Early in the Civil War, when the South had an advantage and the Union lacked decisive leadership, a group of Northwest Ohio soldiers volunteered to infiltrate enemy lines, steal a Confederate train, destroy a railroad and cut vital supply lines.
Andrews' Raiders are well-known among Civil War historians for their reckless, ill-fated raid. While it failed and eight men were executed as spies, the bol
d move boosted Union morale. President Abraham Lincoln awarded the first congressional medals of honor to 22 of the 24 men for bravery beyond the call of duty.
Andrews' Raiders were later memorialized by Hollywood in The Great Locomotive Chase, one of the first movies made.
Now, they're remembered again in a new book by local historians Larry Michaels and Jeff Eversman. In The Civil War and East Toledo, the authors recount war tales of our local soldiers.
Among them are Wilson Brown, conductor of the train stolen by The Raiders; Lt. George Scheets, future mayor of Toledo; Eli Navarre, son of scout Peter Navarre; Christopher Finkbeiner, great-grandfather of Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and John Ashbrook who captured the notorious spy Belle Boyd known as the Rebel Joan of Arc.
Their stories and 100 more make the book a unique resource for those interested East Toledo history. Here's one snippet from Abram Vance Smith, a native of Stoney Ridge, and an inmate at Andersonville Prison. He wrote, "I contracted scurvy while in these southern prisons and my right arm was amputated after the close of the war to save my life. When I came out of prison I was a living skeleton. I weighed 65 pounds. My normal weight when taken prisoner was 140 pounds."
The first-person accounts of these East Toledoans and more than 100 others were compiled by the Hyatt Ford Post. When local history buff Jeff Eversman joined the James B. McPherson Camp #66, Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War a few years ago, he discovered the group was keeper of the records of the Ford Post which disbanded when the last Civil War veterans died. At about the same time, historian Fred Folger uncovered a volume of letters written by East Toledoans Horace and Orange Howland to their father Ezra. He donated this to the East Toledo Historical Society and they came to the attention of Larry Michaels, author of two local history books.
Eversman and Michaels collaborated this winter to publish the archives. Michaels wrote the text and included an overview of Ohio's involvement in the war. Eversman tackled the arduous job of transcribing by hand the old, faded letters the Toledo-Lucas County Library deemed too fragile to photocopy. It took him 29 trips, two to four hours each trip and three ink pens. Once done, Michaels inputted the data and edited the Howland letters. It is these letters that provide the most compelling reading in the book. Not from the retelling of battle scenes but for their insights into the daily life of a soldier.
The Howlands wrote their father frequently, sometimes on a daily basis, about camp life and their concerns about business interests at home. Horace continually asked his father about progress on the building of the Cherry Street Bridge which would link Toledo with Utah( East Toledo). In a few letters, the Howlands provided glimpses into their philosophy. Horace railed against the Rebels the Copperheads. He called the Rebels traitors and said this about the anti-war faction that wanted peace by compromise, "No! No! you traitors in the rear, grasping for power, who would sell your country and your souls for office, do not try to make our Union soldiers responsible for your traitorous acts. Do not try to make the people at home believe that we of the army sympathize with your hellish plots."
Orange Howland, while a supporter of abolition, wrote this after his tour of a number of Southern cities, "The Negroes all understand that they are free and think that freedom is idleness. They have nothing more to do, but seek to be supported while doing nothing...The Negroes are going to cause a great deal of trouble. They now leave their former homes and masters no matter how good they were, flock around the cities, indulge in all sorts of vice, and nearly perish for want of food and clothing. You do not know anything about it in Ohio...Still for this I am glad they are freed, if they can be got under some sort of rules or discipline, not however, for their own good, for I think they were happier while slaves and more comfortable than they are now or will be for several generations..."
This generalization about race has been passed down through generations. It was probably a typical opinion of many Union soldiers. Today, more enlightened minds would call these Negroes displaced refugees and social service organizations would have been enlisted to train them and find housing and jobs.
The authors have made a significant contribution to local history. The book is for sale for $10 at River East Flowers in the Weber Block and The Andersons at W oodville Mall.