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"Linking the Past with the Present for the Future"

Miami Valley Vignettes
by George C. Crout

War Clouds Over the Valley


Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House at Cincinnati, recently rennovated, is a museum of black history, emphasizing the antislavery movement which was centered at the Queen City. The house near the old Lane Theological Seminary was built in the early 1830's as the home of Dr. Lyman Beecher, who came to the city to head the newly organized college. Young Harriet lived here, teaching in a primary school, and gathering material for a book she planned to write. The whole family was involved in the fight against slavery. Harriet's brother was editor of a Cincinnati newspaper which was anti-slavery. Lane Seminary is rumored to have sheltered runaway slaves.

Harriet Beecher Stowe personally knew many of Ohio's anti-slavery leaders, and listened to their stories. One such person was John Rankin who lived atop Liberty Hill at Ripley. In her book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe recorded the story Rankin told of the rescue from the icy waters of the Ohio River of a black woman, who became the Eliza of the book. For two decades the author gathered material for her book.

Uncle Tom's Cabin published in 1852, was an instant success, with 300,000 copies sold the first year. It was a best seller for half a century and was translated into 23 languages. It is said that when President Lincoln was introduced to the novelist, he remarked, "So, you're the little woman who brought on the big war." The book was also made into a play which became a standard drama performed more than any other drama in American history. While she is remembered for this one book, she wrote over 30 novels as well as many magazines articles and poems. For years she was America's leading woman writer. In commenting on Uncle Tom's Cabin, Paul Laurence Dunbar in a sonnet, noted: "She told the story, and the whole world wept."

Miami University Rifles

When the news of the fall of Ft. Sumter reached the village of Oxford on that April day in 1861, President John W. Hall called a special assembly at Miami University. Urging the students, then all male, to go home and study, the men had other plans on their minds. Within a few hours all the Miami men gathered for their own meeting. The boys from the five Southern states that were enrolled, stood apart outside the hall. Inside Ozro J. Dodds, an Indiana senior, and editor of the student paper, addressed the group. He stated: "I do not know how you feel, but as for myself, I have determined to offer my services to the Governor of Ohio." He passed out an enlistment sheet, which soon was filled with 160 names of students and Oxford men.

Dodds, who had learned close order drill under General Lew Wallace, still remembered as the author of Ben Hur, was chosen Captain. The men known as the University Rifles fell into ragged ranks to begin training. Capt. Dodds telegraphed the Ohio governor offering the unit for service.

Back by telegraph from Governor William Dennison's office - Dennison himself was an 1835 Miami graduate - came the quick response: "University Rifle Company accepted. Report at Camp Jackson, Columbus, Ohio at the earliest possible moment."

On Monday, April 22, they marched to the faculty homes to say farewell. Led by the Oxford Band the soldiers then marched up High Street to the railroad station. Here the Southern boys were waiting, also for the train. Both groups climbed aboard, and went to Hamilton. Here they got off, and shook hands, exchanged a few words, and parted - forever. One train with the Southerners headed for Cincinnati and the other, with the University Rifles, headed north to Columbus.

It was later written that no college had sent out a larger proportion of its sons than Miami.

Gun at the Wedding

The South's most clever and notorious spy, Lottie Moon of Oxford, by various tricks and ruses, was able to move back and forth across Union and Confederate lines with ease. At one time she traveled with President Lincoln's party itself, and General McClellan gave her a pass. Playing the part of a highly nervous, arthritic English invalid, Lottie Moon was pampered by the Lincoln inspection party as they traveled along the front lines. Military surgeons verified the invalid's story after an examination. Lottie's joints cracked as they were tested, the doctors not realizing Lottie had the ability to make the cracking sound by throwing her jaw out of place.

With her pass, Lottie carried the news of the conspirators and Copperheads to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy at Richmond. Using different disguises she moved freely back and forth across enemy fines.

Even when caught as a spy, she managed a parole through Gen. Ambrose Burnside, a northern General, who years before had courted Lottie at her Oxford home. Even though humiliated by her at the church's altar, when Lottie walked out leaving the red-faced General without a bride, Burnside was never able to end his infatuation with the beautiful madcap. The next suitor whom Lottie married, took no chances. He carried a small gun with him into the church, whispering to Lottie as they went up the aisle, "There will be a wedding here tonight or a funeral tomorrow."

Lottie's sister, Virginia also did courier duty for the South, using every trick in the book. Just before one search, she snatched a dispatch from her bosom, dipped it into a pitcher of water and swallowed it in three gulpes. After the war Lottie became a European correspondent, a prominent lecturer, and a popular novelist. Virginia became a movie actress.

Knights and Copperheads

The Copperhead is a wily, poisonous snake that strikes without warning. But during the Civil War, the Copperhead was a person who lived in the North and sympathized with the Southern cause. There were many Copperheads, of the human kind, who lived in the Miami Valley. Some supported slavery, and others did not, feeling it was a dying institution. All supported the right of a State to decide the issue.

The Copperheads organized themselves into a secret organization known as the Knights of the Golden Circle. Each local group was called a Castle. They had a secret ritual and meetings in lonely, secluded, but well guarded spots. Often they met in a dark forest or isolated barn. Members protected themselves by wearing a mask and used an assumed name. The ordinary citizen had to watch what he said, never knowing who might be a member of the secret circle. The Knights were known to burn down barns, and even houses of those who opposed the organization.

Knights of the Golden Circle were a danger to the Union cause. They wanted the war to end, at any cost. They even proposed that Ohio and the Northwest states secede from the Union and join the South to form a new country. One Miami Valley newspaper, a spokesman for the Copperheads, stated that the Southern cause was a "holy one" and urged Ohioans to help bring the war to an end.

Clement L. Vallandigham was proposed as president of the new country, and such a Resolution was passed at a meeting in a schoolhouse near Hamilton. Vallandigham had been a Dayton newspaper editor and noted lawyer, as well as a Democratic politician, leading the Peace Democrats. His story is a tragic one, and his life ended on that note. He accidentally shot himself, dying in a hotel room at Lebanon.

The Black Brigade

When the Miami Valley was threatened by the invasion of Confederate troops under Gen. Kirby Smith in the fall of 1862, the Black Brigade sprang into action. It was composed of 1,000 black men who enlisted in the defense of Cincinnati and the valley. Gen. Lew Wallace was sent to Cincinnati during the darkest days of the Civil War, with the South's threatening to invade the valley. Gen. Wallace asked for volunteers to help defend the Queen City against the northern bound forces of the enemy.

The Black citizens of Cincinnati met and volunteered to serve in a unit to be known as the Black Brigade. Colonel W. M. Dickson was put in command. The Black Brigade was sent south to Covington and Newport, where they constructed military roads, dug rifle pits, trenches, and built fortifications. The courage of the Black Brigade troops was shown by their working a mile in front of the regular soldiers, with only Cavalry Scouts for protection. With the exception of three white coordinating officers, the unit served under black officers.

Few worked harder to secure the safety of the valley in its hour of peril. When the soldiers had done their work, and the enemy failed in his invasion attempt, they were disbanded to return to their homes. The commander noted that the Black Brigade had shown the willingness to defend with their lives the fortifications they had constructed. He noted that despite prejudices shown in the past, they rendered a cheerful and willing service.

The flag with the inscription, "The Black Brigade of Cincinnati" flew with pride among those other banners of troops that had saved the city and valley from destruction during the Civil War. The Black Brigade is always remembered for its stand for freedom.

General Morgan's Raiders

Ohio was deeply involved in the Civil War with over 300,000 of its men serving in the Union armies. During the summer of 1863, General John Hunt Morgan, a dashing Confederate General, invaded the Miami Valley, crossing into Hamilton County before his dash across southern Ohio. Knowing that there were Copperheads in the area, General Morgan had misjudged the number. Loyal Ohioans joined in the defense of their land, and Morgan was eventually caught and put in prison.

One story is told of Gen. Morgan's stopping at a Copperhead's farm near Cincinnati. Needing fresh horses, Morgan picked out the best animals the farmer had, and his men rode off on them. Using an old nag, the General had left behind, the farmer hitched up a wagon and chased off in pursuit of the Confederates, known as Morgan's Raiders. He caught up with the soldiers and demanded to see Gen. Morgan. The farmer pleaded that since he was a Southern sympathizer, his horses should be returned.

One of Morgan's officers told the farmer he would take him to the General. Seeing his wagon, the officer ordered the farmer to climb down from his seat and walk, so that wounded soldiers could ride in it. Then the farmer complained that he couldn't walk well, because his boots hurt him. The officer ordered him to take off his boots and give them to one of the Confederate soldiers, whose boots were worn out. The Copperhead ended up walking in his stocking feet. When the unit stopped to make camp, they sang southern songs and ordered the tired Copperhead to dance to their tune, with shouts of "Go it, old Yank! "

Finally Gen. Morgan appeared and hearing the story, ordered that the farmer be given back his wagon and an old horse to pull it. The Copperhead demanded his own horses, but Morgan said he needed them. In exchange he gave the farmer three old animals for the Copperhead's prized horses. Whether this changed the man's mind about the war, no one knows.

Man of Destiny

It was a cool, crisp sunny day - September 17, 1859. A middle-aged lawyer was touring Ohio, campaigning for the newly-formed Republican party. Traveling by railroad, he stopped off at various towns to deliver a political speech. After making a major speech at Columbus, the train headed for Dayton. At Dayton he spoke to a large crowd in front of the old Courthouse for an hour and a half. While he held the interest of the crowd, few realized that they were listening to a man of destiny - Abraham Lincoln.

A 4 P.M. Lincoln left Dayton on the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton line. There was a short stop at the Middletown station to pick up wood and water, giving the passengers a few minutes to stretch their legs. At Hamilton, Lincoln appeared on the train's back platform with his traveling companion, Representative John A. Gurley, a very short man. The contrast between the height of Gurley and the 6 foot, 4 inch tall Lincoln caused a wave of laughter to go through the crowd. Lincoln, noting the humor of the situation, pointed to himself and remarked, "My friends, this is the long of it," and then smiling down on Burley, added, "and this is the short of it." The crowd roared.

Then Lincoln walked over to a temporary speakers' stand erected near the depot. After speaking on political matters, he ended his talk with a tribute to the valley, stating, "This beautiful and far-famed Miami Valley is the garden spot of the world."

Lincoln was never to ride the C.H. and D. line again. On his way to Washington as President-Elect, he again crossed Ohio. On March 14, 1861 his train followed the Little Miami Railroad route. From the rear platform, he addressed a crowd of 5,000 well wishers at Xenia. At Cincinnati, he received an enormous ovation. Lincoln last crossed the Miami Valley in his funeral train routed from Columbus to Piqua, Centerville, and New Paris.

Unconditional Surrender - Grant

He was the first Ohio-born President to occupy the White House. Ulysses S. Grant's birthplace was a small, one story frame house at Point Pleasant, Clermont County. The small Ohio village was laid out in 1813 at the mouth of Indian Creek on the Ohio River. Thomas Page opened a general store in the village and erected a warehouse and tannery. In 1822 Page employed a young laborer, Jesse R. Grant to work in the tannery. Grant had just married Hannah Simpson, a local girl, the previous year.

The young married couple rented the small, two-room cottage. In the north end was the living room with a hugh fireplace at one end, serving for cooking and heating. At the south end was the bedroom in which on April 27, 1822 a future president was born. After the Grant's moved away, a lean-to kitchen was added. The Ohio Historical Society now maintains the house as a memorial open to the public.

Grant's parents named him Hiram Ulysses, but when his Congressman nominated him for West Point, he wrote on the application, Ulysses Simpson Grant. Grant tried to have the name corrected, but was unsuccessful, so he finally accepted the U.S. Grant tag, perhaps, preferring it to his childhood name, which teasing classmates made into the nickname of "HUG." U.S. Grant sounded more dignified and appropriate for the Union's greatest general and the 18th President of the United States.

Grant's father soon left Point Pleasant, moving to Georgetown in neighboring Brown County, where the Grant Schoolhouse is maintained as a historical attraction. From humble beginnings, Grant, a tanner's son, rose to lead the nation in war and peace. His outstanding strategy and insistance on "Unconditional Surrender" brought an end to the Civil War, making him a national hero. Upon his retirement from two terms in the White House, he wrote an excellent history of his times. He died in 1885.

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Last Update  04/17/2007
1982 Middletown Historical Society