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Butler County soldiers had ‘pleasant time’ and found ‘warm friends’ in Kentucky

Weapons distributed and instructions given as 35th OVI rode box cars to Cynthiana

Butler County soldiers had ‘pleasant time’ and found ‘warm friends’ in Kentucky

(This is the second in a series of columns based on excerpts from more than 300 Civil War letters written by Ferdinand Van Derveer to his wife, Emily, in Hamilton. The letters are preserved in the Smith Library of Regional History in Oxford. His personal experiences and observations are being shared during the observance of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, 2010-2015.)

Contributed by Jim Blount

Ferdinand Van Derveer was within 30 miles of the first major land battle of the Civil War July 21, 1861, but he wasn’t in Washington, D. C., to fight the Confederate army. Instead, he was there to bargain and beg on behalf of an infantry regiment he was organizing at the Butler County Fairgounds, just northeast of Hamilton.

"We are within 20 or 30 miles of the seat of war, yet, in fact, can learn no more of what is going on than if we were at Hamilton," he said in a letter to his wife, Emily.

Van Derveer had arrived Friday, July 19, two days before the battle in Northern Virginia. He had traveled by train from Hamilton via Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Baltimore. His July 21 letter was mostly about his sightseeing and the obvious presence of the military in the capital. "There are but few fine buildings here, except those of the government," he noted.

Anticipating his wife’s concerns, he wrote "no one is allowed to pass from here into Virginia, except by permission of General [Winfield] Scott, so that you need not fear my getting in the way of secession bullets."

Van Derveer, still a civilian, had started to form what became the 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment in Hamilton before his Washington trip. Already Ohio had more soldiers in training than it could supply. The Hamilton lawyer hoped he could find someone in Washington who would authorize arms and ammunition for his recruits.

A visit to President Lincoln in the White House wasn’t in his plans. "I will not go to see Old Abe, although I have a letter for him," he informed his wife. Who he visited wasn’t mentioned in this correspondence to Emily Van Derveer, one of more than 300 of his letters she preserved during the Civil War. There also was no indication of success in pleading for guns and accouterments for the 35th OVI.

"Although the main part of the army has left here," he told her, "still the streets are thronged with soldiers. We found squads of soldiers, too, all along the line of the railroad. Through Maryland every bridge was guarded and at Baltimore we found several military encampments."

An untested Union army had marched from Washington into Virginia July 16, heading for the July 21 showdown with a southern army. By later standards, Bull Run was a small encounter, about 28,450 Union troops versus 32,230 Confederates. Casualties totaled about 4,700, including 2,950 Union and 1,750 CSA.

The brief confrontation went badly for the Union force. By the next day, July 22, the defeated army had retreated to Washington. Uncertainty after the setback at Bull Run -- also known as the Battle of Manassas -- forced Van Derveer to seek a longer, but safer northern railroad route home. He left Washington July 22 and traveled through New York City, Albany and Niagara Falls before reaching Hamilton.

July 26 he was officially in the army. That day he was appointed a colonel, commanding the 35th OVI, which eventually numbered 912 men before leaving Hamilton. About 75 percent of the regiment had been born or were residing in Butler County. It acquired the nickname Butler Boys while still training at the fairgrounds.

For the next two months, Van Derveer directed the unit’s training at Camp Hamilton, awaiting orders to advance to a war front.

Sept. 25, 1861 -- with the regiment still needing a few men to complete its ranks -- Colonel Van Derveer received a telegram informing him the Butler Boys were under the control of Brigadier-General Ormsby McKnight Mitchell, a Cincinnatian who commanded the Department of the Ohio.

A few hours later, Van Derveer received an order from Gen. Mitchell, directing the colonel to have the 35th "ready to move at a moment's notice." That "moment's notice" came the next morning. Mitchell told Van Derveer to have the regiment in motion toward Cincinnati before 10 a.m. Sept. 26.

The 35th boarded a southbound train in Hamilton, but had to leave it in Cincinnati because there was no railroad bridge over the Ohio River. In Covington, the men crammed into 25 box cars for a short, but eventful trip after receiving food and water in Covington, Ky.

Weapons were distributed and instructions given on firing the Enfield Rifles [illustrated above] and Greenwood Muskets during the train ride to Cynthiana, Ky. It wasn’t disclosed if the guns came from an Ohio arsenal or as a result of Van Derveer’s July visit to Washington.

Another shortage surfaced when the 35th arrived at Cynthiana. The troops had neither tents nor blankets during their first autumn nights as they guarded a portion of the Kentucky Central Railroad.

Colonel Van Derveer was positive in a Sept. 30 letter to Emily. "We have a very pleasant time here, a fine encampment, pleasant weather and not great, but very warm friends," he wrote from Camp Frazier at Cynthiana. "One corner of my tent is filled with bouquets [gifts], as the baskets of chicken, pies, cakes," he said, "there is no end."

He told his wife "Cynthiana is a pleasant little town about the size of Middletown. We astonished them not a little when we took up our quarters in their midst, but now have got somewhat used to us. We treat all with politeness."

A few days later, Ferd apologized for not telling Emily more about the 35th’s destination. "I knew nothing further than I told you until I got to Cincinnati. The movement, as you must know, was a secret," he wrote.

An Oct. 25 letter from Paris, Ky., said "we left our camp at Cynthiana . . . and are now 15 miles further off at a much pleasant location, and where the people are nearly all for the Union." Oct. 28 from Camp Bourbon at Paris, he said "the citizens are very kind to us. Last Saturday they gave a dinner to the whole regiment, and we are showered with invitations to dine out." Emily experienced the Paris hospitality when she visited her husband for a few days in early November.

Shortly after returning to Hamilton, she received a letter noting that "we have quite a good many sick -- chills and typhoid fever -- much of it produced by the excessive rain and damp ground." The 35th had discovered that Kentucky hospitality couldn’t forestall all the hardships of soldiering.

Above, flag ceremony at Cynthiana, Ky., 1861

Ferdinand (Ferd) Van Derveer
Born Feb. 27, 1823, in Middletown. His mother, Mary Ann Dickey Van Derveer, died in 1824. His father, Dr. Peter Van Derveer, was a physician in Middletown. Ferd attended school in Middletown and was an alumnus of Farmers College in College Hill (Cincinnati). In 1845, he moved to Memphis and was admitted to the bar in Tennessee. In 1846, he came to Hamilton to read law in office of John D. Weller, a future California governor and U. S. senator. After the Civil War, he returned to Hamilton and served the city and county in various roles until his death Nov. 5, 1892. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Hamilton, wearing his Civil War brigadier general uniform.

Emily (Em) Gaylord Van Derveer
Born May 15, 1828, in Cincinnati. In 1835 or 1836, her parents moved to Hamilton when she was about seven years old. She was educated in Hamilton schools. Emily M. Gaylord and Ferdinand Van Derveer were married Dec. 14, 1848, in Hamilton. They were the parents of eight children, three dying in childhood. Their residence for many years was The Oaks at 325 South D Street in Hamilton. Emily Van Derveer died in Hamilton Dec. 26, 1920; and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Hamilton. She outlived her husband more than 28 years.