For Freedom and Humanity: The Civil War Diaries of Owen Wright

These are the civil war adventures of Owen Thomas Wright, 14th Indiana Volunteers. As the journal and commentary unfold, you'll follow Owen from being one of the first to answer Lincoln's call for volunteers, to the front lines of major battles fought by the Army of the Potomac, through his attempts to escape Confederate captors after being interred at Andersonville. Well, I’m giving away a bit too much of the plot line. Just watch the story unfold, and feel free to contribute. Huzzah! ©2005.

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Location: Misawa, Aomori, Japan

Monday, May 30, 2005

Ch 1: I Volunteered (06/05/1861 - 07/11/1861)

June 5, 1861

At 19 years of age, Owen Thomas Wright volunteered to defend “the most sacred rights of freedom and humanity” on June 5, 1861. As a member of the 14th Indiana Volunteers, Company D, Owen was among the firstrst to volunteer for a full enlistment term of three years.On the 5th of June in the little town of Scotland Greene Co., Indiana: I volunteered in defense of the most sacred rights of freedom and humanity. Yes! I volunteered to fight and if necessary to die for that flag that flitted through the smoke of battle in Bunker Hill, New Orleans, Buena Vista and Fort Sumpter.

June 6, 1861

I left my Parents, Brothers and Sisters and "Sweet-Hearts" for Bloomfield and from there to the seat of war. Never shall I forget the last lingering look that I cast towards seven others that had volunteered with me, put up for the night. The friends of the Union gave us a hearty reception. I return my sincere and heart felt thanks for the kindness bestowed upon me by Mr. Cavins likewise Mizo Cavins.

June 7, 1861

E.H.C. Cavins. When the war broke out Elijah H. Cavins recruited a company in Bloomfield. As the most prominent citizen in town, Cavins became captain of what would become Company D, Owen’s company.. The son of Judge Samuel Cavins, Elijah (who went by his initials, E. H. C.) was a Greene County attorney. Cavins and his wife had two children when he went to war. Owen’s captain distinguished himself as a capable leader. By the end of the war, Cavins earned the rank of major. (History of Green & Sullivan Counties). We started for Terre-Haute where Cap. Cavins Company embarked one week before. He did not have his company quite full and was recruiting up. We arrived within fifteen miles of the city that day and put up for the night. We came into camp the next day about noon.

June 8, 1861

We were sworn in the same evening. Here we were drilled every day, Sunday excepted, eight hours per day.

June 30, 1861

The last of June we were removed to Indianapolis.

July 4, 1861

There was a great demonstration at the capitol city and we were marched up to the arsenal and received our Muskets (sic).

July 5, 1861

We took our departure from Hoosierdom to the old dominion.

When we passed through Muncie Town we received the heartiest welcome that it has ever been my good fortune to obtain. When we came to that beautiful little town as soon as the cars stopped there came the tug of war for the cars were immediately filled with delicious cakes, pies and all sorts of sweat meats, smoking tobacco, etc., etc., etc.

Colonel Kimball thanked them for their kindness. Before night we passed into Ohio at Union City.

Midnight we passed through Columbus, the capitol of Ohio. I was very sorry that I could not see it in day light.

Next morning about sunup, we crossed the Licking River at Zanesville. Here is where the hilly country set in.

July 6, 1861

Bellair, Ohio. Owen crossed the Ohio River here on July 5, 1861 to enter Virginia, also known as the Old Dominion.

In the evening we crossed the Ohio at Bellair into the Old Dominion. At almost every house we passed in Virginia that evening we were cheered and I almost fancied myself back in Indiana. We passed several tunnels and several towns that night.

July 7, 1861

Grafton, Virginia. Grafton served as McClellan’s headquarters during the fight to free western Virginia from Confederate control. Early in the morning we found ourselves at Grafton. There were several secesh prisoners here. At 10 O'clock we came to Clarksburgh. There were several other regiments here at this place. We started for the seat of war in Western Virginia. We traveled 7 miles at night and camped about 10 O’clock.

July 8, 1861

A little before daylight we took up a march and went 18 miles. The heat was very oppressive.

July 9, 1861

We arrived at Buchanan.

July 10, 1861

Middlefork Bridge, West Virginia. Owen camped at Middlefork on his way to the rebellion. Portrayed here is the skirmish Owen referred to in his July 10 entry.We took up our line of march and reached Middlefork Bridge and camped for the night.
The Sunday before there was a very severe skirmish took place here between 56 union men and about 300 rebels. There was one union man killed and several rebels. The rebels were routed.

July 11, 1861

Battle of Rich Mountain

'BattleWe came to Rich Mountain a little before that battle commenced. There was about 10,000 United States troops here. The rebels were stationed on a high hill three miles east and had batteries erected. Accounts of their strength are different. Some say 2500 and I expect it is true. They were posted on each side of the road in a very commanding position. There was three or four of our regiments commenced the attack.

Our 14th Regiment was drawn out in line of battle for four hours to be ready if they should need us on the hill. We could see the smoke and hear the report of arms.

When the morning dawned the rebels were fleeing or had fled for they were many miles away.

We hastily took down our tents and started in pursuit. They left about fifty or sixty baggage wagons and 140 horses which we took of ours. About 200 were killed of the rebels and 20 or 30 of ours. We took several hundred prisoners.

Next installment: Cheat Mountain

Image Captions and Citations

  • Owen Thomas Wright. At 19 years of age, Owen Thomas Wright volunteered to defend "the most sacred rights of freedom and humanity" on June 5, 1861. As a member of the 14th Indiana Volunteers, Company D, Owen was among the first to volunteer for a full enlistment term of three years.
  • E.H.C. Cavins. When the war broke out Elijah H. Cavins recruited a company in Bloomfield. As the most prominent citizen in town, Cavins became captain of what would become Company D, Owen’s company.. The son of Judge Samuel Cavins, Elijah (who went by his initials, E. H. C.) was a Greene County attorney. Cavins and his wife had two children when he went to war. Owen’s captain distinguished himself as a capable leader. By the end of the war, Cavins earned the rank of major. (History of Green & Sullivan Counties).
  • Bellair, Ohio. Owen crossed the Ohio River here on July 5, 1861 to enter Virginia, also known as the Old Dominion. (Leslies Weekly).
  • Grafton, Virginia. Grafton served as McClellan’s headquarters during the fight to free western Virginia from Confederate control.
  • Middlefork Bridge, West Virginia. Owen camped at Middlefork on his way to the rebellion. Portrayed here is the skirmish Owen referred to in his July 10 entry.
    (Leslie’s Weekly, courtesy of West Virginia State Archives).
  • Battle of Rich Mountain. Held in reserve at the Battle of Rich Mountain Owen and his companions got a taste of battle that made them "eager to test their punk." (West Virginia State Archives).

6 Comments:

Blogger Brent Duncan said...

A nation torn apart

In attempt to unite the Northern and Southern states, the Founding Fathers compromised on an issue that would continue to threaten the unity of the new nation: they allowed slavery to be constitutionally legal. As the nation grew, the Northern states became increasingly industrialized and had no need for slavery, while the Southern states relied on an agricultural industry whose engine was slavery. For over 50 years the institution of slavery picked at the seams of the nation’s fabric until the compromise tore the nation apart.

The first shots

When the candidate from the newly formed Republican party, Abraham Lincoln, won on an antislavery platform (1) in 1860, the vote of the nation was split: the 16 free states cast their electoral votes for Lincoln; the 15 slave states cast their votes against him.

By February the states of the Deep South had seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. Lincoln declared the secession void and unconstitutional. The day after his inauguration he sent troops to protect Federal property. On April 12, 1861 the Confederates responded by firing on Fort Sumter, a US fort in the mouth of the Charleston harbor off the coast of South Carolina, the hotbed of the rebellion. The Union troops surrendered the fort on April 13. The war had begun.

Though slavery was the underlying issue, the cry of the South would be “states’ rights”, while the cry of the North would be “to preserve the Union.” For the 19-year old son of a Methodist minister, who became one of the earliest to heed Lincoln’s call for troops, the cause would be “for freedom and humanity”.


(1) The platform established by the Republican party at their May convention in Chicago said, in essence, the following about slavery, according to: Each state had the exclusive right to regulate its domestic institutions according to its own judgement; The dogma that the Constitution carried slavery into the territories was a dangerous heresy; The normal condition of all the territory of the United States was that neither Congress nor a territorial Legislature had authority to give slavery a legal existence in any territory. (Harper’s page 200)

5:12 PM  
Blogger Brent Duncan said...

"To the Old Dominion"

As Owen passed from “Hoosierdom to the old dominion,” he was about to join the fight to free the western part of Virginia from Confederate control.

The populations of the eastern and western portions of the Old Dominion were as different as the geography that separated them. The mountainous regions of the west excluded slavery, while the low-lying lands of the east invited it. The natural disaffection that had developed between the east and the west was fueled by tax exemptions granted to the east that were not enjoyed by the west.

While Virginia Governor Letcher trained the state militia for service against the Union, pro-Union meetings were held throughout the western counties. The secession of Richmond was the catalyst that bolted the western counties to finally assert their independence; when Virginia seceded from the Union, the western part of the state seceded from Virginia.


When the western counties declared their loyalty to the Union by unanimous vote, Governor Letcher inaugurated a reign of terror. His anti-Union forces beat and shot pro-Union Virginians. What property they could not confiscate they destroyed. The Union stepped in to defend those who had declared their loyalty.

As head of the Army of Virginia, General George Britton McClellan had to move his troops quickly into western Virginia because the secessionists were destroying the bridges that would serve as vital supply and communication lines in the mountainous region.

[Image available at: Harper’s Pictorial History of The Civil War pgs. 140-142]

5:16 PM  
Blogger Brent Duncan said...

Battle of Rich Mountain

The battle at Rich Mountain is considered merely a minor event of a great war, except for one significant result: the eventual promotion of George Brinton McClellan to the command of the Potomac army.

The nation was jubilant over the Union victory at Rich Mountain. McClellan became the hero of the moment. When only one week later General Irvin McDowell led Union troops to a disaster at Bull Run, McClellan “seemed pointed out by Providence as the ideal chieftain, who could repair the misfortune and head our armies to certain victory.” His adulating soldiers dubbed McClellan the young Napoleon. President Lincoln called McClellan to command the Army of the Potomac. (1)

In spite of the public celebration over the Union victory at Rich Mountain, historical analysis of the engagement would show characteristics of the Union’s new hero that would later become well known: he overestimated the strength of his enemy, he interpreted unfavorably the situation before him, he hesitated to support his subordinates in battle, and he failed to track down and destroy his defeated, retreating enemy. (2)

These traits would eventually lead the Potomac army into repeated defeats against an inferior foe, as Owen and his companions struggled to save the Union.

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10:53 PM  
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