a rapidly shifting battle front.

There was very little time for paperwork during this period of prolonged fighting, so it was a decent thing that Sampson did by writing a caring and informative letter to William's father within three days of William's death.

Sampson's June 19, 1864, letter to Ziba stated in part: "It is my painful duty to inform you of the death of your son William, a soldier of my company. He was mortally wounded about 10 o'clock a.m. of the 16th inst. and during that night he died at the Division Hospital. He received his wound while on skirmish line within about 75 yards of the enemy's works and was carried to the rear by several of his comrades ... Before he was carried off I looked for his wound and found that he was struck in the right shoulder, the ball passing down into his back. I thought it a very serious but not a mortal injury and I was surprised to hear the next day that he was dead."

In Quincy
Sometime later, back home near Quincy, Ohio, in a small frame farmhouse, 49-year-old Ziba Sayre, himself a soldier of the 4th Regiment of the Ohio National Guard, slowly looked up from the dreaded letter he held in his work-worn hands. Then, along with letters from William that he had saved, he stuffed Captain Sampson's notification into a small wooden box. Sliding the lid into place, Sayre knew the letters would help him and, perhaps, other generations of Sayres to remember his son.

The wooden box and 20 preserved letters, including that of Sampson, remain with the Sayre family 135 years later.

Excerpts from the letters of William M. Sayre
Antietam Battlefield, Sept. 25th, 1862: "...we have been in Marland for the last Month or more and there has been stirring had better think of the maney poor felows that sufered and died right here all around our quarters. infact there are men lying within five rod of this place just covered with dirt and that is all. here is a steep hill right here where there was several poor felows got tore almost to pieces by shell."

Camp CS Near Fredricks Burg VA, Dec. 10th 1862: "...there was quite a move made here yesterday. I think that there will be some thing done now. it is reported this evening that a part of the force has already crossed the River and I guess it is the calculation to push forward and drive the Rebes right to Richmond as fast as they can but i am of the opinion that the Rebs are not going to travel very fast for a while yet."

Batle field near Gettys Burg PA, July 5th 1863: "I have just been down below the entrenchments where the Rebs lay thicker than ever I saw them before. There is a spot about one hundred yards from here where our boys let in to them. I counted twenty five at least on a spot of grass not over five rods wide. oh you had better think we give them what they needed this time if they never got it before. well I could not say that I killed one myself. but I can say that I shot enough at them. I only fired upwards of ninty rounds at the Rascals."

Camp Near Chatanooga Tenn November 11th 1863: "...old long street came down off of Look out mountain...they came down in the night a bout twelve or one oclock and took him on surprise and before the artilerist could get there horses harnest the Rebs fired in to them from three directions and a lively fight ensured which ended in our favor. General Gary lost a son kiled in the engagement..."

66th Regt. OVVI, May 8th, 1864: "...we are now laying in the woods a bout eight miles from Dalton Georgia. We left Bridgeport Ala last Tuesday morning for the front and we have been marching ever since. but I suppose that we will not go much further until we will meet an opposition as I under stand that the Rebels still hold Dalton..."


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