The 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (or 7th OVI) was an infantry regiment formed in northeastern Ohio for service in the Union Army during the American Civil War. It served in the Eastern Theater in a number of campaigns and battles with the Army of Virginia and the Army of the Potomac, and was then transferred to the Western Theater, where it joined the Army of the Cumberland besieged at Chattanooga. It is of the 7th regiment that a war historian wrote, “All in all, considering the number of its battles, its marches, its losses, its conduct in action, it may be safely said that not a single regiment in the United States gained more lasting honor or deserved better of its country than the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry.”
On 27 April 1861, orders were given to form the 7th Ohio from independent companies gathered at Camp Taylor in Cleveland.
The regiment elected its own officers, and Erastus B. Tyler of Ravenna became colonel, William R. Creighton of Cleveland as lieutenant colonel, and John S. Casement of Painesville as major. Among the original officers was Captain John W. Sprague of Sandusky; he would later be a brigadier general and Medal of Honor winner while serving in the 63rd Ohio Infantry.
On 6 May 1861, the Seventh left Camp Taylor and traveled to Cincinnati, where the new soldiers trained at Camp Dennison. In mid-June, the term of enlistment expired, and the men were asked to re-enlist for three-years’ service. The vast majority did so, with their ranks augmented by fresh recruits.
On 26 June 1861, the reconstituted 7th OVI departed Camp Dennison for western Virginia, where the men would see their first action of the war. On 26 August, Brig. Gen. John B. Floyd, commanding Confederate forces in the Kanawha Valley, crossed the Gauley River to attack the 7th Ohio encamped at Kessler’s Cross Lanes. The Seventh was surprised and routed. Floyd then withdrew to the river and took up a defensive position at Carnifex Ferry. During the month, General Robert E. Lee arrived in western Virginia and attempted to coordinate his forces. On 13 November, the Seventh was involved in fighting at Cotton Hill.
On 5 January 1862, the 7th OVI was engaged at the Blue’s Gap Affair. On 23 March, it was at Kernstown, the opening battle of Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s campaign through the Shenandoah Valley. The battle was a Union victory, later proving to be Jackson’s only defeat in the war. The last battle of Jackson’s Valley Campaign was the Battle of Port Republic, which took place on 9 June. Here, the Seventh fought very effectively. With less than three thousand muskets, Jackson’s force of fourteen thousand was held at bay for five hours. The Union forces however, were finally forced to retreat.
On 9 August, at the Battle of Cedar Mountain, the regiment was again at the front and engaged in a fierce hand-to-hand conflict. Of the three hundred men engaged, only one hundred escaped unhurt. The Seventh suffered more than any other Union regiment in this battle. On 21 August, the men experienced a brief engagement at Snicker’s Gap. During the subsequent campaign, which lasted until 2 September and culminated in the Second Battle of Manassas, the Seventh was held in reserve guarding the railroads.
On 17 September 1862, the 7th Ohio made the farthest advance of any Union regiment. With Tyndale’s brigade of Greene’s division, they first formed in the East Woods and came upon a line of Confederates. After the rebels were driven back, Tyndale’s brigade began their movement at the edge of the Cornfield and proceeded through the fields along Smoketown Road until they were in front of the Dunker Church. They then moved forward into the West Woods, contesting the enemy. After the altercation, the division and brigade were forced to withdraw, leaving all of the ground they had gained. But, this was reflective of most Union units at Antietam.
After the battle, the Confederate army retreated back across the Potomac River and into Virginia. During the hesitant march south against Lee and his army, the Seventh camped at Loudoun Heights and then Bolivar Heights near Harpers Ferry.
The Seventh crossed the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford on 30 April 1863, and advanced to Chancellorsville by way of the Germanna Plank Road and Orange Plank Road. It took position just south of the Chancellor house, in support of a Union artillery battery that had unlimbered just across the intersection from the house. On 1 May, along with the rest of the 12th Corps, it moved eastward along the Plank Road. In the vicinity of the Catharpin Road, it encountered Stonewall Jackson’s Confederates. In the evening, it beat off a probing attack by Confederate troops up the Plank Road.
During Jackson’s famous flank march on 2 May, the Seventh held its position near the Chancellor house and did not take part in this action. The Confederates renewed their attacks the following morning, and the 7th Ohio found itself in a crossfire from Major General Lafayette McLaws‘ Confederates, who were attacking it from the east, and from Jackson’s men attacking from the west. The converging fire from Confederate artillery batteries contributed to the Buckeye regiment’s casualties. By 10 a.m., Hooker decided to retreat. Candy’s brigade fell back through the 7th Ohio, which, along with several other regiments, helped cover the withdrawal. Once the rest of the army had fallen back, the Seventh joined the retreat, passing through the Chancellorsville clearing and retreating to a point on the United States Ford Road about two miles north of the battlefield. It moved back to the front later that afternoon, occupying a point near the apex of Hooker’s final line. That evening, Hooker reshuffled his line, placing the Twelfth Corps on his left flank, next to the Rappahannock River. The 7th Ohio was among the last regiments to retreat, crossing the river just before daylight on 6 May.
The 7th Ohio arrived on the fields near Gettysburg in the late afternoon of 1 July 1863. They camped in the area of Little Round Top for the night. On 2 July, they were sent to Culp’s Hill and helped build breastworks with the rest of the division. Later in the day, the division was sent to the southern end of the battlefield to support the Union left. They ended up getting lost along Baltimore Pike and never reached the area they intended. That night, they returned to Culp’s Hill.
On 3 July, at about 6 a.m., the Seventh chosen to relieve the 60th New York at the left of Greene’s line. It would be the first time the regiment had ever fought behind breastworks. Sherman R. Norris of Company D found that the Rebel formation in the 7th Ohio’s front “melted away before our volleys, and after they had been broken, numbers of the enemy took refuge behind trees and rocks.” At 8 a.m., the 60th New York again exchanged places with the 7th Ohio. Creighton’s Ohioans were back in the breastworks by 9:45 a.m., relieving an unspecified regiment to the left of the 29th Ohio. This is when Confederate Maj. Gen. Edward Johnson flung his last assault at Culp’s Hill. Among the attacking Confederates were the five regiments of the vaunted Stonewall Brigade. After an attempt to storm the right center of Greene’s line, some Rebels became stranded on the hillside.
About 11:00 a.m., Creighton noticed a makeshift white flag thrown out from behind rocks in front of the 7th Ohio’s entrenchments. He shouted for his men to stop shooting. The Buckeyes then observed a mounted officer in gray at the foot of the hill. He spurred his horse forward hoping to stop any attempt of surrender. Partway up the slope, he was met by a fusillade of bullets. Rider and horse both tumbled to the ground, dead. The officer proved to be Major Benjamin W. Leigh, Johnson’s chief of staff. Afterwards, 78 Rebel soldiers surrendered to the 7th Ohio, many of them members of the 4th Virginia Infantry. The next morning, Company H Corporal John Pollock climbed over the works and picked up the 4th Virginia’s rumpled colors, one of three battle flags captured by Geary’s division at Culp’s Hill.
Gettysburg was the last battle for the 7th Ohio in the Army of the Potomac. After pursuing the Army of Northern Virginia back into Virginia, the 11th and 12th corps were transferred west as reinforcements in order to support the besieged Union Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They were placed under the command of Joseph Hooker.
On 24 November 1863, the 7th Ohio marched with Geary’s Division from Wauhatchie early in the morning, crossed Lookout Creek about 9:30 a.m. and formed the left of Geary’s line when the latter was formed for advance toward the northern slope of Lookout Mountain. Ireland’s brigade was on their right about 50 paces in front, a march of a mile and a quarter uncovered the fords by which Grose’s Brigade of Cruft’s Division joined the left of the line. In the general attack, they pushed on to Cravens’ house, and continued in action on the front line throughout the afternoon, and then participated in the heavy skirmishing of the night.
The next day, they were in the pursuit of the Confederates towards the Rossville Gap on Missionary Ridge. They captured many men and guns without losing a single man in the regiment. On 27 November, with General Hooker, the Seventh charged up a series of hills in which the Confederates were holding called Taylor’s Ridge in the battle of Ringgold. In this battle, the Seventh lost their colonel, William R. Creighton, as well as many officers and many of their men. This would be the Seventh’s harshest experience throughout the war.
Once the campaign concluded and the siege had been lifted, the Seventh encamped at Chattanooga for the winter.
The 7th Ohio joined the campaign against Atlanta on 1 May 1864. First, it had an engagement at Rocky Face Ridge from 8–11 May. Then they took part in the Battle of Resaca on the 14th and 15th. Next, it had an engagement at Cassville on the 19th and then participated in reconnaissance at Pumpkin Vine Creek on the 25th. Later that day, they were in the Battle of Dallas and in the engagement at New Hope Church. Finally on 5 June, they fought at Allatoona Hills. Before Sherman’s forces entered Atlanta, the Seventh was removed from the front because their three-year term of service had reached its expiration.
On 11 July 1864, with the regiment’s term of enlistment having expired, men who wished to continue serving in the army were transferred to the 5th Ohio, while the others left the front for their withdrawal from active service. The 7th OVI was mustered out in Cleveland on 6–7 July.