Sam and John Cassel of the 74th Indiana

Samuel Cassel, my 3rd great-grandfather on my mother’s side served in the Civil War alongside his son (and my 3rd great-uncle) John E. Cassel in Company B of the Union Army of the Cumberland’s 74th Indiana infantry regiment. Recently I completed an archival/genealogy research project examining their Civil War service. The bulk of the research for this project came from visits to the National Archives to view pension records and Compiled Military Service Records as well as analyses of family memoirs and the 74th Indiana regimental history, and personal Ancestry.com research. Here are Sam and John’s stories:

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Above: How I am related to Samuel Cassel on my mother’s side

Samuel “Sam” Cassel was born March 7, 1818 in an unincorporated town along the Monongahela River 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. Described as a “quiet, well-balanced man of few words and no gaudy enthusiasms,” Sam spent most of his childhood with younger brother Daniel in western Pennsylvania. In his teens, the family crossed the border west and moved to Stark County, Ohio where Sam learned millwork carpentry as a trade. The exact year of this move is unknown, but another move to farther-west Wayne County, Ohio came some time before February 18, 1839, the date of his marriage to Sarah (nee) Kimmerly.

The family that Sarah and Sam raised in Wayne County, Ohio is evidence of a time when sex was primarily for procreation rather than pleasure, with Sarah giving birth to 10 children from 1840 to 1861. Catherine (b. 1840), Amanda (b. 1841), Isabel (b. 1842), John E. (b. 1844), Mary (b. 1845), and Sarah “Jennie” (b. 1847) are all listed on the 1850 Federal U.S. Census for the Cassel household. Sam also welcomed carpenter younger brother Daniel into his home, with the bachelor listed as a member of the household on the 1850 Census as well.

Sam provided for the family by owning and operating a sawmill, a gristmill, and a woolen mill, where he employed his younger brother Daniel. Throughout the 1850s the Cassels maintained a relatively comfortable lifestyle during a difficult time to do so in America, sustaining themselves through Sam’s millwork. Sarah gave birth to 3 more children in 1852 (Daniel “Perry”), 1854 (“Worth”), and 1858 (Samantha), and miraculously the family of 11 had yet to lose any of their 9 children to infant death as was very common at the time. However, much as the country was soon to be torn apart by a violent struggle, so too was the Cassel family.

Sometime in 1860, Sam Cassel was financially ruined when a fire destroyed all of the mills on his property in Wayne County, as well as the family’s house and most of the their belongings. The fire forced Sam to once again go west, this time to Noble County, Indiana with his family and a salvaged team of horses and big wagons. Though his daughter Jennie recalled it as a “pioneering adventure,” 42 year old Sam was probably overwhelmed at the thought of having to provide for his family of 9 with only $1,000 to his name as shown in the “Personal Estate” section of the 1860 Census ($28,387 in 2018 dollars).

After settling in Columbia City, Indiana Sam returned to his trade operating a sawmill, but struggled to provide for his family due to the decrease in size/production of the operation. In 1860, toddler Samantha passed away at the age of 2. A seventh daughter Louella was born in August 1861, and although it was surely a personal joy to Sam and Sarah, the increasing financial burden of providing for a family of 9 with much lower wages was surely taking a toll.

The birth of Sam’s 10th and final child in August 1861 occurred at a time of great uncertainty in America. The American Civil War was raging in multiple theaters with no end in sight, just months after predictions on both sides of a short conflict. Similar to today, families often fell entirely along a single party line and the Cassels were no different. The Cassels identified as northern Democrats, the party generally associated with conciliatory sentiment towards the south during the war.

Sam did not stray from this platform, once stating to his daughter Jennie before the war that, “Even if the North wins, and sets the Negroes free to be on their own, without a dime or a mule or an acre or a hoe, will they be better off?” before somewhat prophetically also maintaining, “And wouldn’t a war put the North and South at everlasting loggerheads, no matter who won it?”

Sam maintained before the war that he had never owned any slaves and that wealthy New Englanders were the ones who had captured and marketed Black people for sale, not him. Also, he was in a bad financial situation that was quickly growing worse, pushing the war further from his mind. For example, in April 1862 he completed 2 major land transactions to provide income for his family: the first on April 5th to James S. Collins for $300 ($7,000 in 2018) and the second to his brother Daniel for $325 ($7600 in 2018).

Perhaps it was renewed patriotic fervor due to the desperate Union war situation in 1862 or his poor personal financial situation, but evidently Sam’s feelings changed dramatically enough by August 1862 for him and his son John to enlist in the U.S. Army at Whitley County. They were mustered into Company B of the 74th Indiana infantry regiment of Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, both as privates. Beyond Sam’s pre-war political leanings, what makes the enlistment even stranger are the ages that both men enlisted: John E. at 18 and Sam at 44.

For reference, a few months later in March 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued a conscription act calling for the drafting of all able bodied men for military service between the ages of 20-45. Even if both men had waited until later in 1863 before enlisting, they were unlikely to be drafted. And John had to obtain permission to enlist since he was between the ages of 18-20. Unfortunately no photographs of either man exist from their time in the army but Sam is listed in the Company Descriptive Book as 6 feet tall with a light complexion, blue eyes, and dark hair and John was 5’8’’ with black eyes and light hair.

Since he was one of the youngest soldiers in the regiment, my 3rd great-uncle John was assigned to be one of the two field musicians in their company. Companies in these regiments usually had a drummer and a fifer, though we do not know which instrument John played. The jobs of company musicians were to play pieces to initiate, accompany, or end military activities. Father and son trained and marched out of Louisville on October 1, 1862 with the 74th Indiana in pursuit of Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s army.

The job of Sam and John’s regiment was to reinforce Don Carlos Buell’s Union Army of the Ohio so that it could eject two Confederate armies from Kentucky that had invaded from middle Tennessee (Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith). In August 1862, Kirby Smith’s Confederate army crossed into Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap and overwhelmed a smaller Federal force at Richmond on August 30, eventually setting up defenses in the town of Frankfort, just 45 miles from the Union border in Indiana. Seeking to get Buell to follow him into an envelopment by two Confederate armies and relieve pressure on the state of Tennessee, Bragg moved his army to Bardstown by September 30.

These movements set up a showdown in central Kentucky, since Buell decided to divide his force to meet both threats. He sent a large portion of his Union force south to Bardstown to follow Bragg and a smaller force on a feint north towards Frankfort to throw off the Confederates. Sam and John were part of the larger force that followed Bragg. On October 8, 1862, Buell and Bragg’s forces finally met and faced off on the soft rolling hills along Doctor’s Creek at Perryville, Kentucky.

Perryville was a tactical defeat for the Union, but a strategic victory. Largely because of Confederate breakthroughs by William Hardee’s Confederate left wing which collapsed Union I Corps General Alexander McCook’s front, the battle was a military calamity for the Union. Union commander Buell had no clue that a major battle was raging as he dined with III Corps commander Charles Champion Gilbert at his headquarters. Buell’s obliviousness greatly imperiled his army, with only 9 of his available 24 brigades being engaged in battle. The 74th Indiana was one of these regiments, and they were fuming while held in reserve behind Phil Sheridan’s division.

The 74th was highly critical of Buell, with regimental officer Col. Myron Baker blasting Buell as a traitor in a letter to his sister. Claiming that Buell missed a chance at a Waterloo defeat for the Confederacy he wrote, “All day the cannon thundered and the musketry rang along our line and all day Buell lay in his tent a mile and half from the line of battle and part of the day we were not 4 rods from the line of battle and all day our unsupported columns were thinned by the determined fire of the enemy and yet Buell says he did not know a battle was going on! Shame on the villain!”

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Above: Map of Battle of Perryville, with position of 74th IN highlighted in bottom left

Col. Baker was not exaggerating about the 74th having to watch their unsupported Union Army comrades go down. Phil Sheridan, general of the division directly ahead of the 74th, had to literally watch McCook’s I Corps get crushed just to the north because he was obeying unchanged orders not to engage the enemy from III Corps commander Gilbert, still dining with Buell at his headquarters while the battle raged. Although Buell greatly mismanaged a battle in which he outnumbered the enemy more than 2:1, Perryville was still a strategic victory for the Union since Buell finally came to his senses and massed his entire force in front of Perryville that evening, forcing Bragg to retreat back into Tennessee through the Cumberland Gap along with Kirby Smith’s second Confederate army. The ejection of the Confederate army from Kentucky in October 1862 coupled with The Union Army of the Potomac halting Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland 3 weeks earlier was a strategic boon for the Union.

However, Buell’s incompetence did not cease at Perryville. He failed to pursue Bragg and was replaced with William Rosecrans, fresh off a Union victory at the Battle of Corinth where he halted the final Confederate offensive in the Mississippi theater. On October 24, 1862 Rosecrans officially replaced Buell and renamed his new force the Army of the Cumberland.

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Above: William Rosecrans, nicknamed “Rosey” due to his red cheeks

Sam and John did not have much time to consider this major change in command, as they both had fallen ill during the arduous 170 mile march that the 74th Indiana was making from Perryville to Nashville after the battle. Neither man made it as far as Nashville.

Now-19 year old John contracted Typhoid fever during the march on October 29, 1862. Typhoid fever was known as “Camp Fever” to camp surgeons and it was caused by bacteria entering the mouth through contaminated water or food. Outbreaks usually occurred when waves of new recruits arrived, carrying the disease with them. Symptoms were horrendous, starting with sleeplessness and fever sliding down the scale to complete weakness, a distended abdomen, and rashes of pink spots on the skin. It killed 34,800 men in the Union army during the war, and 1 in 3 cases were fatal.

Meanwhile, now-44 year old Sam was unable to complete the march due to a pre-war condition of varicose veins and an ulcer that were making him an invalid to the 74th. On November 6, 1862 he was left sick at Bowling Green, Kentucky and admitted to Branch No. 2 U.S. General Hospital in Bowling Green, where his son John had been given a bed just a day earlier. The Cassel men remained in the Bowling Green hospital until January 1863. While they were away from their regiment the 74th Indiana was detached from Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland, hammering away at Bragg’s Confederates at the major Battle of Stones River in Murfreesboro, TN.

During this time the 74th was detached so that they could pursue Confederate Cavalryman John H. Morgan’s forces, who were attempting to cut Rosecrans’ supply line along the Louisville and Nashville Railroad in Kentucky. It was not the 74th’s finest hour in their first opportunity for significant combat, as they were part of an embarrassing Union defeat in which Morgan captured 1,800 prisoners, destroyed 35 miles of track and telegraph line, and burned a key bridge over Bacon Creek that shut down the railroad for 5 weeks in this section. However the bulk of the Army of the Cumberland was still successful at Stones River with Rosecrans forcing Bragg to retreat from Middle Tennessee, setting up a showdown campaign through southeast Tennessee.

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Above: Map of John E. Cassel’s whereabouts with the 74th IN, October 1862-June 1863

It seemed unlikely that John would join this campaign in January 1863. Typhoid relapses were very common and 1 in 3 sufferers remained carriers for at least 3 years afterwards. Sam received a Certificate of Disability for Discharge at Bowling Green on January 9 due to what the surgeon called, “an indolent ulcer on the right and varicose veins of the right leg” also commenting that these conditions “existed during enlistment but have been aggravated by the exposures (of) military life.” He didn’t participate in a single day of active combat, though he witnessed the action at Perryville. Even so, Sam’s service in the war was complete with his honorable discharge and he returned to civilian life in Columbia City, Indiana.

Beating the odds, John rejoined his regiment after being released from the Bowling Green hospital on January 25, 1863. The 74th was encamped at La Vergne, Tennessee 18 miles southeast of Nashville waiting to engage Bragg as part of the Union’s Tullahoma Campaign to drive the Confederates completely out of Tennessee. In company muster rolls, John is listed as present from late January to summer. During John’s time in camp the soldiers were visited and addressed by poet/painter Thomas Buchanan Read, an abolitionist who went on to write and paint the nationally famous poem/painting combo “Sheridan’s Ride.”

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Above: T. Buchanan Read’s 1871 painting of Phil Sheridan at Cedar Creek

Read’s speech to the 74th Indiana in March 1863 was part of a political push by the Federal government to endear Union Army regiments to antislavery ideas after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Though the men of the 74th Indiana came from a state that never had slavery, their general sentiment seemed to be respectful apathy. A March 19, 1863 letter from regiment Col. Myron Baker included in the regimental history accurately portrays this apathy:

“The Abolitionists are turning Heaven and Earth to Africanize the sentiment of the army. There is much mistake about it. The army is opposed alike to the “Copperhead” and the abolitionists. They are brave, true men generally, opposed to both and all factions, firmly bent if possible on restoring to our unhappy country one undivided harmonious government.”

Though most of the regiment did not identify as abolitionists, they had no sympathy for Confederates. In another one of Col. Baker’s letters included in the regimental history, he decried an order from President Lincoln to protect Confederate property while occupying cities in Tennessee and instead insisted on seizing rebel property: 

“They are all damned rebels and out (sic) to be cleaned out but our generals are careful to guard and protect their property while they are tearing down the very government under which they were born and acquired their property…It is such property…that he ought to strip them of instead of having guards set over and safeguards it by his commanding officers.”

There is no evidence of John E. Cassel’s political leanings. He was likely a Democrat because his father was, but he could not vote and was described later by a niece as never having been “rugged.” In June 1863, he marched with the 74th to their new headquarters 16 miles south to Triune. The regiment was preparing along with the rest of Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland for the famed Tullahoma Campaign, which eventually drove the Confederates from Middle Tennessee all the way to the vital Confederate rail junction at Chattanooga 120 miles southeast of their headquarters at Triune. But young John wouldn’t participate as he contracted bronchitis in camp on June 23, the day before the beginning of the campaign.

As the 74th finally made a name for itself in combat during the Tullahoma Campaign, John E. Cassel laid in a temporary field hospital in Murfreesboro before his condition worsened and he was admitted to the larger Cumberland U.S. General Hospital in Nashville on August 16, 1863 with chronic diarrhea. Though now a good excuse for me to get out of social events, diarrhea was no laughing matter during the Civil War. Soldiers called it “Quickstep” and nearly everyone got it at least once. Union officers were unaware at the time that fecal contamination of food was the main cause of diarrhea so they routinely set up bathrooms right next to water supplies.

The symptoms of chronic diarrhea began with severe expulsion, abdominal pain, and vomiting, and in many cases finished off soldiers due to dehydration, exhaustion, or a rupture of an intestinal wall. 1 in 40 cases were fatal and it accounted for 45,000 Union soldier deaths during the war. (3rd great) Uncle John basically lay dying for the next month and a half in a Nashville hospital while his regiment had its magnum opus moment at the Battle of Chickamauga. The finishing stroke for John was the return of his typhoid fever, which eventually led to his death on October 3, 1863. 19 years old and 400 miles from home, John was buried alongside his comrades from the Army of the Cumberland at Nashville National Cemetery. The war was over for John, but just beginning for his father Sam.

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Above: Graves of Army of the Cumberland soldiers at Nashville National Cemetery

After Sam’s discharge, his daughter Jennie recalled that he “plodded home with little to show for his experience but a well-developed taste for corn liquor.” There is no mention of Sam drinking alcohol before the war and his addiction likely either came from camp boredom or alcoholic medical treatments commonly used by army surgeons. Maybe it was the defeat he felt for losing to alcohol or the fact that he recently lost his brother-soldier and son John, but in the years after the war Sam’s daughter said that, “He often broke down and cried about it, but somehow, he couldn’t quit, though he was a good man.” From that point on, Sam veered between periods of constant drinking and relative sobriety. During one of these periods of sobriety Sam sought to prove to himself that he could still master his trade, building a walnut chest for his daughter’s fifteenth birthday that remained in the family until at least 1951.

In the postwar years Sam provided for his family by starting over with millwork carpentry, now working odd jobs at small mills and barns. And in the late 1860s/early 1870s he attempted to guide his family through an economic depression by running a hardware shop that mended broken farm tools. In the 1870 Census, 53 year old Sam’s real estate value was listed as a meager $150 ($2,720 in 2018) and his personal estate value was listed as $340 ($6,200 in 2018). His daughter (my 2nd great-grandmother) Mary also helped provide for the family, being listed as a member of the household at age 24 in the 1870 Census with the occupation School Teacher.

Evidently his final years were sad ones since his grandson Lloyd remembered him as “Unhappy Old Sam.” But the war veteran scarred by his experience attempted to not let it destroy his family as well. He continued to work odd jobs into his final years, including constructing coffins for local families and enlisting the help of his daughters to line the wood with fabric. His own coffin came calling on March 11, 1877 when he passed away at age 59 at his home near Wilmot, IN. He is buried alongside his wife at Salem Cemetery in Wilmot.

In May 2017 I visited my 3rd great-uncle John’s grave at Nashville National Cemetery, located on a small ridge in the corner of the cemetery. The peaceful scene called to mind the lyrics of one of the 74th Indiana’s favorite camp songs “The Last Call:”

Some sleep in unremembered graves, where sweet magnolias bloom,

And roses shed their fragrance on the air,

But the years roll by unheeded and our summons soon will come,

To join our fallen comrades over there;

And when at last we ground our arms and wait our summons home

And turn our steps toward the other shore;

May those comrades come to meet us and greet us in that land,

Where wars and fightings cease forevermore

And so they lay in eternal rest, 400 miles apart from one another but forever bonded in death by the experience of war. Rest in peace, Sam and John.

Reference List

Asher, T. John Hunt Morgan’s Christmas Raid. Hardin County History Museum. Retrieved from http://www.hardinkyhistory.org/morgan.pdf

Compiled Service record, John E. Cassel, Pvt., 74th Indiana Infantry, Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations During the American Civil War, compiled 1890–1912, documenting the period 1861–1866, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Compiled Service record, Samuel Cassel, Pvt., 74th Indiana Infantry, Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations During the American Civil War, compiled 1890–1912, documenting the period 1861–1866, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Douglas, L. (1951). Time to Remember. Houghton Mifflin Co.

Flagel, T. (2010). The History Buff’s Guide to the Civil War. Naperville, IL: Cumberland House.

Garofalo, R., & Elrod, M. (1985). A Pictorial History of Civil War Era Musical Instruments and Military Bands. Charleston, WV: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company.

John E. Cassel, Private, Company B, 74th Indiana Infantry; Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Veterans Who Served in the Army and Navy Mainly in the Civil War and the War with Spain (“Civil War and Later Survivors ’Certificates”), 1861–1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives Building,Washington, DC.

McPherson, J. (2010). The Atlas of the Civil War. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press Book Publishers.

Peddycord, W. (1913). History of the Seventy-Fourth Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry. Warsaw, IN: The Smith Printery.