From Battlefields to the Whitehouse: Ohio’s Civil War Presidents

by arohmiller - February 16th, 2015

Written by: Mark Holbrook

Ohio’s contributions to the Civil War are well documented. 325,000 soldiers and sailors, 229 Union generals, members of Lincoln’s cabinet, extraordinary efforts on the home front and countless stories of courage in uniform and at home. Ohioans’ status as leaders during the war no doubt impacted the nation’s decision making in the coming years when electing presidents. Seven times U.S. citizens chose a former soldier from the Buckeye state from 1868 to 1896. They represented everything from the most famous general of the war to established politicians to the grandson of a former president from Ohio. Five veterans of the war lead our country during a period not dominated by a single state since the early years of the republic.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

Flush from his victory over Robert E. Lee and the end of the Civil War, it was not long before Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant was being recruited as a candidate for the presidency in the 1868 election. Times were not good as Reconstruction had not gone well under former vice president Andrew Johnson. The country and Congress were looking for someone they could trust, and the immensely popular Grant was an obvious answer. Born in Point Pleasant, Grant had never entertained the thought of becoming a famous general, much less the president. He did not even want to attend West Point Academy, but deference to his father’s wishes kept him there. Through a tumultuous early life, Grant was down on his luck at the beginning of the war, but quickly rose to a prominence that would carry him to the White House. During his two terms in office, Grant worked to sooth the nation’s wounds by supporting amnesty for former Confederate leaders and the protection of African American rights. While in office, he signed legislation establishing Yellowstone National Park as our first national park.

Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes followed Grant as our 19th president. Born in Delaware and a resident of Fremont when elected, Hayes was elected to Congress in 1864, but did not take his seat in the Capitol until the war was over. He began his Army career as the major for the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, rising to the rank of major general by 1865. While beginning his third term in Congress, he was nominated as the Republican candidate for president. The results were close, so close that a special commission chosen to sort out disputed electoral votes declared Hayes the victor. Serving one term as president, Hayes signed the bill allowing female attorneys to argue cases before the Supreme Court. Hayes initiated civil service reform, doing away with the common practice of making appointments for political favors. Hayes often expressed concern for minorities, the poor, and immigrants and worked to bring about changes in policy to address those concerns.

James A. Garfield's memorial in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.

James A. Garfield’s memorial in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.

James A. Garfield was the last of what were called the ‘log cabin’ presidents. Born in Cuyahoga County in 1831, Garfield would go on to serve nine terms as a congressman from Ohio, the first starting in 1863 when his election caused him to resign from the Union Army with the rank of major general. As the 1880 elections neared, Garfield worked tirelessly to get his friend and fellow congressman John Sherman of Lancaster nominated at the convention. The effort failed and Garfield became the nominee on the 37th ballot and the dark horse candidate in a race against former Union general Winfield Scott Hancock. Garfield continued Hayes’ efforts to end patronage appointments in government, going to battle with powerful factions controlling the port of New York. On July 2, 1881 at a Washington railroad station Garfield was assassinated by Charles Julius Guiteau, an attorney who had been turned down by Garfield for a political appointment. Mortally wounded, Garfield would linger until September 19, leaving us to wonder what kind of presidency he would have had if he had survived. Garfield’s vice president Chester Arthur finished the term, and Grover Cleveland occupied the Whitehouse for the succeeding four years.

Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison

Born in 1833 on a farm by the Ohio River below Cincinnati, Benjamin Harrison attended Miami University in Ohio and read law in Cincinnati. He later moved to Indianapolis where he lived when the war broke out. The presidency of the country was something Benjamin was familiar with, his grandfather William Henry Harrison had served as our ninth president. As colonel of the 70th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Benjamin Harrison fought in the western theatre of the war, and he and his regiment accompanied General William T. Sherman on his march to Savannah, Georgia. In the presidential election of 1888, Harrison opposed the incumbent Grover Cleveland. While Harrison lost the popular vote by 100,000, he won the Electoral College vote 233-168. Harrison’s most notable act as president came on July 2, 1890 when he signed in to law the Sherman Antitrust Act. The act, named for Ohio Senator John Sherman was the first measure passed by the U.S. Congress to prohibit trusts.

William McKinley

William McKinley

After a return to office by Grover Cleveland in 1893, the last of the five Civil War veterans from Ohio would take office. Nineteen year-old William McKinley of Niles enlisted in the 23rd Ohio at the beginning of the war. Rising to the rank of major by war’s end, McKinley returned home and began a law practice, eventually getting elected to Congress and then two terms as governor of Ohio. Winning the election in 1896, McKinley took office amid a time of prosperity in the country. But war would be most remembered as a part of his legacy. While preferring a neutral stance to Spain’s imperialism in the Caribbean, McKinley led the country into a 100 day war that destroyed the Spanish fleet outside Santiago harbor in Cuba, seized Manila in the Philippines, and occupied Puerto Rico. The result was the annexation of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, and Hawaii. In 1900, McKinley faced the democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan for a second time and defeated him again to win the presidency. On September 14, 1901, while standing in a receiving line at the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition, McKinley was assassinated by anarchist Leon Czolgosz. The 25th president died eight days later.

In a period spanning 1869 to 1901, five Ohio Civil War veterans were elected to the presidency seven times. Of varying backgrounds, they all held in common their service to their country and the preservation of the Union.

Faithful and Ready: Black Service in the Ohio Army NationalGuard(Part III)

by arohmiller - February 13th, 2015

Written by: SFC Joshua Mann, Historian, Ohio Army National Guard

From the formation of the Northwest Territory Militia in 1788, until the termination of racial segregation in the Ohio National Guard in 1954 and service since, black Soldiers from Ohio have distinguished themselves in service to their country even in the face of difficult race, social and political barriers.

Reorganization of the Ohio National Guard following the war saw 2 segregated units on the rolls of the state; the 372d Infantry Battalion and the 137th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion. Although President Truman had barred racial segregation of the armed forces on July 26, 1948, the order did not affect National Guard units not in federal service. Additionally, many leaders of the 2 units made a concerted effort to keep their battalion segregated, fearing that the two-edged sword of integration would block promotions and key assignments for black Soldiers.

Officers and noncommissioned officers of the 137th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, 37th Infantry Division, look over a map while training at Fort Bliss, Texas in 1952. The all-black battalion was called into federal service in January 1952, serving two years on active duty before returning to Ohio. (Ohio Army National Guard Historical Collections)

Officers and non-commissioned officers of the 137th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, 37th Infantry Division, look over a map while training at Fort Bliss, Texas in 1952. The all-black battalion was called into federal service in January 1952, serving two years on active duty before returning to Ohio. (Ohio Army National Guard Historical Collections)

Brig. Gen Kenneth Cooper (right), 37th Division Artillery commanding general, presents the guidon for Headquarters Battery, 137th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion to Captain Grady T. Smith at Camp Perry, Ohio on 23 July 1954. The ceremony marked the return of the colors and guidons of the 37th Infantry Division from active duty.

Brig. Gen Kenneth Cooper (right), 37th Division Artillery commanding general, presents the guidon for Headquarters Battery, 137th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion to Captain Grady T. Smith at Camp Perry, Ohio on 23 July 1954. The ceremony marked the return of the colors and guidons of the 37th Infantry Division from active duty.

The 137th got its first taste of integration when it was ordered into federal service in January 1952 for the Korean War. It returned to Ohio in January 1954, just months before Governor Frank Lausche issued Executive Order No. 39, which fully integrated the Ohio National Guard. Both units continued, fully integrated, until a 1959 state wide reorganization that ultimately disbanded the battalions. The lineage of both organizations continues at various company level units around the state. The battalion lineage of the 372d Infantry is perpetuated today by the 237th Support Battalion, who also wears the distinctive unit insignia of the former organization.

Maj. Gen Dana Stewart, Ohio adjutant general, swears Eyvonne Turner in as the first black female in the Ohio Army National Guard in January 1973.

Maj. Gen Dana Stewart, Ohio adjutant general, swears Eyvonne Turner in as the first black female in the Ohio Army National Guard in January 1973.

Major General Richard C. Alexander became the first black general officer and the first black adjutant general in Ohio National Guard history when he was selected by Governor Richard Celeste for the post in 1988.

Major General Richard C. Alexander became the first black general officer and the first black adjutant general in Ohio National Guard history when he was selected by Governor Richard Celeste for the post in 1988.

Since integration, black Soldiers have continued to serve with great distinction in the Ohio Army National Guard. Wilbur Jones became the first black command sergeant major in 1968. Evyonne Turner was sworn in as the first black female in January 1973. And Major General Richard Alexander became the first black general officer and the first black adjutant general in Ohio National Guard history when he was selected by Governor Richard Celeste for the post in 1988.

Faithful and Ready: Black Service in the Ohio Army National Guard(Part II)

by arohmiller - February 11th, 2015

Written by: SFC Joshua Mann, Historian, Ohio Army National Guard

From the formation of the Northwest Territory Militia in 1788, until the termination of racial segregation in the Ohio National Guard in 1954 and service since, black Soldiers from Ohio have distinguished themselves in service to their country even in the face of difficult race, social and political barriers.

Even after the service of the 5th and later the 27th USCT, also assembled from Ohio’s black Soldiers, in the Civil War, Ohio’s laws remained silent on black membership in the militia. New laws in 1878 looked to shape the guard into a more ready force and opened military service to all male citizens. In 1881 the 9th Battalion of Infantry was formed from two existing black companies, the Du Quesne Blues of Springfield and Poe Light Guards of Columbus; in 1884 the Martin Light Guard of Xenia joined the battalion.

Colonel Charles Young was the third black graduate of the U.S. Military Academy in 1889. He was a member of the famous Buffalo Soldiers before being awarded the rank of Major in 1898 and placed in command of the all-black 9th battalion, Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Camp Algers, Virginia, a post he held until the battalion returned to Ohio in 1899.

Colonel Charles Young was the third black graduate of the U.S. Military Academy in 1889. He was a member of the famous Buffalo Soldiers before being awarded the rank of Major in 1898 and placed in command of the all-black 9th battalion, Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Camp Algers, Virginia, a post he held until the battalion returned to Ohio in 1899.

When War with Spain was declared in 1898, the 9th Battalion added a fourth company in Cleveland and was mustered into Federal service in May. As the battalion prepared to leave Columbus, a political showdown forced the resignation of the battalion commander. His replacement was a regular army officer and the third black graduate of West Point, Charles Young. A native Buckeye, Major Young was known as a strict disciplinarian and introduced the guardsman to the rigors of professional military life. The war would end before most Ohio units could see combat and the 9th Ohio returned home in January 1899.

Ohio National Guard officers in France during WWI (L-R) 2d Lt. Tom Walker, 1st Lt. Ben Rudd, and 2d Lt. William Nichols

Ohio National Guard officers in France during WWI (L-R) 2d Lt. Tom Walker, 1st Lt. Ben Rudd, and 2d Lt. William Nichols

The battalion quickly reorganized and in the years prior to World War I answered many calls for aid to Ohio’s citizens. In 1917, the 9th was drafted into Federal service for World War I and was consolidated with all black units from five other states to form the 372d Infantry. In France, it was assigned to the French 157th Division and would receive the French Croix de Guerre for their actions in the Meusse-Argonne Campaign. Lieutenant Robert C. Allen, one of the few remaining black officers in the regiment, became the first African-American to receive the Distinguished Service Cross.

Colonel Howard C. Gilbert was the commander of teh 2d Battalion, 372d Infantry from its reorganization in 1924 until he was promoted to colonel and in command of the 372d Infantry Regiment in 1940. He first enlisted in the Ohio National Guard in 1893 and was a veteran of World War I.

Colonel Howard C. Gilbert was the commander of teh 2d Battalion, 372d Infantry from its reorganization in 1924 until he was promoted to colonel and in command of the 372d Infantry Regiment in 1940. He first enlisted in the Ohio National Guard in 1893 and was a veteran of World War I.

Reorganization following the war was slow for the black units. It was not until 1924 that the battalion was formed, again taking shape as the 2d Battalion, 372d Infantry. Life for the battalion during the inter-war years was comprised of routine weekly drills, summer camps and the occasional call to state active duty. On March 10, 1941, the battalion was ordered into federal service and left Ohio for Fort Dix, New Jersey. After a brief basic training it was assigned “home guard” duties in Philadelphia and later New York, guarding the harbor, subway and other key installations. Following stops in Kentucky and Arizona the 372d was finally sent to the pacific and was assigned to defensive positions on Hawaii. The war ended before the battalion could see combat and the 372d was inactivated on January 21, 1946.

Faithful and Ready: Black Service in the Ohio Army National Guard (Part I)

by arohmiller - February 9th, 2015

Written by: SFC Joshua Mann, Historian, Ohio Army National Guard

From the formation of the Northwest Territory Militia in 1788, until the termination of racial segregation in the Ohio National Guard in 1954 and service since, black Soldiers from Ohio have distinguished themselves in service to their country even in the face of difficult race, social and political barriers.

The National Colors of the Black Brigade of Cincinnati.

The National Colors of the Black Brigade of Cincinnati.

When the Northwest Territory Militia was born on July 25, 1788 it called for all physically-qualified males between the ages of sixteen and fifty to perform military service, providing no restriction on race or citizenship status. In defense of the frontier from Indian raids, many black Soldiers enrolled in the militia and participated in the defense of the settlements. However, in September 1799, the territorial legislature passed an updated militia law restricting military service to “able bodied, white male citizens.”

This restriction on military service, which many considered a rite of manhood in their community, continued officially for the next sixty years. Even as Ohio Soldiers answered the call for the War of 1812 and Mexican War, record of black Soldiers in either fight does not exist. However, with state and federal laws prohibiting non whites from serving in the organized militia, evidence exists of the formation of black independent militia companies in Ohio prior to the Civil War. In 1854 it was described that “A colored military company has been formed in Cincinnati, pronounced by competent judges to be well manned, well officered and well drilled. They have chosen the appropriate historic name of ‘Attacks Guards.” By 1860 another company, also named Attacks Guards, was formed in the Athens County village of Albany.

Even with the formation of these independent units, President Lincoln’s call for troops at the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861 continued to be answered by the all white militia. In 1862, Ohio Governor David Todd proposed that the Ohio militia could improve with the admission of black volunteer companies and declared “these men would serve as a model for the future advancement of the colored race in Ohio.” Ohio lawmakers commended the governor’s efforts, but refused to change the law.

Tod’s inspiration to change the law might have grown from the service of the Black Brigade of Cincinnati in September 1862. As Confederate troops moved north through Kentucky and towards Ohio, Tod called upon all loyal Ohioans to help defend the southern border at Cincinnati. On the night of September 2, 1862, 700 black males were violently forced from their homes by Cincinnati Police. When William Martin Dickson arrived the next day to take command of the brigade, he found his troops laboring on the south side of the Ohio River at Fort Mitchell angered by their treatment the previous night. Dickson sent the men home with instructions to return the next morning at 5:00 a.m.

The following morning nearly all 700 men returned and went to work digging trenches and riffle-pits, building forts and making roads. Although they never participated in combat, the Black Brigade was the first wave of black volunteers to defend the state.

1st Sgt. Robert Pinn was a member of Company I, 5th United States Colored Troops during the American civil war and was one of only four blacks from Ohio to receive the Medal of Honor during the war. In 1874, the new armory in Stow was named in honor of Pinn.

1st Sgt. Robert Pinn was a member of Company I, 5th United States Colored Troops during the American civil war and was one of only four blacks from Ohio to receive the Medal of Honor during the war. In 1874, the new armory in Stow was named in honor of Pinn.

Many in the Black Brigade inspired by their service would later travel to Boston to enlist in the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Governor Tod, upset that these Buckeyes were lost in the credits of other states, detailed Capt. Lewis McCoy of the 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry to begin recruiting black Soldiers. A camp was established near Delaware and although progress at first was slow, the nuclease of the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry was finally formed by the fall of 1863. Soon after, the War Department called for colored troops and the 127th became the 5th United States Colored Troops (USCT) and headed off to war. During one fight at Chafin’s Farm in Virginia on September 29, 1864 Sergeants Beatty, Holland, Pinn and Brunson were later awarded the Medal of Honor, becoming the only black Ohioans to receive the award during the war.

Letters Were a “Lifeline” for Buckeye Soldiers

by arohmiller - December 11th, 2014

Written by Frederic C. Lynch, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War

Written communications were a lifeline communicating news from home to Buckeye Billy Yank, and in turn, from bivouac and battlefield to kin and neighbors back home. Historian Bell Wiley noted, “a civilian worker with the U. S. Sanitary Commission who visited a number of units in 1861 reported soldiers in many regiments sent an average of 600 letters per day.” Ohio regiments in 1861 generally consisted of about 700 to 1,000 men. Typical time en route for a letter from civilian sender to soldier receiver, or the other way, was 7-10 days. Research documents about 90 percent of white Union soldiers could read and write. A letter from home was often kept in a pocket close to a soldier’s heart and read and re-read. Many soldiers also carried letters in a uniform pocket to be delivered to family if they were killed in action.

U.S. Army Mail Wagon

U.S. Army Mail Wagon

Knowing news from home helped morale, the U.S. Army assigned people at the unit level to collect, distribute, and deliver mail. Mail wagons and post office tents served as field post offices. In 1861, the U.S. Post Office Department charged three cents (77 cents in 2014 dollars) to mail a half-ounce letter up to 3,000 miles. A Union private’s monthly pay was $13. In 1863 the U.S. Post Office Department authorized soldiers to write “Soldier’s Letter” on the mailed envelope instead of using a postage stamp. Postage was paid by the receiver on the receiving end.

Because military units were constantly moving, the U.S. Army established central mail sorting centers to process letters to and from soldiers. In the east, about 45,000 pieces of mail a day were sent through Washington D.C. by Army of the Potomac soldiers. About 90,000 letters a day were sent by Union soldiers serving in the western theater through postal centers in Louisville and Nashville. A soldier who kept track of his outgoing mail reported in 1863 he sent 109 letters to homefolk, 55 letters to other friends, and 37 letters written by him on behalf of others who could not write letters themselves. The soldier also recorded he received 85 letters in return.

letter 1Some letters shared how a soldier felt concerning events and their commitment to the Union cause. Corporal Orrin Green, of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, wrote his sister Feb. 29, 1862 from Raleigh N.C., “Oh what a time of rejoicing there was in camp when we received the news of the taking of Fort Donaldson and the rebels there in with their officers & arms & also the taking of General Pierce & his aides & it makes us glad to hear such news for we think there is hopes of our getting home once more to enjoy life but we don’t want to come home until the thing is settled for sertin & shure…”

letter 2Many letters were personal. On Jan. 30, 1863, Private George Deal, a Union Army soldier in Company K, 20th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, sent his wife, Sarah, a letter and a valentine (pictured here): “I will send you this valentine just because I thought it was nice . . . I know you will keep it till I come home if I am so permitted. I would be glad to see you all, even the cat, but I must close as I have told you about all I can think of at this time.” The following year, Deal died during the Battle of Atlanta. Almost 10 years later, Sarah perished in a house fire in Sidney, Ohio. The letter and valentine survive today to remember their affection.

Soldiers’ letters in general followed a 19th century writing format: a first paragraph containing a personal salutation and observation, followed by brief comments concerning a recent personal event, then information regarding the writer’s health and well being, and often concluding with a special request. A typical soldier’s letter was written by Private Joseph Cherry, 95th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Feb. 27, 1864 from his duty station in Scottsboro, Ala. to a relative in another Union unit:

            “Dear Cousin,

                        I now seat myself to write you a few lines to let you know how I am getting along and as I have not heard from you for a long time thinking you were down the river on that expedition, I have not written you lately. But I learned today through one of our boys that you were at Memphis. There-fore, I thought I would write you a few lines. I suppose you have heard from home lately as I heard the other day from sister telling me of your father’s death for which I sympathize with you very much.

                        I presume you are aware of our regiment reenlisting as Veterans — among the number is myself. I suppose you will think I done wrong but I think I have good reasons for so doing. We expected to have gone home before this time but have not got off yet but expect to soon. John Martin & Ralph Watson was at home when sister wrote. I do not know whether they have reenlisted or not.

                        I have enjoyed the best of health this winter as we have the best of quarters and nothing much to do as I am in the Pioneer Corps which was organized at Iuka last fall. We had the best of times while on the march to Chattanooga. We did not take part in the fight at Mission[ary] Ridge [Nov. 25, 1863] but was so close that we could see the boys climb the Ridge. It was a sight to witness.

                        I would like to ask a favor from you if within your power and that is I have a box at Memphis  from which I heard the other day. I wrote back to the agent and enclosed a dollar to pay charges on it and told him to express it back to Columbus, Ohio. Will you please see to it if convenient as I would like to have it sent back to Ohio as soon as possible. If you do express it, do so in my name so when I get home I can get it. As I have no more news to write, I will close hoping to hear from you soon. Direct [mail] to me. With much respect, I remain your cousin, — J. M Cherry”

 

Mail for Union Soldiers during the Civil War was a lifeline. By the Oxford English Dictionary definition, a lifeline is, “a thing on which someone or something depends or which provides a means of escape from a difficult situation.” The definition applied for the “Boys in Blue 1861-65.” As illustration, on March 13, 1865, Private William Wettleson, a 12th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Union soldier serving in North Carolina eloquently documented for posterity: “I got my hands on your letter . . . and one from my wife . . . I can never remember of having been so glad before. I cried with joy and thankfulness.”

For more information, recommended sources are:

The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union by Bell Irvin Wiley; LSU Press, 2008

The Civil War in Letters Project of the Newberry Library – http://publications.newberry.org/civilwarletters