Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 1999
Butler County soldiers praised by Sherman for Shiloh effort
By Jim Blount
After 1862 victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson along the Kentucky-Tennessee border, Major-General Ulysses S. Grant moved his Army of the Tennessee south on the Tennessee River to an obscure point known as Pittsburg Landing. Grant's army included the 13th Missouri Infantry Regiment. Leading Company H, with about 60 Butler County men, was Captain Moses Klein, a Hamiltonian.
The river assembly point was 22 miles north of Corinth, Miss., one of Grant's objectives in the nearly one-year-old Civil War. Another target was the east-west Memphis & Charleston Railroad, whose lines snaked across the northern parts of Mississippi and Alabama.
Near Pittsburgh Landing was a small, crude church. Shiloh Church had no military or strategic significance, except to lend its name to an unexpected Civil War blood bath that developed around it.
Grant -- who had about 42,000 men -- was awaiting the arrival of 40,000 troops in the Army of the Ohio, led by Major-General Don Carlos Buell. The Confederates launched a surprise attack at dawn Sunday morning, April 6, 1862, while Buell's force was slowed by mud and high streams on its march from Nashville.
Directing the 13th Missouri was Colonel Crafts J. Wright. It was part of a brigade led by Brigadier-General John McArthur, and a division commanded by Brigadier-General William T. Sherman.
When the fighting started at about 8 a.m. Sunday, the 13th Missouri was on detached duty in a defensive position on the Purdy Road. Its first task was to help restore order in the surprised Union ranks. "We were able to rally to ours, fragments of three regiments and form them on the left of our own," Colonel Wright said in his battle report.
Sherman ordered the 13th's movements during the remainder of the day. "After advancing and falling back several times, the regiment was forced to retire, with all the others there," Wright explained.
The 13th's bivouac that night was a solemn and uncomfortable one. No fires were allowed for cooking or warmth because of the closeness of the enemy. "The rain fell in torrents, and the men, lying in water and mud, were as weary in the morning as they had been the evening before," Wright reported.
Despite the restless night, the regiment resumed fighting early Monday morning. It was in the thick of the fighting until the Confederates started to fall back at about 4 p.m.
At one point that day, the 13th was in a tenuous spot -- several hundred yards in advance of any other Union unit and running out of ammunition. Fortunately, other regiments gave support as the 13th moved back to replenish its ammunition.
There was no celebration that night after the Confederate withdrawal. Wright said that again the 13th "bivouacked on the ground in advance without cover, lying in the rain and mud a second night."
The regiment's steadfast performance drew enthusiastic praise from General Sherman. "I am anxious that this regiment shall have credit for gallantry on two special occasions when the battle was hottest on Sunday and Monday," he said. Sherman's battle report said the 13th "had reported to me on the field and fought well, retaining its regimental organization," but his highest praise was its brave stand Monday. "I commend the 40th Illinois and the 13th Missouri for thus holding their ground under a heavy fire, although their cartridge boxes were empty," Sherman said.
Colonel Wright reported only 450 men in the regiment when fighting started at Shiloh -- well below the 886 enrolled three months earlier. Casualties in the 13th totaled 81 men, including 10 killed, 70 wounded and one soldier missing. Among the wounded was Captain Klein, with the first of two wounds he suffered during the war.
Moses Klein returned to Hamilton in November 1864, entered the real estate business, became a community leader and was active in the local Democratic Party. The veteran of Bull Run, Fort Donelson, Shiloh and Corinth died in his South Front Street home at the age of 80 in 1904.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 1999
Jack Willard mural dominates Hamilton city council chambers
By Jim Blount
An impressive mural painted by a young Hamilton artist escapes the notice of residents and visitors -- unless they have reason to attend a meeting in the chambers of Hamilton City Council.
The 16 by 10-foot "Founding of the Fortress" forms a colorful background in the meeting room in the Hamilton Municipal Building at High Street and Monument Avenue. It is the work of the late Jack Willard, who was 28 years old when he completed the painting.
Unanswered is what will happen in 2000 to the 58-year-old mural when city offices move to a new building at High Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Willard received $500 for the assignment which was unveiled Oct. 1, 1941, as part of the sesquicentennial celebration that year in Hamilton and surrounding Butler County.
"Founding of the Fortress" -- on the third floor of the west wing of the municipal building, off Monument Avenue -- depicts people prominent in the building of Fort Hamilton in 1791. They include General Richard Butler, for whom the county was named; Charles Gano, a government surveyor; and Robert McClellan, an army scout.
The Hamilton Municipal Building stands on land that was within the wilderness military post built by a small contingent from the U. S. Army commanded by General Arthur St. Clair.
The artist "delved into the history of the Northwest Territory, Hamilton in particular, so that details would be authentic," a 1941 report said in describing Willard's mural.
"Hickory trees, one felled, are utilized for border effects," the article said. "even in selection of the species of trees, Willard chose authentic material -- this was hardwood country."
"Numerous details in the background were gleaned from bits of early history," the description continued. "An encampment of peaceable Indians was located on the west side of the river, bordering a creek which followed a route roughly paralleling what is now Main Street. The lines of the fort, topography, character of equipment -- all were the result of research."
Willard said he struggled with depicting a felled tree. To solve his dilemma, he went into a woods west of Hamilton, cut down a tree and studied the details.
He was a student at the University of Cincinnati and Ohio Mechanics Institute when commissioned to complete the painting.
Later, the graduate of Hamilton High School was employed at the General Machinery Corp. in Hamilton before becoming an award-winning chief artist and designer at the Formica Corp. in Cincinnati. A 1976 Journal-News article said he was the designer of 18 of the 28 patterns in the Formica Citation Series that won an industry design award in 1963.
"My biggest influence," he told a reporter, "was Stella Weiler Taylor (a Hamilton teacher and writer). She would keep me drawing and painting," he recalled.
"Later, about the time I was to go to art school, Dad had been out of work two years," Willard explained. So I worked with a pick and shovel on construction to earn enough money during the summer to pay my tuition and to buy a suit of clothes." He said "my hands would be so callused I'd have to use Vaseline to soften them so I could paint again."
The Hamilton resident, who retired in 1978, died Feb. 22, 1988.
His obituary noted that "64 of his works are on display in various public locations and in private collections throughout the country" and in other nations. An example of the latter is a portrait of Simon Bolivar in Caracas, Venezuela.
One of the most visible exhibits is a series of historical Indian murals in the lodge at Hueston Woods State Park, near Oxford.
An eye-catcher is one titled "Block That Squaw." According to Willard, it shows "some activity, dance, or sport in which the squaws and braves participated together. The only activity that I could find was a form of football." He said "this mural illustrated the game as described in an account of Judge Jacob Burnett, who observed the game in a village in west-central Ohio."
Another, "War Dance," illustrates clothing and head dresses "that one might have seen in Ohio before the white man had been in much contact with these Indians," Willard explained.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 1999
Early railroads 'rude and simple,' recalled William Dean Howells
By Jim Blount
"The children of this day can hardly imagine what rude and simple affairs the earliest railroads were," said William Dean Howells, writing in 1897.
Howells -- a literary giant from the last decades of the 19th century until his death in 1920 -- said "it was a time of great excitement and expectation" as railroads connected American communities.
Howells was qualified to relate the reaction to the coming of the rail age. He lived through its early years after his family moved from Hamilton to Dayton in 1848.
"Instead of long smooth steel rails which now carry the great trains, with their luxurious cars, in their never-ceasing flight, day in and day out the whole year round," the rails were "flat bands of iron, spiked to wooden rails," recalled Howells, who was a teenager when the first railroads came to Ohio.
The primitive bands of flat iron, he explained, "formed the path of the small carriages drawn by a locomotive of the size and shape of a threshing machine engine."
Howells said "these (trains) amazed by a speed of 10 to 12 miles an hour the gaping spectator whose grandchildren do not turn their heads to look at the express as it makes its 60 miles in 60 minutes."
"In the very beginning, indeed, the carriages were drawn by horses, and it was several years before steam was used," he added in his book, Stories of Ohio, published in 1897.
"Little by little the railroads began to be built on the easy levels of the state, and before a great while a line was projected from Cincinnati to Columbus along the course of the Little Miami River."
"This was completed piecemeal, from point to point, and at last carried through. In the meantime other lines were laid out, and then all at once the railroad era was at hand," he wrote.
The Little Miami Railroad, the first in Southwestern Ohio, was completed between Cincinnati and Springfield Aug. 10, 1846.
Officials in Cincinnati viewed the Little Miami as a mixed blessing. They coveted the economic benefits, but legislated against its risks.
At first, city fathers wouldn't allow the locomotive belching smoke and steam into Cincinnati for fear that sparks would start fires. Instead, Little Miami trains had to be pulled into town by mules.
Howells enjoyed eight years of his childhood (ages 3-11) in Hamilton. It was the canal age when he was growing up in the town of about 3,000 people in the 1840s.
During that decade, the fastest form of transportation in Butler County was a canalboat on the Miami-Erie Canal that eventually connected Lake Erie and the Ohio River via the Butler County towns of Middletown, Excello, Hamilton, Rialto and Port Union.
The speed limit on Ohio canals was four miles an hour -- about twice as fast as the average speed of the earliest stagecoaches in the state's southwestern corner.
A trip between Hamilton and Cincinnati by stagecoach initially required 14 hours, if on schedule. By canalboat, the same journey was halved, to seven hours. When the first railroad opened in the county in 1851, it took about an hour to travel between the cities.
As "canal fever" had infested the Midwest in the 1820s, so did "railroad fever" from the 1830s into the 1850s. Butler County's first railroad -- the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton -- started operations in September 1851.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 1999
John J. McRae, Miami graduate, prominent in the Confederacy
By Jim Blount
Miami University's contributions to the Union cause in the Civil War were so numerous and notable that they defy brief description. The honor roll includes government leaders, military officers and men in the ranks who had attended or graduated from the Oxford institution. But not all Miami men wore blue during the 1861-1865 conflict. Some joined the southern cause.
John Jones McRae, a Miami graduate, was a pre-war Mississippi governor and served in both the United States and Confederate congresses.
He was born Jan. 10, 1815, in Sneedsboro, N. C. (later renamed McFarlan). When two years old, his family moved to Winchester, Miss.
After graduation in 1834, McRae studied law and was admitted to the bar in Mississippi. He also founded a newspaper at Paulding, Miss., and served as its editor. During the 1840s, he joined a brother, Colin, in promoting railroad building in Mississippi. He was elected to the state legislature in 1848 and 1850, serving as speaker in 1850.
Jefferson Davis -- later president of the Confederacy -- resigned his U. S. Senate seat in 1851 to run for governor. McRae filled the unexpired senate term, but wasn't re-elected. He served from Dec. 1, 1851, to March 17, 1852. A strong advocate of states' rights, McRae was elected to two terms as governor, serving from 1854 until 1858.
He was a member of the U. S. House of Representatives from Dec. 7, 1858, until Jan. 12, 1861, when the entire Mississippi delegation withdrew from Congress. A state convention had approved secession three days earlier, making Mississippi the second state to leave the union.
McRae won election to the First Confederate Congress, where he supported the policies of President Davis. McRae's committee assignments -- all directly related to the war -- included ways and means, commissary and quartermaster departments, and military transportation.
He failed to win re-election in 1863 and practiced law until 1868. That year -- in failing health and after political and financial setbacks and the death of his wife -- McRae joined a brother in British Honduras (now Belize). He died May 31, 1868, a few days after his arrival.
The brother, Colin J. McRae (1812-1877), had been the South's chief financial agent in Europe during the final years of the Civil War.
Miami graduates joining McRae in the Confederate Congress included Duncan Farrar Kenner and Robert Ludwell Yates Peyton (more on them later).
Of 22 class members, McRae was the only one to hold a position in the Confederate government. According to the Miami University Catalogue, 1809-1909, only one 1834 graduate -- William S. Groesbeck -- served the Union cause during the Civil War.
Groesbeck, a Cincinnati lawyer, was a U. S. delegate to the 1861 Washington Peace Congress, which concluded about six weeks before the war began. Representatives from the North and South met at the Willard Hotel Feb. 4-27, 1861. Heading the southern group was a former president, John Tyler of Virginia.
The conference failed to produce a compromise to avert the Civil War. One source described the gathering as "20 days of interminable debate, accusations and lengthy lectures," adding that "there was not enough spirit of compromise to make the conference a success."
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