A Story About July 22, 1864, and a Buckeye Who Never Returned Home
by Phil Spaugy
(Authors note: Even though I first published this article one year ago, I think it is worth sharing again. Tomorrow will be the 150th anniversary of the fierce combat at Bald or Leggetts Hill near Atlanta, Georgia. This fight took the lives of more that 30 men, members of the 20th Ohio Volunteer Infantry who hailed from Shelby County, Ohio. For many years after the war, the date of July 22nd, 1864 brought forth sad memories and many tears of lives and loved ones lost).
In 1861, Theophilus [or Theo as he was known to his friends and family] Ailes was an 18-year old blacksmith living in Port Jefferson, Ohio when he answered his country’s call and enlisted for 3 years in Company I of the 20th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Present through all the campaigns and battle of the 20th, Theo reenlisted in the 20th as a Veteran Volunteer in early 1864, and as such, was granted a 30-day furlough. Returning home for the first time in almost 3 years, we can only imagine the joyous reunion the Ailes family shared with Theo; sadly it would be the last time that his family would ever see him alive.
Theo was wounded and captured on July 22, 1864, during intense fight for Bald or Leggetts Hill, just east of Atlanta. The trip by foot and train to the dreaded prison camp at Andersonville took over a week, and Theo died in the prison hospital on August 7, 1864, where he lies buried in grave #4990.
The medal pictured is the Ohio Veterans Volunteer medal awarded by the state of Ohio to Theo, and to the 20,000 veterans who re-enlisted in 1864. The medals were cast by Tiffany and Co. of New York, but the medals were not sent to the veterans until 1866.
One can only imagine the emotion Theo’s family felt when they received this token of his service in the mail. Originally, the medal hung from a ribbon, which has long vanished. I have often wondered what was the purpose of the crude hole that has been punched into the medal? Perhaps it was worn by a loved one as a memento of the young Buckeye blacksmith, who as one of the “Boys of ’61” gave his “last true measure of devotion” to preserve the Union, leaving nothing behind for his loved ones but memories and a vacant chair.
Several years ago, I was able to acquire Theo’s Veteran medal, and in February of this year I made a trip to Andersonville so that after 147 years he would get his medal. It was a chilly overcast day, quite fit for the solemn occasion. As I laid his medal on his grave marker I thanked Theo for his service to our country. And although his medal returned home to Ohio with me, I left several buckeyes on his stone as a reminder of the home he never returned to.