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Civil War hero rests in peace at St. Mary's

From: The Cincinnati Catholic Cemetery Societyalt

For Release: Memorial Day, veterans of local interest

Civil War hero rests in peace at St. Mary’s

Private William Schmidt saves wounded drummer who stood to fight

CINCINNATI—This Memorial Day grateful citizens everywhere will gather to pay tribute to the soldiers, sailors and airmen who laid their lives on the line in the cause of freedom. While no sacrifice can be greater, a relative few are awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest individual honor for bravery in battle. Fewer still earned this honor for saving the life of another Medal of Honor recipient! One such brave soldier is buried in a historic Cincinnati cemetery, although thanks in large part to his actions that day both men lived to see the end of the bloodiest conflict in American history.    

Two soldiers at Tunnel Hill

It was the afternoon of November 25, 1863. America had been torn apart for two years by a terrible civil war. 17-year old private William Schmidt from Maumee, Ohio, once more found himself in the middle of a brutal action far from home, at the foot of Missionary Ridge near a place called Tunnel Hill, a mile or two east of Chattanooga, Tennessee. His regiment, the 37th Ohio Infantry, was part of the XV (15th) Army Corps under the command of Major General William T. Sherman. Sherman had been ordered by General Grant to attack Confederate forces commanded by Major General Patrick Cleburne, which held the northern end of the ridge.

Earlier in the day, Cleburne had thrown back Sherman’s initial charge with artillery and withering rifle fire from the base of the ridge. Now, it was happening again. With orders to retreat, Private Schmidt and the rest of the 37th fell back. It was then Schmidt became aware that an incredible thing had happened. Their drummer, a kid named John Kountz, had apparently thrown down his drum, picked up an abandoned musket and joined the fray. Not just that, he had cheered the troops on and managed to get closer to the enemy’s lines than any man in the regiment! Now, he was told, Kountz lay on the battlefield, alive but in peril---one leg shattered by a bullet.

Schmidt immediately volunteered to go get Kountz. He skirted a low hill for cover as far as he could, then raced out onto the open field to reach the wounded drummer. Witnesses reported that Kountz, aware of what was happening, shouted back to Schmidt: “Save yourself, I’m a goner!” Schmidt refused to turn back. Under heavy fire and Kountz’s cries of pain and protest, Private William Schmidt carried his comrade back to the lines alive and without further harm.

Aftermath

Sherman’s men weren’t able to dislodge Celbourne on their own, but their dogged assault at Tunnel Hill enabled other Union forces farther south to break Confederate lines and gain the ridge, eventually deciding the battle of Missionary Ridge for the Union.

Drummer Kountz lost his leg but survived the war. Although the War Department found him guilty of disobedience, that same act of extraordinary heroism earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor 30 years later. He lived to be 64.

William Schmidt also survived the war and lived to be 41. Seven years after his death, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism in rescuing a wounded comrade under terrific fire. This was one of those rare instances in which a soldier earned the Medal of Honor for saving the life of a Medal of Honor recipient.

Pay Memorial Day respects to Schmidt, other Medal of Honor recipients at Cincinnati Catholic cemeteries

The 37th Ohio Infantry was a Union regiment composed mostly of German-Americans. Upon his death in January, 1888, Medal of Honor recipient William Schmidt was buried in St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in the St. Bernard neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery is one of four cemeteries operated by the Cincinnati Catholic Cemetery Society. Grave location and vital information about the interment of MOH recipient Pvt. William Schmidt and other military veterans can be found by contacting Cincinnati Catholic Cemetery Society at 513 557-2306.

The Cincinnati Catholic Cemetery Society will hold annual Memorial Day Mass on Monday, May 30, at 11:00 a.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Price Hill and at St. Mary Catholic Cemetery in St Bernard. A non-denominational memorial service will take place at 10:00 a.m. at Baltimore Pike Cemetery in Westwood. Other events are planned for Sunday, May 29. Please contact Cincinnati Catholic Cemetery Society at 513 557-2306, or visit www.cccsohio.orgfor times and details.

About Cincinnati Catholic Cemetery Society

The Cincinnati Catholic Cemetery Society is a private, not-for-profit organization helping Greater Cincinnati families plan their final arrangements and commit loved ones to the peace of our Lord since 1843. We operate St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery on West Eighth Street in Price Hill, St. Mary’s and St. John’s Catholic cemeteries in St. Bernard, and Baltimore Pike all-faith cemetery in Fairmont.

For more information please contact:

Jerry Auer

Cincinnati Catholic Cemetery Society

3819 West Eight Street

Cincinnati Ohio 45205

513 557 2306

e-mail: jerry@cccsohio.org