Ohio’s Impact on the War Series: Why Th

By arohmiller, posted on November 26th, 2013.
Filed under: News
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Written By: Sfc. Joshua Mann, Ohio Army National Guard

Why did Civil War soldiers fight? What made them endure the hardships of Army life, the terror of battle and the loss of friends? Over 300,000 Buckeyes served during the Civil War, and if you could travel back in time and ask each of them why they chose to serve you might get that many different answers.

When the war began certainly the overwhelming majority of men who enlisted where caught up in the patriotic spirit of a nation which had just been attacked. “TO ARMS! TO ARMS!” Read one recruiting poster in northwest Ohio, “Rally to our flag! Rush to the field! Are we cowards that we must yield to traitors? Are we worthy sons of heroic sires? Come one, come all! Let us march, as our forefathers marched, to defend the only democratic Republic on earth!”

The patriotic spirit would soon be overcome by reality. While many soldiers wrote home bravely seeking a scrap with the enemy, their tone soon changed after “seeing the elephant” for the first time. “The horrors of the battlefield on Tuesday, I would not wish to convey to your mind, if I could – I would rather banish it from my own.” wrote Captain Albert Langworthy of the 49th Ohio after the battle of Shiloh.

Many men left their homes in the hope that the Army could provide a better way of life. Not unlike today’s military, the thought of financial rewards in trade for a few years of service were worth the risk to many men. An enlistment or reenlistment bonus, along with the idea of a steady pay check, was intriguing to many men trying to start a life or support a family. One such recruit in January 1864 was Peter Neiderkohr from the Seneca County village of Berwick and my great-great-great-great uncle. A married father of a young son, Peter could not speak a word of English. His brother in law, John Youngpeter was already serving in Company D, 49th Ohio, and he hoped the bonus money given to him for signing up would better his young family. He would not get the chance to have that better life, as he was killed at the battle of Pickett’s Mill just four months later.

While the financial benefit and the patriotic spirit brought many men into the Army, the friendships and brotherhoods the men developed with their fellow soldiers kept them going. The terror of combat certainly bonded them, but the routine duties of a soldier’s life cemented that bond. These men marched together, shared tents together, cooked together, prayed together, sang songs together, and stood on picket duty together. They did this in the heat and cold, rain and snow, the brightest of days and darkest of nights. “Fight over cards and rotgut whiskey, but share the last drop in their canteens,” although a line by John Wayne’s character Captain Kirby York in the 1948 movie Fort Apache, it is a fitting description of the brotherhood that develops while in the military.

In January 1906, Martin Riegle, of Bluffton and a veteran of the 49th Ohio, wrote his old comrade James Gilpin of Garber, Oklahoma. The letter explains itself and shows the devotion of comradeship during the Civil War and after. “When I think back to the 27th of May 1864, when you so kindly, and at the risk of your own life a thousand times or more as you know, the bullets, grape and canister were sweeping everything before them, yet you took me off the bloody field, while nearby me lay poor Dory Jackman, whom you also so nobly helped, but alas you could not rescue both of us. … James I won’t forget you. No, not while my memory survives me right. … I thank you for your kindness and hope our friendship will last us through this life and help to know each other in the great beyond, which is only just a little way before us. God bless you dear comrade and yours, write me when you can, good bye. Martin Riegle.”

 

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