Delaware News

26th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry

Historian shares story of 'groundhogs'

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The soldiers of the 26th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry never had the chance to publish their history after the Civil War.

Just shy of 150 years after the war's end, a Hilliard man is continuing his efforts to make sure the men of the "Groundhog Regiment" are not forgotten.

Jeffrey Hill, who will speak at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10, at the Powell Liberty Historical Society, 103 E. Olentangy Drive, only had a few dodgy, half-remembered anecdotes about an ancestor who served in the unit when he began his research. After 10 years of reading everything he could find about the regiment and three years of writing, he published The 26th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry: The Groundhog Regiment.

Hill published a second edition in September and hopes to update the book again as he continues his research.

Hill said the veterans of the regiment, known for its fierce fighting at the Battle of Chickamauga in northern Georgia, talked about publishing a regimental history, but abandoned those plans because they lacked the funds to pay publishing costs.

"I'm sure that was a very difficult and heart-wrenching decision for them," he said.

Hill, a mental-health social worker by trade, decided a fitting tribute to the regiment would be a published account of its trials and triumphs during the war. Along with research of first-hand, written accounts by the regiment's members, Hill traveled the route taken by the regiment and viewed the major and minor battlefields where its members fought.

Hill said he presents a framework of overall Civil War history in the book, but the focus is a ground-level view of the men in the regiment.

The regiment's men were recruited from all over Ohio, with Company C hailing largely from Delaware and Morrow counties.

"Most of them were farmers or farmhands, but then (it) had some professors and teachers and lawyers," Hill said.

Hill said the regiment earned its nickname from fellow soldiers, who were "amazed at just how efficient (the regiment was) at digging their field works.

"They seemed to do it with such fervor, they started to liken themselves ... to groundhogs," he said.

While being compared to a rodent -- and not a particularly fierce rodent at that -- could rub some people the wrong way, Hill said the soldiers in the 26th infantry embraced the nickname.

When it came time to build a memorial honoring the regiment at the Chickamauga battlefield in the 1890s, the veterans wanted to include a representation of their namesake.

"They wanted a groundhog to be on it," Hill said. "Well, the state of Ohio nixed that. They didn't think it was appropriate."

Of the regiment's 377 men who fought in the battle, which ended Sept. 20, 1863, 216 were listed as killed, wounded, captured or missing in action after its end.

Hill said the scene was chaotic from the first day on.

"There was a lot of hand-to-hand combat and both sides surging back and forth across the field," he said.

Although the Union and Confederate forces fought largely to a stalemate after one day, the Confederates outflanked and overwhelmed their opponents on the second day.

Hill said whenever the regiment's men reunited after the war, Chickamauga and the sacrifices made there were the foremost topics of discussion.

The regiment also fought at the battles of Shiloh and Perryville, and during the Chattanooga Campaign.

After suffering heavy losses in battle and due to illness during the course of the war, the regiment's soldiers received an unwelcome surprise after the Confederate Army surrendered April 9, 1865. The regiment was ordered to travel to southern Texas to trounce any pockets of remaining Confederate resistance and to act as a bulwark against France's growing influence in the area.

Hill said the lack of fresh water and a growing sense of discontentment among the soldiers threatened the unit more than any foes during this time period. The regiment was mustered out of service in October 1865.

Hill said maybe the most impressive fact he learned about the regiment through his research was just how normal the men were.

"These were not seasoned soldiers," he said. "They were just citizens who decided they wanted to fight to preserve the Union."

Hill said help is available for Ohioans looking to research their Civil War ancestry. He said the Ohio Historical Society and fellow researchers are invaluable resources.

Hill, who runs the website 26thohioinfantry.com and hosts occasional get-togethers with other descendants of 26th Infantry soldiers, said he's been pleasantly surprised throughout his research at how willing others have been to help him on his way. Still, he said the process can be challenging and time-consuming.

"It's a lot of work if you really want to have a greater appreciation of what your ancestors did," he said.

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