The first state to leave the Union was South Carolina. The issue was state’s rights, the opportunity for the individual states to set their own laws rather than those set by the United States.
Units of the United States Army stationed in South Carolina had been ordered to leave the state. However there was one contingent remaining in Charleston. To ensure the safety of his men, the commander of the unit relocated the troops to Fort Sumter, an 1812 fortress designed to protect the United States from foreign invasion.
It was here, on April 12, 1861 that the Civil War began. Southern troops fired on the fort. The engagement went on for two days with little loss of life, but the significance of the event changed the country.
Soon other southern states succeeded from the Union and a war which would pit friends and relatives against each other had begun.
It was hoped that the war would be short-lived and that the country could be united quickly. But it turned out to be the bloodiest, most highly contested war ever on this continent. It would be a bitter four years of fighting before there was peace and unity.
President Abraham Lincoln asked that every able-bodied man join the forces to quell the conflict and The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) formed quickly.
One of the most effective means of recruitment was for an officer (or would be, if he could find enough men to enlist under his command) to encourage enlistments. Perhaps he would have a drummer boy with him, beating the drum to attract the attention of those who were passing by. He then would tell of the need for men to join the fight to save the Union. Excitement ran high and men from all walks of life enlisted. Some enlisted for a period of a few weeks or months.
More than one-half of the adult males in Ohio were farmers. Approximately 227,000 of these men owned farms averaging 90 acres. Additionally, Ohio was considered a well-educated state with 24 daily newspapers, 265 weekly papers, and 54 monthly publications. A special advantage in this state was that free education was available.
Greene County sent more soldiers to the Civil War than any other county in Ohio. Cedarville Township has the honor of sending more men to fight per capita than another other township. After the war was ended a banner was presented to Ohio and subsequently to Cedarville in honor of the men who had fought so valiantly. Unfortunately the banner was destroyed during the 1974 tornado, but a smaller replica was made some years ago.
The lettering on the flag was: “Ohio has sent 291,952 of her gallant sons to the field. Ohio true to the Union.”
A large majority of the men enlisted in the 74th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Others served in the 94th and more joined the 110th, formed of men from Greene, Miami and Darke counties.
Many of the men from Greene County boarded the train at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station where friends and relatives wished them well as they left for what was hoped to be a short duty.
In addition, other troops were transported by rail through the Pennsylvania Station. When the train was announced, the ladies of the community would provide sandwiches and snacks of fruit and cookies for the “boys.” Some of the unattached young ladies thought this through just a little further. Some of them took the opportunity to embroider her name and the name of her town on a kerchief, and then tuck it in with the provisions in the hope that one of the soldiers might write to her and she could respond in kind. At that time the post office would deliver the mail addressed with only a name and the city. I understand that when the war ended, several of these unattached ladies said “I do” to the handsome young man to whom they had written.
The largest unit from Greene County, the 74th O.V.I., was organized in October 1861 with seven companies. The initial training tool place in the area of Fair Street in Xenia. That site later became the Greene County Fairground before the present site was developed. In February the unit was ordered to Camp Chase where they met the other members of the company with the complete unit numbering nearly 1,000 men.
One of the fiercest battles was fought in Tennessee. The 29th of December was when the battle against the southern forces at Stone River began. The battle raged on for days until one of the regiments was selected to charge across the river Jan. 2. The 74th went into battle with 387 men and lost 189, either killed or wounded. Additionally 46 prisoners were taken during that siege.
Many years later, the veterans of that horrible war gathered for reunions, often in Xenia. They would gather to talk about old times and friends they met while in training or on the battlefields. These reunions were a major event for the participants and the communities in which they lived. The men were proud of their service and the public honored them.
The G.A.R. reunion was always a major event and well-attended by those veterans who would form a parade proudly marching in line as they had when they were much younger. As the years went by, fewer and fewer of the solders would gather for the reunion, but those who were able to attend still prided themselves on being able to walk in formation.
Many of those valiant men are buried in cemeteries in the county. In Woodland Cemetery in Xenia, a special section is dedicated for those veterans. In Cedarville North Cemetery a large memorial with the figure of a Union soldier complete with rifle is readily seen. “Dedicated to the memory of our heroes 1861-1865 G.A.R.” Another side reads “Filii Veterananorum – Loyalty Charity and Patriotism. Gratia Dei Servatus”
When the Union called, Greene County, Ohio responded.
Joan Baxter is a guest columnist and a Greene County historian.