Officers of the 11th OVC on the steps of “the Old Bedlam” at Ft. Laramie, Wyoming. Lt. Caspar Collins is standing, bottom row, second from left with dog at his feet.
Written by Ned Lodwick, U.S. Grant Homestead Association
“The 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry”
The 11th OVC was recruited in October, 1861 from Highland, Brown, Adams, Clinton, and Greene Counties. They mustered in at Camp Dennison under Lt. Col. Wm. O. Collins, an attorney, from Hillsboro. His 19 year old son was commissioned a lieutenant.
The Regiment was divided into two battalions of 500 men each.
The First Battalion left Camp Dennison in April of 1862, on steamboats, without their horses. The 11th reached Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas on the 13th and were there when Quantrill’s Confederate Raiders burned and massacred Lawrence, Kansas. The 11th was sent, on foot, in pursuit of the mounted raiders and after a futile 150 mile march were recalled. The First Battalion received wagons and mule teams but no horses at Leavenworth but were none the less ordered to march to Ft. Laramie, 700 miles across the plains. The march from April 26 – May 30, 1862 was made under the worst of conditions. The streams were swollen and dangerous, they were beaten by storms of rain, hail, and snow. The men had no tents or cover of any type. Six troopers died of exposure.
Once at Ft. Laramie the 400 men of the First Battalion finally received their mounts but to their amazement they were all untrained. It took about a month to turn the green horses into cavalry mounts. Now the 11th could begin the job they had been ordered to do, protect the Pacific Telegraph line and the Overland Trail from Western Nebraska and Kansas through Wyoming and Idaho to Utah and Oregon. Four hundred men to protect a thousand miles of wire and road against the entire Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe Nations.
Col. Collins kept a force of 200 at Ft Laramie and stationed the rest of the battalion in units of 2-20 soldiers at the Overland Stage stations along the trail. These stations were placed every 9-15 miles along the route to replace horses for the stages that carried the mail and as rest stops for the passengers.
The Second Battalion was stationed at Camp Dennison until August of 1863. During that time the only time they came close to combat was during the night of July 12th, 1863 when they were called out to search for Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s Raiders. The 11th’s search was in vain because the raiders were already past the area before they had received their orders to assemble.
Both battalions were at Ft. Laramie by the fall of 1863 bringing the Regiment up to a strength of 800 troopers. At nearly the same time the Overland Stage Line changed their route and now the 11th had nearly 1,800 miles of routes to protect. Stretched thinly the Regiment built forts along the routes. The 11th built every fort along the trails except Ft. Laramie. The 19 forts, including Ft. Collins, Colorado were completed in a period of six months.
The winter of 1864-1865 was extremely cold. It was 30 below zero on the evening of February 4th when Mud Springs Station telegraphed that they were under attack by 1,500 braves. Col. Collins led 150 troopers out of Ft. Laramie within hours and made the 110 mile ride in 32 hours. The Regiment charged through the Indians to relieve the 16 defenders of the station. The attackers had increased to 2,500 by this time and a desperate battle raged for 24 hours. Finally the Indians pulled away leaving 7 men of the 11th dead. Col. Collins was ready to return to Ft. Laramie until he found out that the Indians had taken government property, 30 horses. Sgt. Amberson Shaw of Georgetown said after the battle that, “the Ripley boys fought well.”
It took two days of hard riding to catch up to the Sioux at Rush Creek. By now over 3,000 braves stood before the 135 troopers of the 11th. Another daylong battle ensued costing the 11th six more troopers. The Indians pulled away again and Col. Collins again considered a pursuit but after learning that his son, Lt. Caspar Collins, had recovered the stolen horses during the battle and that the Indians were headed to the Powder River and 10,000 braves he said, “I felt it was prudent to return to Ft. Laramie.”
The Civil War ended in April of 1865 but the 11th continued to protect the wires and trails. On July 26th, 1865 the ‘Fort at the Bridge over the Platte River’ was surrounded by 3,000 Sioux and Cheyenne. A supply wagon and 20 troopers were expected to arrive at the fort any time. Lt. Collins and 25 men volunteered to ride out to escort the wagons back to the fort. Lt. Collins and his small command clattered across the bridge at a full gallop and in a few minutes realized the futility of their mission. Lt. Collins ordered the men back to the fort and fought at the rear of the column during the retreat. Twenty four men made it safely back to the fort but Collins, one trooper, and the twenty men of the supply wagon were killed. In November of 1865 the Army renamed the post Ft. Caspar. In 1936, the citizens of Caspar, Wyoming rebuilt the fort which still stands today. Col Collins brought his son’s body home to Hillsboro where he lies today under a tombstone that reads “Died in a forlorn attempt to save his comrades.”
The 11th OVC was finally mustered out on July 14, 1866. No better evidence of the regiments courage and ability can be given than the fact that during their time of protecting the telegraph lines, from the summer of 1862 through July of 1866, the communications were never interrupted for more than 24 hours. During the war they lost 3 officers and 20 enlisted men killed in battle and 1 officer and 60 enlisted men killed by disease for a total of 84 lost.
For more information see www.ohiocivilwar.com