Saturday, September 7, 2013

Defense of Cincinnati, September 1 - 20, 1862

Harper's Weekly, September 20, 1862

The Defense of Cincinnati occurred from September 1 through September 13, 1862, when Cincinnati, Ohio was threatened by Confederate forces.  The "Queen City" would have been a prize of incalculable value to the Confederacy: although they would not have been able to stay long, they could have captured or destroyed huge stocks of war material stored in the city warehouses (particularly shoes, overcoats, and blankets, all badly needed in the Southern armies). 

Confederate General Henry Heth had been sent north to threaten Cincinnati, then the sixth largest city in the United States.  
Heth was under orders from his superior, General Edmund Kirby Smith, not to attack the city, but to make a "demonstration".  Cincinnati's mayor, George Hatch, ordered all business closed, and Union General  Lew Wallace declared martial law, seized sixteen steamboats and had them armed, and organized the citizens of Cincinnati, as well as the riverfront cities of Covington and Newport, Kentucky, for defense. 

On the 1st of September, Wallace set up headquarters in the Burnet House hotel, where he met late into the night with the mayors of Cincinnati, Newport and Covington.  By the next morning, 15,000 volunteers were drilling in the streets.

Volunteers Drilling Outside Market House
On September 2, Kirby Smith took Lexington, Kentucky, and on the 3rd, Confederate cavalry took Frankfort.  General Heth, with four brigades, fanned north to cover the approaches to Cincinnati.  Confederate infantry was moving to take Falmouth and Williamstown, the two major approaches to Cincinnati. Farmers were hurrying livestock north towards the Ohio River.

In its lead editorial, The Cincinnati Gazette declared: 
TO ARMS! TO ARMS! The time for playing war has passed. The enemy is fast approaching our city. Kentucky has already been invaded and our cities for the first time since the rebellion are seriously threatened . . . Let us prepare to resist an army of 100,000 men bent on our destruction.
Horatio Wright
General Ormsby Mitchel (a former professor of astronomy at the University of Cincinnati) soon joined generals Lew Wallace and Horatio Wright, and Colonel Charles Wittlesey of the Engineering Corps: they set out to install a series of forts, gun emplacements, and rifle pits in the hills of Northern Kentucky. 
Ormsby Mitchel

After the declaration of martial law on September 2, 1862, Cincinnati Mayor George Hatch ordered the police department to gather any and all able-bodied African American males for work on fatigue duty on the fortifications in Northern Kentucky. Men were driven from their homes and businesses by bayonet point to a mule pen on Plum Street in downtown Cincinnati. After being held overnight, with no way of contacting their families, on September 3rd the men were taken as a group across the Ohio River to begin work on the earthwork fortifications.

The Cincinnati Gazette published the following protest:
Let our colored fellow-soldiers be treated civilly, and not exposed to any unnecessary tyranny, nor to the insults a race which they profess to regard as inferior. It would have been decent to have invited the colored inhabitants to turn out in defense of the city. Then there would have been an opportunity to compare their patriotism with that of those who were recently trying to drive them from the city. Since the services of men are required from our colored brethren, let them be treated like men.
William Martin Dickson
Wallace learned about the poor treatment of the men. On September 4, 1862, he commissioned William Martin Dickson, a family friend of Abraham Lincoln (his wife was a cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln), as commander of "The Black Brigade."  After receiving his appointment, Colonel Dickson changed the brigade into a working regiment. On the evening of September 4, 1862, Dickson dismissed the men to tend to their families as well as gather personal supplies for the days of work ahead. He promised them that he was forming the brigade for fatigue duty and they "should be kept together as a distinct body,... that they should receive protection and the same treatment as white men,... and that their sense of duty and honor would cause them to obey all orders given, and thus prevent the necessity of any compulsion."  In return for these promises, Dickson expected the men to meet the next morning for work on the defensive fortifications. In his official report, Dickson stated that around 400 men were present when he dismissed the brigade on September 4, 1862. The next day over 700 men reported ready for duty.

The Black Brigade labored on the earthwork fortifications and military roads for more than two weeks. Their commanders and army engineers recognized their efficiency. The main tasks they were in charge of were making military roads, digging trenches and riffle-pits, felling forests, and building forts and magazines. During their first week of service, The Black Brigade received no compensation for their labor. The second week they were given $1.00 per day, and the third week they received $1.50 per day.  During a speech, General Wallace declared, "When the history of Cincinnati during the past two weeks comes to be written up, it will be said that it was the spades and not the guns that saved the city from attack by the Rebels."

Memorial to Black Brigade, Cincinnati, Ohio
Upon completing their work, Judge Dickson said,
You have labored faithfully; you have made miles of military roads, miles of rifle pits, felled hundreds of acres of the largest and loftiest forest trees, built magazines and forts. The hills across yonder river will be a perpetual monument of your labors... Go to your homes with the consciousness of having performed your duty - of deserving, if you do not receive, the protection of the law, and bearing with you the gratitude and respect of all honorable men.
Memorial to Black Brigade, Cincinnati, Ohio
Ohio Governor David Tod left Columbus, the state capital, and came to Cincinnati to assist Wallace. Tod immediately ordered Ohio’s adjutant-general to send any available troops other than those guarding Ohio’s southern border to Cincinnati. Tod also ordered the state quartermaster to send five thousand guns to equip Cincinnati’s militia. A number of Ohio counties offered to dispatch men to Cincinnati as well. Tod immediately accepted the offers on Lew Wallace’s behalf. He stated that only armed men should report and that railroad companies should transport the men for free and then later send a bill to the State of Ohio. Civilians from sixty-five counties numbering 15,766 men reported for duty at Cincinnati. These men became known as the “Squirrel Hunters.”  Many of the Squirrel Hunters had no military training and carried antiquated weapons. Despite these shortcomings, they still rallied together to help defend Ohio from Confederate invasion. City officials commandeered Cincinnati’s Fifth Street Markethouse to serve as a dining hall for the volunteers. Churches, meeting halls, and warehouses served as barracks. One day after he called for the volunteers, Governor Todd requested Ohioans to stop sending men for duty.

Militia Colonel J.V. Guthrie, who served as commander of the Citizens Labor Corps, and
who perhaps took his cue from Benjamin Butler’s order to the ladies of New Orleans a few
months before, issued an order authorizing the arrest of all "rebel women" who insulted
Federal soldiers and refused them water. The Gazette reported that a building is being
fitted up in which all such will be confined," adding that, men offending in like manner
will be arrested and confined in the county jail."

William Hooper
William Hooper, a Cincinnati banker, helped to raise money for volunteer recruits and provided funds in the construction efforts of the artillery batteries that were erected on the hills of Northern Kentucky. One of them, atop a hill in Fort Mitchell, was named for him as Battery Hooper. He also purchased four steamboats for use by the Union Navy as rams and served as a Paymaster with the rank of Captain. 

View from Hooper Battery, 
Defense of Cincinnati

By September 5th,  General Wallace ordered the "resumption of all lawful business in this city except the sale of liquor . . ."  At 4:00 p.m., however, military organizations were still required to assemble for drill.  General Wallace was disturbed at the length of time it was taking for the ferrying of troops across the river. No bridges existed at the time.  Wallace consulted with Cincinnati architect Wesley Cameron regarding the feasibility of placing a pontoon bridge across the Ohio River. Cameron immediately fashioned a bridge that was made of empty coal barges lashed side-by-side, and anchored securely to both shores. In the space of two days, Cameron had the pontoon bridge in place.

The Pontoon Bridge
By this time, Wallace had a staff of about 150 members, many of them volunteers from the professional, artistic, and intellectual elite of the 'Queen City' of the Ohio. Several became his friends and admirers. At night, in his headquarters at the Burnet House, they put on impromptu entertainments of song, story, and recitation. Wallace contributed a 15-stanza doggerel poem, 'The Stolen Stars: an Hysterical Ballad,' which tells how dying Father Washington bequeathed the American flag to Uncle Samuel, only to have a conflict develop between Puritans and Cavaliers, the latter seceding and stealing eleven stars with them, which the Puritans vowed to bring home. The ballad was later published in Harper's Weekly and issued with music as a broadside.

Kirby Smith had General Henry Heth push forward from Georgetown towards Cincinnati on September 6 with 6,000 troops. One of the hoped-for aspects of Braxton Bragg's invasion of Kentucky was that the predominantly pro-Southern Bluegrass Region would come forth and help fill thinning Confederate ranks. For this purpose, Bragg brought some 20,000 additional rifles with which to equip these volunteers. Regretfully for Bragg, very few volunteers came forward.

Along eight miles of hilltops from Ludlow to present-day Fort Thomas, Kentucky, volunteers and soldiers constructed rifle pits and earthwork fortifications, which were defended by 25,000 Union Army soldiers and the local militia volunteers. 

James Simpson
Construction of the defenses was directed by Colonel Charles Whittlesey until relieved on September 6 by Major James Simpson, chief of Topographical Engineers for the Department of the Ohio.  Simpson, Chief of Topographic Engineers, was ordered to plan and supervise the improvements and additions to the defenses. Simpson, a veteran of McClellan’s unsuccessful Peninsular Campaign and an experienced military engineer, knew that mere rifle pits were not sufficient protection, even though the enemy was not an "army of 100,000 men." His plans called for a system of forts and batteries armed with heavy caliber artillery pieces, all linked into the existing line of entrenchments.  Notwithstanding their partially completed state, the entrenchments and battery positions had the desired effect.

Charles Whittlesey
On September 6, Heth camped the majority of his force at Florence, eight miles southwest of Covington, and sent advanced parties to reconnoiter the Federal position. These scouts penetrated as far as the outer works of Fort Mitchel, where they skirmished with the Federal pickets on September 10.  After reconnoitering the defenses at various points, he determined that an attack was pointless. Under orders from Kirby Smith, Heth withdrew his force on the night of September 11, and rejoined Smith’s command.

Henry Heth
Finally, on September 12th, the crisis was over. Wallace telegraphed General Horatio Wright, commander of the Department of the Ohio: "The skedaddle is complete; every sign of a rout. If you say so I will organize a column of 20,000 men to pursue to-night." The large pursuit was never ordered as most of the military forces were sent via steamboats to Louisville, Kentucky to prevent capture of that city by General Braxton Bragg.  However, small scouting forces were sent southward to harass the rear-guard of Heth's forces. A skirmish occurred at Florence, Kentucky on September 17.  Another skirmish occurred near Walton, on September 25 when Colonel Basil Duke attacked a Union camp of approximately 500 men near Snow's Pond.
Basil Duke
Public activities were restored.  Circulars were issued in Cincinnati to the press regarding the printing of articles "of a seditious and treasonable character", and the city's journalists were requested "to exercise great caution in the publication of articles calculated unnecessarily to disturb the public mind."

In Cincinnati, The Cincinnati Gazette summed up the situation on September 14:
"Thanks to the promptitude of Generals Wright and Wallace, and the patriotism, courage and valor of the people, the Rebel movement toward Cincinnati has been frustrated and rolled back. In a remarkably brief space of time our cities, which were practically defenseless, became bastions of military might as our whole male population arose en masse. The patience that they endured, the severe labor of trenches and tented fields for many days in succession presented a remarkable instance of how quickly a citizen can be converted into a soldier. Assisted by loyalists from other areas, we had an army in less than a week that was a proud example of what the West can do to meet invasion. Cincinnati is a large and wealthy city, attractive as a prize to the enemy. Hereafter, it must not be undefended as hitherto; we must have troops for home defense."
Monument to Dickson and Wallace, Cincinnati, Ohio
By September 20, the Black Brigade was sent back home to their families. They presented Dickson with a ceremonial sword to thank him for his leadership and kindness. Colonel Dickson accepted the gift and led his troops through the streets of Cincinnati proudly, with music playing and banners flying.

Wallace received the nickname "Savior of Cincinnati" for his actions in September 1862.  Before leaving, Wallace issued the following proclamation:
For the present, at least, the enemy have fallen back and your cities are safe….When I assumed command there was nothing to defend you with, except a few half-finished works and some dismounted guns; yet I was confident. the energies of a great city are boundless; they have only to be aroused, united and directed. You were appealed to. The answer will never be forgotten.
Paris may have seen something like it in her revolutionary days, but the cities of America never did. Be proud that you have given them an example so splendid. The most commercial of people, you submitted to a total suspension of business, and without a murmur adopted my principle–'Citizens for labor, soldiers for battle.'
In coming time, strangers, viewing the works on the hills of Newport and Covington, will ask, 'Who built these intrenchments?' You will answer, 'We built them.' If they ask, 'Who guarded them?' you can reply, 'We helped in thousands.' If they inquire the result, your answer will be, 'The enemy came and looked at them, and stole away in the night.'
You have won much honor; keep your organizations ready to win more. Hereafter be always prepared to defend yourselves.
"Return of the Cincinnati Militia After the Retreat of the Rebels"
To thank the Squirrel Hunters, the Ohio legislature, in 1863, authorized funds to Governor Tod to print discharges for these men from military duty. The discharges thanked the men for their patriotism and their willingness to sacrifice their lives in the defense of Ohio.

The Squirrel Hunter's Discharge
Several years after the war, Wallace met Heth in the bar of the Burnet House and learned that Heth would have held Cincinnati for $15,000,000 ransom or else have sacked the city. The two veterans compared notes on the campaign, discussed the spies each had sent into the other's camp, and Heth learned that the seemingly unguarded spot where he had planned to attack was actually a trap set up by Wallace in which the Confederates would have been cut to pieces in a cross fire of artillery and sharpshooters.

The fact that a battle was not fought is due to Wallace's prompt and decisive action. Had he not taken command, nothing would have stood in the way of the Confederate army, which could have taken the city. Heth's plans to hold the city for ransom (as Confederate General Jubal Early later did to Frederick, Maryland) or sack it, indicated that he felt his forces were too weak to hold it for the Confederacy, but he might have caused the Union to divert troops from critical operations elsewhere. Wallace earned the city's gratitude, but the absence of a battle prevented him from regaining the standing he had lost at Shiloh and kept the defense of Cincinnati from being as celebrated.

On October 4, a Confederate governor was installed in Frankfort, Kentucky, but the Confederates evacuated the city that same afternoon.  Bragg’s retreat after the battle of Perryville on October 8 ended the invasion of Kentucky and any further hopes of large-scale Confederate success in the area.

By the end of November, Simpson directed the construction of twelve more battery positions. Two years later, at the end of 1864, Simpson and his subordinates had constructed a total of four forts and twenty-three battery positions.

Powhatan Beaty
Powhatan Beaty of Cincinnati had joined the Black Brigade; later, he joined the 5th United States Colored Troops, a combat unit. At the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm in Virginia in September 1864, Beaty’s unit was forced to retreat. The unit’s color bearer was killed on the field and Beaty raced back through 600 yards of enemy fire to retrieve his company’s battle flag. In 1865, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery.

Beaty lived until 1916 and is buried in Union Baptist Cemetery in Cincinnati.

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