Ohio’s Impact on the War: Supplying the Military

By arohmiller, posted on December 23rd, 2013.
Filed under: News
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Written by Catherine Wilson

Ohio’s manufactures, transportation systems, regiments of troops, and financial assistance helped the North to win the war.  While reading about the state’s political impact, I noticed several authors who said that Ohio was a microcosm of the entire country; it combined north and south, east and west, rural and urban, foreign and native, manufacturing and agricultural interests; and made them work together successfully.

Manufacturing was concentrated primarily in Cincinnati and Hamilton County, with a few other counties contributing.  By 1850, explains Stephen Maizlish in The Triumph of Sectionalism, Ohio was first in the country in corn production, and second in wheat.  Eighty percent of all pork products in Ohio were processed in Cincinnati, which was 27 percent of all meat products of the West.  In 1853, Ohio exported more agricultural products to the rest of the country than the United States exported overseas, if cotton and tobacco were excluded.  None of this was produced with slave labor either; however, cotton and tobacco were grown in Ohio, in limited quantities.

Miles Greenwood of Cincinnati was an inventor and industrialist, who transformed his factory into a “virtual arsenal,” according to Carl Becker in For the Union.  He was the only contractor in the West to supply cannon to the government; other Ohio foundries produced artillery shells and case shot, as well as rifles and black powder.  Greenwood also pursued innovation in his big guns, such as breech loading and using iron for casting cannon rather than bronze.  The Miami Powder Company, at Goe’s Station in Greene County, manufactured black powder during this time; according to rumor, the factory supplied its products to both sides in the conflict.

Transportation was another of Ohio’s “pluses.”  Of course the natural waterways, such as rivers and Lake Erie, were always useful, as far back as settlers started arriving. Starting in the 1820s, canals were a manmade source of transport; these were mostly supplanted by railroads in the 1850s.  By 1860 Ohio had more miles of railroad track than any other state.  Cincinnati was just behind New York and Philadelphia in manufacturing output according to the 1860 census; Cleveland’s industrial development was behind this at the time of the Civil War, but was coming into its own as a shipment point as well as for shipbuilding.  Both were well connected by natural and manmade networks, to markets and resources, to raw materials and finished products.

Ohio supplied the third most troops of any state, behind New York and Pennsylvania.  There were almost 320,000 men (and likely a scant number of women) serving in 230 cavalry and infantry regiments, plus 26 light and 2 heavy artillery batteries and 5 sharpshooter companies.  Several more Ohioans served in regiments from other states, such as Kentucky, New York, Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana, and Kansas.  In 1860, the total male population in Ohio between the ages of 15 and 49 was 582,201; adding the males between 50 and 59 makes this pool of potential soldiers 645,745 strong.  The ones not off in the field were likely in agriculture or manufacturing, both major sources of supply for the troops.

Other tangible and intangible supplies for Ohio soldiers included news from home, supplied by relatives, friends, and local newspapermen, or packages of “home comforts” like food or blankets.  Ladies’ Soldier’s Aid Societies all over Ohio were a major source of civilian contributions to hospitals and camps throughout the Western theater.  Supplies could take the form of direct benefits such as these, or infrastructure items such as rail track that transported them to various fields of battle and raw material for weapons from steel mills and iron furnaces back home in Ohio.

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