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County Fairgrounds became Camp Hamilton to train Union recruits

Above: Sen. Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, then a political exile, found
temporary refuge in Hamilton in the late summer and early fall of 1861.
He was a frequent guest of Lewis D. Campbell, a former colleague in the U. S. Congress.

Dozens of Facts About Butler County and the Civil War, 1861-1865

County Fairgrounds became Camp Hamilton to train Union recruits

(This the fourth "Dozen of Facts About Butler County and the Civil War," a series of random columns related to brief comments on Butler County’s role in the Civil War, 1861-1865. The columns are in conjunction with the observance of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, 2010-2015. The reprint edition of Jim Blount’s 1998 book, The Civil War and Butler County, is available at several outlets, or by contacting Books in Shandon, 4795 Cincinnati-Brookville Road (Ohio 126), Shandon, OH 45063, or phone 738-2962 or 523-4005.)

Compiled by Jim Blount

The Butler County Fairgrounds had a new purpose in the early stages of the Civil War. Its location beside the Miami-Erie Canal and close proximity to local railroads made it an ideal training site for thousands of volunteers from Butler County and the surrounding region. Camp Hamilton details are among the fourth dozen of facts about the area during the North-South conflict:

37. Captain J. W. C. Smith had organized the Butler Pioneers too late to be part of President Abraham Lincoln's April 15, 1861, call for 75,000 volunteers. His unit was one of several forced to wait because Ohio had surpassed its quota of volunteers. The Butler Pioneers were housed in Hamilton hotels and drilled in city streets until Camp Hamilton opened April 23 at the 40-acre Butler County Fairgrounds, northeast of Hamilton along the Miami-Erie Canal.

Smith's Butler Pioneers were the first volunteers to report to Camp Hamilton. "On arrival at camp they found the change anything but pleasant," noted an observer, referring to the switch from hotel rooms. "The first two or three nights were very cold for that season of the year," he recalled. The volunteers "had but little straw for bedding, and but few of the soldiers were so fortunate as to have blankets of their own. The unfortunate shared with the fortunate, and it was laughable to see a half dozen trying to sleep under one blanket. The consequence was a great deal of shivering, only a little sleep and a great deal of catching cold."

38. Hamilton women came to the rescue when volunteers arrived at Camp Hamilton during the cool spring of 1861. Local women provided a shirt and blanket to each man. Butler County farmers donated adequate straw for bedding.
Fairgrounds stalls that had housed horses, cattle and pigs during the annual fair were converted into sleeping quarters. Tables for 400 were erected. To feed the troops, a local company was paid 35 cents a day per soldier.

39. William Hamilton Miller, a 38-year-old Hamilton lawyer, railroad executive and community leader, directed formation of Camp Hamilton in April 1861. Miller’s father-in-law, John Woods, had promoted the building of the Junction Railroad, the line from Hamilton west to Oxford, College Corner and Indianapolis. When Woods died, his son-in-law took charge and completed it. He was president of the Junction in June 1859 when the first train operated from Hamilton to Oxford.

In June 1861, Miller was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 12th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He left his Camp Hamilton post to move into western Virginia with Company B of the 12th OVI.. Sept. 16 at Peter's Creek, near Gauley, Miller was killed by friendly fire.

40. The first casualty associated with Butler County was a 20-year-old private killed July 6, near Buckhannon in western Virginia. Pvt. Samuel R. John, who had entered the army with the Hamilton Guards, died in the confusion of a brief skirmish near Middle Fork Bridge, Va. (later W. Va.).

Although his family resided in Brookville, Ind., Pvt. John's body was returned to Hamilton. He was accorded a hero's burial in Greenwood Cemetery. He was a member of Co. F, Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

Funeral services were held on the courthouse square Sunday, July 21 -- as the first large-scale battle of the war broke out at Manassas, Va. (Bull Run), about 25 miles south of Washington, D. C.

41. The battle fought in Northern Virginia July 21, 1861, was a shocker. Deaths totaled 805 (Union 418; CSA 387) as more than 28,400 Union troops faced more than 32,200 Confederates. The fatalities were considered high then, but would seem light as the war continued.

By comparison, the June 17, 1775, Battle of Bunker Hill, the first in the American Revolution, cost 366 lives (U. S. 140; British 226). Total U. S. deaths in the revolution were about 4,435, in the War of 1812 about 4,500 and in the Mexican War about 1,730. Civil War deaths topped 600,000.

42. The July 21, 1861, battle was known as the Battle of Bull Run in the north and the Battle of Manassas in the south. Throughout the war, Union forces usually battles according to the nearest creek or river. Confederates used the name of the nearest village, town or city. An exception was the Oct. 8, 1862, collision in Central Kentucy. Both sides called it the Battle of Perryville.

43. Andrew Johnson, then a political exile, found temporary refuge in Hamilton in the late summer and early fall of 1861. Johnson, the only U. S. senator from a Confederate state who remained loyal to the union, was a frequent guest of Lewis D. Campbell, a former colleague in the U. S. Congress. Johnson, from Tennessee, was president when the war was ending. He had been elected vice president in 1864 and became president when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated April 15, 1865.

44. The 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment was raised and trained in Hamilton. It numbered 912 men, mostly with Butler County connections, when it left the city Sept. 26, 1861. A feature of its elaborate sendoff was a speech by Sen. Andrew Johnson of Tennessee.

45. The 35th OVI wasn’t engaged in a major battle for almost two years after its Sept. 26, 1861, railroad departure from Hamilton. The regiment zigzagged through Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia before heavy fighting Sept. 19-20, 1863, during the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia, south of Chattanooga.

46. Because of illness, injury, death and other causes, the 35th’s ranks had dropped from 912 when it left Hamilton to 391 when it entered battle Sept. 19, 1863. When fighting ended the next day, almost half (49.87%) of the men in the 35th were dead, dying, wounded or captured. The 35th lost 43 killed, 124 wounded and 28 captured or missing at Chickamauga. Several in the latter group died later in Confederate prison camps.

47. Two Miami University graduates -- Gov. William Dennison of Ohio and Gov. Oliver P. Morton of Indiana -- directed war preparations and the raising of troops in their states in 1861.

Dennison, born in Cincinnati, was 19 years old when he was graduated from Miami in 1835. He had been a lawyer in Columbus who was involved in banking and railroading. In 1848 he was elected to the Ohio Senate. In the mid 1850s, Dennison was a leader in forming the Republican Party in Ohio. He was elected to a two-year term as governor in 1859 in a campaign that included speeches in Dennison's behalf by Abraham Lincoln. In the 1861 election, Dennison lost to David Tod.

Morton, who was graduated from Miami in 1845, was a native of Saulsbury, Ind., near Richmond. He had practiced law in Centerville, Ind., and was elected an Indiana circuit court judge. In 1860, he was elected lieutenant governor. Gov. Henry S. Lane, inaugurated Jan. 14, 1861, served less than a week . He resigned because of his election to the U. S. Senate. Morton, a Republican, became governor and was re-elected in 1864.

48. Richard Yates, an 1828-30 Miami student, was governor of Illinois during the war, 1861-65. He had served in the U. S. House, 1851-55, before the war and in the U. S. Senate after the war, 1865-71. Yates, a Republican, also served in the Illinois legislature, 1942-45 and 1848-49.