Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pssst! See soldiers' 'secret' carvings on Stones River rock

Larry Hicklen points out the name of  115th Ohio Private Daniel C. Miller carved into a rock wall 
on the bank of Stones River. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
Close-up of the handiwork of Miller, who was detailed to carve inscriptions on the Hazen Brigade 
monument nearby in 1864.  The 115th Ohio soldier survived the war.
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After two minutes of small talk outside his Civil War relics shop/house on the edge of the Stones River battlefield, Larry Hicklen wanted to let me in on a secret.  "Do you have about 20 minutes?" said the lifelong resident of Rutherford County, Tenn. "I want to show you something I think you'd appreciate."

Monument to Hazen's Brigade, which turned back four
Confederate attacks during the Battle of Stones River on
Dec. 31, 1862. It is the oldest Civil War monument still standing 
in its original battlefield location.
And so Hicklen and I hopped into my Nissan Murano, driving past the most famous monument on the battlefield: Colonel William Hazen's brigade monument, blocks of limestone that form a 10-foot-high memorial to honor the 1,600 soldiers from who tenaciously defended ground astride the Old Nashville Pike. "Hell's Half Acre," the Federals called it, because of the ferocity of the fighting near the Nashville & Chattanooga railroad tracks on Dec. 31, 1862. Four times the Confederates attacked Hazen's soldiers; four times they were turned back, leaving the ground soaked with the blood of scores of Yankees and Rebels.

      PANORAMA: The Hazen Brigade monument was placed amid the brigade cemetery
                     at Stones River. (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
Inscription on the east side of Hazen Brigade monument at Stones River battlefield.
After we parked in a lot less than a mile from the battlefield visitors' center, Hicklen and I walked 15 yards or so down a paved path. Then we carefully made our way between rocky crevices toward the banks of slow-moving Stones River -- the same route Confederates undoubtedly took as they made their way up from the waterway 155-plus years ago. Wearing a blue-and-white ball cap, overalls and a long-sleeve blue-checkered shirt, Hicklen wasn't dressed for the 90-degree weather. But he was well protected from poison oak, which I deftly avoided on our trek thanks to my eagle-eyed guide.

After we reached the river bank, Hicklen and I walked 15 paces downriver. A short distance away, a kayaker in an orange life jacket awkwardly maneuvered in the muddy water. This was familiar territory for Hicklen, who years ago had hunted for battle relics along the banks of Stones River.

Four Confederates rushed up this narrow, rocky passageway 
from the bank of Stones River on Dec. 31, 1862, Hicklen said, and  
three of them were killed a short time later.
"I found some bullets right up there," he said, gesturing toward the paved pathway. Feet away, a narrow passageway between boulders led from the river to the top of a hill. On Dec. 31, 1862, four Rebels took that route to battle, my mid-60ish tour guide told me, and three of them were killed shortly after they reached the top.

Then Hicklen pointed to our objective: a limestone wall with a slight overhang. "There," he said in his Tennessee twang "is what I wanted to show you."  Within the ornate carving of a ribbon, a soldier had etched his name and unit: Daniel C. Miller, Co. B, 115th O.V. I. A less ornate inscription by another soldier, J.C. Bauhof, appeared on the stone wall two feet from the inscription by Miller.

A corporal in the 115th Ohio, the Swiss-born Miller was 23 when he enlisted on Aug. 11, 1862. He was a strong supporter of the president, writing his parents in 1864 "if you love freedom, vote again for our old Abraham Lincoln ... Hurrah for old Abe." A carpenter by trade, he made rings for his fellow soldiers, selling some for $3.50, a tidy sum for the time. Miller survived the war, mustering out in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on June 22, 1865, and settling in Cleveland, where he died in 1902. In 1864, he and Bauhof were employed to carve inscriptions on the four sides of the Hazen Brigade monument, built by soldiers between June and October 1863.

"Hazen Brigade To the memory of its soldiers who fell at Stones River, Dec. 31st 1862. Their faces toward heaven, their feet to the foe," reads the inscription on the south face of the monument -- the oldest Civil War monument still standing in its original battlefield location.

"The veterans of Shiloh have left a deathless heritage of fame upon the field of Stone River," reads the inscription on the east side, believed by Hicklen to have been carved by Miller.

Hicklen -- who ran his Civil War relics shop near the battlefield for 41 years -- speculates the two Union soldiers carved their names for posterity on the Stones River limestone during a work break on the brigade monument. Perhaps the men were simply killing time after fishing.

For several minutes, we marveled at the off-the-beaten path site, known by few people. "Isn't it the coolest thing?" said the recently retired Hicklen, who was first shown the inscriptions by local "old-timers" long ago.

Cool indeed.

J.C.Bauhof of the 115th Ohio carved his name into limestone near the inscription 
of his comrade, Daniel Miller.  (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Daniel C. Miller war-time letter transcriptions, Ohio regimental files, Stones River National Battlefield, accessed May 19, 2018.  


  1. John-

    The 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment was not in Hazen's brigade at Stones River, or at any time. It spent most of its service building and manning blockhouses along the railroad, and was engaged in that duty when in Murfreesboro.

    Company B was captured in a blockhouse by Joseph Wheeler.

    The regiment had many mechanics and craftsmen, which was apparently why it was selected for this construction duty. Perhaps those skilled men included some stonecutters, who were put to work carving the inscription in the Hazen Brigade Monument.

  2. Yikes! Meant to edit that out. Thanks for catching.

  3. Larry W. Hicklen7:01 AM

    What a pleasure it is to spend time with, and share remaining Stones River Battlefield secrets with those eager to see and learn. John's eyes sparkled like a 12 year old on Christmas morning, and I loved it. I wish there were thousands more young folks just like him, but the truth is - He is becoming a rarity around today. Well done John !!!!

  4. Amazing! Your photos make it like we're really there. Thank you so much for your amazing information, photos, and respect for the history we all need to know. Your blog has been invaluable to my research in writing my own Civil War novel. I'd be honored if you'd have a look at Hardtack by Kelsey Brickl. Hardtack is the story of Ellen "Nell" Armstrong, an iron-willed Kentucky girl, and her best friends, Sam and Isaac. When the trio's lives are upended by the dawn of the Civil War, a complicated web of marriage, love, and betrayal is woven. This is a rap-scrabble romance on the banks of the Ohio, under the specter of war.

  5. Peter Gaudet11:44 PM

    Why does it appear as though there was modern white spray painted graffiti over the carving??? Please tell me it isn't so...

  6. Great post, as usual. Of course, some idiot with no sense of history had to spray paint this rock. People are seriously stupid sometimes.

  7. Anonymous5:35 PM

    You ever been out to the caverns with the civil war writing in them. It’s out around Port Republic in Va.

  8. Anonymous9:22 AM

    My wife and I visited the battlefield many years ago. I recall the Hazen monument on hells half acre. How cool to add yet another detail. Thanks.