Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, when Confederates firing on Fort Sumter launched a war that lasted from 1861 to 1865.
The Erie County Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission — a local committee of museum officials, tourism promoters and historians — formed to play up the local connection. Members of the Commission, the Erie County Historical Society, the Sandusky Library, and others have contributed articles recognizing the importance of the war and the roll that Erie County played in the war that tore this nation apart.
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
November 9, 1859 – “UGRR doing a Prosperous Business – The branch of this road running through Detroit is doing a fine business, as we learn from the Advertiser. That paper says that one morning last week a cargo of live freight, consisting of 26 ‘chattels’ all the way from Missouri, arrived in Detroit and were safely landed in Canada. Their conductor was a gentleman well known for his exploits in Kansas, and his connection with certain exciting events in Missouri. They were taken through Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois to Chicago, and then to Detroit. The gentleman who escorted the processing to Detroit, had about $50,000 worth of property stolen from him, or destroyed, in Kansas by the Border Ruffians, and he is now practicing the law of retaliation upon his plunderers. He informs the Advertiser that a perfect panic has seized the slaveholders of Missouri, and that they are hurrying the slaves down South by the hundreds. Between the stampede South and their escape into Kansas, he says Missouri is to be a free State much sooner than the most sanguine have hoped. Several border counties have already been almost depopulated of slaves, and still the ‘irrepressible conflict’ is going on!”
Letters from a slave This article provides a link to Horace Harper Bill, born in 1842 in Sandusky. His story is told in letters sent from the front that are part of the library’s archives. One of his letters home, sent to his father in April 1862, describes his experiences in battles in and around Winchester, Va.
Underground Railroad history In 1853, fugitive Robert Blackburn boarded a train in Cincinnati early one morning, departed Sandusky late that night aboard a ship bound for Detroit, and then traveled to Amherstburg, Canada. If one overlays Thomas Cowperthwait’s 1855 Ohio Railroad map, found in the Sandusky Library archives, atop Wilbur Siebert’s 1896 Ohio Underground Railroad Map, one observes numerous Underground Railroad routes duplicated the railroad tracks.
Sandusky was a station stop on the Underground Railroad, and the maritime industry played a large role in helping runaway slaves escape to Canada long before the great Civil War. The city’s importance on the route to freedom became especially important after Congress approved the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and it remained a key stop until about 1861, when the number of escaping slaves dwindled.
Tradition links a onetime Sandusky resident with the clandestine operation’s eventual moniker, the Underground Railroad. An often repeated story, originating in Ripley, Ohio, tells of runaway Tice Davids diving into the Ohio River from the Kentucky shore. After his master located a skiff and reached the opposite side, his quarry had vanished. The frustrated slaveholder complained his slave “must have gone off on an underground road.”
THE WAR BEGINS
Erie Co. goes to war – Locals answered President Lincoln’s call to arms – On April 18, 1861, Sandusky community leaders announced an evening gathering at the courthouse to consider the country’s impending danger. Attracted by the Jäger band’s martial music — and engulfed with injections of patriotism — a swelling crowd forced the gathering to adjourn outside. Cheers erupted during rousing speeches from Oran Follett and Joseph Root, further inspiring men to defend the flag. With company rosters filled, troops prepared for their April 24 departure.
The Civil War was a period of great and lasting change in the field of medicine and nursing in the United States. Medical schools were founded, and doctors had to be better trained for their jobs. Knowledge of disease transmission and prevention also saw advances. The U. S. Sanitary Commission was founded to improve conditions in the field, and nursing became a recognized profession, with women allowed to enter the field.
The war touched Sandusky and Erie County profoundly. In the most immediate way, about 125 men from the area died in the war. There is a marker in Veterans Park in Sandusky that lists the names of the men who died serving in the Union’s army and navy. Ohio played a pivotal role in the Civil War. About 315,000 Buckeyes served in the Union forces, and 35,475 paid the ultimate price (the second highest mortality rate behind New York). There are 127 Ohio soldiers resting in the federal cemetery at Gettysburg, including the grandfather of President Richard Nixon, but there are many thousands more resting in federal cemeteries and in countless unknown graves, in places like Shiloh, Chickamauga, Atlanta and Vicksburg.
Lincoln elected During the Civil War era, residents of Erie County and the State of Ohio went to the polls to decide perhaps the two most important Presidential elections in our history. The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 was the event that drove the Southern states to succession and the start of the Civil War. The re-election of Abraham Lincoln in 1864 ensured the war would not end until the Union was made whole again.
Sanduskian unlikely hero – The Beecher House. “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War.” This quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln as he greeted Harriet Beecher Stowe in the White House on Nov. 25, 1862. Read about Harriet Beecher’s surprising ties to Sandusky.
Funding the Civil War-Tax, Borrow or print – the Union scrambled to cover costs – The Legal Tender Act in February 1862 authorized the issue of paper currency, printed with green ink. These “greenbacks” were actually non-interest-bearing treasury notes, to be accepted as legal tender for all public and private debts. The act also suspended specie payment, the redemption of notes with gold and silver. Opponents claimed the Constitution permitted state governments to mint only gold and silver coin as legal tender, thereby making a case for the federal printing of paper money unconstitutional.
A visit to the Johnson’s Island Prison while it was under construction – In December 1860, Kelleys Islander Wm. S. Webb visited the mainland and took a side trip to the new prison facility at Johnson’s Island, which was already under construction. Webb walked through the grounds and described what he observed. Construction at the prison began quickly considering the location survey was only completed in October. The Army leased 40 cleared acres on Johnson’s Island and the depot was in operation from April 1862 to September 1865.
A history of the Johnson’s Island confederate Prison. In the fall of the first year of the Civil War, orders were issued to locate a site on a Lake Erie island suitable to hold captured Confederate soldiers. Officials eliminated the Bass islands and Kelleys Island because their proximity to Canada invited escape or rescue. Supply and transportation could also pose a problem in the winter, plus the islands’ prosperous wine industry could inhibit the garrisoned soldiers’ discipline. Johnson’s Island became the logical choice.
Base Ball & the Johnson’s Island Prison. The Civil War was actually the instrument that promoted the game throughout the entire nation, as returning veterans taught the game to their neighbors and friends. One prisoner noted in his diary a player had been injured when a bat flew out of a batter’s hands and struck him during a game of ball. Another player was banned for injuring several players of the other team by throwing excessively hard. Discover the history of Base Ball.