In the June issue of the Crossroads, there was an article that Henny Evans transcribed from the Gallipolis Daily Tribune of 1928 that gave me a wake-up call. Having three gg grandfathers from Gallia who were Squirrel Hunters, I had done a considerable amount of research on the state minute-men, or so I had thought. Almost all references to the Squirrel Hunters, including the original discharges, tell how "Cincinnati was menaced by the enemies of our Union. David Tod, Governor of Ohio called on the Minute Men of the State and the Squirrel Hunters came by the thousands to the rescue. You [insert name] were one of them and this is your Honorable Discharge. September 1862.” So I just always assumed that my gg grandfathers had gone to Cincinnati. However, this article stated that E.N. Ridgway was with a group of Squirrel Hunters who were involved in the defense of Gallipolis and Point Pleasant. Huh? I decided that a little more research might not be a bad idea.
The term Squirrel Hunters no doubt comes from "squirrel hunts" that were organized in the early to mid nineteenth century. These squirrel hunts were based on a specific behavior pattern of gray squirrels that rarely occurs today – migrations. Squirrels would migrate like the proverbial lemmings, traveling in huge swarms, even swimming rivers. When a migration occurred in a local area, the residents would hurry up and arrange a hunting party to take advantage of it, as well as to save their crops from the horde of oncoming squirrels. Just keep this in mind as you read; I’ll get back to this.
On September 2, 1862, Governor Tod sent a proclamation “To the Loyal People of the River Counties: Our southern border is threatened with invasion. I have, therefore, to recommend that all the loyal men of your counties at once form themselves into military companies and regiments to beat back the enemy at any and all points he may attempt to invade our State. Gather up all the arms in the country, and furnish yourselves with ammunition for the same. The service will be of but few days’ duration. The soil of Ohio must not be invaded by the enemies of our glorious Government. David Tod, Governor.”
Shortly after sending the above proclamation, Governor Tod dispatched another dated the same, in which he ordered all able bodied loyal citizens to arm themselves immediately and depart at once for Cincinnati. He even ordered all railroad companies to carry the troops and that he would reimburse them for their passage. It’s about here that most books, magazines, and official papers just put the three dots for etcetera. However, for those of us in the river counties it leaves out two very important sentences. “It is not desired that any troops residing in any of the river counties leave their counties. All such are requested to organize and remain for the protection of their own counties.” So what was going on at this time?
General Kirby Smith was on his way through Kentucky and appeared to be heading toward Cincinnati, while at the same time General Loring was pushing through the western counties of Virginia and pushing Lightburn back towards Point Pleasant and Gallipolis.
So, here we are, back to the squirrel analogy: the Confederate army, dressed in their gray uniforms, were representative of the gray squirrels who were traveling in large groups, prepared to swim the river and create chaos on our soil. Our minute men were called upon to drop what they were doing and gather at once with whatever arms and ammunition they could find (many used their squirrel guns), and prepare to defend Ohio from the invasion.
While the Squirrel Hunter’s Discharge does indeed mention Cincinnati, the Ohio Legislature in 1863 passed a bill allowing for discharges to be given to all those “who responded to the call of the Governor, and went to our Southern border to repel the invaders, and who will be known in history as the 'Squirrel Hunters.'” So here, the Squirrel Hunters were now any man who defended Ohio’s border. Now I was hooked, and I wanted to know more, so off to the library and the Gallipolis Journal of September and October of 1862 to see what I could learn.
September 4, 1862: “We stop the press to announce the following Important order: TO ARMS! The following dispatch was received to-night.
Burnet House, Cincinnati, Sept. 2, 1862 To military committee, Gallipolis:
There is a great danger that the enemy will invade your county. Call out all the loyal men capable of bearing arms, organize them into companies and into regiments, and arm them as best you can. David Tod, Governor of Ohio.”
It just so happens that the editor of the Journal was also one of the captains of the local militia and one of the members of the Gallia County Military Committee. In the following issue he was beaming with pride over the county’s response. He wrote in his editorial:
“For the protection of the border, Gov. Tod has directed the calling out and organizing of the militia within the border counties. How nobly Gallia responded to it, was seen in the mass of able bodied men collected on our Public Square, on last Saturday [Sept. 6]. Although many companies had from ten to twenty miles to travel, yet by 11 A.M. not less than twenty five hundred men were on the ground.” He talks a bit about the good old days of militia mustering with “corn-stalk and broom-stick” guns, and “whiskey and fisticuffs,” and continues saying: “Weapons of death, replaced the former, and the prompt closing of liquor stops by the authorities, prevented the latter… With a merciless, daring foe, within less than a day’s travel, our militia were thoroughly alive to a sense of duty to their country.”
As if Harper hadn’t beamed enough, he continues, “Over 1300 men have already entered the army from this county. It is hardly to be doubted that fully 500 more failed to appear on Saturday, and yet on three day’s notice nearly three regiments of brave, hardy fighting men, step into rank to repel the insolent, cowardly thieves, who are only intent on the destruction of our homes, and plundering of our property.” He continues on for a few more paragraphs, though I will stop here.
In a letter dated September 14 and published in the Journal on the 18th, the author writes:
“Great anxiety is felt for the safety of our forces, as well as of Point Pleasant and Gallipolis. The militia [Squirrel Hunters] are flocking here from this and the surrounding counties. This border is in great danger. The enemy’s force is represented as being 10,000 strong, with a proportionate force of artillery.” Why such an alarm? Possibly because in that same letter the author mentioned, “Our forces shelled and destroyed Charleston [Virginia], two houses only being left.” 1 From what I could tell, it also looked like General Loring (CS) may have been pushing Gen. Lightburn (US) back toward Point Pleasant and Gallipolis – very likely there was some fear that the Rebels, should they reach Point Pleasant or Gallipolis, would take retaliation “an eye for an eye,” and destroy either one of the two northern sympathizing towns.
This pretty much confirms the story told in the 1928 article that Henny transcribed, the only difference being that more attention was focused on General Loring of the CS army than upon General McCausland, but part of that may have been that by 1928 McCausland was a somewhat local hero of the old Confederacy.
The Squirrel Hunters appear to have been in what they affectionately named “Camp Hardscrabble” 2 for about three days from September 14 until September 17 when they were dismissed to their homes. The threat from invasion through the western counties was over. There is no evidence that I was able to find that the Squirrel Hunters were ever involved in any fighting, though certainly their numbers showed good old northern determination to defend our border, and showed that we were a force to be reckoned with.
As much has been written about the Squirrel Hunters who went to Cincinnati, it will suffice my purpose to merely state that they were responsible for the building of the pontoon bridge, and the fortifying of the hills around Covington. As Confederate General Kirby Smith moved toward the city his advance guards reported back that the city was heavily guarded with around seventy thousand men. Smith changed his mind and turned back into Kentucky and less than a month later his Confederate forces would clash with the Union army in the Battle of Perryville.
My gg grandfathers, like most of the Squirrel Hunters, received their discharge on June 5, 1863 after it was determined that the threat of invasion had passed. Yeah, well… that’s another story for another day. The deepest invasion onto northern soil during the war would begin the next day, June 6, 1863 when General John Hunt Morgan began his journey in McMinnville, Tennessee, up through Kentucky, into Indiana, and across Ohio. This raid would result in the Battle of Buffington’s Island, and Morgan’s eventual capture in Columbiana County!
1. It is important to remember that Charleston was not the capitol of WV at this time, and would not be until after the war. According to the 1860 Charleston had 1,520 people while Gallipolis had 3,418.
2. Hardscrabble a place of barren or barely arable soil. Yep, unless one has river bottom, that would describe Gallia’s hard red clay, and most any farm with that red clay would be a hardscrabble farm.