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Ohio’s Civil War Generals: Some Lesser Known
By Dennis Keating
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2013, All Rights Reserved

During the Civil War, 134 Ohioans (either born or living in Ohio at the war’s outbreak) were generals in the Union army. Three comprised the triumvirate of the Union’s pantheon of military heroes: U.S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Phil Sheridan. Four became U.S. presidents: James Garfield, Grant, Benjamin Harrison, and Rutherford B. Hayes. Sherman famously declined to be a presidential candidate. Other notable Ohio Union generals (both good and bad) included Don Carlos Buell, George Crook, George Armstrong Custer, Joe Hooker, George McClellan, the seven Fighting McCooks (Alexander, Anson, Daniel, Edward, Edwin, George, and Robert), Irvin McDowell, James McPherson, John Pope, and William Rosecrans.

Among the rest, there are some very interesting Ohioans who may not be very familiar to most. This article will profile thirteen lesser known Ohio generals. Their biographies may be found in Stewart Sifakis’s Who Was Who in the Civil War (1988).

   
Jacob Cox

Born in Montreal, Canada, Cox attended Oberlin College and married a daughter of its president. He became a lawyer and Warren Ohio’s school superintendent. An abolitionist and ally of James Garfield and Salmon Chase, he was an organizer of the Ohio Republican Party and elected to the state legislature in 1860. He became commander of the Kanawha Brigade in West Virginia. After Jessie Reno’s death at South Mountain, Cox became commander of the IX Corps of the Army of the Potomac, which fought at Burnside’s Bridge at Antietam.

In 1864, Cox served as a division commander in the Army of the Ohio under Schofield in the Atlanta, Franklin, and Nashville battles, and in the Carolinas. Postwar, he was elected Ohio’s 28th governor and served as Grant’s Secretary of the Interior until he resigned to protest patronage appointments. He later served one term in Congress, then as Dean of the University of Cincinnati’s law school and later as University President. He published five books on the Civil War.

 

   
 
Thomas and Charles Ewing

Thomas Ewing was a prominent Ohio lawyer and national politician who served in President Zachary Taylor’s cabinet. Though three of his sons became Civil War generals, they were not as well known as his adopted son William Tecumseh Sherman, who married his daughter Ellen.

Oldest son Hugh was a lawyer who took part in the California gold rush. He led the 30th OVI in West Virginia, commanded a brigade at South Mountain and Antietam, and participated in the Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Carolinas campaigns Postwar, he served as U.S. Minister to Holland.

Thomas was a lawyer in Cincinnati before moving to Leavenworth, Kansas during the Bloody Kansas conflicts over its status. He was a Free Soil advocate. He enjoyed military success in 1863 in Kansas and helped foil Sterling Price’s invasion of Missouri in 1864. He is best known for issuing Order No. 11 commanding pro-Southern civilians in several Missouri counties be expelled if they did not leave voluntarily. This order was retaliation for William Quantrill’s deadly raid on Lawrence, Kansas. Postwar, Thomas was a Washington, D.C. lawyer. He represented three of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, including Dr. Samuel Mudd, whom he helped later obtain a pardon. He influenced his friend Senator Edmund Ross of Kansas to cast the key vote in defeating the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. He served two terms in Congress, but was defeated in 1880 for election as Ohio’s governor.

Charles was a St. Louis lawyer who was commissioned as an officer in William Tecumseh Sherman’s 13th U.S. Infantry. At Vicksburg, he was severely wounded. Under Sherman, he also served at Chattanooga, and in the Atlanta Campaign, the March to the Sea, and the Carolinas Campaign. Postwar, he, too, was a lawyer in Washington, D.C. [Reference: Kenneth J. Heineman, Civil War Dynasty: The Ewing Family of Ohio (2012).]

 

   

 

 

Charles Griffin

A graduate of Kenyon College and the U.S. Military Academy, Griffin served in the Mexican War and then the Southwest frontier. Commanding a battery of the 5th U.S. Artillery, he fought at First Bull Run and in the Peninsula campaign. Promoted to brigade and then division command at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, respectively, he served in Grant’s Overland Campaign. Griffin was named commander of the V Corps at Five Forks on April 1, 1865, when Phil Sheridan relieved Gouvernor Warren of command. Postwar, he commanded the Department of Texas during Reconstruction, but died in Galveston in 1867 during a yellow fever epidemic.

   
William Hazen

Born in Vermont, Hazen’s family moved to Hiram, Ohio where Hazen became a friend of James Garfield. After graduating from West Point, Hazen served in the Pacific Northwest and Texas (where he was wounded fighting Comanches). He became colonel of the 41st OVI and commanded a brigade in Buell’s Army of the Ohio at Shiloh and Perryville. Transferred to the Army of the Cumberland, Hazen’s best known action was his dogged defense of the Round Forest (also known as Hell’s Half Acre) at Stones River. His troops served in the Tullahoma Campaign, at Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge, and in the Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea, where his division captured Fort McAllister leading to the capture of Savannah. Postwar, Hazen commanded the 38th U.S. Infantry (a Buffalo Soldier regiment). He was appointed Chief Signal Officer of the U.S. Army by President Hayes. Known for his disputes with fellow officers Phil Sheridan, David Stanley, George Custer, and Sherman, Hazen’s criticism of Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln resulted in his court martial in 1885.

 

   
Mortimer Leggett

Born in Ithaca, New York, Leggett moved to Geauga County. He became a lawyer (and partner of Jacob Cox), school teacher, and superintendent of Akron and Zanesville schools. He volunteered on McClellan’s staff in West Virginia and then become colonel of the 78th OVI. It fought at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Corinth. Leggett was wounded during the Vicksburg Campaign. After his recovery, he was a division commander in the Atlanta Campaign (where Leggett’s Hill was named for his defense against a Hood assault), the March to the Sea, and the Carolinas. Postwar, he was a lawyer, U.S. Commissioner of Patents, and businessman. He died in Cleveland in 1896 and is buried in Lakeview cemetery.

 

   

 

William Lytle

Born to a prominent Cincinnati family, Lytle was a lawyer and renowned poet. He served in the Mexican War. He became colonel of the 10th OVI (the Fighting Tinth) and was twice wounded - at Carnifex Ferry in West Virginia and the battle of Perrysville - where he was taken prisoner. He was killed at Chickamauga trying to stem the Longstreet breakthrough. The hill where he died on the battlefield is known as Lytle Hill.

   
Emerson Opdycke

Opdycke’s ancestors served in the Revolutionary and 1812 wars. Failing to find a fortune in the California gold rush, Opdycke became a merchant in his hometown of Warren. He enlisted in the 41st OVI commanded by William Hazen. Wounded at Shiloh, he then recruited the 125th OVI (known as Opdycke’s Tigers). It fought in the Tullahoma Campaign, defended Horseshoe Ridge under George Thomas at Chickamauga, and stormed Missionary Ridge. Opdycke led a brigade in the Atlanta campaign, was wounded at Resaca, and nevertheless participated in the fruitless attack at Kennesaw Mountain. Opdycke and his Tigers are best known for their countercharge at Franklin, where they stopped the Confederate breakthrough. Postwar, he moved to New York, where he accidentally shot himself and died in 1884.

 

   
James Steedman

Born in Pennsylvania, Steedman joined Sam Houston’s Republic of Texas army in 1835. He then moved to Ohio. He, too, sought fortune in the California Gold Rush. He was variously a newspaper publisher, public works contractor, printer, lawyer, and member of the Ohio General Assembly. He became colonel of the 14th OVI, fighting at Philippi, West Virginia, Mill Springs, Kentucky, and the siege of Corinth. He commanded a brigade in Buell’s Army of the Ohio at Shiloh and Perrysville. He then led a brigade in the Army of the Cumberland at Stones River and Chickamauga. As part of Gordon Granger’s Reserve Corps, Steedman’s timely arrival at Horsehoe Ridge was crucial to Thomas’s defense. Wounded there, Steedman participated in the victory at Missionary Ridge and then the Atlanta Campaign. At Nashville, Steedman commanded a division that included U.S. Colored Troops who helped defeat Hood’s decimated Army of Tennessee. Postwar, he lived in Toledo, where he was a newspaper publisher and police chief and served in the Ohio Senate.

 

   

 

William H.L. Wallace

Wallace left Ohio for a law practice in Illinois. He served in the Mexican war and was elected colonel of the 11th Illinois. It fought at Fort Donelson, after which he was promoted to brigade command. At Shiloh, he commanded the division of Charles Ferguson Smith, who had injured his leg. Wallace held out for several hours next to the Hornet’s Nest until forced to withdraw. He was mortally wounded in the retreat, dying in his wife’s arms days later, saying that “We meet in heaven.”

   
Godfrey Weitzel

Weitzel was born in Bavaria, Germany and emigrated to Cincinnati. He graduated from West Point as an engineer. He served under McClellan and then Ben Butler in New Orleans. He then commanded a division under Nathaniel Banks in the siege and capture of Port Hudson. He then became chief engineer of the Army of the James and commander of its XVIII Corps, which captured Fort Harrison. It participated in the unsuccessful attack on Fort Fisher, North Carolina. Named by Grant to command troops in and around Richmond, Weitzel greeted President Abraham Lincoln when he arrived in Richmond after its capture. Asking the president how its residents should be treated, Lincoln told Weitzel “Let them down easy.” Postwar, he commanded the District of Rio Grande and then served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers until he died of typhoid fever in Philadelphia in 1884.

 

   
August Willich

Willich was an aristocratic Prussian military officer who became a dedicated Communist (known as the “reddest of the red”). In the revolutionary conflicts of 1848 in Europe, Willich’s adjutant was Friedrich Engels. After the defeat of the revolutionaries, Willich fled to England and then emigrated to Cincinnati, where he edited a socialist newspaper. Enlisting as a private in the 9th OVI, he fought in West Virginia. He then raised the all-German 32nd Indiana, which fought at Shiloh. Willich was promoted to brigadier and was captured at Stones River. Returning to the Army of the Cumberland after his repatriation from captivity in Libby Prison, his command fought at Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge. Willich was wounded at Resaca. He advocated an innovative military formation known as “advance firing.” Postwar, he returned to Europe and then settled in St. Marys Ohio, where he died in 1878.

 

The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable