Captain Charles H. McCleary
|Nineteenth century Americans believed that character was an
essential element of adulthood. Courage, in the form of bravery, manliness, and
duty represented the essence of good character. For Civil War soldiers, the
ultimate expression of courage was heroic action undertaken during battle.
Captain Charles H. McCleary of Sandusky County, Ohio, was one of those
soldiers whose actions exemplified courage. A veteran of the bloody Battle of
Shiloh and the Siege of Vicksburg, McCleary met his greatest test in December
1864 at the Battle of Nashville.
McCleary and the 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry were part of
McMillen’s Brigade, the unit ordered to charge Shy’s Hill, the Rebels’ key
defensive position. McMillen ordered the men to fix bayonets and silently scale
the hillside, holding their fire and shouts until the enemy’s artillery was
immediately before them.
McCleary sprinted out in front of his regiment, scrambling for the summit.
General George A. Thomas and his staff watched the gallant brigade dash headlong
into Confederate cannon fire. Through the smoke and flames, the field command
saw flags begin to wave wildly as a loud cheer went up. With McCleary leading
the way, McMillen’s Brigade smashed through the defensive works. McCleary
attacked the artillery man whose cannon bored down on them. He then assaulted
the color bearer, capturing the flag of a Florida regiment. The courageous
assault turned the tide of battle.
|For his act of heroism, General Thomas ordered McCleary to
Washington, where he proudly presented the captured Rebel flag to Secretary of
War Edwin Stanton. Stanton sent McCleary to the White House, where he spoke with
President Abraham Lincoln for nearly half an hour. Lincoln extended McCleary the
"freedom of the city" and a thirty-day furlough. While in Washington, this
photograph of the young hero was taken at the studio of Matthew Brady. On
February 24, 1865, the United States Congress awarded McCleary the Medal of
Honor, the nation’s highest tribute for valor.
At annual reunions of the 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, comrades
never failed to recount McCleary’s heroic act that turned the tide at the Battle
of Nashville. McCleary is buried in the McPherson Cemetery at Clyde, Ohio. (Sandusky
County, Ohio Civil War Soldiers.)