Camp Hamilton. Ohioans volunteered in large numbers when the Civil War started in 1861, straining the state's supply and training facilities. In Butler County, the immediate response to the April 12 attack on Fort Sumter was so great that some able-bodied men were turned away. April 15, the day after the surrender of the fort in Charleston harbor, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers for three months service. May 3 he asked for an additional 42,000 troops, this time for three years. Before Lincoln's second appeal for volunteers a place was needed to assemble and train military units in Butler County. April 23 -- less than two weeks after the Civil War started -- some of the void was filled with the creation of Camp Hamilton at the 40-acre Butler County Fairgrounds, northeast of Hamilton along the Miami-Erie Canal.
Captain Smith's Butler Pioneers were the first volunteers to report to Camp Hamilton. The women of Hamilton soon came to the rescue, providing a shirt and blanket to each man. Butler County farmers also responded, donating adequate straw for bedding. Fairgrounds stalls that had housed horses, cattle and pigs during the annual fair were converted into sleeping quarters for the men. Records have vanished, but newspaper reports and other sources indicate that the number of men at the camp ranged from a few dozen to nearly 1,000 during the summer of 1861.
William Hamilton Miller, a 38-year-old Hamilton lawyer, railroad executive and community leader, directed the formation of Camp Hamilton at the start of the Civil War in 1861. In June 1861, Miller was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 12th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He left his Camp Hamilton post to move into western Virginia with Company B of the 12th OVI. He left behind a pregnant wife and five children. He was shot to death Sept. 16, 1861, at Peter's Creek, near Gauley, while leading a scouting party.
Camp Hamilton was moved in September 1861 to a new site, known then as "the commons." Water had become a problem at the fairgrounds. There wasn't enough to drink, and too much laying in the camp after heavy rains. The new location was just outside the city limits at the north end of North Third Street, north of Vine Street between the Great Miami River and the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad.
In 1863, the Union army opened a horse rehabilitation camp at what had been Camp Hamilton. Until 1863, little, if anything, had been done to prolong the useful service of wounded or sick horses. This omission was corrected with creation of the Cavalry Bureau. The convalescent camp in Hamilton -- probably a branch of the Cincinnati quartermaster depot -- was a small part of the new program. The camp was along North Third Street, between present Vine and Black streets, in an area later occupied by the factories of the General Machinery Corp. and paper warehouses of Champion International. A report said "as many as 1,000 horses [were] housed in it at one time." During the war, its purpose was to restore horses for additional army service -- as mounts for the cavalry or to pull artillery or supply wagons. When the war ended, the horse camp's task was to "put them [horses] in a condition so that they could be put on the market and sold, as the government had no use for them," a newspaper explained. The stables were "large enough and commodious to run two rows of stalls through each and placed a corn crib on one side in about the middle of the stalls to make it convenient for the animals." After the camp closed in 1867, an entrepreneur opened a bone factory there, grinding the remains and selling the product as fertilizer.