Building Ohio’s Army

Today we are pleased to welcome guest author Gordy Morgan

As the Federal government began mobilizing for civil war, Ohio was neither sufficiently organized nor adequately equipped to help fight it. But it more than made up for these deficiencies with enthusiasm for the cause. This is made clear by Ohio’s Adjutant General, C.P. Buckingham, in his report for 1861.

Since the earliest days of the Republic, Americans generally viewed a large, established military as a threat to their democratic society. So it’s not surprising that in 1861, the regular army of the United States numbered less than 17,000 soldiers scattered throughout 79 outposts west of the Mississippi River. National security relied on active state militias serving as a vast reserve of volunteers to be called upon when needed.

Buckingham writes that with the exception of the war with Mexico in the late 1840s, “the nation had been, for nearly fifty years, in a state of peace,” and that the people of Ohio had “lost all interest in military matters.” “The war,” Buckingham reported, “found the State in no condition whatever to meet its requirements.”

Ohioans were shaken from their apathy on April 12 when Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Three days later, President Lincoln made a call for 75,000 volunteers to serve for 90 days to put down the rebellion, and more than 30,000 Ohioans responded. The state’s quota under the president’s call was 13 regiments, or roughly 13,000 men, but Dennison, unwilling to dampen the enthusiasm of the recruits, decided to accept them all.

But the Federal Government would take no more than 13 regiments at this time and only the earliest responders were organized and sent to camp for training. However, instead of simply sending the others home, the governor persuaded the Ohio Legislature to accept 10,000 of them into State service for three months to defend Ohio against invasion, which at this point was a reasonable concern. Four thousand others were held in reserve under the command of their elected captains, and the remaining 3,000 were simply disbanded.

Two regiments, the First and Second Ohio Volunteer Infantry, were quickly organized and rushed to Washington, D.C. to help relieve the threat to the capital. Three months later, they participated in the Battle of Bull Run, the first large-scale engagement of the war.

Soon after the First and Second departed, the remaining 11 Federal regiments were sent to Camp Dennison near Cincinnati to be outfitted and trained. But before they could receive orders to take the field, Lincoln made a call for volunteers to sign-up for three years, which the majority of these men did. The Seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which included a Youngstown militia unit known as the “Union Guards,” was among these first Federal regiments.

According to Buckingham, “the other nine regiments . . . retained in the service to the State, were promptly clothed and armed, and about the 20th of May—a little more than one month after the fall of Sumter—were pouring into Western Virginia.” James M. Nash of Youngstown, a typesetter before the war, enlisted as a private in the “Mahoning Rifles,” which was mustered-in to State service as Company B, Nineteenth Ohio Volunteer Militia. When his three-month term of service expired, Nash re-enlisted for three years and by 1865 had risen to the rank of Colonel.

Upon securing permission from the War Department to raise additional regiments, Governor Dennison ordered the 4,000 men held in reserve to report to Camp Chase in Columbus. These became the Twenty-third, Twenty-fourth, Twenty-fifth and Twenty-sixth Ohio Volunteer Infantry regiments. Poland, Ohio, boys formed the “Poland Guards” and signed up for the war on the porch of the Sparrow Tavern, which stands to this day. They became Company E of the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry and counted among their number an 18-year-old school teacher who would become the 25th president of the United States, William McKinley. The “Carroll Guards,” named for then-mayor of Youngstown Reuben Carroll, became Company G of the Twenty-sixth.

Along with the 11 Federal regiments at Camp Dennison, these men, on August 1st, 1861, joined the Nineteenth Ohio and the other state-sponsored units (and a number of Indiana regiments) then fighting in the mountains of Western Virginia. Union successes there led to the formation of the new state of West Virginia in June of 1863.

Over the course of the Civil War, Ohio supplied more than 310,000 men in 230 regiments of infantry and cavalry and 26 independent batteries of artillery; no state, in proportion to its population, provided more soldiers for the Union army. More than 11,500 of them were killed on the battlefield or died of their wounds and another 21,000 succumbed to disease, the most effective killer of the war. The hundreds of Civil War monuments standing in town squares and cemeteries across the Buckeye State set in stone the record of their sacrifices.


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