The Role of the State of Ohio in the American Civil War Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Role of the State of Ohio in the American Civil War

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Ohio's role in the American Civil War is often understated. Because no significant battles took place on her soil, the Buckeye State is an often under-mentioned part of the Civil War. However, Ohio contributed significant and important things to the northern effort to preserve the Union.

Perhaps most significantly, three of the Union's finest Generals were born in Ohio.

  • General Ulysses S Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio and went on to become one of the greatest generals in Abraham Lincoln's arsenal, even though he was working as a tanner in Ohio when the war began. Under his command, the Union took Forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee River, and he proved himself as the best general on the western front. In 1864, Lincoln promoted Grant to head of all Union forces, and he was the general that received the surrender of Robert E Lee. Grant would become president of the United States in 1868, and was widely regarded as a war hero.

  • General William Tecumseh Sherman, born in Lancaster, Ohio, served under General Grant in the battles of Shiloh, Vicksburg and Chattanooga. He then went on his most famous campaign. He waged total war as his army swept through the south, attempting to destroy not only everything of military value but the southern will to fight as well. He is famous for burning Atlanta and sparing the city of Savannah from destruction.

  • Philip Sheridan claimed at various times to be a native of Somerset, Ohio, though he also claimed to be a New York native. He is famous for driving the Confederates out of the Shenandoah Valley and winning a battle while the odds were against him there. He worked under Grant until the end of the war and emerged as a strong and useful general.

In the Union army, 19 major generals and 53 brigadier generals came from the state of Ohio. Also, about 340,000 soldiers1 were recruited to Ohio units. About 25,000 men (around 7% of Ohioans enlisted) gave their lives as a result of the war. 6,536 died in battle, 4,674 died as a result of injuries in battle, while 13,354 men died because of diseases they contracted during the war. These were some of the heaviest death tolls on a single state in the Civil War.

230 regiments, 26 artillery batteries and five sharpshooter companies came from Ohio. Ohio soldiers fought in every major Civil War battle, from the First Bull Run (or First Manassas) to the Fall of Petersburg.


Before major battles, President Lincoln sometimes asked how many of the soldiers were Ohioans. Once, someone asked Lincoln why he asked this, and he replied, 'Because I know that if there are many Ohio soldiers to be engaged, it is probable we will win the battle, for they can be relied upon in such an emergency.'

Indeed, Lincoln had solid support in Ohio, especially in Cleveland. Because the Ohio river to its south was a border between the slave states and free states in the US (with slave state Kentucky on the other side of Ohio), there were many abolitionists in the state helping with the underground railway.

Ohio gave Lincoln its electoral votes in the election of 1860. However, it also contributed two major political opponents for Lincoln. Clement Vallandigham of Dayton, Ohio was leader of the Peace Democrats after 1862. George McClellan started the Civil War as an Ohioan military leader and became the general in chief of all Union forces. After he was sacked, he ran against Lincoln in the election of 1864 and lost, as Ohio gave its electoral votes to Lincoln in this election as well.

During the Civil War, Ulysses S Grant, James Garfield, Rutherford B Hayes, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley, all born in Ohio, fought for the Union. They were all eventually elected as Republican presidents following the war.


Ohio, though it bordered a slave state (Kentucky), was not on the front for conflict because Kentucky opted not to secede from the Union. Therefore, Ohio was entirely surrounded by allies (Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and Pennsylvania) except for part of Confederate Virginia. This part of Virginia resisted the decision of the state government to join the Confederacy. They formed a new state, West Virginia, which joined the union in 1863, though it had begun separation from Virginia as early as 1861.

Since Kentucky and West Virginia were not Confederate states, few conflicts occurred in Ohio. In fact, only two battles occurred on the outskirts of the state, and these were both relatively unimportant.

Buffington Island

In the summer of 1863, a Confederate officer named John Hunt Morgan was leading a raid with his division over Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. By July of 1863, the Confederates were being chased and harassed by Union soldiers, resulting in a few skirmishes but never starting a real battle.

The Union would finally confront them near Buffington Island in the town of Portland, Ohio in Meigs County. The raiders were planning to cross the Ohio River into Indiana, and camped out for the night near the river. The Union knew exactly where to station troops because they knew that Morgan would try to cross the river around Buffington Island into Indiana (as there was a ford near Buffington Island). The Union preparations were small at first, but two columns of Union men came after the night.

The North was afraid of Morgan escaping and continuing his raid, so they called for a strong assault. A Union force of 14,000 soldiers was assembled. Not all of these soldiers would encounter combat, but they were deployed. The ones that would find combat were led by Brigadier Generals Edward H Hobson and Henry Judah. The Confederate cavalry led by Morgan was 2,100 men strong.

Around 6am on 19 July, the column of soldiers led by Henry Judah reached the southerners and attacked the camped troops. Judah's troops avoided capture and prevented the Confederates from crossing the river while they waited for reinforcements. In the middle of the battle, the other column joined in. Later, three Union gunboats would join the battle to defend the river.

The Union was victorious, and in the end only 400 Confederates, including Morgan, weren't killed or captured. They eventually escaped. The number of casualties and captured men is largely inconclusive. We do know that 52 Confederates died and were buried at the field. In general, though, there isn't a good record of this battle, probably because it simply wasn't very important.

While a simple battle of around 16,000 men2 didn't affect the outcome of the war, it did end a nasty raid. This raid had been terrorising businessmen and banks in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. It disrupted railway lines, destroyed bridges and resulted in the capture of many Union soldiers.

This battle also saw a few important men fight in it. In fact, three future US Presidents fought in the battle - James Garfield, Rutherford B Hayes, and William McKinley. Major David McCook, the patriarch of the famous Fighting McCook Clan, fought as well. He was mortally wounded in the battle.

There is a small monument in a four-acre park near Buffington Island to commemorate the soldiers. It is a simple rest area in the middle of the park and is made of glacial boulders from Ohio glaciers. One part of the monument is for the fallen soldiers and another part is specifically for David McCook. Unfortunately, areas of the battlefield that are currently well-maintained for historical preservation are being threatened by a proposal to build gravel mines there.


After Buffington Island, Morgan and his 400 or so men attempted to escape capture by going northeast. They were followed by a Union cavalry force of around 2,600 men led by Brigadier General James Shackelford. Morgan nearly ran into Pennyslvania by turning at Lisbon road in Salineville, Columbiana County. However, the Union cavalry caught up with the Confederate force in Salineville and the Confederates surrendered without a fight.

113,000 Ohioans was the initial quota for volunteer soldiers in the war (when Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers for three months in 1861). That year, 100,000 men from Ohio volunteered.2About 4,700 total fought. The rest resisted combat or didn't get to the battlefield in time to fight.

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