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COLUMBUS — Buffington Island, Meigs County, is inaugurating a new kiosk to commemorate the significance-on many levels-of the battle fought there, and to honor the men who died there during a Civil War battle 148 years ago.
The ceremony will be held at 11 am, July 9, 2011 at Buffington Island State Memorial, State Route 124, Portland, OH in Meigs County. It will include remarks by Don Martin, Commander Ohio Department of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War; Ted Prasse, president of the Board of Trustees of the Ohio Historical Society; Debbie Phillips, Representative of the Ohio House; Edd Sharp, Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation; and Ralph Wydowski, Sons of Confederate Veterans and Morgan’s Men Association. The program will also include an honor salute, and taps performed by Benjamin Fearing Camp #2 and Cadot-Blessing Camp #126. Additional participants include 91st Ohio volunteer Infantry, and Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Pivotal event in Morgan’s Raid in Ohio
The Battle of Buffington Island was primarily an engagement between Confederate forces led by Morgan and Union troops led by Brigadier General Edward H. Hobson. “Morgan didn’t bank on the tenacity of Ohio’s military might,” said Edd Sharp, president, Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation. Sharp wrote an account of the Battle recently for Ohio Magazine. In the article, Sharp wrote that when General Morgan reached Portland on
July 18 he was accompanied by 1800 men, four canons, and 55 wagons “loaded with guns and stolen goods.” Morgan had the confidence of a general who had spent the spring months marauding through Kentucky and Indiana while destroying bridges, railroad tracks and gristmills. His troops were also stealing horses and supplies. As he entered Ohio and specifically Meigs County, he was confronted with citizen militia who threw up a gauntlet of fires and obstacles to stop his progress. Militias from Marietta (to be represented at the commemoration event by the Benjamin Fearing Camp #2) were called up and they blocked Morgan from re-crossing the river on July 18, 1863. Morgan was trapped. The action of the Union militia from Ohio forced the battle on July 19. Lasting only about five hours, it was intense, and complicated. “It’s one of the few Civil War clashes the involved every branch of service-navy, infantry, artillery and cavalry,” said Sharp.
Morgan escaped after the Battle with only 800 men remaining and without his artillery or wagons. His brother and hundreds of men were taken as prisoners. “He was no longer the military threat he had been,” said Sharp. And although Morgan was defeated at Buffington Island, his 1100 mile raid through Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio alerted the North that the Union was vulnerable to threats from the South.
First-hand Accounts of the Battle
An account from 1866 by J. T. Headley, describes the bizarre scene after the battle. Not only were men lying dead, but “The battle-field and line of retreat, presented one of the most curious spectacle ever seen in war. The ground was strewed, not only with guns, cartridge-boxes, etc., but with all sorts of hardware and dry-goods, and household articles, such as forks, spoons, calicoes, ribbons, and women’s apparel, together with buggies, carriages, market-wagons, circus-wagons, and even quite a quantity of stationery.”
Another account of the days following the Battle comes from Ohioan T. J. Weber, who as a six-year old watched Morgan lead his remaining troops through the fields. He wrote in 1909, that he remembered “the bright sunny morning of July 23, 1863. I had not long been out of bed at my home at Rokeby Lock, when upon looking across the river just below the dam I beheld a sight never to be forgotten. My childish mind was filled with awe, mingled with fear and admiration. Morgan’s cavalry was approaching, as it seemed to me in solid phalanx, while their polished sabers glistened in the morning sun. This was war. Rumors had reached us the day before that Morgan was near and would in all probability cross the river at this point, and that he was burning and destroying property on all sides as he came to it, and, worse, sparing the lives of no one, not even the women and children.”
The Henry Rifle of Daniel McCook Used in the Battle
The Battle is also noteworthy because Daniel McCook, the patriarch of the “fighting McCook” family from Carrollton, OH was fatally wounded attempting to prevent Morgan from re-crossing the Ohio River at Buffington Island. The Henry Rifle that McCook is said to have carried when he was wounded in that raid, is owned by the Ohio Historical Society and is on exhibit at the McCook House in Carrollton, OH.
A Collaborative Project Led by the Ohio Historical Society
The Ohio Historical Society worked closely with the Meigs County Historical Society, the Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation, Ohio Civil War Trail Commission, and the National Park Service and its American Battlefield Protection Program, over the past six years to increase awareness of the battle and to understand threats to the battlefield. Additionally, the Ohio Historical Society created the kiosk with panels of informative text, to provide a greater understanding of the battle that was fought here nearly a century and a half ago.
During 2012, the Ohio Historical Society and the Ohio Civil War Trail Commission will unveil the John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail. It will include 57 markers that track the trail Morgan charged through 20 counties in Ohio in 1863.
A museum commemorating the Battle is located in the Portland Community Center near the park. It houses a collection of artifacts that help tell the story of the Battle. The monument itself is made of broken Ohio glacial boulders. It is surrounded by four acres of an outdoor park where visitors can enjoy picnics and learn more from the kiosks about the history of the area. (It is not on an island.)