Colonel James S. Robinson of the 82nd Ohio at Gettysburg

    In the mid-1880s, noted historian Henry Howe toured through every county in Ohio duplicating a tour he made in the mid-1840s, his aim being to note the changes and progress in the state and to update his book that featured the history of each county. The resulting book, Historical Collections of Ohio, is considered one of the key tomes of Ohio local historical lore. In the midst of his travels, Howe took the opportunity to visit with a number of notable actors in the Civil War, among them the subject of today's blog, General James Sidney Robinson of Kenton, Ohio.

    General Robinson was then closing out his active and successful career as a newspaperman, businessman, Congressman, and soldier. The General lived in a fine home on the north side of Kenton (the house is long gone unfortunately) when Howe came to visit. Robinson had seen four years of service in the Civil War, seeing action throughout Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and the Carolinas with both the 4th and 82nd Ohio Infantry regiments. But when thinking back on the most trying time of his service, General Robinson remembered the day he was wounded at Gettysburg...

          Colonel James S. Robinson entered the fight at Gettysburg as commander of the 82nd Ohio with two other colonels in the brigade ranking him. But within five minutes, one was wounded and the other (Colonel Francis Mahler of the 75th Pennsylvania) was killed while engaged in conversation with him, which devolved upon him the command of the brigade. The firing from the right flank and front was very destructive of human life. His regiment went into action on the morning of July 1, 1863 with 19 officers and 236 men; it lost all but two officers and 89 men. After the death of General Reynolds and other disasters, an order was issued assigning Robinson the command of the division but ere it reached him he was struck in the left breast by a Minie ball which passed clear through his body, making a gaping wound.

Colonel James Sidney Robinson of the 82nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Robinson was the editor of the Hardin County Republican newspaper in Kenton, Ohio before the war and proved himself to be a capable combat leader during his four years of service in the Union Army during the Civil War. Badly wounded at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, he was out of action for months but served as brigade commander through the Atlanta campaign. After the war, he served as president of the Ohio Gettysburg Battlefield Commission, served in Congress, and as Secretary of State for Ohio. Brevetted a major general at the close of the conflict, he died at his home in Kenton, Ohio in 1892. 

          This was just at the edge of Gettysburg and as he fell, his troops were forced to give way before the overwhelming forces of the enemy who swept on and over the field on which he lay wounded. He was taken to the residence of a couple of maiden ladies by the name of McPherson, sister of Hon. Edward McPherson, late Clerk of the House of Representatives, where he lay upon the kitchen floor during the night. The following day, he was taken upstairs and placed in a bed, looking out upon the busy scenes being enacted in town. In the meantime, he had received no treatment whatever. Some water was brought to him which he poured through his wound and which ran through his body like a sieve. To this treatment General Robinson attributes his recovery from a wound which would have killed almost any other man.

General Robinson's Second French Empire-style home was built in the aftermath of the Civil War. It was located on the east side of what is today U.S. 68 (N. Detroit Ave.) where the Western Ohio Health Partners building now exists. A low stone wall now encloses the ground, replacing the iron fence shown in the picture above. 

          After an examination of his wound, a surgeon coolly told him that he could not possibly recover and that he had better complete at an early moment whatever arrangements he wanted to make preparatory to a voyage across the dark river. But the colonel intimated that he had some faith in his recovery and he had no arrangements to make just yet. Another surgeon came and succeeded in finding a small dose of morphine. This gave relief, and he was able to sleep for a few hours. During both days of battle, he could hear the rattle of the musketry and the roar of artillery on all parts of the field.

The Hardin County Museum in Kenton, Ohio maintains an extensive collection of General Robinson's Civil War items including a saddle, stirrups, spurs, the field glasses, folding spy glass, epaulettes, his shoulder straps, hat cord, buttons from his uniform, and other items. 

          On the afternoon of the third day, when the signal gun was fired, and the artillery opened from both lines, the shock was terrible. It fairly shook the building which he occupied. Then came a lull and after that the rattle of musketry. Just as the sound of musketry died away, an officer belonging to General Lee’s staff came riding through the town opposite the Robinson’s window, evidently carrying orders from General Lee to General Johnson on the left. The Rebel provost marshal, who was commanding in the town, occupied the hotel office as his headquarters. He was heard asking Lee’s staff officer for news at the front. ‘Glorious! Longstreet is driving the Yankees to hell!’ Robinson said that that was an anxious moment for him. Finally, the roar of battle entirely ceased and only an occasional shot was heard along the line. Just then a captain on Lee’s staff came riding down with orders to Johnson, probably countermanding the previous order. The Rebel provost marshal again asked the staff officer for the news from the front. ‘Bad enough. Longstreet has been repulsed with terrible slaughter and everything is going to the rear in utter confusion.’

          Those were words of good cheer to the old soldier. He called to a soldier who had remained with him to come forth from his hiding place and requested him to open the back shutters of the house and raise him up and let him look over the battlefield. He saw great confusion in Lee’s lines. Ambulances, caissons, and ammunition wagons were going to the rear in great confusion. The retreat lasted all night long.

          As he lay there wounded, seeing the panic and confusion that had seized Lee’s troops, he longed to get word to General Meade that he might pursue. Meade had some 16,000 fresh troops and had he done so Robinson has always felt that then and there the rebellion would have ended. About daybreak on the morning of July 4th, he heard the welcome voices of his own regiment as they came marching through the town, calling upon some Rebel soldiers who had taken refuge in a barn to surrender.

General Robinson's grave in Kenton, Ohio. 

 Henry Howe’s Historical Collections of Ohio Volume I, pgs. 883-84


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