Monday, January 14, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Sunday, Jan. 12, 1862

The Expedition

As they marched along, the soldiers joked and sang in German, but they were not in Germany. They were members of the 37th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, the third regiment raised in Ohio that was composed primarily of German immigrants and their descendents. Commanding the 37th was Col. Edward Siber, described as “an accomplished German officers who had seen active service in Prussia and Brazil.” (Pictured here: a typical Ohio soldier, not necessarily of the 37th regiment)

Most of Siber’s men had been recruited in Toledo, Cleveland, and Chillicothe, but as many as 10 different Ohio counties were represented in the ranks. German regiments had a reputation for orderliness and efficiency and, like all new regiments, were hungry for action.

Mustered in on October 2, 1861, the regiment had been ordered to the District of the Kanawha in western Virginia. After settling into winter quarters near Point Pleasant, almost within sight of Ohio, the men were expecting a long, dull winter. Suddenly, however, the regiment was ordered to undertake—all by itself—what soldiers called an “expedition.” An expedition meant you were venturing into dangerous country to see what might happen and perhaps to do some damage to the enemy.

Last evening, Colonel Siber had been warned that 60 to 70 Confederate sympathizers had formed a guerrilla band they called the “Black Striped Company.” The 37th Ohio departs today on a long, hard march of 80 miles south to Logan Court House.

They find trouble quickly. A detachment of four of the 37th’s companies, led by Maj. Charles Ankele, finds itself fired upon by “every house” on the opposite side of the unfordable Guyandotte River. When the captain of Company B is killed, however, the men can stand it no longer. They throw themselves in to the river, swim to the other side, disarm the residents, and take some prisoners.

Colonel Siber reunites the various detachments he had sent out, and marches into Logan Court House after a skirmish between Siber’s scouts and number of bushwhackers and horsemen. One of the 37th’s corporals is killed. The enemy retreats to a nearby mountain that overlooks the town.

Realizing he couldn’t hold the town “without more sacrifice of life,” the colonel orders his men to burn the court house and other public buildings the rebels had been using as barracks.

Colonel Siber and the 37th will return to their winter quarters at Camp Clifton near Point Pleasant. He reports that, excepting one loyalist settlement, “the whole population in [the region traveled] are in the highest degree hostile to the Union.” It seems that western Virginia, for all its desire to the join the Union, still has plenty of enemies left in it.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WAR EFFORT: Not only is Lincoln growing weary of generals who won’t attack when urged to, so are a number of important officers. They and the public can’t understand why McClellan’s well-trained and equipped Army of the Potomac is going nowhere. The officers met yesterday to discuss the problem and again today, this time with members of Lincoln and several members of his Cabinet. McClellan, who is still recovering from a serious illness, fears he is being undermined and drags himself to the White House to defend his command.

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—less than 3½ years from now!—will be the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, April 12 was the day Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

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