Ohio Children During the Civil War

By arohmiller, posted on May 19th, 2014.
Filed under: News
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Written by Catherine Wilson

Will, John, and Flora Fudge of Xenia, Ohio.  Photo courtesy of the Greene County Historical Society.

Will, John, and Flora Fudge of Xenia, Ohio. Photo courtesy of the Greene County Historical Society.

Whether letting off firecrackers on holidays or donating their pennies toward soldiers’ relief, Ohio children were affected by the Civil War in many ways. Some were orphaned by the war, some served as drummer boys, and some worked outside the home. There were good children, and delinquent ones. They played, scuffled, worshiped, did chores, threw snowballs, and went to school much like children of today.

Many orphans were made throughout the course of the war: some completely, like the Lawrie family of Brown County which lost its father at Resaca GA in 1864 and mother one year later, with many more families losing their primary source of income. Applications for the Ohio Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans Home in Xenia, opened in 1869, tell the stories of these war-torn families – fathers disabled or dead, mothers unable to care for their children, even some parents committed to an asylum.

Children who worked outside the home were generally those from poorer families. Industries that employed children differed throughout Ohio: ropemaking, weaving, newspapers, agriculture, even heavy manufacturing had their bobbin boys, printer’s devils, and mill girls or whatever equivalent terms were used. These were not all family-owned, home-based businesses either, but everything from small shops to large factories.

Mattie (no last name on the photo).  Photo courtesy of the Greene County Historical Society.

Mattie (no last name on the photo). Photo courtesy of the Greene County Historical Society.

Drummer boys were the exception rather than the rule, and usually accompanied an enlisted father. The most famous, Johnny Clem of Newark (1851-1937) was joined by Gilbert VanZandt of Clinton County (1851-1944), as well as a handful of others. The drum was fairly large, making it difficult for a child to carry, much less be able to make it heard over the din of battle, and a drummer like a flag bearer was usually a target for the opposite side. Some of what we might call boys today, the 16 and 17 year olds, could occasionally pass as older and enlist, if there was no signed parental consent. There was also a “position” called Daughter of the Regiment, which was ceremonial and did not entail the little girl going off to the front, but serving as more of a mascot. Often she was the child of the major or colonel commanding.

Young women and girls were often given roles in parades or enlistment events, portraying the loyal states or “Liberty” – many times while dressed in white, with a colored sash bearing a motto. Some helped Ladies’ Soldier’s Aid Societies to make items for the soldiers, such as sewing kits or handkerchiefs, or contributed food to boxes sent off to their home regiment’s camp.

Of course, most children stayed at home during the war. Some joined a Penny Society, generally through a church, which donated money to relief of soldiers’ families, while some organized temperance societies. Many boys played war, some getting hurt severely in the course of their play. Four children in Xenia were burned severely while representing a Panorama of the War with some friends in 1864, accidentally touching off ¼ pound of powder meant to represent the Fort Sumter magazine. Children enjoyed festivities at Christmas, the Fourth of July, and other celebrations, letting off firecrackers, being noisy, and generally being lumped together as “Young America” by the newspapers.

Ohio’s children were not generally a part of the actual fighting during the Civil War, but certainly most of them had a father, brother, uncle, cousin, or neighbor in the service. They wrote letters, sent photographs, and promised the soldiers to be good and mind their mothers. The children of the Civil War grew up to honor their family connections, joining descendants’ groups and marking the graves of the fallen, proudly remembering “my father’s regiment.”

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