Story type: Literature
First among these I count the great chief Pontiac, who led the rebellion of the mid-western tribes against the English after the French had abandoned them, and who was born in Auglaize County. I count the renowned chief Tecumseh, too, that later and lesser Pontiac, who attempted to do against the Americans what Pontiac tried to do against the English.
It was some time before the great white men of Ohio began to be born here, but in the meanwhile there were those born elsewhere who, like General Harrison, became Ohioans, and so did what they could to repair the defect of birth. There is no reason to think that such men were shaped by Ohio influences, but it is the habit of our generous Ohio state patriotism to claim as Ohioans not only those who were born here, and those who came to live here, but those who were born here and then went to live elsewhere.
Valiant and able generals came from the different parts of Ohio, and from the different races which settled there. But the Scotch race, descending through New England, has the highest place in our soldiers’ ancestry, and the county of Clermont has the deathless glory of being the birthplace of Ulysses Simpson Grant, one of the greatest captains of all time, one of the purest patriots, one of the best and gentlest men. I need not speak of his career as a soldier, for that has become a part of the nation’s history. The beginnings of his life were rude and hard; it was afterwards often clouded with failure; it brightened out into such splendid success as few lives have ever known; it was again darkened by trouble and disaster, and it closed in a long anguish of suffering. But if ever a life was worth living it was his, and his memory is safe forever in the love of his country and the honor of the world.
His parents removed soon after he was born to Brown County, where Georgetown was his home until he was sent to West Point at seventeen. His whole boyhood, therefore, was spent in Southwestern Ohio, where a boy may live the happiest life on earth, and where Grant played, worked, planned, and studied not only without a dream of the place he was to take in history, but without special thought or liking for the calling in which he was to stand with Caesar and with Napoleon.
When he was eight years old, he began to work in his father’s tannery, where he drove the horse that turned the bark mill, and broke the bark into the hopper. He did not like the work, and he escaped from it when he could, and did jobs of wagoning about the village. He loved his horses and kept them sleek and fat; and it is told of him that when he first traded horses he was so eager to get a certain colt that he offered the man even more than he asked. He was fond of all boyish sports, but he was never rough, or profane, or foul-mouthed, and he was noted among his mates for his truth and honesty. The girls liked him for his gentleness, the younger children for his kindness; he never teased them, and he never tormented any living creature. There may have been better boys, but I have never heard of them; and if Grant passed only his first seventeen years in his native state, they were years of as true a greatness relatively as any that followed. From the first he was self-reliant, and taught himself to trust to his own powers and resources. When seven years old, he got an unbroken colt from the stable in his father’s absence, hitched it to a sled which he loaded with wood in the forest, and then drove home with a single line. He once wished to ride his father’s pacer on an errand he was sent upon; but his father could not spare it and the boy took his colt. “I will break him to pace,” he said, and he came back with the colt pacing. At twelve he hauled logs with a heavy draft team. Once the men who were to load for him did not come, and Grant managed with the help of a fallen tree to get the logs on the truck alone and drove home with them. After eleven he had scarcely any schooling except that of hard work, until he was appointed to West Point.
From Georgetown, another Ohioan famous in the great war was sent about the same time to the Naval Academy at Annapolis. This was the boy Daniel Am-men, who was destined to become Admiral Ammen. He had saved Grant’s life when they were bathing together in White Oak Creek, and Grant remembered him with his high office and title when he became President.
But Ammen had won both by his services during the war, for the Ammens were fighters. The admiral’s brother Jacob had early distinguished himself by gallantry that won him a generalship. Long before this their father had begun the good fight by printing John Rankin’s letters against slavery in his newspaper at Ripley.
From Carroll County came that wonderful race of fighters, the McCooks. Daniel McCook, Presbyterian elder and Sunday-school superintendent, went into the war at sixty-three with his sons, and two years later was killed in the engagement with Morgan at Buffington Island. Latimer A. McCook died in 1869 of wounds received during his service as surgeon in the battles of the war. General Robert Latimer McCook was murdered by guerrillas as he lay sick and wounded near Salem, Alabama, in 1862. General A. McDowell McCook was a West Pointer who won his major generalship by his gallantry at Shiloh. General Daniel McCook, Jr., led the assault at Kenesaw Mountain, where he was mortally wounded. Edwin Stanton McCook was graduated at Annapolis, but preferred the land service, and rose to the rank of brevet major general, through the courage and ability he had shown at Fort Henry, at Fort Donelson, at Chickamauga, and in Sherman’s March to the Sea. Charles Morris McCook was killed at the first Bull Run in 1861, while in his Freshman year at Gam-bier. His father saw him overwhelmed by the enemy and called out to him to surrender; but he answered “Father, I will never surrender to a rebel,” and was shot down by one of the Black Horse Cavalry. John J. McCook served in the campaigns of the West and with Grant from the battle of the Wilderness onward to the end. He was severely wounded at Shady Grove, and left the army with the rank of colonel.
Dr. John McCook, another Sunday-school superintendent, was the father of Edwin Moody McCook, who rendered brilliant service early in the war and left the army at its close with the rank of major general. His greatest exploit was breaking through the enemy’s lines before Sherman began his march to the sea, and effecting a diversion by the damage he did and the prisoners he took. His brother Anson George McCook was at the first Bull Run and in the great battles of the Southwest, and was brevetted Brigadier General at the end of the war. Rev. Henry C. McCook enlisted first as a private soldier and became chaplain of a regiment, but did no actual fighting. He is well known as a naturalist and theologian, and his youngest brother John James is distinguished as a linguist. His brother left the army as colonel after seeing some of the first fighting and became an Episcopal minister. Roderick Sheldon McCook left Annapolis in 1859 and promptly shared in the capture of a slaver off the African coast. From 1861 to 1865 he was engaged in all the naval movements at Newbern, Wilmington, Charleston, Fort Fisher, and on the James, and suffered lasting injury to his health on the monitors. He left the navy with the rank of commodore. All these McCooks, except the Rev. J. J. McCook, now professor in Trinity College, Hartford, remained of the Presbyterian faith, which seems natural to their Scotch-Irish race.
Of all the Americans who have lived, none is securer of lasting remembrance than Rutherford B. Hayes, who was born in Delaware, October 4, 1822. He was a great lawyer, a great soldier, a great statesman, a great philanthropist, a man without taint or stain. He had to suffer the doubt thrown by his enemies upon his right to the high office they had themselves conceded to him, but he was never wounded in his own conscience or in the love of the people. He was three times governor of Ohio, and when he became President of the United States he devoted himself to healing the hurts left by the war he had helped to fight. He made the North and South friends in the love he had for both sections, and then he gladly laid down his charge and went back to private life, after giving the country peace with honor. His presidency was not only one of the most distinguished and enlightened statesmanship, but it was consecrated by the virtues of the woman who made the White House the happiest home in the land. Lucy Webb Hayes, who had been like a mother to the soldiers of her husband’s command, gave the social side of his administration the grace and charm of her surpassingly wise and lovely character. He never knew in his youth the poverty and hard work which narrowed the early life of Grant and Garfield. He was born to comfort and lived in greater and greater affluence; he had only to profit by his opportunities, while they had to make theirs; but he did profit by them. From school to college, and from college to the study of law, he passed easily successful in all that he tried to do, and he always tried to do his duty. Like Grant, he was of farther Scotch and nearer New England origin, but the next most distinguished native of Delaware County was of Dutch stock, as his name witnesses. William Starke Rosecrans was born in 1819, and entered West Point when only fifteen years old. He was in civil life when the war broke out in 1861, but of course he at once took part in it, and fought through a series of most brilliant campaigns, without one defeat, until the battle of Chickamauga in 1863. Even this he won, but the trust President Lincoln had felt in him and expressed up to the last moment was shaken by Rosecrans’s enemies, and he was removed from his command. He left the army with the rank of major general, and he held afterwards places of high honor, but he felt that the wrong done him was never atoned for. Twenty-five years after his removal he told a meeting of his old comrades the touching story of how the stroke fell and how he bore it. “It was at night that I received the order, and I sent for General Thomas,” who was to replace him, “He came to the tent and took his seat. I handed him the letter. He read it and as he did so his breast began to swell and he turned pale. He did not want to accept the command, but we agreed on consideration that he must do so, and I told him that I could not bear to meet my troops afterwards. ‘I want to leave,’ I said, ‘before the announcement is made, and I will start early in the morning.’ I packed up that night, and early in the morning, about seven o’clock, I rode away through the fog that then hung over the camp.”
William Tecumseh Sherman, who was born at Lancaster, Fairfield County, in 1820, was like his comrade and beloved friend Grant in the poverty he was born to. But his family was of historical distinction, while Grant’s had always been obscure, and his father died a judge of the Supreme Court of Ohio. As he died poor, his large family of children were left to their mother, whose means were not equal to their maintenance and education. Thomas Ewing, the great man of the place, had been the father’s friend, and he wished to adopt “the smartest of the children.” It is not known how his choice fell upon Sherman, who was playing with some other boys on a sand bank near Ewing’s house when it was made, and had apparently nothing to do with it.
His father had called him Tecumseh because he admired the Indian chief’s noble character and his merciful treatment of prisoners, and because he wished the boy to be a soldier. Ewing fulfilled the father’s wish by appointing the son to a West Point cadetship at sixteen. Sherman had meantime fallen in love with Miss Ellen Ewing, and he married her in 1850. Then he left the army and tried banking and the law, but liked neither, and he was President of the Louisiana state military academy when the Civil War began. With his frank, bold, impetuous nature, he forewarned the governor that he should side with the Union, and he asked to be notified in time before the state seceded.
He received the surrender of the last great Confederate army, after a series of the most splendid strokes of generalship. His March to the Sea will be forever famous. The highest British military criticism pronounced his attempt “the most brilliant or the most foolish thing ever attempted by a military leader,” and we all know how it turned out. Grant called him “the best field officer the war had produced,” and there has been nothing in history more sweet and beautiful than the friendship between these two great men. They were unlike in everything but their unselfishness and single-hearted patriotism, and they trusted as wholly as they loved each other.
Irvin McDowell, born at Franklinton, Franklin County, in 1818, was the brave and gifted officer who lost the first battle of Bull Run, where he failed less ruinously than any other general of that moment of the war would have done. His name and fame have outlived that disaster, though the people did not then know enough to forgive him for his army’s defeat. He was again of that tough Scotch-Irish breed that so many Ohioans are of; like our other great generals, he was a West Pointer, and he was of the high and kindly personal character common to them.
George A. Custer put into his life of vivid action the splendor of romance. His figure stands foremost in any picture of the war as that of the most dashing and daring cavalier of his time; but if his bearing was that of a young hero of fiction, his deeds were those of an accomplished and disciplined modern soldier. He was born at New Rumley in Harrison County, of a Hessian ancestor who had come over to fight for King George against the country which Custer lived and died to serve, and he inherited from him the blue German eyes, and the yellow German hair which he loved to wear long, and flying about his neck in his gallant charges. But otherwise he was of the simple matter-of-fact Ohio character. He got himself sent to West Point by means of a letter which he wrote to the congressman of his district. He frankly owned himself “a Democrat boy,” and though the congressman was a Republican his fancy was taken with the honesty of the youth, whom he never saw till one day a young officer “with long yellow hair, hanging like Absalom’s,” presented himself at his house in Washington as Lieutenant Custer. “Mr. Bingham, I’ve been in my first battle,” he said, “and I’ve come to tell you I’ve tried not to show the coward.” After that, in numberless bold forays and fierce battles, he displayed such dauntless bravery, such brilliant prowess, that General Sheridan, in sending Mrs. Custer the table on which Lee signed his surrender, could write, “I know of no person more instrumental in bringing about this desirable event than your own most gallant husband.” All the world knows how this glorious hero fell in the West, long after the war, before an overwhelming force of Indians.
If Custer was the romance of our history, James A. Garfield was its tragedy, the sort of noble tragedy which exalts while it awes. Again we have in his life the story, so often told in the Ohio annals, of early struggles with poverty, and of triumph over unfriendly fate. The child who was born in the rude farmhouse in Orange, Cuyahoga County, in 1831, was of Puritan lineage on his father’s side and Huguenot blood on his mother’s; and throughout his life he showed the qualities of both strains. He was left the youngest of four children to the care of his widowed mother, soon after his birth, and at the very beginning his blithe and dauntless spirit felt the stress of want. But he began to help himself and school himself, as the children of the poor must and do, and he early showed a passion for literature and adventure; he wanted to read; he wanted to go to sea; he actually tried to ship on a schooner at Cleveland, but, failing this, he got a chance to drive a canal-boat team. He fell sick and came home, and when he got well he learned carpentering. With his earnings in that trade he helped himself through the Academy at Chardon in Geauga County. From there he went to Hiram College, in Portage County, and then to Williams College, in Massachusetts. He studied law, and was elected to the Ohio Senate, which he left to enter the army. He was a brave and able soldier, and rose from lieutenant to be major general, before he left the service of his country in the field, to serve her in Congress. After sixteen years in the House, his state sent him to the Senate, and then his fellow-citizens chose him their President. He had been only four months in the White House, when the wretched Guiteau, a fool maddened by his own vanity and the sight of others’ malevolence toward the man who never hated any one, shot him down; and he lingered amidst the fervent sympathy of the whole world, till he died nine or ten weeks later. Of all the great Ohioans he was the gentlest and kindest nature; he never did harm to any man, and his heart was as high as his aspiring intellect above anything base or low. His ambition was in all things for what was fine and noble.
Quincy Adams Gilmore, who was born on a farm in Lorain County in 1825, was graduated at the head of his class from West Point. He achieved lasting fame in the siege of Fort Pulaski in Georgia, which other engineers had said could never be taken. Gilmore reduced it in two days by a feat in gunnery which changed forever the science and practice of that branch of the military art. In the ooze of a trembling marsh, which scarcely lifted its uncertain surface above the tides, he planted his heavy rifled cannon at three times the distance that siege artillery was believed effective, and battered down the walls of the fort with perfect ease, and with the loss of only one life in his command.
The doubt as to the birthplace of Philip H. Sheridan, with a choice between Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio, seems not to have been felt by Sheridan himself. He decided that he was born in Somerset, Perry County, Ohio, in March, 1831, and there is no good reason to suppose that he did not know. While so many of our soldiers were of Scotch-Irish origin, he was simply of Irish origin, and his father and mother were poor Irish laboring people, Catholics in religion, and careful to rear their son in their faith. Many stories are told of his boyhood, which seems to have been like that of most other Ohio boys of his generation. The most significant of these stories are those relating to his childish love and knowledge of horses and horsemanship; for they seem the prophecy of the greatest cavalry commander of modern times, who invented that branch of the service anew, as Gilmore reinvented gunnery. Sheridan’s first famous ride was on a barebacked, bridleless horse which he mounted in the pasture where it was feeding, and clung to with his knees and elbows in its long flight down the highway. No poet has yet put this legendary feat into verse, but all my readers know the poem which celebrates Sheridan’s ride from Winchester to Cedar Creek. This ride not only saved the day, but it stamped with the fiery little man’s character the history of the whole campaign in the Valley of the Shenandoah; and in it, as it were, he met Sherman halfway on his March to the Sea, and completed the deadly circuit in which the great rebellion died.
Of all our commanders he was perhaps the best beloved by his men, for he fought with his men. He tried to account for their liking him on no other ground. He once said, “These men all know that where it is the hottest there I am, and they like it, and that is the reason they like me.” He was in the hottest place because he thought it was his duty to be there, and not because he was fearless. “The man who says he isn’t afraid under fire, is a liar. I am afraid,” he frankly said, with a touch of that profanity which Grant never used, “and if I followed my own impulse I should turn and get out. It is all a question of the power of mind over body.”
As a boy he had some schooling at a Catholic school, under an eccentric Irish master whom he used to play tricks upon, and who used to thrash him impartially with the rest. When he left school, he became a clerk in a hardware store in his native village, and then in a dry-goods store. From the last place, he was appointed in 1848 to West Point and his destiny was fixed. In his class was another Ohio boy, born not far from Sheridan’s birthplace, at the little town of Clyde, Sandusky County, in the year 1828. This was James B. McPherson, Scotch-Irish by race as his name shows, and, as his history was to show later, one of the worthiest scions of that soldier-bearing stock. If Sheridan was the well-beloved of his men, McPherson was singularly dear to those who were closest to him and should have known him best. He was of a most affectionate nature, tenderly attached to his home and kindred, as men are apt to be if their homes are poor and their kindred have shared privation with them; but McPherson kept through all his prosperity and success the qualities which endear men to their fellows and comrades. The noble friendship between Grant and Sherman is one of the most precious of our national memories, but these great commanders seem to have loved McPherson next after one another.
His father was a farmer who worked at the trade of blacksmithing when he was not following the plow; and the boy helped him in the field and at the forge. When James was thirteen, his father died, and then he got a place in a village store, and did what he could to support his widowed mother and orphan brothers and sisters. It is told that when he left them on the farm he ran tear-blinded till he got out of sight, and then sat down with his little bundle in the woods and cried with homesickness. But he went to work, and he studied and read in his hours of leisure, and when he got the promise of a nomination to West Point he managed to spend two terms at the Norwalk Academy in preparing himself. He was then so old that he was afraid he would not be admitted to West Point; but once in the army he seemed to regain his youth. When he took command of the Army of the Tennessee, under Sherman, he was only thirty-two years old.
In one of the battles before Atlanta, in July, 1864, he was fired upon by a Confederate skirmish line, while personally leading a movement of his troops, and received a mortal wound. He rode a little way into the woods to avoid capture, and then fell from his horse; and as he lay there dying alone a private of an Iowa regiment found him, and cared for him till he expired.
Sherman’s grief for his loss was open and passionate. He wept over his dead face, and in the report of his loss to headquarters he said, “Those whom he commanded loved him even to idolatry; and I, his associate and commander, fail in words adequate to express my opinion of his great worth.” Grant wrote to McPherson’s aged grandmother: “The nation had more to expect from him than from almost any one living.” He wished to express the grief of personal love for the departed, and he testified to “his zeal, his great, almost unequaled ability, his amiability, and all the manly virtues that can adorn a commander.”
Such were the greatest of the great Ohio soldiers. To say that they were, each in his different way, the first soldiers of the war, is to keep well within the modest truth. They believed in one another, they trusted one another, for they knew one another. The love between them, impassioned in Sherman, frank and hearty in Sheridan, tender in McPherson, deep and constant in Grant, is one of the most beautiful facts of our history, or of any history, a feeling without one ungenerous quality. It was indeed,
“A goodly fellowship of noble knights,”
such as has not been since that of King Arthur’s Table Round.