Ohio Squirrel Hunters Defend Cincinnati

By Kristina, posted on January 4th, 2011.
Filed under: Featured Topics, News
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Squirrel Hunters were civilian men from Ohio who assisted the federal government in defending Cincinnati, Ohio from Confederate attack in 1862.

In September 1862, Confederate forces under General Kirby Smith captured Lexington, Kentucky, in the second year of the American Civil War. Smith dispatched General Henry Heth to capture Covington, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio. Major General Horatio Wright, commander of Union forces in Kentucky, ordered General Lewis (Lew) Wallace to prepare Covington’s and Cincinnati’s defenses.

Upon arriving in Cincinnati, Wallace immediately declared martial law. All business owners were to close their shops, and civilians were to report for military duty. Wallace stated, “Civilians for labor, soldiers for battle.” Men in the regular army would fight on the battlefield, while the civilians would prepare trenches and other defensive features to prepare the two communities for attack. Cincinnati residents reportedly “cheerfully obeyed” the order.
Ohio Governor David Tod left Columbus, the state capital, and came to Cincinnati to assist Wallace. Tod immediately ordered Ohio’s adjutant-general to send any available troops other than those guarding Ohio’s southern border to Cincinnati. Tod also ordered the state quartermaster to send five thousand guns to equip Cincinnati’s militia. A number of Ohio counties offered to dispatch men to Cincinnati as well. Tod immediately accepted the offers on Lew Wallace’s behalf. He stated that only armed men should report and that railroad companies should transport the men for free and then later send a bill to the State of Ohio. Civilians from sixty-five counties numbering 15,766 men reported for duty at Cincinnati. These men became known as the “Squirrel Hunters.”

Governors portrait of David Tod that hangs in the Ohio Statehouse. He served as governor of Ohio from 1862 to 1864. As a Civil War Governor, Tod oversaw the recruitment of troops, established the Ohio Military Agency to aid Ohio soldiers and called up troops to defend the state's borders from attack by the Confederate army. (Ohio Historical Society Collection)

Many of the Squirrel Hunters had no military training and carried antiquated weapons. Despite these shortcomings, they still rallied together to help defend Ohio from Confederate invasion. City officials commandeered Cincinnati’s Fifth Street Markethouse to serve as a dining hall for the volunteers. Churches, meeting halls, and warehouses served as barracks. One day after he called for the volunteers, Governor Todd requested Ohioans to stop sending men for duty.

Discharge for T.M. Welsh from The Squirrel Hunter's. (Ohio Historical Society Collection)

Thanks to the actions of Wallace and Tod’, Covington and Cincinnati had adequate defenses to repel Heth’s advance within two days. Wallace quickly lifted martial law and allowed all businesses to reopen except for those that sold alcoholic beverages. By September 13, 1862, news reached Cincinnati that the Confederate forces were withdrawing from Kentucky and that Cincinnati was no longer in danger. Wallace earned the nickname “Savior of Cincinnati” for his actions in September 1862. The Squirrel Hunters returned to their homes.

To thank the Squirrel Hunters, the Ohio legislature, in 1863, authorized funds to Governor Tod to print discharges for these men from military duty. The discharges thanked the men for their patriotism and their willingness to sacrifice their lives in the defense of Ohio.

Text provided by Ohio History Central.

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