Portion of memorial to the 54th Massachusetts in Boston. The unit, considered the first black regiment, included at least nine men from Butler County.
Butler County soldiers entered Civil War without weapons and necessities
(This the fifth "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
Raising an army to counter the Confederacy wasn’t an easy task in 1861. But not all the problems concerned communications, supply and logistics. There also were constitutional questions as President Abraham Lincoln assembled an army. Those matters are among the fifth of many dozens of facts about the tragic four-year period:
49. The 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment left Hamilton by train Sept. 26, 1861, ordered to duty in central Kentucky. Later that day, the 912 men boarded 25 box cars on another train in Covington, Ky. Twelve hours after leaving Hamilton, the 35th began deploying along the railroad between Cynthiana and Paris, Ky.
Had Confederate troops challenged them, the Butler Boys men could have offered little resistance. Some volunteers had been training in Hamilton since the end of July, but they had neither training nor experience with their weapons. Colonel Ferdinand Van Derveer couldn’t obtain guns in either Columbus or Washington until that day, Sept. 26. Weapons were issued and instruction given on firing the Enfield Rifles and Greenwood Muskets during the train ride.
50. The late delivery of weapons wasn't the only problem for the 35th as it arrived in Kentucky. The troops had neither tents nor blankets during their first autumn nights. The 35th’s supply shortages weren’t unusual. It was typical of what many units faced in the early months of the war. The 35th would encounter similar dilemmas throughout its three-year service.
51. Caleb Smith, an 1825-26 Miami student; was appointed secretary of the interior in President Abraham Lincoln's cabinet in 1861. Before the war, Smith was a lawyer in Cincinnati and Connersville; an Indiana congressman; and president of the 1860 Republican convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln. He also was involved in building the Indiana portion of the Junction Railroad that eventually extended west from Hamilton through Oxford and College Corner to Indianapolis.
52. President Lincoln began building a national army April 15, 1861, when he asked the states to raise 75,000 volunteers. It took him only 18 days to seek more troops and have them serve longer. A May 3 presidential proclamation required three years of service. Lincoln called for 42,034 army volunteers, 18,000 for the navy, and 22,714 for the regular army.
53. Lincoln critics believed he had exceeded his presidential powers and ignored the Constitution in manning the armed forces. They emphasized that Article I, Section 7, grants Congress the exclusive authority to "raise and support armies" and to "provide and maintain a navy." They also pointed out that federalization of state militias was limited to 90 days under the 1795 Militia Act.
54.During the war, Lincoln didn’t ignore efforts to unite the nation’s eastern and western extremes. He signed the Homestead Act of 1862 that distributed 160-acre parcels of land free to settlers in the mostly uninhabited midsection between the Mississippi River and the Sierras. Homesteaders had to agree to occupy, improve and farm the land for five years. A total of 270 million acres were eventually settled this way.
55. Official barriers prevented enlistment of black soldiers until August 1862. Formation of African-American units lagged until formal issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation Jan. 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln.
56. May 22, 1863, the Bureau of Colored Troops was created by the U. S. War Department to raise volunteer black regiments under federal control. The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, which included several Ohioans, is considered the first black regiment to go to war. It was mustered into service May 13, 1863, before Ohio began raising its own black regiments. May 28 the 54th -- featured in the 1989 movie, "Glory" -- departed Boston for Hilton Head, S. C.
According to names on the walls of the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument, the 54th was the black unit with the most Butler County men. The nine listed are George Cowan, Levi Jackson, Robert Jones, John Myers, Henry Russell, Abram Sims, James M. Townsend, David McCowan and George McCowan. Another record lists Corporal A. C. Simmes, who could be the same person identified as Abram Sims in the monument. The Union colored regiments, as they were called then, were trained and commanded by white officers.
57. The first black regiment recruited in Ohio was the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, later renamed the Fifth U. S. Colored Infantry Regiment. Butler Countians in the regiment included Joel Brandenbaugh, Thomas Harris, Henry Poindexter, Byron Anderson, Thomas Coleman, Thomas Gaskin, Andrew Jackson, George A. Poston and Edmund Tate.
58. Ohio had more colleges and students than any other state, according to the 1860 census. There were 7,077 students enrolled in 45 Buckeye colleges. Among the loyal Union states, other leaders were 2. Missouri 36 (4,291); 3. Pennsylvania 24 (3,286); 4. Illinois 18 (2,901); and 5., a tie, New York 17 (2,970) and Indiana 17 (2,460).
Tennessee led southern states in higher education, 35 colleges with 2,932 students, followed by 2. Georgia 32 (3,302): 3. Texas 25 (2,416); 4. Virginia 23 (2,824) and 5. Kentucky 20 (2,485).
59. At the end of the Civil War, Miami University was among "104 living colleges," according to the late Walter Havighurst, a student of Miami history. He wrote that 412 colleges didn't survive the war.
60. Ohioans in 1860 were able to read about events leading to the Civil War in 24 daily, 280 weekly and 38 other newspapers. Ohio circulation totals, according to the 1860 census, were 84,569 daily, 805,840 weekly and 231,312 others.