Ohio’s Impact on the War Series: Hometown Units and the Civil War

By arohmiller, posted on August 14th, 2013.
Filed under: News
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Written by Bob Minton

The Civil War, possibly more than any other war in our history highlights the concept of hometown units. With building blocks like the company (100 men) or the regiment (10 companies) it is easy to see the ties to hometowns. The military today has changed and the hometown concept is no more. Recruits are placed in units with others from all over the country. During the Civil War a company often came from just one town or county. The regiment often was composed of companies from close geographic proximity. I’d like to highlight some things about the hometown and it’s impact on the Civil War soldier.

I’ll use some examples of the 14th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in its 90 day form, spring and early summer of 1861. With Lincoln’s call for volunteers companies were raised for the 14th from small towns like Wauseon, Bryan, Stryker, Defiance and others across northwest Ohio. A company of 100 men from a small town like one of these was a large portion of the population. These companies certainly aroused a sense of pride in the community. What a thrill it must have been for a town to send their finest men to fight for the country. Officers in these early companies were often a local dignitary or politician. Flags many times came from the hands of local seamstresses. Big spreads of food and drink were laid out before the men left. Nothing was too good for their boys! Hometown pride was at an all time high.

The company has now left, off to Toledo to form with the rest of the regiment. From there to Cleveland to train, to Columbus to obtain gear and finally towards western Virginia to fight the Johnny Rebs! The hometown now has apprehension. War begins to seem a little more real with the hometown boys off to fight. Fortunately, letters begin to make their way home from the front! One of my favorite things about the hometown feel of a Civil War unit is that letters were often published in the local paper. The 14th was no exception, with letters showing up detailing the adventures! I can picture the buzz in the community when a letter is published, news from the front! Is our father, son, brother or friend mentioned? Is he okay?

So far the news is good mostly. The lads were showered with flowers and cheered by the locals as they marched through town. Now, pies are brought to camp and shared with the men by others. What a grand thing it is for the hometown boys to be treated so well! But wait, the sick list is growing. Some of the home folks start to worry, the mood begins to change. Now the letters come from Virginia–enemy soil. Still, the lads are in fine spirits.

Now, the mood really begins to turn. The sick lists are growing, the first men die from disease. An officer is shot and killed accidentally. Battles are fought, men are killed and wounded. Small town boys, known to all in the community. A friend, a brother, a business partner. War is now brought to the doorstep of the hometown. Those letters that were so looked forward to now many times contain the list of the sick, the wounded, the dead. I picture the mood of a hometown ebbing and flowing based on the war news. How could it not? Today it is almost unheard of for more than one soldier from a small town being killed or wounded together. What must it have been like during the Civil War when 20, 30 or more may have become casualties in a matter of minutes? That impact on he hometown would be felt for years to come.

I also like to think of the men together and the impact hometown had. What must it have been like to serve with so many folks from home. Were you a good soldier? Did you carry your own weight? Were you brave? What about your morals? I bet those details made their way home in the letters. I think peer pressure played quite a part in the soldier’s performance. Folks tend to act a bit different around folks you know as opposed to those you don’t. You wanted to get back to that hometown, with your reputation intact I’d imagine.

Finally the homecoming, be it after 90 days, 3 years of service or the war. How many got back to that hometown? How many lost a leg or an arm? How many a father, a son? What skill did that lost soldier have, what business did he run? What voids did he leave? Each hometown has a story from the war. What story does yours have? What company or regiment came from your neck of the woods? What local business was started by or named after a hero from war’s gone by? What monument or street? I drive through many of our small towns each week for work. I see the monuments in the town square and wonder, what is the story? They are out there, waiting for you to discover!

 

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