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100 Years Ago

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When the message of Lincoln's call for troops reached Ohio, the reaction was immediate. An Oberlin College student later wrote: "War! and volunteers were the only topics of conversation or thought." The rdralbertwilson.gif (18923 bytes)eaction was similar from some young Shelby County men. Within 48 hours of the president's message, Dr. Albert Wilson (shown at right), a 48-year-old Sidney physician, became the first Shelby County, Ohio volunteer. He traveled to Dayton and signed on as a surgeon with the 1st Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

One of the first units formed after President Lincoln's announcement was Company F of the 15th Ohio Voluntary Infantry. Just four days after the call for troops, 100 young men from Sidney signed up for Company F. Led by Captain Abraham Kaga, the Sidney soldiers bore the last names of many families living in the county today, such as Ginn, Gamble, LeFevre, Miller, Swigert, Sharp, Burns, Staley, Moyer, Williams, and many more. The men were mustered out of service in August of 1861 after their 90 day enlistment expired, but most immediately re-enlisted for 3 years.

Not everyone stepped forward with such ease. At Ohio Wesleyan University, a freshman student named Henry O. Dwight also pondered his future. (Dwight would become a private, sergeant, and finally a lieutenant with the 20th Ohio, the regiment in which many Shelby Countians served.) Dwight's memoirs and notes, which were published after the war, give a vivid account of the life and death that was the lot of a Civil War soldier.

Dwight wrote of his decision to enlist: "At last came the battle of Bull Run (April, 1861). Thus we all knew that the time had to come for action." The patriotic fever did not have the same effect on all the students, however. When some of the 100 members of his local college militia company were lined up and asked to volunteer for military service, only Dwight and fellow student V. T. Hills stepped forward.

To ease the difficulties of recruiting, the prospective soldiers were promised they could serve with their relatives and friends. For example, an entire regiment, composed of 1,000 men, was recruited from the town of Flint, Michigan, and its mayor signed on as the commanding officer. Large numbers of boys from Port Jefferson enlisted with the 99th Ohio. Company C of the 118th Ohio contained many soldiers from Ft. Loramie and Cynthian Township. Friends from Sidney served together in the 20th Ohio.

This policy helped ease the pain of homesickness, but when tragedy struck, the results were devastating. Cousins William Penrod and John Chambers of the 99th Ohio were both wounded at the Battle of Stones River. Asa and Mary Hardisty lost three sons. Nineteen Shelby County families had more than one son who did not return.

For example, Dinsmore Township brothers Robert and Mathias Elliot enlisted on the same day. They were killed side by side within minutes of each other at the Battle of Atlanta. Brothers Alfred and Aaron Swander, two sons of David and Lydia Swander, never returned home.

The ages of the new recruits varied widely. Several soldiers, such as Thomas Powell, were just 16 years old, and Dr. Wilson (shown at right) was probably the oldest at 48. As manpower reserves dwindled in the south, the Confederates signed up younger boys. Peter Milton Morgan, a local member of the 118th Ohio, noted in his journal on July 22, 1863, "There was 2 Boys came by here that belonged to the 8th and 9th Tennessee. But they was only 12 years old."

Recruitment in Sidney was accomplished principally by means of newspaper advertisements and posted hand bills. Captains from various regiments came to Sidney to sign up new soldiers. Typical was this August 21, 1863, "Sidney Journal" notice: "Recruits wanted: Capt. Hestler is here recruiting for the 9th Ohio Cavalry...Capt. Hestler can be seen at Thorn's Hotel." Captain Hawkey, recruiting officer for the 99th Ohio, placed a September 4, 1863, ad in the "Journal" asking for "Able-bodied young men, desirous of enlisting in a crack regiment..." He promised, "Good board and lodging will be furnished from date of enlistment."

Many boys from Shelby County, Ohio traveled to other cities to sign on with friends and relatives. For example, Sidney farmer David Crumbaugh volunteered with the 55th Illinois. He did not survive the war— one of three Crumbaugh brothers who died. James Quartman traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana, and signed on with the 2nd Indiana cavalry. He never made it home. Those seeking to join a particular unit in the army other than the infantry usually had to travel to find one.

C. L. Ruggles, who ended up being a famous Union spy and scout, was a member of the 20th Ohio with Dwight and many others from Shelby County. In his memoirs, Ruggles recalled: "In August, 1861, I visited the principal cities in Ohio, in search of a company of sharpshooters, in which to enlist. I found several such organizations, but none were offered by men who suited me. While in Columbus, I met Lt. Downs of the 20th Ohio with a squad of ten men. Liking the appearance of the men, I enlisted, on the condition that he furnish me an Enfield rifle."

To many a young man, the prospect of fighting a war was viewed as an adventure. Some familiar with the matter tried to inject a dose of reality into the mix. While Union General William Tecumseh Sherman was in Columbus for a recruiting stop in May of 1863, he told the assembled audience: "There is many a boy out here today who looks on war as all glory, but boys, it is all hell."  As it became apparent that the fight with the Confederacy was not going to be won as quickly as many first thought, men who subsequently re-enlisted were asked to serve for three more years.

President Lincoln also instituted a draft in the summer of 1863. The law was passed in response to fears in the North that the Confederates would soon invade. The law compelled men between 20 and 45 to enroll, but it also allowed a man to pay a 'commutation fee' of $300 to escape the draft. Unpopular from the beginning, the law allowed such men as Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan, and the fathers of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt to avoid the war. Mary Staley of Perry Township wrote to her husband, David, on May 22, 1864, commenting that their friend "William Rodehammel was here last night. He hired a substitute for 50 dollars to go in his place."

A Military Committee in Shelby County, Ohio, which included Judge Cummins and Julia Lamb, was formed to scour the county for every available young man fit for service. A June 12, 1863, "Sidney Journal" notice commanded the citizens to assemble the next day on the courthouse lawn "at the ringing of the bell" in order to adopt measures to fill a 1,000 man regiment.

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President Abraham Lincoln

'Civil War' segment written in July, 1998 by Rich Wallace


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