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The Siege of Cincinnati - The Atlantic

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
Indiana Regiment."

"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 order you."

"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 of peril.

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 their fathers!"

"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 these.

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 Confederacy."

"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 preparation.

"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.

  "Maj.-Gen'r'l Commanding."

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.