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Oliver Hazard Payne's Civil War Service

When the Civil War began, Oliver Hazard Payne was a student at Yale, class of 1863. He left Yale in October 1861 to join the Union Army as a volunteer for a three year term. His family finances would have made it simple for Oliver to avoid military service with a compensating payment of $300, as did his later partners John D. Rockefeller and Henry Flagler. But Oliver came from a family with a proud military background; his mother was a Perry. He was named for Oliver Hazard Perry, the victor of the battle of Lake Erie in 1812. This hero's brother, Commodore Matthew Perry, was instrumental in opening up Japan to commerce with the United States (1954-1958). Additionally, Ohio strongly supported the Union cause. The settlers were mainly of yeoman type, and strongly disapproved of slavery. Ohio had a history of being the leading route of the Underground Railroad . Oliver's father had secured a First Lieutenant position for him in the First Battalion of Yates, Illinois Sharpshooters.

In the organization of the Civil War armies, the basic unit was the regiment, commanded by a colonel, with an authorized strength of about a thousand men, divided into ten companies, each officered by a captain and two lieutenants. Regiments were themselves organized into larger units-- in ascending order, brigades, divisions, corps and armies, each commanded by a brigadier or major-general. Union armies were normally named after rivers in their areas of their command -- for example the Army of the Potomac or the group to which the 124th Ohio Infantry was assigned: the Army of the Cumberland. A fairly typical arrangement would have been five regiments to a brigade, three brigades to a division, three divisions to a corps, two, three, four or more corps to an army. As the war progressed these numbers dwindled through casualties and desertion, as there was not system of replenishment of individual soldiers.

While Payne was with the First Battalion of Yates, Illinois Sharpshooters, there is little mention of him in the official records, as citations in these documents did not reach below the Colonel level. It is known that he participated in the engagements of New Madrid & Island No 10 in Missouri, and Farmington, Boonesville and Corinth in Mississippi.

New Madrid -- 13 March 1862 under General Pope
Island # 10 -- 8 April 1862 under General Pope
Farmington south of Corinth
engagement May 9, 1862 -- I 10,52
skirmishes May 3,10,12, 19,22 -- I, 10
Boonesville south of Farmingham, 20 miles south of Corinth, 30 north of Tupelo
Expeditions  May 30, 1862      I  10,17
                   March - April 1, 1862   I 24
Skirmishes   May 29, 1862 --   I, 10
                   June 11, 1862   I 17
Action July 1, 1862 -- I  16,17
Iuka on 19 September 1862
Corinth on 3-4 October 1862

Near the end of 1862, the 124th Ohio Volunteer Army was organized.  In September 1862 Payne became a lieutenant colonel in the 124th, and was promoted to colonel in January 1863.  From all written reports, he served with distinction.  At war's end he won the brevet of brigadier general.  Brevet was an honor which did not change pay or responsibilities;  essentially it was a reward.  During his life, Payne preferred the title Colonel.

The first half of 1963 was taken up with organizing the regiment.  At the commencement of the war, there were only 400 officers with military training (meaning West Point) in the Union group, with about 300 with similar training in the Rebel army.  The Union tended to keep these officers together in the same army, so most of the regiments were volunteers led by volunteers.  In Payne's case, he at least had some prior battle experience with the First Illinois.


West Point academics were not strong on strategy which could be applied to a war as extensive as the Civil War.  At the beginning of the Civil War, the North held the simplistic notion that a single victory would convince the South to concede;  the Southern strategy was to convince the North that it could not win militarily.   After the battle of Bull Run, the North developed a longer range strategy.  The warring groups had the Appalachian mountain range as a dividing spine running north to south.   The North decided to secure control of the Mississippi, which would separate the western rebellious states from the eastern, and then to split the confederacy from north to south by moving towards Chattanooga and from there either eastward towards Savannah and the Atlantic or southward towards Mobile and the Caribbean.  The South continued its program of trying to convince the North that it could not win; General Lee added the possibility of an invasion of the North to show that no place was secure, but this ended at Gettysburg.  Many Rebel soldiers refused to fight outside the Confederate States.


Both Confederate and Union West Point alumni had been exposed to the writings of Henri Jomini, the military theorist of the Napoleonic age, whose Précis de l'art de guerre was the sacred text on the subject.   This text was used for many years, to be replaced by future General Halleck's Elements of Military Art and Science in 1846, practically a literal translation.  Jominian principles survived the discontinuance of  the textbook, in the teaching of Mahan and other professors at West Point.  Jomini urged the importance of concentration at the decisive point,  stressed the advantages of the offensive and belittled the need for fortifications.  He gave high priority to the occupation of enemy territory and capture of the enemy capital.  With every passing month, the gap between Jominian theories and the Civil War realities grew wider.    The war taught the advantage of the defensive side of the field of battle.  Defenders overcame their traditional contempt for trenches and earthworks to such an extent that the space became the infantryman's best friend. 

 For both attackers and defenders, the organization of troops was similar.  Most of the brigade was arranged in two straight lines, one perhaps 100 yards behind the other.  A smaller number of troopers, called skirmishers,  were deployed in front of the first line.  These were used as scouts and probes, to determine the enemy's position and report back to the commanding officers.   The battle lines were held close together so that the officers could control the action immediately on the scene.  Persistence in the old infantry tactics of advancing in close formation, joined with the use of the rifled musket, led to the piles of Union and Confederate dead at famous battles.   For our purpose, it helps us understand that Colonel Payne was with, immediately behind, or even in front of his regiment during battle.

The Yates Illinois Sharpshooters (64th regiment) saw action under General Pope, and were most often used as skirmishers, or front line scouts, to engage the enemy and locate the enemy positions.  Payne's time with Yates introduced him to the tactics and the horrors of the war which would touch him more closely when he moved to the 124th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  His promotion to first lieutenant and then captain indicates that his performance with Yates was admired by both his superiors and the men he led.

In early 1963, Payne worked to train the newly formed 124th Ohio, and save for a small battle in March, the group saw little action until it reached Chattanooga.

Chickamauga is in the extreme northwest section of Georgia, less than 10 miles south of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Chattanooga was the main target, standing on the Tennessee River where it carved a gap through the formidable mountain barrier. Its capture would finally break that barrier, deliver one more blow at the east-west communications of the Confederacy, open the way into Georgia, and encourage the Unionists of eastern Tennessee. As the Union forces approached, Confederate General Bragg left Chattanooga and retired towards Chickamauga Creek. The battle of Chickamauga on 19-20 September 1863 was one of those chaotic, scrappy, disjointed (but non the less savage) Civil War encounters, in tangled, difficult country, in which the army commanders, and even corps and divisions commanders, often lost their grip on exactly what their men were doing or how they were fighting. ... Chickamauga was among the bloodiest of Civil War battles, and the Confederates lost the greater numbers: 18,400 to 16,100 ." --( Peter Parish, p. 297)

The outcome was a defeat for the Union forces, but Union General Thomas earned the nickname "The Rock of Chickamauga" for his heroic defense of his position on September 20. Oliver Payne fought under the Thomas group, and was seriously wounded on September 19. Thus he missed the Battle of Chattanooga, after which both armies settled into a winter stay. He rejoined his regiment in early 1964, and participated in the campaign led by Sherman against Johnston and then Hood on the 100 mile stretch between Chattanooga and Atlanta.

Revised Strategy

By 1964 General Grant had concluded that occupation of territory was not as important as defeating the enemy armies, particularly since the Union had a great advantage in numbers.  For his part, Sherman convinced Grant that the best way to defend vulnerable communication was to abandon them altogether.  He was convinced that the best way for the North to win the war was to convince the people of the South that they could not win. "If we can march a well-appointed army right through his territory, it is a demonstration that we have a power which Davis cannot resist.  This may not be war but rather statesmanship. "  Sherman's blend of imagination and tough-minded realism had carried him beyond Grant's thinking to the point where it was as important to break the civilian will to fight as the military capacity to fight.

Chattanooga  to Atlanta 

General Grant had been moved to Washington, leaving the Chattanooga group in the command of Sherman.  When Sherman's campaign began in early May, his orders were to break up Johnston's army, penetrate into the interior of the Confederacy, and damage its war-making capacity.  Atlanta was some eighty miles from his starting-point of Chattanooga, across difficult, rugged hill country, with ridge after ridge offering natural defensive strongholds to his Confederate opponents.  Their commander, Joseph E. Johnston, thought in terms of a campaign of flexible defensive maneuver, moving back from one position to the next, drawing Sherman deeper into difficulty and danger, and preparing to strike back when Sherman made a false move or was betrayed into a rash, frontal assault.  Sherman had a healthy respect for Johnston's strategy and realized only too well that every step forward would increase his supply problems; he would have to commit more of his own men to defense of the railroad which was his lifeline.  Sherman's solid core was the Army of the Cumberland, led by General Thomas, with two smaller components, the Armies of the Tennessee and of the Ohio.

When he moved against Johnston's army early in May 1864, he had no intention of making a direct challenge to the impressive Confederate position on Rocky Face Ridge; instead Thomas was merely to demonstrate against that position, while the other groups moved round its flanks.  This led do a series of flanking movements with occasional battles, at Resaca, Snake Creek Gap, Cassville, Allatoona Pass and New Hope Church.  This brought Sherman to Marietta and the siege of Atlanta began.  Johnston had been replaced by Hood,  who eventually abandoned Atlanta and led his troops toward Decatur with the intention to move on Nashville.  During the siege, the 124th was stationed at Jonesboro, south of Atlanta.

After Sherman took Atlanta, he decided to move to either Mobile or Savannah. He developed what is now considered the "total war" concept.  Believing that the war would not be won without demonstrating to the people who supported the Confederate Army their indirect responsibility, he kept about 60,000 battle-tested troops, sending the others back towards Chattanooga under General Thomas.  The 124th Ohio went back with Thomas.  Sherman sent the bulk of his supplies back to Chattanooga in early November, and burned the warehouses of Atlanta on 15 November.  His army marched out of Atlanta on 15-16 November in four columns, which spread out over a front twenty miles of more in width.  The army traveled light, living off the land, and burning or destroying  any food or supplies in its wake.  He received only cursory opposition, as Confederate General Hood had moved westward towards Decatur with the plan to attack Nashville and then perhaps join Lee for one final glorious battle.   Sherman's army took Savannah on 21 December, and by cable he presented the city to Lincoln on 24 December as a Christmas gift.

When the 124th reached Rossville near Chattanooga, Payne told his fellow officers that he would be resigning, which he which he did on 2 November 1864.  "I remember the last day our Colonel Payne was with us, near Rossville.  He said to me 'We can never conquer the south, and if we do children yet unborn will fight in this war'" (quote from an officer who served under Payne.)  The speaker opined that Payne was discouraged at being returned towards Chattanooga.  However, Payne's three-year enlistment was up, and Payne thought that he had done enough for the war.  The cited officer agreed, noting that Payne had nearly died at Chickamauga.

The 124th moved from Chattanooga towards Nashville, where it experienced its last engagement on December 15-16, 1864.  En route, it fought the Confederates at Brown's Ferry, Tennessee on October 27, 1864 and Franklin, Tennessee on November 30, 1864.

Payne's cousin, Lieutenant Samuel B Payne of Company C of the 124th was killed in battle before Nashville on 16 December.   Colonel Payne brought his body to Dayton for burial.

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