Lusitania sinking upstaged 1915 Hamilton bridge dedication
By Jim Blount
The dedication of a new High-Main Bridge in Hamilton drew a large, appreciative crowd May 6, 1915, but local headlines and conversations were dominated by more somber news -- the sinking of the Lusitania, a British passenger ship off the southern coast of Ireland.
It wasn't an accident -- nothing like the Titanic striking an iceberg three years earlier. The Lusitania, bound from New York to Liverpool, was a war victim -- the target of one of 15 German submarines operating in the region.
Two explosions were reported on the ship at about 1:40 p.m. May 7, although the U-boat captain said he fired only one torpedo. An early story said four torpedoes were fired, but only two struck the ship. All reports agreed that the Lusitania sank within 20 minutes.
Deaths totaled 1,198, including 128 Americans; 761 people were rescued. About 1,500 had died April 14-15, 1912, in the Titanic disaster.
World War I had started in Europe about 11 months before the Lusitania was hit. Officially, the U. S. was a neutral nation in 1915. It didn't enter the war until two years later. But Americans couldn't escape the consequences of the war between 1914 and 1917. The Lusitania was an example.
"It was the first blow of the war that struck near home," said an editorial in the Hamilton Republican News Saturday, May 8, 1915.
The editorial, headlined "Don't Get Excited," said: "The first news of the destruction of the Lusitania, with hundreds of Americans aboard caused a thrill of excitement." The writer said "it is particularly well to be thoughtful and to form no hasty or ill-considered judgments," urging patience until, "the whole facts" are presented. "The situation is grave enough without being inflamed by jingo talk" because "irresponsible talk or writing can result only in complicating the problem Washington faces."
A wire service story May 8 also reflected caution. It said "President [Woodrow] Wilson and his advisers are waiting for all facts" and were hopeful "the country will assume an examining attitude." The report said the president "went to the golf links for his recreation" while awaiting details. A May 10 news story said "President Wilson continued his consideration of the Lusitania disaster in seclusion at the White House."
A few days later, the president called the attack "unlawful and inhumane" in a protest to the German government. In England, the reaction to the Lusitania was more than words. Anti-German raids were reported in London, where "the police force has been thinned by drafts sent to the army."
Newspapers reported no incidents in Hamilton which had a sizable population of German natives and children of German immigrants.
"The civilized world was horrified," wrote Brayton Harris, a submarine historian, and "former President [Theodore] Roosevelt called this act 'piracy on a greater scale than any old-time pirate ever practiced.'"
Part of the protest was rooted in the use of submarines. The stealth vessels, although in the arsenals of both sides during the war, weren't regarded as "honorable weapons" in 1915.
Battleships and heavy guns, not submarines and torpedoes, dominated naval thinking and planning as World War I started. Submarines sank 487 ships between August 1914 and February 1916, most of them merchant vessels. But veteran sailors still doubted the submarine as an effective offensive weapon against war ships.
Germany said the Lusitania was carrying war materials for the Allies -- a claim verified later. Also later, a second explosion was traced to coal dust or ignition of the ammunition on the ship, not a second German torpedo.
The Cunard liner had left New York May 1 amid much publicity. It included an advertisement by the German Embassy, warning that ships sailing into the "European War Zone" were potential targets for German submarines. In some newspapers, the ad was adjacent to listings of ship departure dates.
Some believed the 32,000-ton luxury ship -- advertised as the "fastest and largest steamer now in the Atlantic service" -- was too speedy to be caught by a slow-moving submerged submarine. Others thought it would be safe because it was primarily a passenger ship, not a cargo vessel.
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, Sunday, May 6, 2007 (bridge dedication)
Hamilton and Great Miami: a changing association
By Jim Blount
The Great Miami River gave birth to Hamilton. Its water sustained the community for decades as a transportation system and a source of inexpensive power. The waterway also was an obstacle to travel and business until bridged. At its worst, the river brought sudden death and destruction.
The 215-year river-city association began in 1791 when a frontier army — assigned to bring American Indians in the region under control — selected a ford on the Great Miami as the location for a supply center in the wilderness.
Fort Hamilton — completed Sept. 30, 1791 — stood at that river crossing. The river was supposed to link the new outpost with the army's base, Fort Washington (Cincinnati). That plan didn't work.
With an average fall of three feet per mile, the Great Miami thwarted hauling supplies upstream about 20 miles. Instead, pack horses had to transport necessities from Fort Washington to Fort Hamilton.
After defeating the Indians in 1794 and signing a treaty in 1795, the Great Miami River became an asset as settlement increased around the abandoned fort.
The fertile soil yielded more than could be consumed by people moving into the Miami Valley. They turned to the river as they sought markets for their surplus crops and livestock.
The river was vital because its water was diverted to provide the power for mills that processed corn, wheat and other agricultural products.
Flatboats carried the local bounty to southern buyers over the Great Miami, Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The Hamilton area's economy depended on the crude one-way boats for at least three decades.
Soon after Ohio was admitted as the 17th state in 1803, Hamilton became the county seat of Butler County. Periodic high water and rapid currents delayed residents west of the river from transacting legal matters and business in the county seat.
That led to formation of a private company, formed by local citizens, to build a bridge. The Miami Bridge — opened in 1819 — was the first of five spans that connected what are now High Street on the city's east side and Main Street on the west side. Later, business leaders were responsible for what are now known as the Columbia and Black Street bridges.
The river gradually yielded its transportation role to a man-made canal system that connected the area to Cincinnati and steamboats on the Ohio River.
In November 1827 the first boats from Cincinnati reached Middletown over the Miami Canal. By 1845, the 249-mile canal — then the Miami-Erie Canal — linked Cincinnati on the Ohio River and Toledo on Lake Erie.
In the 1840s, local entrepreneurs expanded the river's role as a source of power. The Hamilton Hydraulic opened in 1845 and started to transform the city into an industrial giant. The hydraulic took water from the Great Miami four miles north of town, channeled it south along North Fifth Street and west along Market Street.
Water in the hydraulic canal dropped 29 feet before returning to the river at the west end of Market Street. Hydraulic currents turned waterwheels that, in turn, powered combinations of gears and pulleys in mills and shops along its banks. It remained the prime source of industrial power for at least four decades.
By 1900, Hamilton was part of "the Paper Valley," a name given the area along the river because of the presence of numerous paper mills. The river was a resource for paper companies extending north from Hamilton through Woodsdale, Middletown, Franklin, Miamisburg, West Carrollton, Dayton and beyond.
Hamilton's greatest disaster struck Tuesday morning, March 25, 1913. Between nine and 11 inches of rain had drenched the area in three previous days. Most of Hamilton's 35,000 residents had no sense of the impending disaster that morning. There had been troublesome floods before — but none to rival that of 1913.
In the city, 75 percent of homes, factories and stores were flooded. The river stretched three miles wide, from present Erie Highway on the east to C and D streets on the west.
At least 200 people died in two days, and at least 85 perished later of causes related to the flood. More than 10,000 people were homeless. In excess of 2,300 buildings were destroyed, including 300 that washed away. All bridges were destroyed, telephone and telegraph lines were severed and railroad tracks washed out.
"Remember the promises we made in the attic," vowed flood survivors. And they did. Butler County leaders joined those in eight other counties along the river to form the Miami Conservancy District. The district's flood protection system was completed in 1923 without federal funding.
With the river no longer needed for power and transportation and the threat of flood lessened, the Great Miami River lost its importance for at least 30 years. During that period it was unsightly because of unusual low-water levels. It stank because industries along its 170-mile course dumped waste into the stream.
A modest river revival began in the 1950s as environmental problems were revealed. Gradually, interest in the river as a recreation asset increased.
By nearly a 2-to-1 margin, Hamilton voters in 1988 approved city funding for the low-level dam that brought a new look and a new life to the river. The dam opposite Miami University Hamilton was completed in 1989.
In recent years, Hamiltonians seem to have come to appreciate what an urban planner observed in 1920. Looking at the river with the detachment of a nonresident, he wrote: "Too few cities are given river opportunities such as the Great Miami River offers to Hamilton. Hamilton's river front opportunity is one for which many cities would gladly pay a princely sum."
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Sunday, May 6, 2007 (bridge dedication)
A tale of four bridges
By Jim Blount
Today's High-Main Bridge is the fifth such span to cross the river here in 187 years.
The Great Miami River in Butler County was crossed by fords and ferries before the Miami Bridge opened in December 1819. The Miami Bridge Co. built the first span over the Great Miami River at a cost of $25,194.84 in private funds.
The 380-foot covered wooden bridge had two vehicle lanes and two pedestrian walkways. Tolls started at three cents for a foot passenger, 12.5 cents for a horse and rider and 25 cents for one-horse vehicles with a driver. Passage was free for persons going to elections, funerals, worship, delivering mail and in military service.
Originally, it had 17 windows on each side. Later all windows, except one on the north side of the middle pier, were closed after the wife of a county official committed suicide by leaping into the river from one of the openings.
Destroyed by a flood Sept. 20, 1866, it was replaced by a suspension bridge with a pair of stone pillars at each end.
In 1895 that bridge was razed and replaced by an iron truss bridge 440 feet long and 66 feet wide. The builder, the Toledo Bridge Co., claimed the bridge was the longest single span highway bridge in the world at that time.
It was one of four Hamilton bridges washed away in the March 25-26, 1913 flood.
A new High-Main Street Bridge, 576 feet in length, was dedicated in 1915 — exactly 92 years ago today.
By 2000, local drivers didn't need statistics to know that the 1915 bridge was congested and outdated. According to traffic studies in the 1990s, the bridge handled a daily average of more than 35,000 vehicles — a significant increase from a similar study a few years earlier.
Preliminary work began in December 2003 on the six-lane, concrete arch structure.
As the May 6, 2007, dedication approaches, features of the new span are evident — flood lighting on both sides, a bicycle path on the south side and eight pedestrian balconies on each side.
Each balcony, or river overlook, includes a bronze medallion. Seven medallions depict the history of Hamilton's relationship to the Great Miami River. The eighth is dedicated to the future.
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Hamilton native sought Mexican help for Confederacy
By Jim Blount
The French invasion of Mexico during the U. S. Civil War offered promising opportunities for the southern cause, and the Confederacy sent James Reily, a Butler County native, to conduct its secret negotiations south of the border.
Reily was the second child of Nancy Hunter Reily and John Reily. The father was a veteran of the American Revolution, an Indian fighter and a pioneer leader in Ohio and Butler County.
James Reily was born in Hamilton July 3, 1811, graduated from Miami University in 1829, studied law at Transylvania College in Lexington, Ky., and in the office of Judge Robert Todd, a relative of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln. He married Ellen Hart Ross, a niece of Henry Clay, and they lived briefly in Vicksburg, Miss., before moving to Texas, first to Nacogdoches and then to Houston.
He was a captain of a Texas militia unit and commanded a Texas regiment in the war with Mexico (1846-1848). He served in the legislature of the Republic of Texas, represented the republic in Washington, D. C., and after Texas was annexed -- which he opposed -- was elected to the state legislature, chaired the state Whig party and in 1856 was appointed U. S. counsel in St. Petersburg, Russia. Reily didn't like the Russian climate and resigned after only a few days on the job.
Back in Texas, he supported secession in 1861 and was commissioned colonel of the Fourth Texas Mounted Volunteers as the Civil War began. One of his early duties wasn't on a battlefield. It was in government chambers in the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora.
The stage was set for Reily's mission when some European nations pressured Mexico to pay its debts. When President Benito Juarez was unable to comply, France took the lead in trying to force payments. France's offensive included the Battle of Puebla May 5, 1862, won by the Mexicans. That surprise victory is the basis for an annual observance, Cinco de Mayo.
Confederate overtures to Mexico began in 1861 through normal diplomatic channels, seeking Juarez's cooperation in the southern fight against the Union army. Those efforts were discredited when Juarez realized the Confederacy wanted more than an alliance.
For the South, possession of Mexico's gold and silver mines and other resources could provide the money needed to supply its army and navy. Juarez, it was assumed, would be willing to sell Chihauhua and Sonora so Mexico could pay its European debts. If not, his weakened government wouldn't be able to stop Confederate troops from claiming them.
By acquiring those states, or at least gaining their cooperation, the South would have access to more ports for the importation of arms and supplies from Europe. The additional shoreline would stretch and reduce the effectiveness of the Union naval blockade that already hampered the Confederacy.
A pact with Mexico also could lead to a military offensive, adding what are now the states of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California to the Confederacy, giving it room to expand slavery and acquire ports on the Pacific.
When negotiations with the Mexican government in Mexico City collapsed, Colonel Reily was appointed to deal secretly with other Mexican leaders, including the governors of the states. His credentials were oratory and negotiation skills, and a reputation of being friendly to Mexico and its people.
Reily arrived in the city of Chihuahua Jan. 8, 1862. But discussions with the governor were complicated because Reily didn't speak Spanish and Gov. Terrazas didn't speak English. Possibly because of faulty translation, or Reily's optimism, summaries of the meeting didn't agree.
For example, Reily said the governor agreed not to allow Union troops to pass through Chihuahua to attack the Confederacy. The governor said he would permit Union soldiers to travel through his state. He said he had no choice because President Juarez had recommended and June 20, 1861, the Mexican Congress had given authorization for U. S. soldiers to cross northern Mexico.
Both parties agreed that the South could buy supplies in Mexico, but it was hollow because Mexico wouldn't accept Confederate currency.
In March, Reily moved to Sonora to buy arms and seek use of the port of Guaymas. But in Hermosillo, Sornora's capital, his secrecy was blown. A San Francisco reporter not only learned of his mission, but obtained copies of some of Reily's papers.
By August 1862, Reily's intrigues had ended and he returned to his cavalry unit. He was killed April 14, 1863, in battle in Louisiana. May 3, less than a month later, a younger brother, Colonel Robert Reily, died after being shot and captured while leading the 75th Ohio Infantry, a Union regiment, at Chancellorsville, Va.
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Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Lodge familiar to Champion workers part of military test site
By Jim Blount
"We must be the great arsenal of democracy," implored President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a "fireside chat" Sunday night, Dec. 29, 1940. Many radio listeners in Clark, Jefferson, Jennings and Ripley counties in Indiana had already accepted the president's challenge "to put forth a mightier effort . . . to increase our production of all the implements of defense to meet the threat to our democratic faith."
Days before the broadcast, more than 400 families in those counties -- a little more than a hour's drive southwest of Butler County -- were told their homes, farms, businesses, schools and churches and about 3,200 bodies in cemeteries had to be moved or sacrificed to create a giant ammunitions testing center along U. S. 421 between Madison and Versailles, Ind.
Until then, World War II was a distant tragedy, claiming lives abroad. Pearl Harbor wasn't a household word. Japan's surprise attack came a year after the government revealed plans to build the 56,000-acre testing center.
Dec. 6, 1940, about 2,000 people in more than 400 families learned that about 600 pieces of property would be impressed for the $12.9 million Jefferson Proving Grounds (JPG), part of the nation's defense system for 53 years. The area -- about three to seven miles east-west and 18 miles north-south -- was chosen for several reasons: proximity to industrial centers, favorable climate and the availability of transportation and land.
For more than 50 years, JPG was 50 miles of eight-foot chain-link fence, topped by barbed wire, surrounding thousands of trees. Its peaceful appearance belied its mission and the heartbreak caused by its creation. After the Dec. 6, 1940, announcement, residents faced the emotional hurdle of leaving land that had been in their families for generations. On the other extreme, one Jefferson County family had moved into a newly-built house just six weeks before the disclosure.
Property taken ranged from humble residences to Old Timbers, a 42-bed lodge built for Alexander Thomson, president of the Champion Paper & Fibre Company, based in Hamilton. The lodge -- four miles west of New Marion in Ripley County -- and its 1,200 acres were familiar to some Champion employees in Hamilton who had enjoyed outings there since its completion in 1932..
The $75,000 showpiece was built from native materials on the site. Behind limestone walls 14 inches thick, a rustic central room featured a fireplace at each end. This great room measured 68 by 30 feet and was 30 feet high. A large porch overlooked Big Graham Creek 100 feet below.
Occupants were ordered to leave their property within 30 days, but complications, and a bit of compassion, extended the removal. "The transformation from quiet, rural neighborhoods to the rumble of the first 75 mm test round took only 155 days," said Sue Baker in her 1990 book, For Defense of Our Country, Echoes of Jefferson Proving Ground. She said "families were changed forever in less time than it takes to grow a crop of corn."
The JPG command was created Dec. 30, 1940 -- the day after FDR's speech. Construction of 120 planned buildings began in January 1941. The first test from a French 75mm howitzer was fired May 10, 1941. More than 5,000 people were employed in building the facility, completed by Christmas 1941. Some of the people it displaced were employed there.
World War II testing ended Sept. 10, 1945, and JPG was on standby until October 1951, when Korean War demands revived testing. An average of 175,000 test rounds were fired each month, and employment peaked at 1,774 in April 1953. Testing stopped in March 1958, but firing resumed in September 1961. The Vietnam War put JPG back to full testing in 1965, and it continued through the end of the Cold War and the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
Dec. 29, 1988, the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended closing JPG. Sept. 30, 1994, ceremonies marked firing of the last test round.
Old Timbers -- used by the military as a retreat and conference center -- is one of two 1940 buildings that survived. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996 and in recent years has been used for meetings. Most JPG land has become the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge.
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City of Sculpture lacking equestrian tribute
By Jim Blount
Missing from the City of Sculpture's repertoire is an equestrian statue, one that wouldn't be the usual, with a prominent soldier in the saddle. From an historical perspective, the Hamilton tribute should emphasize the horse, not the rider. Except for a parade, horses are seldom seen in Hamilton today, but twice in its history the city has played an important role for armies that relied on hay-powered transportation.
The city's founding date is Sept. 30, 1791, when Fort Hamilton was completed to serve a frontier army. More than 70 years later, during the Civil War, Hamilton was the site of a horse rehabilitation camp for the Union army.
During both periods, feeding and caring for horses was the equivalent of providing gasoline, jet fuel and maintenance for the modern military's vehicles, planes and ships.
Horses were vital to the armies of Gen. Arthur St. Clair (1791) and Gen. Anthony Wayne (1792-95) for several reasons. The most obvious was as mounts for the officers. The 51-year-old St. Clair, for example, suffered with gout. It limited his mobility and often he had to be lifted on and off his horse because of the ailment.
Some horses in his army pulled a few pieces of artillery through the wilderness. Hundreds of others were required to supply the advancing army and the forts built by the soldiers.
As Wayne prepared to succeed St. Clair, a senior officer explained the frontier supply system, its dependence on horses and the limits of their endurance to the new commander. From Fort Washington at Cincinnati, wrote Gen. James Wilkinson, "a single trip from this post to Fort Jefferson and back again, for loaded pack horses, will employ 10 days." He said "the horses especially employed in this service . . . cannot make more than six [round] trips, and in general will fail on the fifth."
Later, Gen. Wayne -- as he prepared to take the offensive against the Indians -- ordered making hay the prime duty of soldiers and civilian contractors at Fort Hamilton. Pack horse trains supplying his troops often numbered more than 100 horses.
Wayne had learned the importance of horses to the army during his service in the American Revolution. He also was aware that among reasons for two previous military failures in the Ohio region had been an inadequate supply system, including improper care of horses..
Hay making at Fort Hamilton in the 1790s had to be done outside the walls. That increased exposure to Indian attack. Soldiers worked with one eye on their tools and the crop, the other alert for Indians, who recognized the importance of the hay. Soldiers handling scythes and other tools were vulnerable.
For protection, work details split tasks. Half of the soldiers worked on hay duty while the others stood guard. Roles were usually reversed later in the day.
Making hay was only one horse-related assignment at Fort Hamilton. In 1792, Wayne enlarged the log outpost, which also housed blacksmiths, saddlers, farriers and other services for army horses.
Malaria and smallpox were among the afflictions that crippled soldiers at Fort Hamilton. Horses stabled there also were subject to disabling diseases, some of them fatal.
During the Civil War, Camp Hamilton -- which extended along North Third Street between present Vine and Black streets -- had a different function. In 1861 and 1862, it had been a training center for recruits entering the Union army, including hundreds of Butler County volunteers.
In 1863, the army realized it had to improve the service life of horses assigned to the infantry, artillery and cavalry. Camp Hamilton became a horse rehabilitation center. Its purpose was to restore ill and injured horses for additional army service.
A newspaper said "as many as 1,000 horses were housed in it at one time." How many soldiers were stationed there is unknown. One report said there was one soldier for every 16 horses, plus specialists and administrative personnel.
The Hamilton complex included several stables, a steam powerhouse, facilities for grinding feed and cutting hay, a reservoir for water supply, other supporting buildings and a horse cemetery.
After the war ended in 1865, the camp remained open 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.
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Fort Hamilton provided service for thousands of horses
By Jim Blount
Fort Hamilton had a brief existence during the Indian wars of the 1790s. Between 1791 and 1796, at least 6,000 soldiers were housed or stopped briefly at the log fortress. Also unknown is the exact number of horses that passed through the outpost, or were shoed, saddled, fed and treated there. The equine total probably surpassed the troop count.
There were seldom more than 100 soldiers stationed at the fort. Most assignments involved providing care for horses used by the army and those employed by the private contractor responsible for transporting supplies, equipment, weapons, ammunition, food and other necessities for frontier campaigns.
Any manufactured item, and most that required some processing, originated in the East. They were hauled over the mountains and down the Ohio River to Fort Washington at Cincinnati. Flour, corn meal and other basic foods could be prepared at Fort Washington.
From Cincinnati, the army's needs were transported north on the backs of horses and some oxen. There were attempts to cut roads through the Ohio wilderness, but only short stretches were suitable for freight wagons. The rugged trails -- plus Indian assaults -- took a heavy toll on the beasts of burden.
There are no casualty reports for horses that supported the armies of Gen. Arthur St. Clair (1791) and Gen. Anthony Wayne (1792-95) before the Indians were subdued Aug. 20, 1794, in the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
Fort Hamilton -- the first fort north of Cincinnati -- was completed Sept. 30, 1791. It was described as a "fort of deposit." But it was more than a supply center. It also was a one stop horse depot, providing hay and a variety of equestrian services.
A private company was contracted to provide provisions and forage for the army. A pack horse master was responsible for 40 horses and directed several pack horsemen who cared for the animals, loaded and unloaded them and guided convoys to and from the forts north of Fort Washington.
The horses -- each capable of carrying at least 200 pounds -- were tied together by ropes in groups of 10 to 15. They walked in single file over the crude roads between the forts built in western Ohio. Pack horsemen -- who were civilians, not soldiers -- guided the supply trains over the perilous 20 to 30 miles between each fort.
According to an order issued by Gen. Wayne in June 1793, pack horse convoys were to be escorted by about 80 to 90 soldiers, led by a captain.
The pack horse masters included William McClellan and John Sutherland, future Hamilton residents. Other employees were Robert McClellan, William's brother, and Matthew Hueston, whose land acquisitions included a tract that much later became the basis for Hueston Woods State Park. Robert McClellan later became a scout for Wayne.
Their jobs were hazardous. The slow-moving caravans were easy prey. Several pack horsemen were killed in attacks within a few miles of Fort Hamilton. Indians not only stole or burned the cargo, but killed or captured the horses. In two raids near the fort, Indians took 20 horses in one attack and confiscated 40 in another.
Indians weren't the only obstacle to having enough horses to transport soldiers and their needs. Horses also were lost because of carelessness by troops and pack horsemen. Most of the soldiers were in the militia, often without adequate training in the care and feeding of horses.
Although there are few records from the period, the armies served by Fort Hamilton required thousands of horses, and the attrition rate was high.
In May 1794, for example, a large convoy was sent from Fort Greenville to Fort Hamilton to obtain flour for the advancing army. It included 700 pack horses protected by 130 soldiers.
Horses transported more than food for men and animals. In 1793, a convoy was planned to haul weapons and ammunition for about 3,000 troops. With each horse carrying 144 dozen cartridges, 174 horses were needed for that task. Fifty horses were required to move two howitzers and ammunition for the guns. Additional horses were necessary to transport baggage, food and other supplies for the pack horsemen and the soldiers.
In 2000 -- more than 200 years after Fort Hamilton was abandoned -- the community that developed around the fort was designated as Ohio's official City of Sculpture. Absent from its artistic attractions is a work of art recognizing Hamilton's equestrian history.