Journal-News, Wednesday, May 5, 2004
Zebulon Pike, father and son, among Fort Hamilton soldiers
By Jim Blount
Among about 4,500 names on the walls of the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument in Hamilton is Zebulon Pike. In question is which Zebulon Pike is commemorated as one of Butler County's pioneers. It could represent two men -- father and son with the same name.
Zebulon Montgomery Pike served in the American Revolution and survived the humiliating defeat of the army that marched out of Fort Hamilton in 1791. Three years later he was part of Gen. Anthony Wayne's victorious army. His son, also named Zebulon Montgomery Pike, claimed to have been a member of Wayne's force that defeated the Indians in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794.
It was the son who later took credit for discovery of a majestic mountain in what became Colorado. He called it Grand Peak. Later it was named Pike's Peak in his honor.
Fort Hamilton was completed Sept. 30, 1791, as Gen. Arthur St. Clair -- also governor of the Northwest Territory -- moved a frontier army north to confront Indians who were contesting settlement in the Symmes Purchase. The log stockade was built as a fort of deposit, or supply center, for the army that planned to advance toward Kekionga, a Miami settlement near the site of present Fort Wayne, Ind.
Fort Hamilton -- built at a ford on the Great Miami River -- was at the end of an 800-mile supply and communications line from Philadelphia, a trip of four weeks at best.
St. Clair had only 2,300 men Sept. 30, 1791, not the 3,000 he expected. It was a hastily-assembled, poorly trained, ill-equipped and uninformed army. It was facing a fight with a competent Indian opponent, mostly Miami and Shawnee, capably led by Little Turtle, a veteran Miami war chief.
The army left the fort Oct. 4, crossing the river into uncharted wilderness. The soldiers didn't get very far that day. They camped that night on the banks of a creek that they named Two Mile Creek, the distance they had traveled. Today that camp would be along Washington Boulevard, west of Eaton Avenue, near the Hamilton West YMCA and Hamilton High School.
The first day advance presaged what followed. St. Clair's army trudged only 80 miles in 30 days by nightfall Nov. 3. Scouts kept Little Turtle informed as St. Clair's command dwindled to about half the soldiers that departed Fort Hamilton.
The surprise Indian attack the morning of Nov. 4, 1791, inflicted what is regarded as the worst defeat suffered by the U. S. military. About 680 soldiers were killed and 270 wounded -- a casualty total of 950 out of about 1,100 men. Of 52 officers on the field, 46 were casualties, including 39 killed. Not counted in the army's loss were about 200 women and children who weren't supposed to be there.
Among the dead was Gen. Richard Butler, a popular leader who was second in command to St. Clair. Butler -- commemorated when Butler County was named -- was wounded early in the fight and died amid the battlefield chaos.
Captain Zebulon Pike's company was part of Butler's command and Pike is credited with rallying troops and helping to organize a withdrawal.
According to one account, Pike suffered leg cramps and collapsed as the retreat began. It appeared he would be left behind, certain to be killed by pursuing Indians. An army surgeon on horseback recognized the captain's perilous position and rescued Pike.
Pike was among the survivors who returned to Fort Hamilton. He would fight again after Gen. Anthony Wayne assumed command of the frontier army in 1792 and ordered Fort Hamilton nearly doubled in size.
In 1794. when Wayne's army moved through Fort Hamilton, Zebulon M. Pike, the father, and Zebulon M. Pike, his son, would be in its ranks. Wayne's second in command was Gen. James Wilkinson.
A few years later, Wilkinson and Pike, the son, would be key principals in two mysterious explorations on the western frontier, both launched as the nation awaited the return of the Lewis and Clark expedition (May 14, 1804-Sept. 30, 1806).
Next week this column will review the military career of the younger Zebulon M. Pike.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 12, 2004
Pike's Peak explorer led questionable western expeditions
By Jim Blount
Soldiering was a career for Captain Zebulon Montgomery Pike, who survived the U. S. Army's Nov. 4, 1791, defeat 80 miles north of Fort Hamilton. Years earlier he had fought in the American Revolution. He remained in the frontier army in 1792 when Gen. Anthony Wayne took command and mounted another campaign against the Indians fighting settlement in the region. This time, Pike would be joined by his son, also named Zebulon Montgomery Pike.
The son was born Jan. 5, 1779, in Somerset County, N. J., while his father was in Gen. George Washington's colonial army. Some of his childhood was spent in Cincinnati while his father served in frontier army.
In 1794, at age 15, Pike entered Wayne's army as a cadet, joining his father's regiment. He claimed to have fought Aug. 20, 1794, at Fallen Timbers -- the decisive battle that quelled Indian resistance in Ohio -- but historians haven't found records to verify his presence.
Father and son remained in the army, moving to posts west of Ohio. Both continued to be closely linked to Gen. James Wilkinson, a former commander of Fort Hamilton. Because of his frequent presence, a two-story log structure on the river side of the fort was called the Wilkinson House. Wilkinson, also a veteran of the revolution, was second in command to Wayne through the Fallen Timbers campaign. He became commander of the U. S. Army after Wayne's premature death in December 1796.
Biographers haven't been kind to Wilkinson. He's been called "one of the sleaziest characters ever to wear an American uniform" and "a drunkard, hopelessly addicted to intrigue" who was "an agent in the pay of a foreign power" and "corrupt, greedy, dishonest and remarkable mostly for his numerous escapes from criminal prosecution; known as the general who never won a battle and never lost a court-martial."
Wilkinson was providing information to at least one foreign government (Spain) while directing troops at Fort Hamilton. Because of association with Wilkinson, the career of the younger Zebulon Pike remains under suspicion.
In December 1803, formal transfer of the Louisiana Territory to the United States was completed. Gen. Wilkinson joined Gov. William C. C. Claiborne of the Mississippi Territory in receiving the Louisiana Purchase from the French at New Orleans. In 1805, when Louisiana Territory was created, Wilkinson was named its governor.
By then, President Thomas Jefferson had ordered exploration of the vast territory. May 14, 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition departed its base near St. Louis. From his St. Louis headquarters, Wilkinson ordered additional explorations, including two led by Zebulon M. Pike, both started before the Sept. 30, 1806, return of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
Without Jefferson's knowledge, Pike left St. Louis Aug. 9, 1805, ordered to head north to find the source of the Mississippi River, negotiate with Indians for future fort sites and spy on the British fur trade in the region. Pike's 20-man expedition incorrectly identified Cass Lake as the Mississippi's source before completing the trip April 30, 1806.
Pike's second venture -- also unauthorized by Jefferson or the war department -- began July 15, 1806, with orders to settle differences between warring tribes, explore the headwaters of the Arkansas River, find the source of the Red River and spy on the Spanish along the unsettled southwestern border of the Louisiana Purchase.
After his 24-man force split, Pike reached the Rocky Mountains, noting a spectacular mountain Nov. 15, 1806, he called Grand Peak. He never reached the 14,110-foot summit that was renamed Pike's Peak in 1820.
His wide ranging course led to Pike and his men becoming prisoners of Spanish troops Feb. 26, 1807, and escorted into Mexico. Remnants of Pike's group returned to Natchitoches, La., July 1, 1807. A result of his foray was a break in U. S.-Spanish diplomatic relations.
The motive for Pike's missions remain in doubt. Was it to gain information for the U. S., or for a Wilkinson land scheme? From 1804 to 1807, Wilkinson had meetings with Aaron Burr, raising questions about Wilkinson's motives and patriotism. Was Wilkinson involved in the mysterious Burr Conspiracy? Or, was he gathering information to use against Burr? Was Pike a co-conspirator, or a soldier following orders?
Pike was a brigadier general April 27, 1813, while leading 1,700 U. S. troops against British forces at York (later Toronto) during the War of 1812. Despite his heroic death in that battle, historians recalling his questionable explorations have labeled Pike "the Lost Pathfinder" and "the poor man's Lewis and Clark."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 19, 2004
County provided second company for Mexican War
(This is the third in a series on Butler County connections to the Mexican War.)
By Jim Blount
In 1847, in the second year of the Mexican War, President James K. Polk asked Ohio to provide more men to fight in Mexico. The state's quota was 11 companies -- 10 infantry and one cavalry
The call for the "Butler Boys No. 2" was issued April 27 by William P. Young, who became major of the Fourth Ohio Infantry Regiment when it assembled in Cincinnati in June. The volunteer regiment left Cincinnati July 1, 1847, proceeding by steamboat to service on the Rio Grande.
As the new Butler County recruits organized in Hamilton, the "Butler Boys No. 1" -- officially Company I of the First Ohio -- were returning from Mexico. That group, originally led by John B. Weller, had started training in Hamilton in May 1846.
The Fourth Ohio -- although in constant peril -- did little fighting in Mexico. Its service was limited to patrols and guard details, including garrison duty at Matamoras. Other stops included Vera Cruz, Puebla and Atlixco. The regiment was in the vicinity of Mexico City, but didn't participate directly in the Sept. 13-14, 1847, battle in that city.
The soldiers found the Mexican climate and poor sanitary conditions their major enemies. The regiment suffered 76 deaths before being mustered out July 24, 1848. Four men were killed in combat, one died of wounds and 71 were victims of disease. Common ailments included yellow fever, mumps and other illnesses associated with bad drinking water.
Butler County men in the Fourth Ohio "returned home in July 1848 and were enthusiastically received in Cincinnati and this place" [Hamilton], according to the 1882 Butler County history. "A supper was given to the Butler Boys No. 2 on the last Saturday in July" at the Butler House Courthouse. In addition, "citizens of Madison and the adjoining townships met in Miltonville" Saturday, Sept. 9, 1848, to honor the returned soldiers.
Ohio sent about 7,000 men into U. S. land forces, plus additional men in the U. S. Navy. The Buckeyes formed five short-term infantry regiments, 15 companies of independent infantry, one company of mounted infantry and five companies of regular army infantry during the two-year war.
At least 259 Butler Countians -- all volunteers -- served during the Mexican War, according to names inscribed on the walls of the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument in Hamilton.
The Monument honor roll includes 88 men in Company I (Butler Boys No. 1) of the First Ohio Infantry Regiment and 98 in Company H (Butler Boys No. 2) of the Fourth Ohio. Local enrollees in regular army regiments included 67 in Company D of the Sixth U.S. Infantry Regiment, 67 in Company B of the Seventh U.S. and one in Company I of the 15th U.S.
The Mexican War formally ended Feb. 2, 1848, with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The U. S. Senate, after amendments, ratified the document March 10. The Mexican Congress approved the treaty May 25 and President James K. Polk announced formal ratification July 4, 1848.
Despite the turnout of volunteers, the Mexican War wasn't a popular one in Butler County. At the heart of local opposition was the belief that the war was waged to extend slavery into territory that would be taken from Mexico.
The United States had annexed the Republic of Texas Dec. 29, 1845. Texas had won its independence from Mexico in 1836. But unresolved was the exact boundary between Texas and Mexico. That dispute led to a skirmish in April 1846 that prompted the U. S. to declare war.
Another pre-war difference was the future of California. The Mexicans, suspicious of a future
U. S. annexation attempt, had ordered the expulsion of American settlers from California. Southern U. S. interests coveted California as a future slave state.
Prominent Butler County men were involved in Ohio political events in which the 1846-48 war with Mexico and the possible extension of slavery were critical issues. Details on those statewide contests will be covered in a future column.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 26, 2004
Bebb governed Ohio during war he opposed
(This is the fourth in a series on Butler County connections to the Mexican War.)
By Jim Blount
Through most of the Mexican War (1846-1848), Ohio was under the leadership of a Butler County man who opposed United States assaults on Mexican territory. William Bebb directed the state from 1846 until 1849, winning election four months after the fighting had started and governing until 11 months after a treaty was signed.
Born Dec. 8, 1802, in Morgan Twp., Bebb had been a teacher before admission to the bar in 1831. Besides practicing law in Hamilton, his leadership was evident in many civic improvements in the city and county.
Bebb -- a member of the Whig party -- had campaigned for William Henry Harrison as he won the presidency in 1840, and was a delegate to the 1844 convention that nominated Henry Clay for the office. Bebb’s party loyalty was a factor in his nomination for governor in 1846.
Entering the campaign, financial matters -- banking, currency and taxation -- were major concerns facing Ohioans. Race also was an issue, including Ohio laws regarding African-Americans. The Democrats, hoping to attract disgruntled Whigs, emphasized that Bebb supported "Negro equality."
Bebb won 118,869 votes, a slim 2,385-vote edge over Democrat David Tod’s 116,484. A third candidate, the Liberty Party’s Samuel Lewis, received 10,797 votes. The Whigs also controlled the Ohio House by eight seats while the Ohio Senate had equal Whig and Democrat membership.
When Bebb took office Dec. 12, 1846, the Mexican War had started. President James K. Polk, a Democrat, had signed a declaration of war against Mexico May 13, 1846.
Bebb and most members of his party opposed the war. The Ohio General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the war against Mexico and the president’s support of it. Polk, in winning the 1844 presidential election, had stressed "Manifest Destiny," the assertion that the U. S. was entitled to expand to the Pacific and take the area that would become California, Oregon and Washington.
Polk won votes in the pro-slavery South by favoring the annexation of the Republic of Texas, formerly part of Mexico. Polk also supported obtaining California from Mexico. He gained some votes in the North with his promise to oppose European rivals for possession of Oregon.
The president tried to buy California, but Mexico refused to negotiate. Still in dispute was the border between Texas and Mexico. Those differences led to war. Polk charged in 1846 that the Mexicans, "after a long continued series of menaces, have at last invaded our territory, and shed the blood of our fellow citizens on our own soil."
Bebb and other Northern war opponents, mostly Whigs, realized that Texas would be annexed as a slave state. But they opposed creating additional slave states in the area to be taken from Mexico.
Among the leading critics of the war was an Ohio senator, Thomas Corwin of Lebanon. His first speech in Washington was in support of granting land bounties to soldiers who fought in the Mexican War. But later he refused to support an appropriation measure that provided money "for a war of conquest." Corwin also predicted that winning the war would "force us at once upon a civil conflict" (a civil war ignited by the slavery debate).
Another congressman who opposed the war was a first-term representative from Illinois. Rep. Abraham Lincoln, 1847-49, opposed extending slavery to new states. He questioned the constitutionality of the war and the probable spread of slavery. In a resolution, Lincoln challenged Polk to identify the "particular spot of soil on which the blood of our citizens was so shed" and details of the incident cited as the reason for going to war.
Gov. Bebb -- despite his war opposition -- honored Polk’s call for additional Ohio volunteers to fight against Mexico. Bebb’s term was supposed to end in December 1848, served until Jan. 22, 1849, while the disputed 1848 gubernatorial election was being decided. The eventual loser in that contest was another Hamilton lawyer, John W. Weller, a Democrat who had led a company of Butler County volunteers into the Mexican War in 1846.
In 1850, Bebb moved his family to a 5,000-acre farm near Rockford, Ill. The Butler County native, who campaigned for Lincoln in 1860, died Oct. 23, 1873, at Rockford.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 2, 2004
County prosecutor helped form California legal system
(This is the fifth in a series on Butler County connections to the Mexican War.)
By Jim Blount
Oliver S. Witherby, who had interrupted his term as Butler County prosecutor to volunteer for army service in the Mexican War, utilized his leadership skills and legal experience to establish California's judicial system and contribute to the development of San Diego.
According to the 1882 county history, Witherby was born Feb. 19, 1815, in Cincinnati. His family moved to Oxford in 1830 and six years later he was graduated from Miami University. He studied law in Hamilton under John Woods and was admitted to the bar in 1840. He was twice elected county prosecutor (1843 and 1845), and had just started his second term when the Mexican War began.
In May 1846, Witherby was elected second lieutenant of the Butler County volunteers who organized at the courthouse as Company I of the Second Rifles. Later, when the unit was reassigned to the First Ohio Regiment at Camp Washington near Cincinnati, Witherby became a first lieutenant with quartermaster duties.
That summer, the regiment joined Gen. Zachary Taylor’s army advancing into Mexico. Witherby was disabled by an injury, resigned his commission and returned to Hamilton. In addition to practicing law and resuming his prosecutor’s duties, he became editor of the Hamilton Telegraph, which he owned in partnership with Michael C. Ryan. But Witherby didn’t stay long.
The war ended in 1848, but the bound between the U. S. And Mexico remained unsettled. Witherby was named quartermaster and commissary of the United States Boundary Commission. Heading the commission was another Hamilton lawyer, John B. Weller, who later became a California governor and senator.
In the treaty ending the war, Mexico relinquished its claim to Texas north of the Rio Grande and the U. S. Also annexed all of parts of the present states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.
Witherby is reported to have arrived in San Diego in 1949, as Californians started legal steps toward statehood. A convention Sept. 1-Oct. 13, 1849, adopted s constitution that prohibited slavery. California wa admitted as the 31st state Sept. 9, 1850, with Witherby a member of the first state legislature, 1849-1850.
A legal historian calls Witherby "the Father of San Diego Jurisprudence." Leland Ghent Stanford said Witherby was the San Diego area's "first American lawyer, its first representative in the state assembly and, by the latter, chosen as first judge of the San Diego-Los Angeles judicial district," 1850-53.
Stanford described Witherby as "stable, popular, successful," a man who "devoted his life to civic leadership" and "the first local lawyer to have practiced over 50 years."
In its quick advance from annexation to statehood, California skipped the usual territorial status, leaving many legal details and precedents to be worked out by early lawmakers. Its land and legal systems had been based on Spanish laws and customs.
"The country had been acquired by conquest, and the discovery of gold soon after resulted in an influx of foreigner and adventurers from all portions of the globe," noted the 1882 county history. "There had been no preceding territorial condition in which the most necessary laws could have been passed, and the enactments which were to govern society were to he laid from the very foundation."
"Many of the enactments that he [Witherby] first helped to make as a legislator, to interpret as a judge and to expound as an advocate, continue to this days as effective California law," Stanford wrote in a 1968 book, Legal Lore & the Bar.
Witherby was U. S. collector of customs, 1853-57. In addition to numerous public offices, he also was a rancher, banker and railroad executive in the San Diego area. "Judge Witherby was one of the most important men in the community in his day," said William E. Smythe in his History of San Diego. He invested largely in real estate and showed his faith in the city's future at all times" and "was prominently connected . . . with most of the important enterprises of his day."
About 1857, Witherby purchased the Escondido Rancho outside San Diego. At first, he farmed and raised cattle. In 1860 he began mining gold on the land, establishing the Escondido Mining Company. He sold the property in 1868. In 1888 the tract formed the basis for the City of Escondido.
Oliver Spencer Witherby, a bachelor whose fortunes rose and fell with business booms and bank failures, died Dec. 18, 1896, in San Diego, whose non-Indian population had been about 600 when he arrived 47 years earlier.