By DAVID GREEN
What was it that called the men of Ohio to war in 1860? How could an American take up arms to shoot at a fellow U.S. citizen?
“Slavery was just a small part of it. We never saw slavery until we went into Tennessee. We Ohioans didn’t care that much about slavery. We fought to keep the Union in one piece.”
That was the opinion of a Union officer who spoke to Fayette fifth and six grade students at the Opera House May 8.
When a Confederate soldier took his turn on the stage, he explained the interference the south was receiving from Washington, D.C.
“I’ll tell you why we fought,” he said, pointing to the man in the blue uniform. “He invaded my country. He came into Tennessee. He was from the United States of America. The people from the north came down to my country to tell me how to live.”
“This is our country and you don’t have the right to leave it,” the Union officer fired back. “It was our patriotic duty to keep the country together.”
Ohio contributed the third highest number of soldiers to the Union cause, and that includes some women who dressed as men in order to fight. Several underage boys wrote the number 18 on a slip of paper and put it in their shoe. Then, when asked, they could honestly say they were “over 18.”
The Ohio 21st was a diverse group, drawing citizen soldiers from the Michigan border down through Defiance and Findlay.
They fought in Kentucky and Tennessee and down into Alabama. Then they traveled back to Tennessee, and once more into Alabama before joining Sherman’s grand march to the sea through Georgia. They were serving in North Carolina when the war ended.
“The 21st walked a lot of miles up and down some pretty big hills. You have to pack pretty light to climb those hills. We had wagons with supplies until the Johnnies burned them.”
They also lost a lot of pack horses and soon everything had to be carried by back in a knapsack. A smaller haversack contained three to five days of food. Without refrigeration, bad food led to sickness and death for many soldiers.
Wool jacket and pants, along with long underwear, were worn year around. Clothing generally lasted six months before it had to be replaced.
Leather shoes included leather soles that often wore out in three months time. A wide-brimmed hat kept sun off the neck and rain out of the face.
The soldiers pointed out the differences in the uniforms of the North and the South, and also one similarity: the pants. Confederate soldiers took Union pants while on patrol or from captured supply trains.
“They’re better than mine,” the Confederate soldier explained.
Students finished the session by asking some questions.
• What did you do around the campfire?
“You don’t want to know. We did a lot of singing and letter writing.”
• When you ran out of ammunition, what would you do?
“A supply train was at the back and a runner would be sent to the rear. In one battle, the runner went back and the train was gone. We started searching the dead and wounded for ammunition.”
• Was there ever a shortage of food?
“Often, especially in the south. Our supply trains were weaker there. We ate hard tack and we were lucky to have that. If we were lucky, there would be weevils in the food. Insects were eaten sometimes, especially by the South near the end of the war.”
The Confederate officer told students what a soldier once wrote home in a letter: War is months and months of boredom punctuated by moments of hell.