An official ‘Squirrel Hunter’s’ certificate
Written by Ned Lodwick, U.S. Grant Homestead Association
“The Squirrel Hunters”
In the early days of 1862 the status of the Commonwealth of Kentucky was uncertain. Officially, Kentucky was a border state that had large economic ties with the North, but she was also a slave state with strong social ties to the South. The people and the leaders of Kentucky were walking a tightrope.
The state of Ohio had to prepare to protect itself if Kentucky seceded. Cincinnati was a likely target for any Confederate attack so the defenses of the state started there. Forts were constructed by soldiers and volunteer civilians in Northern Kentucky to form a perimeter around the city. The names of some of these forts still remain on area towns to remind us of that era. Ft. Thomas and Ft. Wright are just two of the forts that were manned by over 6,000 soldiers to protect the city.
In August of 1862, Confederate General Kirby Smith and a force of 6,500 soldiers began its invasion of eastern Kentucky. General Morgan and his cavalry were already on a raid in the state and panic was the only term to express the thoughts of the people of Cincinnati. The commander of the Union forces defending the city was the brash General William ‘Bull’ Nelson. He was not going to wait for the Confederates to attack; he took his force out of the forts and marched south to meet the enemy. On August 29th and 30th, 1862, the two armies fought at Richmond, Kentucky. The Union forces were soundly defeated. Nothing was left to stop the Rebel advance towards Cincinnati.
Twenty-five year old Major General Lew Wallace (later the author of ‘Ben Hur’) took over the command of the defense of Cincinnati but he commanded only a handful of troops. Ohio Governor Tod saw the seriousness of the situation and released this proclamation, “Our southern border is threatened with invasion. I have therefore to recommend that all loyal men of our 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 county, and finish yourselves with ammunition for the same. The service will be of but a few days’ duration. The soil of Ohio must not be invaded by the enemies of our glorious government”.
By this time the Ohio National Guard was completely depleted of soldiers. There were no militia troops ready to defend the state’s borders. Boys to young, men to old, and men with medical conditions that had kept them out of Federal service were the only ‘troops’ available. The response to the Governors call was overwhelming. Nearly 16,000 volunteers, 1,300 from Brown County (more than any other county), poured into Cincinnati within a few days. These men were dressed mostly in hunter’s clothes and were armed with all sorts of rifles and shotguns.
There was only a single pontoon bridge made from coal barges and planks across the Ohio River at Cincinnati. As the volunteers walked across on September 2nd and 3rd a newspaper man watched the procession then remarked to another reporter that they looked like, ”a bunch of squirrel hunters headed to the woods”. The name stuck. The ‘Squirrel Hunters’ manned the empty forts and when Morgan’s scouts returned to General Smith they reported that the earthworks were formidable and they bristled with riflemen. The Confederates never made an attempt to attack and the ‘Siege of Cincinnati’ was over.
No shots were fired, no one was killed or wounded but the volunteers had filled an important need. General Wallace had begged for troops and had received them but now that the danger was over he had another problem, he needed these undisciplined troops to go home, and their departure couldn’t be soon enough for the General.
Eventually the ‘Squirrel Hunters’ returned to their stores, farms, and other jobs and told stories of their glorious defense of Cincinnati. Then on March 11, 1863 the Ohio General Assembly made the name ‘Squirrel Hunters’ official and authorized the printing of “discharge certificates for the patriotic men of the State, who responded to the call of the Governor, and went to the southern border to repel the invader, and who will be known in history as the ‘Squirrel Hunters’. In 1908 the Ohio Legislature voted to pay each surviving ‘Squirrel Hunter’ $13, one months pay for a Civil War soldier.
Our country has always been blessed by brave patriots that would step forward in our times of our greatest need and the ‘Squirrel Hunters’ of 1862 were such men. A historical marker in their honor is in the yard of the Union Township Library in Ripley.