The Siege of
Cincinnati - The
The live man of the old Revolution, the daring Hotspur of those
troublous days, was Anthony Wayne. The live man to-day of the great
Northwest is Lewis Wallace. With all the chivalric clash of the
stormer of Stony Point, he has a cooler head, with a capacity for
larger plans, and the steady nerve to execute whatever he conceives.
When a difficulty rises in his path, the difficulty, no matter what
its proportions, moves aside; he does not. When a river like the Ohio
at Cincinnati intervenes between him and his field of operations,
there is a sudden sound of saws and hammers at sunset, and the
next morning beholds the magic spectacle of a great pontoon-bridge
stretching between the shores of Freedom and Slavery, its planks
resounding to the heavy tread of almost endless regiments and
army-wagons. Is a city like Cincinnati menaced by a hungry foe,
striding on by forced marches, that foe sees his path suddenly blocked
by ten miles of fortifications thoroughly manned and armed, and he
finds it prudent, even with his twenty thousand veterans, to retreat
faster than he came, strewing the road with whatever articles impede
his haste. Some few incidents in the career of such a man, since he
has taken the field, ought not to be uninteresting to those for whom
he has fought so bravely; and we believe his services, when known,
will be appreciated, otherwise we will come under the old ban against
Republics, that they are ungrateful.
While returning from New York at the expiration of a short leave of
absence, the first asked for since the beginning of the war, General
Wallace was persuaded by Governor Morton to stump the State of Indiana
in favor of voluntary enlistments, which at that time were progressing
slowly. Wallace went to work in all earnestness. His idea was to
obtain command of the new levies, drill them, and take them to the
field; and this idea was circulated throughout the State. The result
was, enlisting increased rapidly; the ardor for it rose shortly into
a fever, and has not yet abated. Regiments are still forming, shedding
additional lustre upon the name of patriotic Indiana.
General Wallace was thus engaged when the news was received from
Morgan of the invasion of Kentucky by Kirby Smith. All eyes turned
at once to Governor Morton, many of whose regiments were now ready to
take the field, if they only had officers to lead them. Wallace came
promptly to the Governor's assistance, and offered to take command of
a regiment for the crisis. His offer was accepted, and he was sent to
New Albany, where the Sixty-Sixth Indiana was in camp. In twelve
hours he mustered it, paid its bounty money, clothed and armed it, and
marched it to Louisville. Brigadier-General Boyle was in command of
Kentucky. Wallace, who is a Major-General, reported to him at the
above-named city, and a peculiar scene occurred.
"General Boyle," said Wallace, "I report to you the Sixty-Sixth
"Who commands it?" asked the General.
"I have that honor, Sir," was the reply.
"You want orders, I suppose?"
"It is a difficult matter for me," said Boyle. "I have no right to
"That difficulty is easily solved," Wallace replied, with
characteristic promptness. "I come to report to you as a Colonel. I
come to take orders as such."
General Boyle consulted with his Adjutant-General, and the result was
a request that General Wallace would proceed to Lexington with his
command. Here was exhibited the ready, self-sacrificing spirit of
a true patriot: he did not stand and wait until he could find the
position to which his high rank entitled him, but stepped into the
place where he could best and quickest serve his country in her hour
While Wallace was still at the railway-station, he received an order
from General Boyle, putting him in command of all the forces in
Lexington. Here was a golden opportunity for our young commander. What
higher honor could be coveted than to relieve the brave Morgan,
pent up as he was with his little army in the mountain-gorges of the
Cumberland? The idea fired the soul of Wallace, and he pushed on to
Lexington. But here he was sadly disappointed. He found the forces
waiting there inadequate to the task: instead of an army, there were
only three regiments. He telegraphed for more troops. Indiana and Ohio
responded promptly and nobly. In three days he received and brigaded
nine regiments and started them toward the Gap.
No one but an experienced soldier, one who has indeed tried it, can
conceive of the labor involved in such an undertaking. The material in
his hands was, to say the best of it, magnificently raw. Officers,
from colonels to corporals, brave though they might be as lions, knew
literally nothing of military affairs. The men had not learned even to
load their guns. Companies had to be led, like little children, by
the hand as it were, into their places in line of battle. There was
no cavalry, no artillery. It happened, however, that guns, horses, and
supplies intended for Morgan at the Gap were in depot at Lexington.
Then Wallace began to catch a glimpse of dawn through the dark tangle
of the wilderness. Some kind of order, prompt and immediate, must be
forced out of this chaos; and it came, for the master-spirit was there
to arrange and compel. He mounted several hundred men, giving them
rifles instead of sabres. He manned new guns, procuring harness and
ammunition for them from Louisville. Where there were no caissons, he
supplied wagons. But his regiments were not his sole reliance; he is
a believer in riflemen, a fighting class of which Kentucky was full.
These he summoned to his assistance, and was met by a ready and hearty
response: they came trooping to him by hundreds. Among others,
Garrett Davis, United States Senator, led a company of Home-Guards to
Lexington. In this way General Wallace composed, or rather improvised
a little army, and all without help, his regular staff being absent,
mostly in Memphis.
"Kentucky has not been herself in this war," exclaimed General
Wallace; "she must be aroused; and I propose to do it thoroughly."
"How will you do it?" asked a skeptic.
"Easily enough, Sir. Kentucky has a host of great names. Kentuckians
believe in great names. It is to this tune that the traitors have
carried them to the field against us. I will take with me to the field
all the men living, old and young, who have made those names great.
Buckner took the young Crittendens and Clays; by Heaven, I'll take
"But they can't march."
"I'll haul them, then."
"They can be of no service in that way."
"But the magic of their names!" exclaimed Wallace. "What will the
young Kentuckians say, when they hear John J. Crittenden, Leslie
Combs, Robert Breckenridge, Tom Clay, Garrett Davis, Judge Goodloe,
and fathers of that kind, are going down to battle with me?"
The skeptics held their peace.
General Wallace now constituted a volunteer staff. Wadsworth, M.C.
from Maysville district, was his adjutant-general. Brand, Gratz,
Goodloe, and young Tom Clay were his aids. Old Tom Clay, John J.
Crittenden, Leslie Combs, Judge Goodloe, Garrett Davis, were all
prepared and going, when General Wallace was suddenly relieved of his
command by General Nelson.
Without instituting any comparison between these two generals, it
is enough to say that the supersession of Wallace by Nelson at that
moment was most unfortunate and untimely, as the sequel proved,
fraught as it was with disastrous consequences. The circumstances were
Scott's Rebel cavalry had whipped Metcalf's regiment of Loyalists at
Big Hill, some twelve or fifteen miles beyond Richmond, Kentucky,
and followed them to within four miles of that town, where they were
stopped by Lenck's brigade of infantry. The affair was reported to
Wallace, with the number and situation of the enemy. He at once took
prompt measures to meet the exigence of the situation. He could throw
Lenck's and Clay's brigades upon the Rebel front; the brigade at
Nicholasville could take them in flank by crossing the Kentucky River
at Tatt's Ford; while, by uniting Clay Smith's command with that of
Jacob, then en route for Nicholasville, he could plant seventeen
hundred cavalry in their rear between Big Hill and Mount Vernon.
The enemy at this time were at least twenty miles in advance of their
supports, and a night's march would have readily placed the several
forces mentioned in position to attack them by daylight. This was
Wallace's plan,—simple, feasible, and soldier-like. All his orders
were given. A supply-train with extra ammunition and abundant rations
was in line on the road to Richmond. Clay's brigade was drawn up ready
to move, and General Wallace's horse was saddled. He was writing a
last order in reference to the city of Lexington in his absence, and
directing the officer left in charge to forward regiments to him at
Richmond as fast as they should arrive, when General Nelson came and
instantly took the command. Fifteen minutes more and General Wallace
would have been on the road to Richmond to superintend the execution
of his plan of attack. The supersession was, of course, a bitter
disappointment; yet he never grumbled or demurred in the least, but,
like a true soldier who knows his duty, offered that evening to serve
his successor in any capacity, a generosity which General Nelson
declined. The well-conceived plan which Wallace had matured failed for
the simple reason, that, instead of marching to execute it that night,
as common sense would seem to have dictated, Nelson did not leave
Lexington until the next day at one o'clock; and at daylight, when the
attack was to have been made, the Rebel leader, Scott, discovered his
danger, and wisely retreated, finding nobody in his rear. The result
was, Nelson went to Richmond and was defeated. It is possible that
the same result might have followed Wallace; but by those competent to
judge it is thought otherwise.
He had a plan adapted to the troops he was leading, who, although very
raw, would have been invincible behind breastworks, as American troops
have always shown themselves to be. Wallace never intended arraying
these inexperienced men in the open field against the veteran troops
of the Rebels. Neither did he intend they should dig. He had collected
large quantities of intrenching tools, and was rapidly assembling
a corps of negroes, nearly five hundred of whom he had already in
waiting in Morgan's factory, all prepared to follow his column, armed
with spades and picks. In Madison County he intended getting at least
five hundred more. "I will march," he said, "like Cæsar in Gaul, and
intrench my camp every night. If I am attacked at any time in too
great numbers, I can drop back to my nearest works, and wait for
reinforcements." Such was his plan, and those who know him believe
firmly that he could have been at the Cumberland Gap in time not only
to succor our little army there, but to have prevented the destruction
and evacuation of that very important post.
Wallace, finding himself thus suddenly superseded, his plans ignored,
and his voluntary service bluffly refused, left Lexington for
Cincinnati. While there the Battle of Richmond was fought, the
disastrous results of which are still too fresh in the public mind to
require repeating. Nelson, who did not arrive upon the field until the
day was about lost, and only in time to use his sword against his own
men in a fruitless endeavor to rally them, received a flesh-wound,
and hastened back the same night to Cincinnati, leaving many dead and
wounded on the field, and thousands of our brave boys prisoners to be
paroled by the Rebels. These are simple matters of record, and are not
here set down in any spirit of prejudice, or to throw a shadow upon
the memory of the misguided, unfortunate, but courageous Nelson.
At this juncture General Wallace was again ordered to Lexington, this
time by General Wright, a general whose gentlemanly bearing in all
capacities makes him an ornament to the American army. Wallace was
ordered thither to resume command of the forces; but on arriving
at Paris, the order was countermanded, and he was sent back to take
charge of the city of Cincinnati. Shrewdly suspecting that our forces
would evacuate Lexington, he hastened to his new post. General Wright
was at that time in Louisville. On his way back, Wallace was asked by
one of his aids,—
"Do you believe the enemy will come to Cincinnati?"
"Yes," was the reply. "Kirby Smith will first go to Frankfort. He must
have that place, if possible, for the political effect it will have.
If he gets it, he will surely come to Cincinnati. He is an idiot, if
he does not. Here is the material of war,—goods, groceries, salt,
supplies, machinery, etc.,—enough to restock the whole bogus
"What are you going to do? You have nothing to defend the city with."
"I will show you," was the reply.
Within the first half-hour after his arrival in Cincinnati, General
Wallace wrote and sent to the daily papers the following proclamation,
which fully and clearly develops his whole plan.
"The undersigned, by order of Major-General Wright, assumes command of
Cincinnati, Covington, and Newport.
"It is but fair to inform the citizens, that an active, daring, and
powerful enemy threatens them with every consequence of war; yet the
cities must be defended, and their inhabitants must assist in the
"Patriotism, duty, honor, self-preservation, call them to the labor,
and it must be performed equally by all classes.
"First. All business must be suspended at nine o'clock to-day. Every
business-house must be closed.
"Second. Under the direction of the Mayor, the citizens must, within
an hour after the suspension of business, (ten o'clock, A.M.,)
assemble in convenient public places ready for orders. As soon as
possible they will then be assigned to their work.
"This labor ought to be that of love, and the undersigned trusts and
believes it will be so. Anyhow, it must be done.
"The willing shall be properly credited; the unwilling promptly
visited. The principle adopted is, Citizens for the labor, soldiers
for the battle.
"Third. The ferry-boats will cease plying the river after four
o'clock, A.M., until further orders.
"Martial law is hereby proclaimed in the three cities; but until they
can be relieved by the military, the injunctions of this proclamation
will be executed by the police.
Could anything be bolder and more to the purpose? It placed Cincinnati
under martial law. It totally suspended business, and sent every
citizen, without distinction, to the ranks or into the trenches.
"Citizens for labor, soldiers for battle," was the principle
underlying the whole plan,—a motto by which he reached every
able-bodied man in the metropolis, and united the energies of forty
thousand people,—a motto original with himself, and for which he
should have the credit.
Imagine the astonishment that seized the city, when, in the morning,
this bold proclamation was read,—a city unused to the din of war and
its impediments. As yet there was no word of an advance of the enemy
in the direction of Cincinnati. It was a question whether they would
come or not. Thousands did not believe in the impending danger; yet
the proclamation was obeyed to the letter, and this, too, when there
was not a regiment to enforce it. The secret is easy of comprehension:
it was the universal confidence reposed in the man who issued the
order; and he was equally confident, not only in his own judgment, but
in the people with whom he had to deal.
"If the enemy should not come after all this fuss," said one of the
General's friends, "you will be ruined."
"Very well," he replied; "but they will come. And if they do not, it
will be because this same fuss has caused them to think better of it."
The ten days ensuing will be forever memorable in the annals of the
city of Cincinnati. The cheerful alacrity with which the people rose
en masse to swell the ranks and crowd into the trenches was a sight
worth seeing, and being seen could not readily be forgotten.
Here were the representatives of all nations and classes. The sturdy
German, the lithe and gay-hearted Irishman, went shoulder to shoulder
in defence of their adopted country. The man of money, the man of law,
the merchant, the artist, and the artisan swelled the lines hastening
to the scene of action, armed either with musket, pick, or spade.
Added to these was seen Dickson's long and dusky brigade of colored
men, cheerfully wending their way to labor on the fortifications,
evidently holding it their especial right to put whatever impediments
they could in the northward path of those whom they considered their
own peculiar foe. But the pleasantest and most picturesque sight of
those remarkable days was the almost endless stream of sturdy men who
rushed to the rescue from the rural districts of the State. These
were known as the "Squirrel-Hunters." They came in files numbering
thousands upon thousands, in all kinds of costumes, and armed with all
kinds of fire-arms, but chiefly the deadly rifle, which they knew so
well bow to use. Old men, middle-aged men, young men, and often mere
boys, like the "minute-men" of the old Revolution, they left the
plough in the furrow, the flail on the half-threshed sheaves, the
unfinished iron upon the anvil,—in short, dropped all their peculiar
avocations, and with their leathern pouches full of bullets and their
ox-horns full of powder, poured into the city by every highway and
by-way in such numbers that it seemed as if the whole State of Ohio
were peopled only with hunters, and that the spirit of Daniel Boone
stood upon the hills opposite the town beckoning them into Kentucky.
The pontoon-bridge, which had been begun and completed between sundown
and sundown, groaned day and night with the perpetual stream of
life all setting southward. In three days there were ten miles of
intrenchments lining the hills, making a semicircle from the river
above the city to the banks of the river below; and these were thickly
manned from end to end, and made terrible to the astonished enemy by
black and frowning cannon. General Heath, with his twenty thousand
Rebel veterans, flushed with their late success at Richmond, drew up
before these formidable preparations, and deemed it prudent to take
the matter into serious consideration before making the attack.
Our men were eagerly awaiting their approach, thousands in rifle-pits
and tens of thousands along the whole line of the fortifications,
while our scouts and pickets were skirmishing with their outposts in
the plains in front. Should the foe make a sudden dash and carry any
point of our lines, it was thought by some that nothing would prevent
them from entering Cincinnati.
But for this also provision was made. The river about the city, above
and below, was well protected by a flotilla of gun-boats improvised
from the swarm of steamers which lay at the wharves. A storm of shot
and shell, such as they had not dreamed of, would have played upon
their advancing columns, while our regiments, pouring down from the
fortifications, would have fallen upon their rear. The shrewd leaders
of the Rebel army were probably kept well posted by traitors within
our own lines in regard to the reception prepared for them, and,
taking advantage of the darkness of night and the violence of a
thunder-storm, made a hasty and ruinous retreat. Wallace was anxious
to follow them, and was confident of success, but was overruled by
those higher in authority.
The address which he now published to the citizens of Cincinnati,
Covington, and Newport was manly and well-deserved. He said,—
"For the present, at least, the enemy has fallen back, and your cities
are safe. It is the time for acknowledgments. I beg leave to make you
mine. When I assumed command, there was nothing to defend you with,
except a few half-finished works and some dismounted guns; yet I was
confident. The energies of a great city are boundless; they have only
to be aroused, united, and directed. You were appealed to. The answer
will never be forgotten. Paris may have seen something like it in her
revolutionary days, but the cities of America never did. Be proud that
you have given them an example so splendid. The most commercial of
people, you submitted to a total suspension of business, and without
a murmur adopted my principle, 'Citizens for labor, soldiers for
battle.' In coming times, strangers viewing the works on the hills of
Newport and Covington will ask, 'Who built these intrenchments? You
can answer, 'We built them.' If they ask, 'Who guarded them?' you
can reply, 'We helped in thousands.' If they inquire the result, your
answer will be, 'The enemy came and looked at them, and stole away in
the night.' You have won much honor. Keep your organizations ready to
win more. Hereafter be always prepared to defend yourselves.
It can safely be claimed for our young General, that he was the moving
spirit which inspired and directed the people, and thereby saved
Cincinnati and the surrounding cities, and, in the very face of Heath
and his victorious horde from Richmond, organized a new and formidable
army. That the citizens fully indorsed this was well exemplified on
the occasion of his leading back into the metropolis a number of her
volunteer regiments when the danger was over. They lined the streets,
crowded the doors and windows, and filled the air with shouts of
applause, in honor of the great work he had done.
In writing this notice of Wallace and the siege, we have had no
intention to overlook the services of his co-laborers, especially
those rendered to the West by the gallant Wright, who holds command
of the department. The writer has attempted to give what came directly
under his own observation, and what he believes to be the core of the
matter, and consequently most interesting to the public.