Armor of God: The Union Blues of Marietta Go to War

     News of the attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor arrived in Marietta, Ohio on Saturday morning April 13, 1861. “The news was not wholly unlooked-for, yet the dread reality was difficult to comprehend,” wrote Washington County historian H.Z. Williams. “Soon, however, the patriotic impulse of the people obtained control and carried everything before it. Washington County was thoroughly aroused.”

          On Monday afternoon April 15, 1861, President Lincoln’s proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion came over the telegraph wires; this prompted Frank Buell, captain of the Union Blues, the local militia company, to call an emergency meeting of the company for that night. The company agreed to tender their services to Governor William Dennison and within a week, the Union Blues would be marching off to war under the command of Captain Buell.

The captain, a 23-year-old attorney in Marietta, came from a military family; his older cousin was General Don Carlos Buell, while another cousin also became a General, George P. Buell of Indiana. Buell had grown up on a farm near Lowell, Ohio, and at age 18 went off to work with his brother in Washington, D.C., studying law while assisting with publishing the National Democratic Review newspaper. He returned to Marietta the following year and following further study, entered into the practice of law in 1857 at age 20. Buell proved to be an able attorney and was quickly elected city solicitor and then prosecuting attorney for Washington County. “The impress of genius is sure in the short but marked life of Frank Buell,” the county historian noted.

On Sunday night April 21, 1861, the night before the Union Blues left Marietta, a community meeting was held at the First Congregational Church to give the Blues an appropriate send-off. The selection of the First Congregational Church was certainly an appropriate one: it was the one of the oldest churches in the state of Ohio and its twin spires made it a landmark of the riverside community. “The church was crowded with an earnest and attentive throng, seats being reserved at the front for the volunteers,” Williams observed. As the Blues marched in, the choir began to sing “My country ‘tis of thee,” after which Reverend Wicks delivered a sermon which is a noteworthy example of how our Civil War soldiers were sent off to war.

 

The Union Blues were presented pocket testaments by the community before they left Marietta in April 1861. The men of both armies believed that their cause had God's favor, and went to war with a rifle in one hand and "the Good book in the other." 

Never did I think to perform such a task as this; never imagined that I could stand in the midst of such an assembly to give the parting word from this sacred desk to a company of volunteer soldiers enlisted in their country’s defense. Yet let me say, that strange and painful as the service is, it is no unwilling part that I perform. I have never been an advocate for war. I have preached the gospel of peace and good tidings. I would that there was no such necessity laid upon you and upon me; yet my heart is with you, my countrymen, and I bid you Godspeed in this work, though it may be a mission of death to many.

In the name, therefore, of God, and from this house of God, where prayer shall continually ascend for you, we bid you go forward we give you our blessing and shall not cease in imploring the blessing of heaven upon you. Your cause is ours. Dear as you are to us, and bound in the tenderest ties of earthly kindred, yet for our country’s service and the maintenance of all that is most precious in human society, we give you up, sons, brothers, husbands though you be, to stand in the deadly breach.

We know well the danger. Some of you may not return to us again. Your ranks may be fearfully thinned, though it is not certain but that we who remain here behind at home may be called to fall first at our own firesides. It is not certain yet where the blow will first be struck. The danger is widespread and threatening, and we cannot escape it. God be thanked that we are all aroused as one man to meet it, and that he has given us one heart to take the sword of justice to avenge that accursed treason which, considering all the circumstances of the case, is without a parallel in the history of the world and which demands the most signal, summary punishment that violated law can inflict.

In the name of our loved country, in the name of the fathers and mothers and sisters and wives whom you love; in the name of the ministers of our holy region; in the name of God, that God who loveth truth and justice, and is terrible to the evildoer, we bid you go, and God go with you. May he make your arm strong, and your hearts courageous to do valiant service, while you are ever cheered in the darkest hour when the missiles of death load the air, and there are many here who will not cease to pray for you and commend you in humble supplication to heaven.

         

Just across the river from Marietta was Virginia, a state that quickly seceded after Fort Sumter. City fathers worried that the front line of the Civil War would be the Ohio riverfront. Marietta sent companies for numerous regiments off to war. 

          On Monday April 22nd, the Union Blues assembled and were presented with a fine silk company flag by the ladies of Marietta, then boarded a steamer to sail up the Muskingum River for Columbus. The men had left town in such a hurry that the company was, by and large, sans equipment. The townspeople took up a collection that soon raised $1,300 to dress and equip the men for war, one local going so far as to buy up all the underwear in town to give to the men.

Upon arriving at Columbus, the Union Blues were assigned to the 18th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and became Co. B of that regiment. They didn’t stay in Columbus long as on April 27, 1861, they were mustered into service by state assistant adjutant general Joshua W. Sill at Camp Union near Parkersburg, Virginia for 90 days of service. Sill, who had just resigned his position as a professor at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, who go on to become colonel of the 33rd Ohio and later a brigadier general before being killed in action December 31, 1862 during the Battle of Stones River. The 18th Ohio was at Stones River also, the regiment having been transferred to the western theater for service with the Army of the Cumberland.

Captain Frank Buell would survive his term with the 18th Ohio but would not survive the war. In the summer of 1861, he set about recruiting an artillery battery that went into service as Battery C of the 1st West Virginia Light Artillery. The battery saw much service in the Shenandoah Valley and was engaged in active operations at Freeman’s Ford in Fauquier County, Virginia on August 22, 1862 when Captain Buell lost his life. “Captain Buell was covering the retreat of General Buell’s army and held position on the east bank of the Rappahannock River. It was in this position that he fell. He was on horseback and a shell passed through his horse, killing the horse instantly, and causing his own death a few hours later. Shells had passed under and above him, showing that he on his light-colored horse was a conspicuous mark in full view of the enemy at which the enemy was taking deliberate aim. He refused, however, to dismount or change his position on the field,” Williams noted. William Jenvey, a member of the battery, saw the fatal shot and explained what happened. "A shell struck his horse in the shoulder and, passing through, broke his left leg. So suddenly did the horse fall that the captain, unable to extricate himself, was thrown violently forward as the horse fell backward, injuring the captain internally," Jenvey wrote. "I was watching him as he fell. It appeared as if the grave had suddenly yawned wide."

It is ironic that Captain Buell died just a few miles from where his mother had grown up in Virginia.

 

Sources:

William, H.Z. History of Washington County, Ohio with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches. Cleveland: W.W. Williams, 1881, pgs. 146-147, 179, 247-248

History of the First Congregational Church of Marietta, Ohio

Find-a-grave entry for Captain Franklin Buell

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