Saturday, November 2, 2019

Indexing the Woodsfield Spirit of Democracy

Woodsfield, Ohio is located in the western half of Monroe County, lying in the rambling hills of the far southeastern corner of the state with the Ohio River forming the county's eastern border. The Spirit of Democracy, founded in 1844 in Woodsfield, was the preeminent organ for Democratic sentiment in the county. In 1860, the county boasted a population of more than 25,000 (its population in 2010 was roughly 14,000). 

At the outbreak of the Civil War, The Spirit of Democracy was operated by two gentlemen (Jeremiah Williams and Henry R. West) who would both serve with distinction in the Civil War and, oddly enough, would both rise to the same rank of lieutenant colonel while serving with different regiments. Williams served in the 25th Ohio Infantry, going off to war as the captain of Co. C and was eventually promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He took part in the battles of Greenbrier, McDowell, Cross Keys, Second Bull Run, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, the last two battles being part of the 11th Corps. The 25th Ohio was among the first troops to be hit by Jackson's famous flank attack at Chancellorsville and Williams was lucky to escape with his life. Luck ran out for him at Gettysburg as Williams had the misfortune to be captured on the first day of the battle and spent several months as a prisoner of war in Richmond. He exited the service in 1864 in time to resume his editorial duties of The Spirit of Democracy during the 1864 Presidential election campaign.
Lt. Col. Henry R. West, 62nd O.V.V.I.

Henry R. West also had a lengthy and distinguished Civil War service record. Going off to war in early 1862 as a first lieutenant of Co. K, West took part in the Shenandoah Valley campaign of 1862, served for a time in Suffolk, Virginia before transferring to the South Carolina islands where he took part in the siege and assault on Fort Wagner in July 1863. The 62nd Ohio re-enlisted in 1864 and West took part in numerous battles at Bermuda Hundred and the siege of Petersburg. West was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in late 1864 and was wounded April 6, 1865 in one of the final battles with Robert E. Lee's retreating Army of Northern Virginia. The 62nd Ohio was consolidated with the 67th Ohio in September 1865, and after several months of monotonous guard duty in Virginia, West mustered out with the regiment and returned home in December 1865. 
Colonel Jeremiah Williams gravestone
Arlington National Cemetery

Both men wrote numerous letters to the Spirit of Democracy, with West being the more regular correspondent. Monroe County was a reliable Democratic stronghold, and during the 1863 gubernatorial election it voted heavily in favor of Copperhead Clement Vallandigham. Despite this, hundreds of county residents served in Union regiments during the Civil War. The county sent the following companies off to war: Cos. B and C of the 25th Ohio, Co. D of the 27th Ohio, Co. E of the 36th Ohio, Co. K of the 62nd Ohio, Co. A of the 77th Ohio, Cos. C and K of the 92nd Ohio, and portions of several companies of the 116th Ohio. Smaller contigents from the county also served in the 56th and 78th Ohio regiments. Given the county's close proximity to what became West Virginia, the county also provided men to two West Virginia regiments, the 7th West Virginia Infantry most prominently, along with the 2nd West Virginia Cavalry. 

Fortunately for us, numerous correspondents supplied the Spirit of Democracy with graphic and descriptive accounts of their experiences in the Civil War. Chronicling America hosts digitial copies of the newspaper which are available online here (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85038115/) and with the exception of a few missing pages (oddly enough on key dates when I would have expected to see prime battle accounts), it provides a nearly complete run of the Civil War years. 
Recruiting ads from issues of the Spirit of Democracy dating from February 1864 seeking volunteers to join the 27th Ohio Infantry which was home on veterans' furlough and the 116th Ohio which had been mauled at Second Winchester in June 1863. 

All told, I found 166 letters spread out over four years, with the vast majority of these seeing print before April 1863 when Democratic papers as a rule started to thin out the soldiers' correspondence in their pages. Judge John S. Way assumed editorial duties when Williams and West went off to war, and ably kept the paper going until Williams' return in June 1864. 

While Williams' and West's letters make great reading, there were also a few other correspondents that stood out. One writer, going by the name of "Brigham," supplied a steady flow of well-written letters until early 1863 while serving in Co. D of the 27th Ohio Infantry; this regiment was part of the famous Ohio Brigade and Brigham's letters covered the battles of New Madrid, Island No. 10, Iuka, Corinth, and even Parker's Crossroads. Another intriguing yet elusive correspondent went by the nom-de-plume of "A Son of Mars," and he served in Battery H of the 1st Ohio Light Artillery, a unit that has a local connection for me as many of its men came from the Toledo area. Mars left a several fine accounts of the 1862 battles including McDowell and Fredericksburg, but to me his account of the Battle of Port Republic is superb. One civilian account that I found well worth reading was the report from Congressman J.D. O'Connor who journeyed to Shiloh in the days after that battle to attend to the needs of wounded Ohioans. Another letter from civilian G.L. Tyler regarding the expedition up the Tennessee River prior to Shiloh was featured in my previous blog post (https://dan-masters-civil-war.blogspot.com/2019/10/a-concert-on-so-grand-scale-tennessee.html).The majority of the correspondence was placed on either page one or two. 




The correspondents to the Spirit of Democracy primarily saw action in the Eastern Theater, but some Western Theater units also saw print. Among the battles they write about are Greenbrier, Camp Allegheny, New Madrid, First Kernstown, Island No. 10, Shiloh, McDowell, Lewisburg, Port Republic, Harrison's Landing, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Iuka, Corinth, Fredericksburg, Chickasaw Bluffs, Parker's Crossroads, Chancellorsville, Second Winchester, Deep Bottom Run, Darbytown Road, and Fort Gregg. Oddly enough, there was nothing about Gettysburg as the page ones and twos for much of July 1863 were missing; also the same for much of May 1863 so the potential Chancellorsville accounts are also missing. 

I will upload the Excel file containing the index soon to my newspaper index page here: https://columbianarsenal.com/newspaper-indexes

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