By William Dean Howells
Copyright, 1897, by American Book Company.
XXII. THE CIVIL WAR IN OHIO
Though the Ohio people were too plodding for Aaron Burr, and though they were taunted almost from the first as the Yankee state of the West, they seem to have had war in their blood, which may have been their heritage from the long struggle with the Indians. But after the peace with Great Britain in 1815 there was no war cloud in the Ohio sky until Morgan swept across our horizon with his hard-riders, except at one time in 1835. There had then arisen between our state authorities and those of Michigan a dispute concerning the border line between the two commonwealths, and matters went so far that the governors of both States called out their militia. The Michigan troops actually invaded Ohio, and overran the watermelon patches near Toledo, ate the chickens of the neighborhood, destroyed an ice house, and carried off one Ohioan prisoner. But the mere terror of the Ohio name sufficed to send them flying home again when they heard that our riflemen were waiting for them in Toledo, and many deserters from their ranks took to the woods on their way back. This vindicated the glory of our state; we cheerfully submitted when the arbitrators chosen to settle the dispute decided it mainly in favor of Michigan, and we have ever since lived at peace with that commonwealth.
All this seems now like a huge joke, and so it has ever since been regarded, but a war was coming which was serious enough. It might be said that the great Civil War began with "John Brown's invasion of Virginia," in 1859, but it might just as well be said that it began with the fighting for and against freedom in Kansas in 1856. In fact it might be said that it began with the mobbing of anti-slavery speakers and the rescue of runaway slaves all over the North, from 1830 onwards. Yet this would be fantastic, even if it were true, and we had better accept the dates which history gives. In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected President by the men opposed to the spread of slavery, and in 1861 the slave states, feeling that their mastery of the Union was gone, left it one after another, and the first fighting took place through the effort of the United States government to hold its forts in the South.
In this war, Ohio played so great a part, that it is hard for Ohio people to keep from claiming that she played the first part. Remembering that General Grant, General Sherman, General Sheridan, the three greatest soldiers of the war, were all Ohio men, we might be tempted to claim that without these the war would not have been won for the Union, but it is safer to claim nothing more than that Ohio gave the nation the generals who won the war. Our three greatest soldiers were only chief among many others under whose lead Ohio sent to the war some three hundred and twenty thousand men, during the four years of fighting, a force almost as great as that of whole nations in other times.
[Illustration: John Morgan invades Ohio in 1863 237]
Ohio men shed their blood on all the battlefields of the South, but only once was the war which consumed her children by tens of thousands brought home to her own hearths. This was when the state was invaded by John Morgan and his hard-riders in 1863. Morgan was born at Huntsville in Alabama, and was of the true Southern type, gallant, reckless, independent. He was one of the bravest and luckiest chiefs of Confederate cavalry, and when he was ordered to march northward from Tennessee through Kentucky, and attempt the capture of Louisville, but not to pass the Ohio, he trusted to his fortune, and crossed the river into Indiana at the head of some twenty-three hundred horsemen. On the 13th of July he entered the state of Ohio, a few miles north of Cincinnati, and passed eastward unmolested by the Union general Burnside, who preferred not to bring him to battle in the neighborhood of the city, but to wait some chance of attacking him elsewhere. The militia had been called out by the governor, and the whole country was on the alert. But Morgan's men passed through Clermont, Brown, Adams, Pike, Jackson, Vinton, Athens, and Gallia counties into Meigs with comparatively little molestation, though the militia learned rapidly to embarrass if not to imperil his course. His men suffered terribly in their long ride. They had to live on the country as best they could, and they were literally dropping with sleep as they pushed their jaded horses along the roads, everywhere threatened by the Ohio sharpshooters. They fell from their saddles and were left behind; they crawled off in the darkness and threw themselves down in the woods and fields, glad to awaken prisoners in the hands of their pursuers. At first the large towns were alarmed by the fear of pillage, but Morgan had hardly got into Ohio before it became his chief aim to get out again. His hard-riders were confined in their depredations mainly to the plunder of the country stores on their route. They stole what they could, but they stole without method or reason, except in the matter of horses, which they really needed and could use. They commonly left their worn-out chargers in exchange, but they took the freshest and strongest horses they could get, at any rate. In their horse stealing they were not so very unlike the Kentucky pioneers, who used to cross into the Ohio country for the ponies of the Indians, and they practiced it at much the same risk; for the Ohio people were becoming every moment madder and more mischievous. At first they only cut down trees to check Morgan's march after he got by, but they soon began to obstruct the roads in front of him; and though they burned one bridge over a river that he could easily ford, it was not long before they learned to destroy bridges where the streams were otherwise impassable.
By the time he reached Portland the militia were closing in around him, and the next morning two detachments of United States cavalry struck him, while the gunboats which had been watching for him on the river, opened fire on him. In a few minutes the fight was over. Morgan left seven hundred of his men prisoners behind him, and with twelve hundred others fled north and east to seek a new way out of Ohio. The fight at Buffington Island took place on the 18th, five days after Morgan crossed the Ohio line into Hamilton County, and on the 26th he surrendered with the constantly lessening remnant of his force seven miles from New Lisbon in Columbiana County.
The prisoners were all sent for safe keeping to the penitentiary at Columbus, but on the night of November 7th, Morgan and six of his comrades made their escape, by digging into an air-space under the floor of his cell with their table-knives, passing through this to the prison walls, and letting themselves down with ropes made of their bed-clothes. At the station where they were to take the train for Cincinnati, Morgan was dismayed to realize that he had no money to buy a ticket; but one of his officers had been supplied by a young lady who sent him some bank notes concealed in a book. They rode all night in great fear and anxiety, and just before the train drew into Cincinnati they put on the brakes and slowed it enough to drop from it with safety. Then they lost no time in making for the Ohio River, where they hired a boy to set them over to Kentucky in his boat. Morgan had not found the Ohio people too plodding for him, as Aaron Burr had, but he was quite as glad to leave their state, which he never revisited, for he was killed the next year in Tennessee. He left behind him in Ohio by no means a wholly evil name, and some stories are told of him that more than hint at a generous nature. A Union soldier whom his men had taken tried to break his musket across a stone, and one of the Confederate officers drew his pistol to shoot him. Morgan forbade it. "Never harm a man who has surrendered," he said. "He was only doing what I should have done in his place."
We may be sure that such an enemy inflicted no wanton injury upon the country, and there was something in Morgan's presence that corresponded with this magnanimity of his character. He was a man of powerful frame, large beyond the common, of great endurance, and able to outride any of his men, without sleep or rest. He had a fresh complexion, with fair hair and beard, and his face was rather mild. When he gave himself up at last, it was with an apparently cheerful unconcern at the turn of luck which in other raids had enabled him to break bridges, capture trains, and destroy millions of value in military stores.
Ohio is herself built upon so grand a scale that even her enemies seem to have been cast in a noble mold; and the jokes upon her own people that form the life of most of the stories of Morgan's raid are as large as he. At one point, forty miles from their line of march, a good lady saved the family horse from the southern troopers by locking him into the parlor, where his stamping on the hollow floor kept the neighborhood awake the whole night through.
One of Morgan's men, who plundered wildly, but not very wickedly, carried for two days a bird cage with three canaries in it; another, at the looting of a country store, filled his pockets with bone-buttons; they were only dangerous when they met reluctance in their frequent horse trades. They called at the house of a gentleman in Hamilton County at one o'clock in the morning, and asked for breakfast; when he objected that there was no fire at that time, they suggested that they could kindle one for him that it might be hard to put out; then he made one himself and they got their breakfast.
In Carroll County Morgan himself called for dinner at the house of a lady whose maiden name was Morgan, and at table they fell into such kindly chat about their cousinship, that she ended by giving him a clean shirt, which he needed badly, and gratefully wore away.
[Illustration: Hiding with the pigs 242R]
A farmer in Morgan County took refuge in his pigpen, where one of the raiders found him trying to hide behind a fat mother of a family, who was suckling her farrow. The raider grinned: "Hello! How did you get here? Did you all come in the same litter?" A stuttering hero who had been bragging of what he would do to the enemy if he got at them, was surprised by Morgan's men with a demand for his surrender. He flung up his hands instantly. "I s-s-surrendered f-f-f-five minutes ago!"
One of the greatest jokes of all was played upon a friend of the South in Hamilton County. My younger readers may not suppose that there could be any friends of the South in Ohio, at that time; but in truth there were a great many, and far more than there were at the outbreak of the war. Then most of us believed that it would be quickly fought to an end; but after it had dragged on for two years, when its drain on the blood and the money of the nation was severest, and the end seemed as far off as at the beginning, those who had never loved the cause of freedom could easily blow the smoldering fires of discontent into a wide and far-raging flame. It must not be imagined that the Northern enemies of the North were all bad men; they were sometimes men of conscience, and sincerely opposed to the war against the South as unjust and hopeless. But they were called copperheads, because for a long time they lurked silently among the people, like that deadly snake which used to haunt the grass of the backwoods, and bite without warning. They were still called copperheads when they lifted their heads and struck boldly at the Union cause, under the lead of a very able man, Clement L. Vallandigham, whom we shall presently learn more of; and it was an old copperhead who followed Morgan's rear guard with the best horse the hard-riders had left him, and who tried to get speech with the officer in command. He explained that he was a follower of Vallandigham and against the war, and he pleaded that on this ground he ought to have his horses back. The Morgan colonel said they could not stop to listen, but they would hear him if he would drive along with them. He added that as some of his soldiers were worn out, the copperhead had better give them his wagon; and when the copperhead said that he could not ride, the colonel answered that he should be allowed to walk. After walking awhile, he complained that his boots hurt him, and the colonel ordered them taken off. The copperhead was obliged to follow in his stockings till the raiders camped. Then, to amuse their leisure, they taught him a Morgan song, and obliged him to dance, fat and fagged as he was, to his own music, while they applauded him with shouts of "Go it, old Yank! Louder!" till their commanding officer ordered them to harness a worn-out crow bait to his wagon, and bring him three wretched jades for the horses he wanted to recover, and let him go.
[Illustration: A Copperhead walks with General Morgan 243L]
It is not known whether this behavior of his friends turned the copperheads against them or not But in spite of the Morgan raid, and in spite of all the reasons and victories of a North, the largest vote that the Democratic party had ever polled, up to that time, was cast in favor of a man who had been bitterest against the war, and who was then in exile from his native country because of his treasonable words and practices. Even three thousand soldiers in the field voted for him, and this is far more surprising than that forty thousand voted against him. As we look back through the perspective of history, our state seems to have been solid for the Union and for freedom; but this is an appearance only, and it is better that we should realize the truth. It will do no harm even to realize that the man who embodied the copperhead feeling was by no means a malignant man, however mistaken.
Clement Laird Vallandigham was born in 1820 at New Lisbon, of mixed Huguenot and Scotch-Irish ancestry, a stock which has given us some of our best and greatest men. His father was a Presbyterian minister, who eked out his poor salary by teaching a classical school in his own house. Clement was ready for college long before he was old enough to be received; and when he was graduated from Jefferson College, at Cannonsburg in Pennsylvania, he came back to New Lisbon and began to practice law.
So far all the influences of his life should have been at least as good for the generous side of politics as for the ungenerous; but from the first he cast his lot with the oppressor. In 1845 he was sent to the legislature, where he took a leading part in opposing the repeal of the Black Laws, which kept the negro from voting at the polls or testifying in the courts. Two years later he fixed his home in Dayton, where he quickly came to the front as a States Rights Democrat in the full Southern sense. He was given by a Democratic house the seat to which Lewis D. Campbell was elected in 1856, and he remained in Congress till defeated in 1862. Up to the last moment he never ceased to vote and to speak against the war, because he believed it impossible to conquer the South; and when he came back to Ohio he kept on saying what he believed.
This brought him under condemnation of General Order No. 38, issued by General Burnside at Cincinnati, forbidding any person to express sympathy for the enemy under pain of being sent out of the Union lines into the lines of the Confederates. Vallandigham defied this order; he was arrested by a company of the 115th Ohio, and taken to Cincinnati from Dayton, where a mob of his friends broke out the next day, and burned the office of the leading Republican newspaper. General Burnside sent a force and quelled the mob, and promptly had Vallandigham tried by a court-martial, which sentenced him to imprisonment in Fort Warren at Boston during the war. President Lincoln changed this sentence to transportation through our lines into the borders of the Southern Confederacy, and Vallandigham was hurried by special train from Cincinnati to Murfreesboro, in Tennessee, where General Rosecrans was in command. In a long interview, General Rosecrans tried to convince him of his wrongdoing, and asked if he did not know that but for his protection the soldiers would tear him to pieces in an instant. Vallandigham answered, "Draw your soldiers up in a hollow square to-morrow morning, and announce to them that Vallandigham desires to vindicate himself, and I will guarantee that when they have heard me through they will be more willing to tear Lincoln and yourself to pieces than they will Vallandigham." The general said he had too much regard for his prisoner's life to try it; but the charm of the man had won upon him. "He don't look a bit like a traitor, now, does he, Joe?" he remarked to one of his staff, and he warmly shook hands with Vallandigham when they parted at two o'clock on the morning of May 25.
Vallandigham mounted into the spring wagon provided for the rest of his journey, and was driven rapidly out of the sleeping town toward the Confederate lines. It was still in the forenoon when, in response to a Federal flag of truce, Colonel Webb of the 51st Alabama sent word to say that he was ready to receive him; two Federal officers crossed the enemy's lines with him, where he was met by one private soldier, and after some hours taken into the presence of the commander. General Bragg received him very kindly at Shelbyville, and allowed him to report on parole at Wilmington, North Carolina. There he took a blockade runner for Nassau, where he found a steamer for Canada.
He arrived in the British province early in July, to find that the Ohio Democrats had nominated him for governor, and that his party throughout the country had expressed its sympathy with him. President Lincoln met one of their committees, and agreed with them that Vallandigham's arrest was unusual, but he quaintly added: He could not be persuaded that the government should not take measures in time of war which must not be taken in time of peace, any more than he could be persuaded that a sick man must not take medicine which was not good food for a well one.
So thought the great majority of the Ohio people, who duly chose John Brough, a War Democrat, for their governor in October. Vallandigham remained in Canada until 1864, when he returned to Dayton, where he was warmly received by his friends, and not molested by the authorities. But he had never afterwards any political importance, in spite of his great abilities and the peculiar charm of his manner for all kinds of people. After the war was over, he accepted its conclusions with earnest good faith, and three years later he met his death by a curious accident. He was showing a friend, in behalf of a client in whom he was greatly interested, how a pistol might go off in a pocket and cause a mortal wound such as his client was accused of inflicting on another. The pistol in his hand was really discharged; Vallandigham was fatally wounded and died shortly afterwards.
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