Book Review: Cincinnati in the Civil War

cincinnati in the civil warCincinnati in the Civil War: The Union’s Queen City 
By David L. Mowery
The History Press, 2021, $26.99

Reviewed by Jon-Erik Gilot

Historian David L. Mowery has in recent years delivered several outstanding books for those of us interested in Ohio Civil War topics. His 2013 work on John Hunt Morgan’s Indiana and Ohio Raid is, in the opinion of this reviewer, one of the best available, while the complimentary guidebook published a year later stands as the definitive driving tour of sites associated with the raid. In his latest book, Cincinnati in the Civil War, Mowery has put together not only a concise history of the city during the Civil War, but an outstanding reference tool in several lengthy appendices.

The first thing one notices about the book is its thickness. Your average Civil War volume published by The History Press runs somewhere between 150 – 220 pages. Mowery’s book clocks in at an impressive 318 pages. Of that, the body of the narrative runs only 108 pages, including the table of contents and preface. Don’t let that fool you, however, as there is plenty of depth to Mowery’s research.

In seven fast-moving chapters, Mowery covers the growth of Cincinnati from the late 18th century through the Civil War years. Situated as it was on the Ohio River and at the mouth of Kentucky’s Licking River, Cincinnati was poised to play a prominent role during the Civil War.

Richly illustrated, the book also includes numerous historic and modern maps of the area, showing the locations of boatyards, iron foundries, and engine factories that supplied the war effort, the layout of nearby Camp Dennison, Morgan’s Raid through the Cincinnati suburbs, and the city’s defenses.

The book truly shines for its reference potential. Tables of local men who enlisted in the Navy (by city ward), import/export valuations, lists of all quartermaster buildings in the city (with addresses and GPS coordinates), and local Medal of Honor recipients. There are five appendices totaling over 120 pages, ranging from steamers built, refit, or purchased in Cincinnati, to the area’s Civil War defenses (with addresses and GPS coordinates). Other appendices include additional Civil War sites around Cincinnati (with addresses, GPS), and the Civil War generals buried in Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery (40 generals – the fourth most in any one location in the country).

The final appendix includes a listing of all military units composed of Cincinnati or Hamilton County residents. And we’re not talking just those companies and regiments recruited in southwestern Ohio, but regiments from seemingly every corner of the Union. These tables are illustrative of Cincinnati’s vital role along several important transportation routes, which carried its residents far and wide, and the critical role the city played in supplying northern manpower during the war.

Cincinnati in the Civil War will serve as an outstanding reference tool for those interested in the city’s and the state’s wartime contributions. The book should likewise serve as a roadmap for future local or regional studies…I can think of several cities deserving of such an effort. I look forward to seeing where Mowery takes us next!

5 Responses to Book Review: Cincinnati in the Civil War

  1. I could not agree more with this review. I had been trying for weeks to nail down the location of the various Quartermaster offices and then this book shows up and BAM its all there with GPS coordinates. The author’s attention to detail is of the highest order. There were photographs of the city that I had never seen before. It is just chock full of useful information. Now, full disclosure, I am a resident of the greater Cincinnati area. My great grandfather and my wife’s great grandfather both enlisted with Cincinnati units so I assuredly have a home town bias; but as Cincinnati was a major player in the Western theater I think that this a wonderful reference source at the least. Well done sir. H

  2. I could not agree more about the importance of Cincinnati and the West (at the time of the Civil (War). Recently, I read a compendium of short stories that was published for the WW II GIs and edited by Robert Benchley in 1943.

    One of the stories was about the victory March of the GAR in Washington DC. The parade was a two day affair. The Army of the Potomac marched first. Sherman’s troops came the next day.

    At the end of the story the author forecasts that the next war will be not with the Mexicans but with the East v the West. Remember Dewey against Taft with Ike I’m the background?

  3. I have lived in the Cincinnati area all of my 66 years and am looking forward to reading this book. There aren’t too many books on Cincinnati during the Civil War. I noticed in Mr. Gilot’s review he said there are 40 generals buried in Spring Hill Cemetary. It is actually Spring Grove Cemetary. It is the third largest cemetary in the US and is on the National Register of Historic Places. I hope this is just an oversight by Mr. Gilot and not an error in the book!

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