Sergeant Daniel Hartnett
Ohio 60th Infantry- H Division Sharpshooters
To me, Daniel Hartnett is always going to be the old man in the photo of Governor McKinley’s cabinet. That picture has been a part of my life for as long as I remember. My great grandmother had the photo before my mother inherited it. In it, he’s a slight older man in a very proper suit standing with a lot of other men in proper suits.
Even now having tracked down some of the story, I find it hard to think of him as an 18 year old farm boy. His family came to Ohio from Canada, and before that from Ireland. Daniel was born in Napoleon, Ohio in 1846 making him only 18 when he enlisted with the Ohio Sharpshooters in February 1864 –he seemingly showed some leadership ability because despite his young age he is listed in the units roster as a Sergeant. The same roster contains the name of his brother Private John Hartnett, age 25.
We don’t have details about their service beyond their muster and pension records so we’ve adopted the history of the rest of the unit as the story. In April they headed for Camp Chase near Columbus where they were formally organized into the 60th Ohio Company H. This was the 2nd 60th Ohio to serve in the war, the first having been captured and the unit later disbanded. Daniel and John were among 150,000 Union soldiers, including four US presidents (Johnson, Hayes, Garfield and McKinley) who passed through Camp Chase. On April 19th they headed to Washington-traveling by freight car! Their journey finished in Catlett Station and a training site described by one veteran as ‘rigid and severe but best for us.’
The 60th Ohio was assigned under General Burnside and was left in a safe place for untested soldiers – charged guarding the rear – namely the railroad, as Grant began his advance across the Rapidan. They needed secure back lines in case the crossing took longer than expected. It was May 4th when Burnside’s brigades received their marching orders to head for battle and the units began what would be a 40 mile hike – some of it at night. To quote their unit’s historian’s memoirs in 1890:
“I will say that it was one of the most remarkable marches on record; and as that illustrious soldier, General Grant, says in his memoirs, it was one of the greatest marches in the history of the civilized world. Think of it. Green men carrying loads from forty to fifty pounds each, marching forty miles in one day………you remember how we parted first with one thing and then another; with tears in our eyes we would throw away some memento given us by a loving mother, sister or sweetheart that our load might be lightened so that we could endure the march, for we had a just pride in keeping up to the front as Ohio had very few regiments in that army and the 60th was bound to maintain the good name of our State at all hazard…………Here you would find a pair of citizen’s pants, small looking glasses, and then Government clothing, rubber blankets, parts of tents and everything conceivable thrown along the roadside to lighten our burdens.”
They heard the battle before they saw it and marched by a field hospital giving them a view of what was to come before they engaged the Confederates. Walking the trails today as my sister and I did last Fall, it is hard to imagine the foliage so full that men could not see or that it was so dense it caught fire and killed those wounded who could not move from the flames. While not among the more distinguished that day, the unit was bloodied and acquitted themselves without cause to give complaint.
Their contribution though came after Wilderness on May 9th at a place called Mary’s Bridge. As Grant pushed forward, the 60th was ordered to Spotsylvania at the extreme advance. Members of the unit felt that their ability to march from Catlett Station to Wilderness so efficiently meant that leadership “was not afraid but what we would keep out of the way of the veterans behind us and ………the 60th did not allow any regiment of veterans or otherwise to tramp our heels.” The speed of their marching would lead them to their place in history. I’ll let General Wilcox, who 31 year later recounted the battle in a letter to John Ellis, the President of the 60th Ohio veterans describe what happened next.
“On the morning of the 9th of May, 1864, your regiment behaved with great gallantry, all the more remarkable because it was a new and undrilled organization. In crossing the Nye Rive at the Gayler house at a fort defended by the enemy, the 60th Ohio was deployed as skirmishers, and under Lt. Col. McElroy together with the 20th Michigan skirmish line, handsomely dashed across the river, drove back the rebel skirmishers, and pushed up the adjoining hill slope where the enemy was posted in force.
The regiment then became a part of the main line attacking and holding the hill during a severe and prolonged contest, during which all attempts made by the enemy, both to outflank and to drive us out was finally repulsed. In the heaviest part of the action the 60th bore its full share, and though a part of the regiment was at one time driven back under the crest of the hill, with the left wing of its brigade, a part rallied by Col. McElroy and held on until re-inforcements came up, and the rebels were driven back in turn and the whole line was re-established.
On the whole, the regiments behaved like old troops and shared the varying fortunes and final victory of the day, and slept like the rest, on the field they had won.
The occasion was one of the proudest triumphs of the division which I had the honor to command, during the severe fights of the wilderness campaign. We advanced to within one mile and a half of Spottsylvania Court House and crossed a river in the face of not only the enemy at and near the ford, but of other troops in plain sight and of numbers equaling and if not outnumbering our own strength. This, as you may well remember, was pretty trying to the nerves of new troops like yours.
Our losses from both brigades counted up in killed and wounded, 167, missing 21, aggregate 188. I have not a copy of McElroy’s report handy, and do not remember your losses.
With affectionate regards to all my old comrades of the 60th Ohio, believe me,
Very truly your
Friend and Old Comrade,
O. B. Wilcox”
After the fight, General Wilcox was reported to have said that “The fools (meaning the 60th Ohio) did not know when they were whipped.” Casualties were more than half those engaged and included Daniel Hartnett who took a bullet to the arm and John Hartnett who was killed.
On May 10th, this General Field Order was issued:
Headquarters 9th Army Corps,
Nye River, Virginia, May 10, 1864.
General Field Order No. 1.
The Brigade General commanding wishes to congratulate the troops on their conduct yesterday, the 9th day of May, at this place. The first division in this action, and that of the sixth of May in the wilderness has begun its career handsomely. The first division for the rapidity and gallantry with which it came up to the front, deserves great praise……….. Of the new regiments the 60th Ohio, which led the advance finely, is entitled to honorable mention………………..
By order of
General O. B. Wilcox, Bri. Gen. Com. Div.
Wm. Richards, A. A. G.
Daniel recovered from his wounds and went back to the front at to fight at Weldon Railroad and Petersburg. He struggled in the unsanitary conditions of the trenches eventually mustering out on a medical discharge for a paralyzed arm shortly before the war ended in 1865. 130 men in the unit died from disease, so his lifelong disability still left him better off than many. Daniel returned to Ohio, to become a very successful farmer and ultimately public servant serving in McKinley’s cabinet as a Canal Commissioner.
I am honored to be able to tell his story, to make sure that the next generation knows who their ancestors were and that they believed in this nation enough to fight and sacrifice. This essay is for Cole and Grace and John Turner, Claire, Drew, Aidan, Ryan, Regan, Daniel and Amelia. 150 years ago, brave men fought to preserve the principles of freedom and to insure this nation remained united and great. It wasn’t easy and the cost was high. In early May we’ll be on the fields where 30,000 died in just one month and surrounded by fields that hold the blood of 100,000 brave souls. Your great, great, great grandfather and uncle were among them. I truly hope that 50 years from now, you will walk these same fields in the bicentennial year and tell the same story.
Bartleby.com – Ulysses S. Grant (1822–85). Personal Memoirs. 1885–86.
Chapter – Grand Movement of the Army of the Potomac—Crossing the Rapidan—Entering the Wilderness—Battle of the Wilderness
History of the 60th OVI of 1864 written by John H Ellis of Company D and read at the Third Annual Reunion, held at Westerville Ohio, 1890.
Special Thanks to:
Jennifer Volker – creator of The Völker Haus on ancestry.com for allowing me to quote from the historical documents so found. Bernard English for placing our common ancestors at Wilderness.
Jeanne Hartnett Casey Gioeli – my mother – who never let her children forget that we had ancestors who fought for the Union.