Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Ramblings on Campbell County in the War

 For the past few years, of course, I have been researching individual soldiers/sailors who ever lived, died or are buried in Campbell County and finding their stories, hopefully to share them some day.

I have shared a few in posts on here and am still working on a couple more, with other ideas in store, but I have also started looking more at the county as a whole in the war. One person had suggested that as a topic for a book, and though I am not sure about that, recent discoveries have really opened my mind to exploring that angle of the war and writing some on the county home front during those years. I kind of figured that was a bit out of my league and too much to do, but some "exciting new developments" in recent weeks might have me rethinking what my project should be. Or if "project" should become "projects." 

I recently completed a story on James Guthrie, who was in charge of the fatigue forces in northern Kentucky during the "Siege of Cincinnati." I discovered a lot of details about that time period that I had not seen before, such as orders he had given about watercarts, impressing horses, and trouble having enough volunteers to fill the positions. His story in this time provides some very good insight into Campbell County and the area as a whole in that timeframe.

Some of his orders went to Henry Gassaway, the Provost Marshal of the county, and his story - including his arrests of numerous county citizens for disloyalty (one story mentioned 38! Campbell County residents being sent to Camp Chase at one time) and his dismissal from the position, after which a newspaper called him a tyrant - surprised me. I never thought I would read about a "tyrant" in this little place, so far away from the major fighting and the largest political factories. His story also shows new aspects of the county's war experience that I had not known of before. 

As often as I've heard or even talked about the "Siege of Cincinnati," especially in the halcyon days of the Ramage Museum, I still just learned quite a bit of information about the day-to-day operations that was new to me. It's almost embarrassing that I did not know some of this until now. Why didn't I research this period more ten or fifteen years ago?

Another man, a Connecticut born lawyer and politician, George P. Webster (not the same George Webster who died at Perryville) was a fervent Union supporter during the war, attending many meetings and giving quite a few speeches to round up support for the cause. He adds a layer of understanding to the political side of the county, and accounts I find about him in the newspapers often mention other names of prominent Union men in the area. Again, this is a new area of studying for me. 

These are just three men, but their stories, and the other names and stories to which they are connected just open more doors for exploration and study. I have gathered quite a bit of information on both Union and Southern supporters in the county. I have seen a few of the same names in several stories where I did not expect them, helping me connect these men and their causes together. Their actions did not happen in a vacuum. It can be confusing at times, but also clarifies just how complicated the county's situation was.

I also learned about two controversies over the status (free or slave) of African-American men in the county one in 1860, the other in 1861, both of which tie in the county's struggles to the nation's as a whole. One was mentioned on a local genealogy site that I frequently check, yet I had never seen it, and while researching this story, I found another similar situation. Webster was involved in these cases, but in my early research into them, I found a possible example of corruption by at least one county official, with it perhaps extending even into a minor conspiracy, though I need to research that and think about if I want to make that accusation based on what I've found, or just relate what I know to be true and not try to create a story that I cannot prove. 

Just these three stories by themselves have given me a lot of information about the effects of the war in this county and on its citizens. Studying the individual soldiers also did that, of course, but these three have provided so much more of what was happening right here on Campbell County soil during that time, instead of what county citizens were experiencing elsewhere. 

It really is eye-opening about what happened and just how many areas of exploration are out there and just how little I know. There is just so much more than I ever imagined or had heard. I wonder if anybody in the county has ever realized all of this. Has somebody else done this work but I've just not ever seen it? I feel like I'm covering new ground (and obviously am to myself) and that's a bit exciting too. Even if none of this becomes a book or website, at least I can share some of it on social media and give information to the local historical society where others might see it. My "attempted book" under its original format is now over 200,000 words, which blows my mind, and that's just focusing on the individual stories, not the county's home front. Who knows how much more I will write, as I have plenty of ideas of what else to explore and to ponder. 

Kentucky, of course, was a border state, and Campbell County, along the Ohio River at the northernmost part of the state, was a border county. As I read about some of the activity in Newport, the phrase "border town in a border county of a border state" has stuck with me and will probably be one of the themes I try to explore further. Only a few places in the nation were more on the "border" than this county and its residents, and I'm learning more and more about the strong Union patriotism that existed alongside quite a bit of Southern support. I had always thought that described Kentucky as a whole, but to find specific examples on both sides here in my home county has surprised me. I guess I just never looked at the right places and explored the right issues before. That's too bad, but better now than never.

I also just found an account of soldiers from a USCT unit shaking a resident's apple trees to get apples. The person's wife was at home and told them there were enough apples on the ground, but they yelled at her and called her names. Something like that won't affect my overall project at all but was pretty neat to find and is a reminder that daily life did go on outside of pure military or political activities. (A colonel of a regiment wrote a quick note that steps had been taken to stop such depredations, but I have not found any specifics. I doubt any still exist.)

The more I research, the more fascinating and fun this project gets. I am quite lucky in that regard. This is truly enjoyable, and though my reading and studying of the war in general has slowed down in these recent years, my knowledge of the local situation during that time is much better. The several Cincinnati newspapers of the time provided a lot of coverage.


  1. It always comes down to how much one wants to dive in, and deciding when there is the point of finality. You could write one million words on Campbell County during the war, and yet there would still be more!

  2. Yep, but I never dreamed that a few years ago. I thought I would be lucky to find a couple hundred names, but I was too naive.


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