Muster day part of 18th century military tradition
By Jim Blount
"Holidays were few and far between in the early days of Indiana, but there was one day in the year toward which old and young looked forward to with pleasant anticipation," wrote August J. Reifel in his history of neighboring Franklin County. " It was muster day -- the day in which the local militia donned their uniforms, shouldered their muskets and side arms and paraded before an admiring populace."
Reifel said "it seems that muster day was the one big day of the year." It was a special occasion in Ohio, too. Unfortunately, early Butler County historians didn't record the event in as much detail as Reifel in his 1915 book, History of Franklin County, Indiana, Her People, Industries and Institutions.
Most territorial and state militia laws followed the 1792 federal militia act, passed 11 years before Ohio statehood. In the Northwest Territory -- which included the future state of Ohio -- a militia law had been enacted in 1788.
Most states required able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45 to muster at least annually. Failure to attend usually caused arrest and a fine. A later Ohio law excused men from active drilling and parading after seven years of service, but they remained in the militia and subject to call in a crisis.
In the early years of Ohio and Indiana statehood, the local militia was the only defense against a possible Indian uprising. That threat diminished after the War of 1812 -- which extended through 1815.
Interest was renewed during the Mexican War (1846-48) and the Civil War (1861-1865), when Ohio militia companies were reformed or enlarged. Participation declined again after 1865. In 1903, federal law created the National Guard, replacing the state militias that had been controlled by state governments.
In Franklin County, Reifel wrote, "regimental musters were held in the spring or fall, and owing to the fact that the county had several infantry and cavalry companies, it was necessary to provide drill or parade grounds." Reifel included the following details from an observation.
"They came on horseback, on foot and in wagons; the old came and the young. They came partly to see the muster, partly to see each other, but chiefly to eat gingerbread and drink cider, beer or something stronger . . . ."
Columns formed on the Brookville public square before marching around town. Drills also were held in Metamora.
"The infantry and other uniformed companies led in the march" followed by "the great unwashed, the 'flat-foots,' which constituted the finest possible burlesque on military movements. Men with all kinds of hats, or no hats at all, hundreds of them barefooted, most of them in their shirt sleeves . . . some with canes, some with hoop-poles, some with corn stalks, some with fence rails 10 feet long, sometimes four abreast and sometimes 10; some sober and some drunk -- and thus they marched."
"Ludicrous as this must have been, yet it constituted a muster in the eyes of the law," noted Reifel's source.
"The companies were dismissed soon after reaching the parade grounds, much to the relief of the uniformed companies, which then spent an hour or two drilling.
The militia muster days continued, wrote Reifel, "until the latter part of the 1830s when the interest in the local militia practically died out. No effort was made to keep the companies full and the men equipped according to the law. The Indians had disappeared; England was no longer to be feared and consequently there did not appear to the hardheaded Hoosier that there was any necessity for spending so much time in drilling and parading," he wrote.
The necessary military parade, drills and paperwork were only part of the muster day tradition. There also were the business and social aspects -- topics for another column.
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Muster day included more than drills and marching
By Jim Blount
Muster day was important in Ohio's early years because Indian raids remained possible. Since 1788 -- 15 years before Ohio became the 17th state -- a territorial law had required able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45 to muster at least annually. Ohio legislators continued that mandate.
One or two days a year were designated as muster day -- a time to enroll new militia members, subject companies to drills and demonstrate their military presence and ability with a parade. Some communities set July 4 as one of the required days, or declared it an extra muster.
As population increased, new units were formed. Each town of any size had its own militia company, or several, usually trained as infantry, cavalry or artillery. Most muster days were in the county seat; occasionally in other communities.
When more than one unit participated, it could be a colorful event. Each company determined its uniform design and colors. Some embellished their uniforms with plumes, sashes, belts, unique hats and other adornments. In some communities, only officers wore uniforms while men in the ranks drilled in ordinary clothing.
There was much more to muster day than the military details. In fact, formal militia training was often a small part of the day-long event. It was a festive occasion for males too young and too old for militia duty and females of all ages. It was a major social event.
What happened when the citizen soldiers were dismissed is detailed in August J. Reifel's History of Franklin County, Indiana, Her People, Industries and Institutions. Reifel quotes a Franklin County resident who witnessed musters in Brookville.
"The disbanding of the 'great unwashed,' as the cornstalk militia was called, was the signal for an attack on the gingerbread wagons," the witness noted.
" So great was the attendance . . . that the gingerbread merchants of Brookville were not equal to the occasion of satisfying the rapacious appetites of the multitude, and dealers in the gingerbread commodity from far and near resorted to Brookville and also reaped a harvest. It was said that at one muster, about 1826 or 1827, one of these gingerbread dealers sold a half a cord of his famous brown pastry.
"It would be interesting to know just how this gingerbread was made, but the recipe for this delicious confection has been lost with other valuable records. However, some mathematical statements concerning it have been preserved. It was 16 inches square and an inch and a half thick, with lines deeply sunken dividing the whole cake into four equal parts.
"There were respectively sections and quarter sections, and the country beau or big brother who could march up with his own sister, or somebody else's sister, and invest a quarter in a section of ginger cake, with another quarter in cider or spruce beer, usually secured the right to take that sister to singing school for 12 months at least."
"My recollection," said the source, "is that most of these wagons usually handled whisky as well as cider and beer. There was no lager beer in this day and temperance laws were unknown. Whisky retailed at 15 cents a quart and some of those old cornstalk soldiers could drink several 15 cents' worth in a day."
"By noon on this eventful day the fist fights began, and from then on until the day was over individual combats were waged on every side. More blood was shed in this way than was ever spilled by the militia in the performance of their duties," the observer claimed.
Militia members elected their officers. To maintain their status, it was customary for officers to buy beer and liquor for their men on muster day. Other food and drink could be provided by local candidates subject to election that year.
Local taverns and merchants profited from sales to those who came to see the drills, parade, possibly an artillery demonstration and the fist fights..
A Conner Prairie web site notes that "in general, all of the musters of the period were attended by 'large and motley crowds, more intent on frolic and roistering than improvement in military discipline.' "
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Peaceful protest turned to riot in Cincinnati in 1884
By Jim Blount
More than 6,000 Cincinnatians -- described as "solid men of the city" -- met at Music Hall Friday evening, March 28, 1884. Their purpose was to discuss the corrupt local legal system. In their view, law enforcement and the courts emphasized personal gain, nepotism and political power, not justice. Instead of orderly reform -- their intent -- the meeting ignited a three-day riot.
The Hamilton Daily News described the Music Hall assembly as "an immense indignation meeting," calling for an end to "the frequency with which the crime of homicide is committed, and the immunity which is afforded to red-handed murderers." Violations included bribing and intimidating jurors.
"Occasionally it seems necessary for the people to sweep away the tricky lawyers and corrupt juries that make a farce of justice," declared an editorial in the Daily News
There were 93 murders in Cincinnati in 1883 and much of the populace believed (1) police had been lax in pursuing the killers and, (2) when prosecuted, courts had issued light sentences or freed defendants, despite strong evidence against them.
At the March 28 meeting, the newspaper said, law-abiding citizens decided to appoint a 50-man committee to recommend "changes in the statutes that will be necessary to prevent freedom on crime, especially with reference to the jury system."
Others wanted immediate action. That night "thousands . . . stormed the county jail and the courthouse," says an Ohio Historical Society marker placed at the Sycamore Street site in 1999.
As usual, casualty reports vary from 40 to 60 killed and from 100 to more than 300 injured. The OHS marker lists 54 killed and more than 250 wounded. It says "the courthouse and jail suffered enormous damage and valuable records were destroyed" in the assault and resulting fire.
"No thought of an attack on the jail was entertained" at the Music Hall meeting, the Daily News said. Other reports noted that when the session adjourned, chants of "To the jail!" were heard and the protesters transformed into a "lynch-law mob."
At first, Hamilton County sheriff's deputies and Cincinnati police tried to control the increasing crowd as it approached the courthouse and jail. They eventually confronted "a mob of 20,000," according to the Daily News.
Cincinnati officials asked Gov. George Hoadly for assistance. The Cincinnatian -- who was in his first year in office -- ordered Ohio National Guard units from around the state to the Queen City. Later, the governor was criticized for not acting sooner.
Twenty-four men charged or convicted of murder were in the Hamilton County jail as the angry mob approached. The recent sentencing of 18-year-old William Berner had been the catalyst for the Music Hall meeting, and he was the objective of the march on the jail.
March 24, four days earlier, Berner had been convicted of killing his employer. A payoff was assumed when the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter instead of first-degree murder, and a sentence of 20 years in prison instead of life or the death penalty. Reports said the vigilantes yelled "Hang Berner" as they advanced.
The ensuing violence included shooting, rock and brick throwing, battering rams and fires that spread to nearby buildings as deputies and police tried to repel assaults on the jail and the neighboring courthouse, which were connected by a tunnel.
"Hamilton County's costly and magnificent courthouse is gutted. Nearly all the records are destroyed," the Hamilton Daily News reported the next day. "So dark was the outlook Saturday morning [March 29] that the building of barricades was immediately begun in the jail, the Gatling gun, afterwards to be used with such deadly effect, wheeled into place."
By Saturday morning, the riot was no longer only a Cincinnati crisis. Later that day, Hamilton men in a local Ohio National Guard unit arrived in the Queen City.
The Daily News said "12 [railroad] car loads of troops passed through here [Hamilton] this morning at 10 o'clock, bound for Cincinnati. They were from the northern part of the state."
More details of the 1884 Cincinnati riot will be covered in this column next week.
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Cincinnati 1884 riot impacted surrounding areas
(This is the second of three columns on the 1884 Cincinnati riot.)
By Jim Blount
The 1884 Cincinnati riot, sparked by discontent with a corrupt justice system, had some odd twists that spread to surrounding areas, including Butler County. It began with a controversial jury decision in a murder case and a meeting four days later to protest that verdict and other trials that appeared to have been influenced by bribing or intimidating jurors, not by the evidence.
Among the 93 murders in Cincinnati in 1883 was the Christmas Eve death and robbery of a stable owner by two young men, William Berner, 18, and Joseph Palmer, 19.
Berner, who confessed, was tried first. He was defended by a lawyer regarded as a master at gaining acquittals by suspicious means. Monday, March 24, 1884, a Hamilton County jury found Berner guilty of manslaughter instead of first-degree murder as charged.
The judge, who criticized the verdict, had no choice in the penalty and sentenced the young killer to 20 years in prison. Many law-abiding Cincinnatians had expected Berner, an employee of the victim, to receive the death penalty or at least life in prison.
"Never was there a verdict in a criminal case that caused as much open and unfavorable comment as that of the jury yesterday . . . the feeling of disgust, anger and indignation was deep and widespread," observed a Cincinnati newspaper.
An "indignation meeting" at Music Hall Friday night, March 28, 1884, attracted more than 6,000 people seeking reforms in local law enforcement and the courts.
When that meeting ended, hotheads took control and about 200 men marched toward the Hamilton County jail and courthouse a few blocks away. From Friday night through Sunday, the buildings were targets for a mob estimated at 10,000 to 20,000. The courthouse was torched and, according to an Ohio Historical Society marker at the site, 54 people died and more than 250 were injured.
Sheriff Morton Hawkins -- who led the defense of county property -- was praised for his leadership during the crisis. He had the foresight to anticipate a possible attempt to storm the jail and lynch Berner.
At 6 p.m. -- before the Music Hall meeting began -- the cautious sheriff placed Berner on a Little Miami Railroad passenger train. He was guarded by two deputies and accompanied by a newspaper reporter. The group left the northbound train at Loveland to wait for a later northbound train to Columbus, where Berner would enter the Ohio Penitentiary.
A hostile crowd gathered at the station. When the Columbus train departed, some men jumped on the rear of the last car.
Fearing his life was in danger, Berner jumped from the moving train into the darkness. Word of his escape spread throughout southwestern Ohio and vigilante groups -- some official, some not -- began searching for the 18-year-old.
He slept that night in woods near Montgomery in northern Hamilton County. The next day, Saturday -- as rioting momentarily subsided in downtown Cincinnati -- the two deputies and the reporter found him beside a road. He offered no resistance.
The party boarded another Little Miami train at Miamiville. Because of continued threats, the four men hid in a boxcar, out of sight of angry crowds that had gathered at railroad stations along the route.
Saturday, March 29, Berner became a state prisoner in Columbus. Later, he won early release, serving only 12 of his 20-year term.
June 23, 1884, in Cincinnati, Berner's accomplice, Joseph Palmer, 19, was convicted of first-degree murder. He won an appeal, but was convicted again April 2, 1885. He was hanged July 15, 1885, in the last public execution in Hamilton County.
Also in June 1884, Berner's controversial defense lawyer faced charges of packing juries, filing false affidavits and perjury in several cases. He was indicted, but found not guilty.
The riot surrounding the jail and courthouse subsided Sunday evening, March 30, 1884, but investigations continued for months. One reviewed the performance of the Ohio National Guard, including a Hamilton contingent.
The local unit arrived in the Queen City as "confusion reigned supreme," according to the Hamilton Daily News. Company G's riot experience will be covered in this column next week.
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Hamilton guardsmen on duty during 1884 Cincinnati riot
(This is the last of three columns on the 1884 Cincinnati riot.)
By Jim Blount
The March 1884 Cincinnati riot was a test for the relatively-young Ohio National Guard, including a Hamilton unit. During three chaotic days, 54 people died and more than 250 were injured when a mob stormed, burned and besieged the Hamilton County courthouse and jail.
More than 6,000 respectable Cincinnatian attended a protest meeting Friday evening, March 28, 1884, at Music Hall. The violence -- including looting and damage in other parts of the city -- was initiated after the meeting by about 200 men who advanced on the jail and courthouse.
Some had been enraged by a verdict four days earlier in a murder case. William Berner, 18, the defendant in that case, was believed to be among the prisoners in the jail.
"It is hard to tell whether inflamed human passions or a spirit of lawlessness and greed for plunder was at the bottom of . . . bloody scenes in Cincinnati," said the Hamilton Daily News. "Probably a mixture of both," the newspaper added. "The men that came to the surface . . . were no doubt largely supplied from the lowest strata of society." Many were obviously drunk.
City leaders reluctantly ordered saloons to close and told citizens to stay in their residences while Cincinnati police and Hamilton County deputies tried to protect county property and inmates and disperse the crowd.
It was evident Friday night that more manpower was needed to restore order. Gov. George Hoadly responded and about 500 members of the Ohio National Guard arrived Saturday. Their strength increased to 1,100 Sunday and to about 2,500 troops Monday.
The Ohio National Guard was formed in 1875 to replace small militia groups. Some critics believed it was a name change, not an organizational improvement The ONG was composed of small units scattered around the state, loosely organized, inadequately trained and subject to poor attendance at training sessions.
The first guardsmen on the riot scene were Cincinnatians in the First Regiment ONG. Only about half responded. Some refused to fire on the crowd; some shot over the heads of the rioters.
Late Saturday afternoon detachments from two regiments, the Fourth and 14th, were dispatched, but they arrived too late to be effective that night. The unruly crowd, which had thinned during daylight hours, had started to increase in the darkness.
The guardsmen became the enemy, said the Hamilton Daily News, and the fighting "became no longer a contest for the prisoners in the jail, but a general warfare upon the militia."
The troops, including a small group from Hamilton, were held at the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railroad depot. They were delayed by conflicting and confusing orders.
The Daily News said "the Fourth Regiment failed to cover itself with glory in Cincinnati, and all the men of the regiment are unanimous in their condemnation of the cowardice of their colonel." He ordered Hamilton's Company G to march toward the courthouse with unloaded weapons. When the unit met the mob -- which was armed with rocks, bricks and other weapons -- the troops were ordered back to the depot.
The Daily News reported that a CH&D conductor said his Sunday night train "had a number of militia men on board bound for points north of Hamilton." It was rumored that a Hamilton colonel "was stationed here with a detail to arrest every man who came back." Some of the deserters "got off at way stations [south of Hamilton] and boarded a passing freight. Those that came on to this city discovered that there was no truth in the rumor."
Hamilton guardsmen were relieved Wednesday, April 2, and arrived home on a special train, looking "dirty and worn" after riot duty. They were greeted by a band and Civil War veterans.
April 8, 1884, Gov. Hoadly dismissed the colonel of the Fourth, a Dayton man, for "disobedience of orders and other misconduct." The regiment was disbanded May 31. Some of its officers and men became part of the newly-formed Seventh Regiment ONG
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