Memorial Day: Remembering Oscar Pinney

Today, I briefly visited Stones River National Battlefield, and while in Murfreesboro, also paid a visit to the Healing Field. Sponsored by the Exchange Club, the field is full of probably 200+ flags. It was a windy day, and they were all highly visible. People can “sponsor” a flag, and dedicate it to someone in the military. It was a moving tribute, and as I walked among the flags and noted some of those that were being honored, I felt as if I were among ghosts. All of those who had Gone Before. From all of America’s wars. Even some of them, only a few years ago.


I thought about who I might honor. Corydon Heath, whom I came to know through the story of Milliken’s Bend, and George Conn, another officer who died with Heath, were first to mind. But then, there was absolutely no local connection to Stones River or Murfreesboro at all. It didn’t seem appropriate.

So I thought, “Who do I ‘know’ from Stones River?” And I thought immediately of Capt. Oscar Pinney, of the 5th Wisconsin Battery. I learned of his story probably 20 years ago. And I remember reading his letters. And his last (extant) letter home, written a few days before Christmas – where he tells his wife that he just received a furlough – “to start tomorrow morning” – only to inform her that it has been countermanded.

Detail of Stones River battlefield, 9am, showing Confederate onslaught. Map drawn by Ed Bearss, National Park Service

Detail of Stones River battlefield, 9am, showing Confederate onslaught. Map drawn by Ed Bearss, National Park Service

Pinney’s battery was engulfed in the early morning of Dec. 31, 1862, in the opening hours of the battle. Posted on the far Union right, and firing canister, they were nevertheless overpowered and had to withdraw their guns. Pinney was shot, and his cannoneers were forced to leave him behind. After the battle, and when the Confederates had left the field, he was still alive, but died on February 17, 1863. Several of his comrades are buried at Stones River, but Pinney’s body was sent home.

This Memorial Day, please remember his family’s sacrifice, and those of so many, many others. They did not die that you might eat more hot dogs or have an extra day off work or shop at sale. They died that we might become a stronger, more secure nation. They died because they were willing to make sacrifices that many of us are not. They died to ensure our freedom, that we so often take for granted.


These men died too. Honor their sacrifice, say a prayer for their families, and shake a vets’ hand who made it back. Thank you. We are forever in your debt.

More about Oscar Pinney and the 5th Wisconsin Battery at Stones River:

Read his last letter (page 19)

A memoir by Charles C. Cunningham

More resources about Wisconsin units, including the 5th Battery, at Stones River.

Vets today:

Help those who’ve come home: Wounded Warrior Project

2 thoughts on “Memorial Day: Remembering Oscar Pinney

  1. Just read your post and the link to Pvt. Cunningham’s poignant memoir. My great grandfather and his brother served in Darden’s battery of Cleburne’s division and were dueling with Capt. Pinney’s battery when he fell. Darden recounted that they entered a cornfield after moving through a small skirt of woods but could not return fire because their infantry was directly in the line of fire. They moved to the left and came into battery “under a murderous fire of canister” from Pinney’s guns posted about 400 yards to the north. Darden’s four pieces opened “with shell, shrapnel and solid shot” and were soon joined by an Arkansas battery 200 yards to their left. All the while the Confederate infantry, some within 150 yards of the Union battery, were sending deadly volleys of minie balls among the cannoneers. Within twenty minutes, the 5th Wisconsin was in shambles and Captain Pinney, wounded as he tried to get his guns limbered and off the field was captured along with one brass piece that Darden’s battery used in the battle.
    I knew Pinney had been captured but didn’t realize he died only six weeks later. Reading Pvt. Cunningham’s memoir of that 155 year old battle made it seem like it happened yesterday. May all our veterans find peace.

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