Grapes and Catawba Wine on the Ohio: The 96th Ohio Defends Cincinnati

    The 96th Ohio Volunteer Infantry was raised in central Ohio during the month of August 1862, mustering in at Camp Delaware, Ohio. Right after mustering in, and in response to the Federal defeat at Richmond, Kentucky and subsequent threat to Cincinnati, the 96th Ohio was sent to Cincinnati via rail, arriving in the city on the evening of September 1, 1862. It was one of the first regiments to arrive and that same night crossed the Ohio River to take up defensive positions in Covington, Kentucky. Rumors were rampant that General Edmund Kirby Smith's legions were poised to swoop in and take Cincinnati, and the city was in something of a panic. Governor David Tod declared martial law in the counties along the Ohio and called out the "Squirrel Hunters" to help defend the state. 

    Among those green troops defending Cincinnati was Hospital Steward Heman Warren Allen of the 96th Ohio. The Delaware, Ohio resident took up a regular weekly correspondence with the Delaware Gazette newspaper to keep the home folks posted on events at the front. The much-expected battle for Cincinnati never materialized, and Allen's missives described the quiet times of army camp life touched with the feeling of disappointment that the regiment didn't get to cross swords with the Confederates. Unfortunately, Allen wouldn't survive the war, succumbing to typhoid pneumonia on February 12, 1863 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Squirrel Hunters and newly enlisted troops like the 96th Ohio constituted the bulk of the defenses of Cincinnati in the hectic early days of September 1862. Despite their utter lack of training, the men were enthusiastic and felt that they would give the Rebels a rough time, but the threatened attack on Cincinnati never materialized and the danger passed quickly. 

Delaware Gazette (Ohio), September 12, 1862, pg. 2

Covington, Kentucky

September 8, 1862

          Grant me a corner in your columns to say to those of your readers (who may not already know it) that Hermit’s Home is vacant and its ancient possessor is hereabouts, ready and willing to chronicle for them a little of the doings of the 96th Ohio in which so many are interested.  As will be seen from the heading, we are still here, have been away from home a week and nary a fight yet! To be sure, we are busy and plenty of promise of action shortly but yet the boys wait, and I am happy to say with a cool eagerness that promises well. We have been called out by way of trial and it was indeed flattering to see how readily and cheerfully the boys fell in line and started off.

          Since our arrival on Monday last, we have been mostly on picket duty in various directions and the boys acquitted themselves handsomely. Company A did a good job by way of demolishing a whiskey hole near Fort Mitchel, cleaning it thoroughly of liquors and breaking up the bar which had a Confederate flag on one end and an American flag on the other. The members of the companies enjoy out of town work well. The people here are very kind to Union soldiers, feeding all regiments that pass through. The headquarters of the 96th Ohio are at the courthouse, a large brick building and quite commodious. Colonel Guthrie’s headquarters are also here as well as the Provost Marshal’s. It would not of course be proper to say anything of the troops here unless it be merely that both cities are swarming and yet they come. Certainly, if there be a battle near here it will be no child’s play.

          Among the curiosities here is the pontoon bridge across the Ohio River from Walnut Street to Greenup Street on this side. To one who has never seen them, the building of one seems queer though on crossing there is no sense of insecurity. An enterprising local could have dished an item yesterday on seeing a part of it taken up; the idea of the Rebels crossing the river could have been dilated on, especially had he not seen the changes of the steamers above and below.

          The Delaware County boys are generally in good health and both Captains Weiser’s and Kimbal’s men are improving in soldierly appearance. The health of the regiment is good considering the changes of location and our men are mostly treated in quarters as we have as yet no hospital of our own but depend on the goodwill of Dr. Thomas of the regular hospital. The latter by the way is excellently arranged, but we are in hopes not to be dependent long. Our own surgeons are of course to be preferred to others and as our tents, ambulances, etc., are on the way, we shall be ready in that point of view.

Fort Mitchel in September 1862

A pleasing or at least interesting time we had Saturday at parade as the long roll was beat, bells rung, and our boys prepared for a fight in earnest. It was easily to be seen that they were in earnest, as sick men were out at roll call and made a march they could not have done otherwise. It is said some of the officers of the regiment were not in the secret and were as much excited as the men; certainly our neighbors over the river were not, for they came pouring down to Front Street in full force. All were out here and both Kentucky and Ohio boys were ready. After a mile or two of marching, all returned, dusty and sweaty but not otherwise worse.

An election for chaplain of our regiment the other day resulted in the choice of Reverend Ketchum of Bellefontaine. He is highly spoken of by those who know him as the man for the place. We had plenty of religious exercises, however, having preaching or prayer meetings in nearly every company every few evenings and the men seem to enjoy them much. Captain Coulter of Co. E preached in the courthouse on Sunday morning.

Of our movements for the future I will not venture a guess. Certainly it is enough for us to know that General Lew Wallace wishes us here and we have full confidence that his plans are best for us. The present amount of force will soon complete fortifications which will make us equal to a very large force of Rebels. There is no chance to dodge this work and one of the most pleasant sights of the week was the marching of a body of Negroes to do a portion of it; none the less so that some of them were dandified enough.

The citizens of Cincinnati went at constructing fortifications with a will.

Delaware Gazette (Ohio), September 26, 1862, pg. 1

Hills near the Ohio River, Covington, Kentucky

September 14, 1862

          A stroll this beautiful evening down to our own Ohio River where we could see this country of hills balanced by a strip of bottom land brought up a remembrance of oxbows and other nice patches at home. I will only say that we have any amount of views here which would delight an artist’s eye, not the least pleasing of which is the view up the river from the knoll south of us with a gunboat just down out of sight and a steamboat in the distance.

We are pleasantly located within a half mile of the river close to Air Home House about four miles from Newport. The regiment occupies a fine grassy hill and if our tents were here the situation could hardly be bettered; in place of them, however, quarters of pole, blankets, trees, etc., form a very good substitute even for these cool nights. We occupy as hospital a two-story brick dwelling just south of the regiment with an orchard between, the principal fruit of which is Russet apples. Without a doubt the owner had nothing better to do winter evenings than to eat them, but we, being in constant expectation of being soon elsewhere, cannot exactly coincide in the taste. The worms seem to have no opposition in their way for webs are common and at least half of the fruit is already worm-cored. This afternoon brought us our first lady visitor, a striking contrast to our visits at Delaware, but this one has not forgotten our wants for she brought us a basket of fine grapes and a bottle of Catawba wine. The ladies who visited us so regular will be interested in knowing that besides this, the week has also brought us a call from two members of the Sanitary Commission.

Catawba wine and grapes; Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton once famously said that "the champagne and oysters on the Potomac must be stopped." No doubt the flint-eyed Ohioan would have taken a dim view of "Catawba wine and grapes on the Ohio" had he learned of it.

As I write, the sound of preaching comes wafting from camp and tell of religious exercises at the close of the Sabbath. It is indeed a worthy closing of the day which I am glad to say has not been altogether forgotten, as the subduing of the camp bustle plainly indicated. Last night and often through the day came the voice of the sacred song, calm and clear as it did when we were with you and bringing up home thoughts to all who could think them over. Many are the words of endearing remembrance this day penned by the brave ones here, from our worthy chief to the humblest private, all telling in their different ways of the ties yet closely binding.

"It is said over the river that Ohio troops can always be told nowadays by being the poorest as far as clothing and equipment are concerned; a fact, if shoddy makes facts, which should be remedied." ~ Hospital Steward H. Warren Allen, 96th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

We have been ready for over two days for a move and expected on Friday to be certainly going. Tonight, the camp rumor places our going within two days and the move an advance; time will tell you whether the surmise is a correct one. We have been rather expecting the butternuts here but have so far been disappointed. Quite a number of the 121st Ohio boys visited our camp today having had a big hunt before they found it. From the roundabout way they took (by Fort Mitchell and Camp King the story goes), they must have seen full half the force on this side of the river at this point before they reached us. I guess they went away satisfied.

The pontoon bridge connecting downtown Cincinnati with Covington was the army's lifeline on the Kentucky side. "Among the curiosities here is the pontoon bridge across the Ohio River from Walnut Street to Greenup Street on this side," Allen remembered. "To one who has never seen them, the building of one seems queer though on crossing there is no sense of insecurity." 

September 15, 1862

          From all directions comes the drum’s warning call, and not to be behind our camp neighbors, ours too comes over the hill and proves we are still on this side of the Ohio, reports to the contrary notwithstanding. The fires begin to blaze up in all directions, though our neighbors of the regulars lead off in both this and the call. Their drill is eagerly watched by our boys who, by the by, have been exercised lately by some Kentucky troops who have seen service. Company F, though they failed to receive their expected place in the regiment, do not fail to come to time on duty, while Company G claims to have done no discredit to their friends at home. I think Delaware County will find her braves in the 96th are as worthy of the title as any in other regiments; certainly, we are egotistical enough to believe it.

Private Jacob P. Cratt, Co. C
Died of disease in February 1863

Delaware Gazette (Ohio), October 3, 1862, pg. 1

 Four miles northeast from Newport, Kentucky

September 22, 1862

          The closing of another week and the beginning of a new one finds us still near Beechwood Battery, close to Fort Washington on the hills of the Ohio; in fact, just where we were at my last. The week just closed has brought its excitements and changes and among the latter which concerns the regiment is the appointment of our worthy Colonel [Joseph W. Vance] to the place of acting brigadier while Green Clay Smith commands the division. A new regiment, the 23rd Wisconsin, joined us this week and are a noble set of fellows as far as physical appearance is concerned and are well-equipped. By the by, it is said over the river that Ohio troops can always be told nowadays by being the poorest as far as clothing and equipment are concerned; a fact, if shoddy makes facts, which should be remedied.

          At present our brigade consists of the 50th, 79th, and 96th Ohio regiments along with the 23rd Wisconsin and about 900 infantry of the 13th and 18th U.S. regiments, also Fort Washington, a new work about completed, and other batteries. Lieutenant Colonel [Albert H.] Brown commands the regiment now and though we should not wish to lose our colonel, yet with Brown and McElry we should be better off than our neighbors. In addition to the promotion of Colonel Vance, we have had to give up our assistant surgeon Dr. Hess who goes to take charge of the Regulars.

Lt. Col. Albert H. Brown, 96th OVI
Previous service in 4th OVI and in 
Mexican War

          One of the most interesting sights of camp is the arrival and distribution of mail. I had thought the eagerness of college students was hardly to be surpassed, but that of soldiers to hear from home exceeds it. You see it in the anxious watching as the letters are called over and handed out, in the joy of the fortunate ones who receive and the misfortunes of those who have hone, also in the listening to the items of correspondents from the neighborhood of home. Nor is the scene much less interesting as the hour comes round for the starting away, when from all parts of the camp you see men coming with unsealed letters in their hand increasing their pace, closing and even folding them on the way so as to be sure and have them go. I know the ones at home are most anxious to hear from the boys for I have seen the anxiety, but could they see the eager watching here they would not forget that they too had a part to play and would cease their often-heard complaints that no letters prove they don’t care. Could they see how and when the soldier writes for their eyes, realizing that it becomes hard work to write merely of the monotony of camp life.

But this is not all that goes to make up camp life which is more or less interesting to a novice and among the funny phases comes in the music of teams and teamsters. About cock crow and sometimes before the concert of sweet sounds commences from the whole line, coming up the glee of some four score mules. Some of your readers know how it goes and those who do not need a better musicians than myself to explain the different cadences, tones, rhythm, and harmony of our early singers and late warblers. One of the best things to the unpracticed ear that they get off is solos down at the blacksmith’s office which for clearness of tone and pitch certainly exceed any prima donna’s.

I think it was stated before that our camp was on a hill, the quarters extending down the slopes on each side. These cool evenings when fires are comfortable to men out of doors, it presents the appearance of a small city with lights in regular succession or more it is said like a large camp meeting. From the south where our hospital is situated, the view is especially fine and a walk the other day proved the other side of the hill to be equally beautiful and both look home-like and cheerful. When we received all our tents (about 80 have been received in the past week), the day view will also be pleasing though I doubt if it equals that given by the fire and starlight now.


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