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Military: Civil War



The Civil War Journey of

the 21st Regiment of Iowa Volunteer Infantry

Union County, Ohio


Early Ohio settlement was along the Ohio River and Lake Erie but gradually moved elsewhere. Statehood arrived in 1803 and Miami University was chartered six years later in a town named Oxford to promote "good education, virtue, religion, and morality" among its students.1 At the turn of the century the entire state had only 45,000 residents, but by 1820 it had grown to almost 600,000 and, by 1830, it was close to a million. Union County, north of Columbus, had seen its first influx of permanent settlers early in the century and by 1815, when the Duke of Wellington met Napoleon at Waterloo and Andrew Jackson defeated the British in New Orleans, much of the county was still a wilderness - turkeys, deer, bear, wolves, wildcats and other game were plentiful.

It was a land of calloused hand, of lean and muscular men, of canvas-covered wagons with dry mud flaking from their wheels, of shotguns and hunting dogs, of silent women bending over the fires of cooking, with the smoke blowing in their eyes, of log-house, of wheat growing boisterously in fields full of stumps, of Bibles and poor liquor, of sharp trades, of illiterate lawyers, of hell-fire preachers and innumerable quacks.”2

It was a land where children attended rustic schools built by parents and friends. Sites were selected, trees cut and logs fashioned. Buildings could be erected in a day. Windows, a door and a fireplace were complete in another day. Doors were held together with wooden pins and hung on wooden hinges. Stone fireplaces were six or seven feet wide and four or five feet high. Students sat on benches, small children in the front near the fireplace, larger children to the rear. Fathers cut paths from home to school and children were instructed to follow trails and blazed trees so they would not get lost. Textbooks included an English Reader, Noah Webster's Spelling Book, Smith's Arithmetic and a New Testament while "schoolmaster of the nation" William Holmes McGuffey, a Miami University faculty member from 1826 to 1836, worked on Readers.

Cabins had homemade wood furnishings. Barns and stables were built for horses and cattle. Food for livestock was stored for winter but was often scarce by spring and farmers cut sugar trees so cattle could eat small buds and twigs. Clothing also was homemade, usually of local flax or wool. Mills were scarce and far away and settlers ground their own cornmeal for bread or johnny cake. Wheat bread was a luxury.

On the county's eastern boundary was Dover Township, organized in 1838. Its main stream was Mill Creek but smaller streams included Blues Creek, Grass Run and Dun's Run. Land was generally flat with rich, dark, productive soil, soil good for farming. Crops included wheat, corn, oats and potatoes and the township prospered as its few permanent families led development during the 1830's and 1840's. Prominent surnames included Richey, Mather, Rice, Bethard, Farnum, Guy, Tanner, Bowen and others, many related by marriage.

William Richey, Jr., grandfather of Mary Jane Bethard who was a cousin of James Bethard, was a Whig and served Dover Township as Overseer of the Poor, as Justice of the Peace and in the state legislature. A brother, Adam Richey, helped erect a steam saw mill in 1850 along the Marysville Pike where it crossed Mill Creek. Adam and a third brother, James, served variously as Justice of the Peace, Assessor, Trustee and Township Treasurer. In 1854 when the "Light Brigade" rode into the "Valley of Death" at Balaklava, the Richeys appropriated land, surveyed it and laid out lots and streets for a town called Dover, the only village in the township and, that fall, Adam erected the town's first house. A fourth Richey son, Joseph Kane Richey, had moved to the county in 1819, and worked as a farmer and stock raiser. Joseph and his wife, Nancy Longbrake, would have seven children, the first of whom, Leonard, was born on May 28, 1837. Other sons were Jay, Adam and George and all four would serve in the upcoming war.

The Rice family, descended from Revolutionary War veteran Jeremiah Parmalee, emigrated from Vermont in 1822. Thomas and Lucinda Parmalee Rice farmed and raised a family including Fannie, Philena (aka Philany), Jason, Joel, Hannah, Caroline, Abigail, Nancy and Squire. Nancy married Josephus Reed in 1833 while Joel, only ten years old when the family moved to Ohio, married seventeen year old Sarah Marshall in 1834. Joel and Sarah raised a family of six children including George, James, Caroline, Robert, Marshall (aka Mort) and Tero. Of the five boys, only Tero, born in 1853, would be too young for the war; all four of his brothers would serve.

Abel and Harriet Tanner moved to Dover Township during the late 1830's and by 1850 owned a $500 farm where they lived with their six children, five of whom, including sixteen year old Alva, were still in school. On November 16, 1850, Harriet died at age forty-seven. Her husband died five days later and William Richey was appointed administrator of their estate. Nearby were David and Ruth Tanner with an $800 farm and seven children including eleven year old James and nine year old Joseph. Ruth died in 1851. David was remarried to Mary Bowen in 1853, two years later she too died and in 1859 David passed away. With their parents deceased, brothers James and Joseph and their cousin, Alva, would all enlist in the Union Army. Only one would survive.

The Mathers, descendants of New England's Cotton Mather, came to Ohio with a strong religious heritage. Southworth Mather moved from Champaign County to Union County where he married Philena Rice in 1823. A few years later, the Reverend Ebenezer Mather moved his family to Dover Township where Ebenezer became known as an eloquent preacher in the Methodist Church. Southworth and Philena had twelve children, several of whom died young, but one of their sons, Fortner, became a minister and in 1853 moved to Iowa where he served as Pastor of a Clayton County Methodist Episcopal church. Four other Mather boys - Darius, Squire, John and Sterling - would serve in the war but not all would live.

Of New England ancestry, Bethard family members alternated the spelling of their name, sometimes signing "Beathard" and sometimes "Bethard" which appears to have been preferred. Ebenezer Bethard settled in Union County with his four sons: Jonathan, Thomas, Alexander and William. Ebenezer passed away in 18413 and was followed by his son Jonathan. Thomas moved to Illinois but Ebenezer's other two boys, Alexander and William, lived on adjoining farms near Dover until William's death on his forty-fourth birthday in 1859. In 1833, Alexander married twenty-one year old Diana Clark, daughter of a local teacher, and five days later paid $110 for a sixty-five acre farm in Dover Township. Their first child was a son, Jonathan, born August 19, 1835. Jonathan was followed by James on October 11, 1837, Nancy Emiline on February 1, 1839, Thomas Henry in 1842 or 1843, and Elizabeth "Libby" Ellen in 1847 or 1849. Young Jim grew up on the family farm outside of Marysville where he enjoyed swimming in the summer and ice skating in winter. He and his brother would fight for the North.

On February 19, 1840, Jim was still in his "terrible twos" when William Warner, a twenty-one year old native of Yorkshire, England, married Dorothy Hoyt in Hopkinton, New York. Soon they would move to Fayette County in Iowa and join Fortner Mather and many others settling its northern counties. The far west was also seeing an influx of new residents as better trails led to California and Oregon. In the spring of 1843 a Great Migration began as 200 families and 120 covered wagons left Independence, Missouri, left the United States, on a journey of more than five months for Fort Kearney, Fort Laramie and the wilderness of Oregon 2,000 miles away. Far around the world, on November 5, 1843, John Rogman was born in Mecklenburg in northern Germany. While none could then imagine it, Rogman from Germany and Warner from England would soon join Jim Bethard, the Buckeye from Marysville, in the Union army.

In 1844 Samuel Morse transmitted from Washington to Baltimore the first message over the first telegraph ("What hath God wrought?”) and The Argus became Marysville's new weekly paper. Concerned with the proposed annexation of Texas and whether it should be free or slave, it noted on, October 26th, that:

"Mssrs. J. H. Bondurant & Co. Slave Merchants at Mobile, inform those who have men, women and children for sale, that the Slave Market will be depressed until Texas is admitted into the Union, after which event they confidently expect to be able to pay liberal prices for Negroes!"

Announcements such as this, said Ohio’s Whigs, were all the more reason to vote against Texas statehood but, in December, President Tyler, with the support of President-elect Polk, submitted to Congress a joint resolution for annexation.4 Polk was inaugurated on March 4, 1845, and four days later The Argus announced that Texas annexation had been approved and Iowa was to be admitted with a population of 90,000. Perhaps it was this that renewed the pioneer spirit in Dover Township and attracted more of its residents to the open plains and less expensive real estate west of the Mississippi.

Abolitionists were increasingly vocal and demonstrative, but the agrarian South felt slavery was necessary and proper, and wealthy Southerners included slaves among their major assets.5 William Townsend, who would soon join Louisiana's infantry, argued that his father's forty-four slaves were worth from $1,000 to $2,000 each "depending on if he was sick or well ... and I didn't want to see Papa's Negroes go free" while Texan Oran Roberts believed slavery was sanctioned by revelation, and by the immemorial custom of mankind.”6 With Texas statehood imminent, Zachary Taylor, "Old Rough and Ready," massed troops in western Louisiana and by the spring of 1846 he neared the Rio Grande. On May 13th Congress declared war on Mexico and, that same month, Ulysses Grant was at Fort Brown when he first heard enemy gunfire and the Donner brothers led eighty-seven homesteaders west from Illinois to a new home in California. Forty-one would perish during the worst winter on record as they passed through the western mountains.

In Dover Township, Alexander Bethard purchased another forty-seven acres, his boys worked in the fields and the girls helped their mother around the house. Alexander served as Township Clerk and as a Trustee and Assessor. The 102 acre farm for which he paid $510 was valued at more than $1,000 and the family prospered. Nancy and Josephus Reed moved to Iowa in 1849 but others moved even farther west to take advantage of the Donation Land Act granting each American family the right to 640 acres of Indian lands bordering the Oregon Trail.

With no premonition of what lay ahead, young boys and girls entering their teenage years became good friends, played together, attended the log schoolhouse and helped parents with chores. The summer census of the "white and free colored population" of Dover Township reflected the boys who would, in another dozen years, be participants in the most devastating conflict ever fought on American soil - Darius Mather age eighteen, Squire Mather age eleven, John Mather age nine, Sterling Mather age seven, Jonathan Bethard, James Bethard, Leonard Richey, Jim Rice, Robert Rice, George Rice and many others.

1  Laws of Ohio, Volume 7, Page 184 (February 2, 1809).

2  Woodward, Meet General Grant (Horace-Liveright Inc., 1928), page 19.

3  Ebenezer is buried in Mill Creek Cemetery, Ostrander, Ohio, Find-a-Grave Memorial #86363700.

4 An “act to prohibit the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States from and after the 1st of January, 1808,” had been passed by Congress on March 2, 1807 (2 Story’s Laws U.S. 1050), but it left many questions unanswered (e.g., how to treat people who were brought to the country in violation of the law) and slavery itself was still an institution in the South. It was a minor issue during Louisiana's annexation debates in 1811 but became violent over the "Missouri question" seven years later resulting in statehood through compromise.

Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, in 1843, said the Constitution was “a covenant with death and an agreement with hell” since it sanctioned slavery. Lysander Spooner in 1845 argued the Constitution did not sanction slavery and presumed all men to be free. Pacific Law Journal (Summer 1997).

5 While most slave owners were white, many free blacks were sugar, cotton and rice planters dependent on the labor of their own slaves thus having their own “stake in the institution of slavery.

6 Baum, The Shattering of Texas Unionism (Louisiana State University Press 1998), page 42. Albert D. Richardson, a correspondent for the New York Tribune described slave auctions he saw while in New Orleans in 1861. Albert D. Richardson, The Secret Service, The Field ,The Dungeon and the Escape (American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut, 1865), pages 64-70. While discussing the “Peculiar Institution” of slavery, he saw New Orleans’ signs - “Slave Dépôt - Negroes bought and sold” and “buildings which were filled with blacks of every age and both sexes ,waiting for purchasers.” The slave auction, he said, was “the most utterly revolting spectacle that I ever looked upon.”



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