A prominent Union officer, Major General William B. Hazen served in nearly all of the major campaigns in the Western Theater of the American Civil War.
William Babcock Hazen was born on September 27, 1830, in West Hartford, Vermont. He was the third son and the fifth of six children born to Stillman and Ferona (Fenno) Hazen. In 1833, Hazen’s parents moved their family to a homestead near Hiram, Ohio. The Hazen children worked on the family farm and attended a one-room school where William became a close friend of classmate and future United States President James A. Garfield. In 1850, Hazen enrolled in the first class of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, which later became Hiram College.
West Point Cadet
As a youth, Hazen decided that he preferred the prospects of a military career over the drudgeries of farm life. After a good deal of lobbying, Hazen persuaded Ohio Congressman Ebon Newton to nominate him for an appointment to the United States Military Academy in 1850. Hazen passed his entrance exams and entered the Academy on September 1, 1851. Among his classmates were David McMurtrie Gregg and William W. Averell, prominent Union cavalry officers during the Civil War. Hazen graduated on July 1, 1855, placing twenty-eighth in his class of thirty-four cadets.
U.S. Army Officer
Following his graduation from West Point, officials brevetted Hazen as a second lieutenant in the 4th United States Infantry stationed at Fort Reading, California. By the time he arrived in the Golden State, on October 26, 1855, Hazen learned army officials had promoted him to second lieutenant in the 8th U.S. Infantry, and detached him to serve with the 1st U.S. Dragoons in Oregon. Hazen spent the next two years campaigning against American Indians in the northwest.
Sidelined by Serious Injuries
On February 13, 1858, Hazen finally joined the 8th Infantry at Fort Davis in western Texas, where he campaigned against Apache and Comanche Indians. Transferred to Fort Inge, in southwest Texas, in 1859, Hazen received a brevet promotion to first lieutenant on May 16 for “Gallant Conduct” during “engagements with the Indians in Texas.” On November 3, 1859, Comanche Indians severely wounded Hazen when a bullet passed through his hand and into his chest during an encounter along the Llano River. Hazen’s injuries were so serious that after being hospitalized at San Antonio, officials declared him unfit for duty and placed him on sick leave until 1861.
Return to Duty
Hazen returned to active duty on February 21, 1861, as an instructor of infantry tactics at the U.S. Military Academy. Shortly after his assignment to West Point, army officials promoted Hazen to first lieutenant on April 1, 1861.
Civil War Service
After the fall of Fort Sumter ignited the American Civil War in April 1861, Hazen received a promotion to captain on May 14. After officials rebuffed Hazen’s efforts to secure a field command, he received a leave of absence and traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to recruit soldiers for the 41st Ohio Infantry Regiment. After the regiment assembled, the soldiers elected Hazen as their commander, and the U.S. War Department commissioned him as a colonel in the volunteer army on October 29, 1861.
Battle of Shiloh
Initially serving in Kentucky and Tennessee, Hazen commanded the 19th Brigade of Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio in January 1862. In April, Hazen and his brigade distinguished themselves at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6 – 7, 1862). Arriving on the field during the second day of the conflict, Hazen’s unit suffered heavy casualties as they charged across a wheat field to regain ground the Federals had lost the day before. During the battle, Hazen lost contact with troops, leading to unsubstantiated charges of cowardice from Union General David S. Stanley over fifteen years later.
Stricken with Malaria
Following the Union victory at Shiloh, Hazen served during the Siege of Corinth (April 29 to May 30, 1862). On the march to Corinth, Hazen contracted malaria, forcing him to go on sick leave from May 25 to July 4, 1862.
Return to Active Duty at the Battle of Perryville
When he returned to duty, Hazen commanded the garrison at Murfreesboro from August 15 to September 10, 1862. In early October, Hazen’s 2,300-man brigade helped halt General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Heartland Campaign at the Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862).
Frustrated because the Union forces did not immediately pursue Bragg during his retreat after the Battle of Perryville, President Abraham Lincoln relieved Buell of his command and placed Major General William Rosecrans in command of the 14th Corps (later designated the Army of the Cumberland), on October 24, 1862. Although Hazen was still a colonel, Rosecrans selected him to command the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Division of the Left Wing of the newly formed army.
Battle of Stones River
A month later, Hazen’s brigade helped to defeat Bragg’s forces at the bloody Battle of Stones River (December 31, 1862 – January 2, 1863). Four Confederate assaults on December 31 failed to dislodge Hazen’s brigade from a wooded salient in an area known as Round Forest—”Hell’s Half-Acre.” According to the National Park Service, “
Hazen’s Brigade was the only Union unit not to retreat on the 31st. Their stand against four Confederate attacks gave Rosecrans a solid anchor for his Nashville Pike line that finally stopped the Confederate tide.
Officials soon promoted Hazen to brigadier general of volunteers, effective November 29, 1862, for his performance at Stones River.
Battle of Chickamauga
When campaigning resumed in 1863, Hazen commanded his brigade during the Tullahoma Campaign (June 24–July 3, 1863), where Rosecrans cleverly outmaneuvered Bragg, forcing the Confederate army to retreat to Chattanooga. In mid-August and September, Rosecrans once again outmaneuvered Bragg, forcing the Rebel commander to abandon Chattanooga and march his army into northern Georgia. When Rosecrans pursued, Bragg surprised him at Chickamauga. On the second day of the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19–20, 1863) Hazen’s brigade joined Major General George Thomas’s staunch defense of Snodgrass Hill, averting a total Union collapse. Officials later brevetted Hazen to the rank of major in the regular army (effective September 20, 1863) “for Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia.”
Siege of Chattanooga
Following the Confederate victory at Chickamauga, Bragg invested Rosecrans’ s army, which had retreated to Chattanooga. In late October, Hazen played a major role in breaking the Rebel siege. During the pre-dawn hours of October 27, portions of Hazen’s brigade quietly floated down the Tennessee River, past Confederate sentinels on Lookout Mountain, to Brown’s Ferry where they secured a bridgehead. Union engineers quickly constructed a pontoon bridge across the river, establishing the famous “Cracker Line,” which brought food, medicine, and ammunition to the isolated federal troops at Chattanooga.
Battle of Chattanooga
During the Battle of Chattanooga (November 23, 1863 – November 25, 1863), Hazen’s Brigade was instrumental in the capture of Orchard Knob on the first day of fighting. On the third day, his men were among the Union forces that drove the Confederates off of Missionary Ridge. Officials later brevetted Hazen to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the regular army (effective November 24, 1863) “for Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of Chattanooga.”
During the Atlanta Campaign (May 7 – September 2, 1864), Hazen was engaged in many conflicts, including the Battle of Resaca (May 15, 1864), the Battle of Adairsville (May 17, 1864), the Battle of Cassville (May 19, 1864) the Battle of Pickett’s Mills (May 27, 1864), and the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (June 21‑23, 1864).
Bloodbath at Pickett’s Mill
Hazen and his men served with great distinction during the Battle of Pickett’s Mill when Major General Oliver O. Howard and Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood ordered them to assault Major General Patrick Cleburne’s reinforced and heavily entrenched division without adequate support. In the bloodbath that followed, the Rebels cut Hazen’s brigade to shreds. Federal casualties totaled over 1,600 soldiers; the 41st Ohio lost 108 out of 260 soldiers engaged in the conflict. When asked after the battle where his brigade was, Hazen replied,
Brigade, Hell, I have none. But what is left of it is over there in the woods.
On August 17, 1864, army officials transferred Hazen to the Army of the Tennessee and placed him in command of the 5th Division. During the next two weeks, he took part in the siege of Atlanta and the federal occupation of the city on September 2, 1864. At the conclusion of the Atlanta Campaign, Hazen received a brevet promotion to colonel in the regular army, effective September 1, 1864.
Hazen accompanied the Army of the Tennessee on Sherman’s March to the Sea (November 15, 1864–December 21, 1864). Near the end of the campaign, Hazen was instrumental in the capture of Fort McAllister on December 13, 1864. Afterward, army officials promoted him to major general of volunteers, effective that date.
After spending five weeks in Savannah, Georgia, Hazen accompanied Sherman during the Carolinas Campaign from February through April 1865. As the war neared its conclusion, the War Department brevetted Hazen to major general in the regular army on March 13, 1865.
Post-Civil War Career
After the Civil War ended, Hazen briefly led the 15th Corps of the Army of the Tennessee from May 19 to August 1, 1865. He also commanded the District of Middle Tennessee for a short time from October 12, 1865 to January 24, 1866.
On January 15, 1866, Hazen mustered out of the volunteer army, but he remained in the regular army at the rank of colonel. Officials assigned him to the 38th U.S. Infantry on July 28, 1866. Serving in the Great Plains, Hazen helped implement the reservation system while he was commander of the Southern Military District from 1868 to 1869. On March 15, 1869, officials transferred Hazen to the 6th Infantry. In 1870, he traveled to Europe to observe the Prussian Army during the Franco-Prussian War.
On February 15, 1871, Hazen married Mildred McLean, the daughter of prominent Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper owner Washington McLean, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Their marriage produced a daughter who died in infancy and a son who died at age twenty-two in 1898.
In 1872, Hazen exposed corrupt trading practices at Fort Sill that led to the impeachment and resignation of President Ulysses S. Grant’s Secretary of War William Belknap. Hazen’s honesty-principled candor earned him the subsequent enmity of Washington politicians and fellow army officers.
Accused and Vindicated
Hazen returned to Europe in 1877, serving as military attaché to the United States Legation in Vienna, Austria. While there, he was also a military observer of the Russo-Turkish War. When Hazen returned to the U.S. in 1878, Colonel David S. Stanley accused Hazen of perjury during the Belknap trial and cowardice at the Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War. Hazen countered by requesting that Stanley be court-martialed for slandering a fellow officer. In 1879, a court vindicated Hazen by ruling that Stanley was guilty of “conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline.”
In 1880, President Rutherford B. Hayes promoted Hazen to the rank of brigadier general and appointed him as Chief of the Army Signal Corps. Serving in that position, Hazen was responsible for the development of meteorological science in the Army Signal Corps.
In 1881, a twenty-five man polar expedition organized by Hazen encountered problems in northern Canada. After two rescue efforts in 1882 failed to reach the stranded party, Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln refused to authorize a third attempt in 1883. Left to fend for themselves, the expedition members spent a third winter desperately wandering about in search of supplies. When finally found in 1884, only the commanding officer and seven of his men were still alive. The others had either frozen or starved to death. After Hazen criticized Lincoln’s inaction in the press and in his 1884 annual report, Lincoln had Hazen court-martialed for “conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline.” On March 21, 1885, the court found Hazen guilty of the charges. President Chester A. Arthur censured and reprimanded Hazen for his actions, but ordered him to resume the duties of his office.
Death and Burial
During the last years of his life, Hazen suffered from diabetes and recurring pain from the bullet wound he received in Texas. On January 16, 1887, at the relatively young age of 56, Hazen died at his home in Washington, D.C. from a diabetic coma brought on by the onset of a common cold contracted three days earlier.
Hazen is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.