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SQUIRREL HUNTING FOR THE UNION: THE DEFENSE OF CINCINNATI IN 1862 Vernon L. Volpe "Citizens for the labor, soldiers for the battle." With these words early in September 1862 Major General Lew Wallace rallied the citizens of Cincinnati to their own defense. On August 30 a disaster befell Union forces at Richmond, Kentucky and exposed Cincinnati (as well as sister Ohio River cities Newport and Covington) to possible rebel assault. Earlier in August Confederate General E. Kirby Smith had invaded Kentucky hoping to liberate the bluegrass state. After his troops defeated green Yankee soldiers at Richmond, Smith dispatched Henry Heth with several thousand rebel veterans to threaten the Ohio city. Its defenders were unaware that Heth was not directed to attack the strategic commercial center.1 As its citizens confronted the sudden emergency, Cincinnati earned the name given it decades before by prophetic founders. Major General Horatio G. Wright, commander of the Department of the Ohio, selected Wallace, who was awaiting reassignment following his poor performance at Shiloh, to organize Cincinnati's defenses. Wallace immediately proclaimed martial law, suspended business in the city, and ordered all able-bodied men to report for service in the forts and rifle pits he planned to build across the river in Kentucky. To help defend Cincinnati, Ohio Governor David Tod called for citizen troops to journey to the beleaguered city at state expense. Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton made similar appeals. Answering the call to arms, thousands of volunteers streamed south to prevent the fall of the valuable city. The arrival of such unusual soldiers cheered Cincinnati's defenders and quickly caught the imagination of the city's newspapers. 1 At Richmond over five thousand Union recruits were eithershot or captured. The War of the RebeUion: A CompUation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington: GPO, 1880-1901), ser. 1, pt. 1, 16:906-52. (Hereafter referred to as OR.) Wallace's proclamation of martial law was published on Sept. 2. His account of the siege is in Lew WaUace: An Autobiography, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1906), 2:603-28. Heth's force probably never exceeded ten thousand men. James L. Morrison, Jr., The Memoirs of Henry Heth (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1974), 165-66; Smith to Samuel Cooper, Sept. 6, 1862, in OR, ser. 1, pt. 1., 16:933-35. See also Paul F. Hammond, "Campaign of General E. Kirby Smith in Kentucky in 1862," Souiftern Historical Society Papers 9 (1881): 294. Civil War History, Vol. XXXIII, No. 3, ® 1987 by The Kent State University Press DEFENSE OF CINCINNATI243 The Republican Gazette in particular welcomed the "great numbers of gallant men from the country" who had left their homes and taken up arms "likethe MinuteMen of Revolutionary days" to defend theirnation from the invader.2 Major Malcolm McDowell, an army paymaster assigned to organize the arriving "troops," dubbed these midwestern minutemen the "Squirrel Hunters" (after their motley collection of firearms). Before long the volunteers returned homeward to pass into Ohio legend, but not before they contributed to a revealing episodein the nation's great crisis of civil war.3 Although Cincinnati, a city of nearly two hundred thousand, could and did defend itself, the march of these rugged rural warriors performed an important symbolic function for the Northern cause. In an especially dark period of the war, as rebels marched toward the Ohio and the Potomac, Unionists drew inspiration from such "frontier" soldiers coming to the rescue of an embattled and troubled city on the divided republic's borderland. Aside from briefly noting the colorful Squirrel Hunters, historians usually dismiss the siege of Cincinnati as a minor, even amusing, episode in the grand sweep of the Civil War. Perhaps scholars fail to take the siege seriously since it produced relatively little bloodletting. Yet Cincinnati was the first major Northern city (aside from the capital) threatened by Confederate attack. For its defense Wallace amassed a combined force ofsome seventy-two thousand troops (including sixty thousand "irregulars "), one of the larger "armies" assembled in the war.4 Thousands of citizens built more than seven miles of trenches and Wallace had each headquarter along the works linked...


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