A COLLEGE DIVIDED: 1861-65
Up on the platform roof of the Main Building the chapel
bell was ringing. Across campus paths streamed the 150 boys of Old
Miami, and with them, on this April morning, some villagers of
Oxford. It was Saturday, April 13, 1861, and already the news was
spreading. "Charleston Harbor . . . General Beauregard . . . Fort
The Five men of the Faculty were in their places on the platform bench. The bell rang again and the door was bolted against later-comers, though the room was crowed to the walls. President John W. Hall stood above the open Bible on the lectern. He looked over the hushed room and began reading the 46th Psalm: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."
President Hall was a Southern man, born in North Carolina, educated in Tennessee, a preacher in Alabama before he came in 1854, to this Ohio college. He had not hidden his belief in states' rights, and already his loyalty to the Union had been questioned. He was a divided man, in the Northern college that numbered students from five Southern states. The war came close to him.
In the past half century Miami University had developed strong ties with the South. A former president, George Junkin, was now president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, and the father-in-law of a young Military Institute professor whom the nation would soon know as "Stonewall" Jackson. In the Miami class of 1842 was Joseph R. Davis of Mississippi, a nephew of Jefferson Davis; he would become a general officer of the Confederate army. A former professor of mathematics, Albert T. Bledsoe, from Virginia and West Point, was to become assistant secretary of war in Jefferson Davis' cabinet and to represent the Confederacy as a commissioner to England. J.J. McRae, Miami '34, had been governor of Mississippi 1854-58; now, a withdrawn member of the United States Congress, he would soon begin a term in the Confederate House of Representatives.
President Hall was short, sturdy man with grizzled beard and coarse hair tinged with gray. His shaved upper lip showed strong lines bracketing a stern yet kindly mouth. From under heavy brows his eyes looked out of a brooding sadness. As he read the Psalm, "Come behold the works of Jehovah; what desolation he hath made in the earth," his voice broke with emotion. Outside a song sparrow trilled in a redbud tree, but there was a somberness in the soft spring morning.
President Hall closed the Bible and spoke briefly of the news from Fort Sumter. After years of tension the bonds of Union had severed. At this moment guns were shaking the Carolina coast; how far that thunder would roll no man could say. The day of reckoning had come.
Then he clasped his hands and bent his head in a prayer. "Spare us, O God of Jacob, we beseech Thee, from the great calamity that threatens our Nation. Dispel these gathering clouds of civil strife. Let not the dire calamity of fratricidal war distract and divide our so long happy, prosperous and united people. Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever."
This was a Saturday morning, with no classes to follow. He urged the students to go to their rooms and study for the Monday recitations. The chapel was dismissed. Outside the students gathered in tight little groups. Southern boys apart from the others. No one was thinking of conic sections and Herodotus.
Shortly after noon the bell rang again, and again students crowded into the chapel. Voices called "Dodds--Dodds!" Ozro J. Dodds, a rangy senior from Indiana, editor of the Miami Journal, pushed to the platform.
"I do not know how you feel," he said, "but as for myself I have determined to offer my services to the governor of Ohio."
While shouts filled the room, Dodds began writing on a sheet of paper. Soon 160 names--students with some village youths among them--were signed on a roll of volunteers. Ozro Dodds had learned close-order drill under Lew Wallace in a Hoosier military company. He was chosen captain. Outside, the University Rifles fell into ragged ranks and began marching under the campus trees.
When Captain Dodds telegraphed Governor William Dennison, Miami 1835, word came back: "University Rifle Company accepted. Report at Camp Jackson, Columbus, Ohio, at the earliest practical moment." But many of the students were under age and had to withdraw. Thirty-one were left to sign the muster roll. Then, at a public meeting in the town hall, the ranks were opened to Oxford villagers.
For a week, with Captain Dodds counting cadence, they drilled under the budding April trees and marched up and down the unpaved High Street. Professor O. N. Stoddard sent to Cincinnati for rolls of silk, which the Oxford women made into a company banner. The girls of Oxford's three female seminaries, after some long sewing sessions, presented each man a shirt of bright red flannel. Meanwhile a squad of Southern students marched on the far side of the Main Building.
On Monday, April 22nd, in their red shirts, the University Rifles formed at the west end of the campus. The flag was presented and a committee of townswomen gave out pocket Testaments. President Hall made a farewell speech, asking the care of Providence on this company and all men caught in the mighty current of war.
The company marched to the homes of the faculty to hear their parting words. Professor David Swing, soon to begin his long and famous ministry in Chicago, stood in his doorway on East Street, a slight, grave, homely figure with the April sun lighting his pale and rumpled hair. They remembered what he said: "From what I have known of you in the classroom, I will expect to hear great things from you on the field. That flag you bear represents the principles for which your forefathers gave their lives. I hope you will all return, but if any of you fall on the field, you will die in a noble cause. While your ambition is only to save the Union intact and the flag from dishonor, yet history reveals that great times make great men."
Led by the Oxford brass band, cheered by townspeople, the company marched up High Street on its way to the station. There a group of Confederate students was waiting; together the boys of the North and South boarded the train. At the Hamilton junction, twelve miles away, the two groups parted. They shook hands, made their farewells, and climbed onto separate trains--bound for Columbus and Cincinnati.
Thirty-five students were in the University Rifle Company. Two of them would die in battle--Nathan P. Dunn at Chikcamauga, Joseph H. Wiley at Stone River. A dozen would lie wounded in field hospitals and prison camps. Strapping Bob Adams would be breveted brigadier-general before the war was over. Ozro Dodds would wear a lieutenant colonel's maple leaves. Two would be majors, five captains, three adjutants. Two others, fifteen-year-old Calvin J. Brice and James T. Whittaker, would be sent back, crestfallen, to college. But the war would wait for them. Whittaker served as naval surgeon three years later and Brice became a captain in the 180th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
The train crawled through the spring-rifle country--apple trees bursting white in the farmyards and dandelions spattering the pastures--with long stops at the junctions. It was after midnight when Captain Dodds marched his company through the dark Columbus streets to Goodale Park where sentries passed them into Camp Jackson. On a hillside under half-leafed trees they broke ranks and slept on the ground. They were in the army now.
Four days later, on April 27th, the University Rifles became Company B of the 20th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. They went on an inglorious mission, guarding railroad bridges in West Virginia and fearing they would never smell gunpowder.
At the end of their three-months service the 20th Ohio returned to Columbus and was mustered out. Most of Company B re-enlisted for three years' duty. Four men from Oxford entered the long term as commissioned officers, many of them in the 81st Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
After a winter in the field in northern Missouri the 81st Ohio was ordered to join General--the capture of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson had brought Union control of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. At St. Louis the 81st, freshly armed with short Enfields, embarked on the big steamer Meteor. Three days later they were steaming up the Tennessee.
The Meteor was loaded to the rails. On the main deck horses and mules stamped and lugged amid a jumble of wagons, artillery pieces, tiers of supplies and ammunition. The regiment bivouacked on the upper deck. For eight days they subsisted on hard tack and river water; then they broke into some sutler's stores of crackers, cheese and bologna. Above them in cabins on the texas deck was Governor Richard Yates of Illinois with a party of officers. Dick Yates had been a Miami student thirty years before, but he did not recognize the Oxford boys of the 81st.
At midnight on March 16th the Meteor churned into Pittsburgh Landing and tied up to a leaning sycamore. By daybreak the restless men had their baggage off and were huddled around campfire in the dripping woods.
For two weeks they drilled and waited while Grant's army was assembling. The men of the 81st heard that Buell's army was to join them for a sweep to the South; they knew that a Confederate army under Johnston and Beauregard was camped at Corinth, Mississippi, twenty-five miles away. But the March rains kept their minds on mud and misery. They all had diarrhea--"Tennessee quickstep"--from drinking river water.
At last the rains stopped and Easter morning, April 6th, broke radiantly over the hills. There was the fragrance of bacon and coffee, the tang of cooking fires, vireos and catbirds singing, the scent of peach blossoms on the wind. Whistling and humming, the men knocked the mud from their boots and cleaned their Enfields. They were standing inspection when the rumble came from over the hill-toward Shiloh Meeting house. Thunder grew in the cloudless sky. The rest of Easter day was hellish. Cannon shells crashed through the tree-tops. Horses plunged and screamed. The roar of musketry rose like a wall. Back--back the regiments were forced. They had no stopping-place; Grant had not prepared for defense, holding the West Point theory that fieldworks made men timid. When gunboats on the river found the range, Union shells came screaming.
At noon the 81st was ordered to Snake Creek to hold the bridge to Crump's Landing. Through the littered woods the Federals fell back. At last, in the long shadows of late afternoon, Buell's first division arrived and the lines stiffened. At dusk, over the road from Crumps' Landing, Lew Wallace crept in with his tardy division.
All night the big guns pounded while the men huddled under shattered trees. In the gray dawn Buell's fresh regiments attacked and the whole Union army got into motion. They pushed on doggedly, through cannonade and musketfire, around hillocks and through gashed ravines, past the scarred log Shiloh church and beyond it, retaking the field they had lost. Wrote one the Oxford boys: "No one who was on the march can ever forget it . . . . The dead in all manner of mutilation were everywhere intermingled with the hundreds of wounded. . . . Friend and foe were intermingled and it seemed that every man in gray had a companion in blue."
In the last weary charge on that awesome afternoon the 81st Ohio Regiment overran the 20th Tennessee and captured its colonel. While prisoners were being taken to the rear someone spoke of Oxford, and the captured colonel cried, "Is this the Oxford company?" Yes, he was told, and the colonel said that his son Joel Battle, Miami '59, who was his adjutant, had fallen earlier in the day. He asked the Oxford men to look for his body.
High-spirited and magnetic, Joel Allen Battle of Lavergne, Tennessee, had been a favorite on the Miami campus and a leader in the Erodelphian Literary Society. After graduation he married an Ohio girl and began studying law in Cincinnati. He was there when the news came from Fort Sumter. With a northern wife and a northern college, he expected to have a career in Ohio. Now he was a man divided, and he planned to go abroad till the war was over--after arranging his business in Tennessee. But the fervor in the South claimed him. His father was the colonel of the 20th Tennessee Confederate Infantry; Joe Battle became his adjutant.
Silence had come back to the Shiloh woods on Tuesday morning, April 8th, when John Lewis of the 41st Illinois Regiment and Cliff Ross of the 31st Indiana walked over the strewn ground where the Tennessee brigade had met the shock of Hurlbut's 4th division. They passed the huddled dead in blue and gray and were stopped by an upturned face. It was their Miami classmate, Joe Battle.
Through the broken woods they carried the body to the camp of the 31st Indiana. They mad a flimsy coffin out of cracker boxes. With a third Miami man, John R. Chamberlain of the 81st Ohio, they dug a shallow grave on sloping ground in the rear of the regimental camp. When they had smoothed the earth again Chamberlain slashed a white blaze on a black oak tree facing the grave. The body of Joe Battle was never moved.
Back on the Oxford Campus the students had formed a "Home Guard," marching to the commands of Robert White McFarland, professor of mathematics. In May, 1862, when President Lincoln called for 300,000 three-months volunteers, the college company became a part of the 86th Ohio Regiment. Sixty-six Miami students from five states served with Captain McFarland in West Virginia, guarding federal stores on the Ohio and holding a rebel force from crossing Cheat Mountain. At the end of September the regiment was mustered out; the college company returned to calculus and Greek antiquities at Miami.
The next summer, 1863, at a new call for six-months men, the 86th Ohio formed again, and Professor McFarland reported with a company of Miami students and Oxford townsmen. McFarland was commissioned lieutenant colonel. while the regiment was gathering at Camp Cleveland, Morgan's cavalry came up through Kentucky and began the daring sweep through southern Indiana and Ohio. The reorganized 86th Regiment joined the chase.
With stunning swiftness and surprise Morgan led his two thousand troops past Cincinnati. While gunboats patrolled the river and federal cavalry, artillery and infantry tried to cut him off, he raced northeastward. "If Morgan [had gone] one day longer," wrote one of his pursuers, "he could have watered his horses in Lake Erie." But he was not making for Lake Erie; he was headed for the upper fords of the Ohio. Seven hundred of his men were captured at Buffington Island, and the rest raced on. Twenty miles upstream three hundred got across the river before the federal gunboats came. Morgan led his remnant towards the Muskingum River below Zanesville. Here the Miami men joined the pursuit
With four companies of the 86th, Colonel McFarland boarded a steam boat at Zanesville and hurried down the midnight river. They were just too late. At daybreak, when they came in sight of Eagles port, the last of Morgan's horsemen were crossing the Muskingum. Landing his men a mile above the village, McFarland cut across country. Lines of dust in the summer sky showed him Morgan's movements--bearing away to the northeast. The 86th struck the road in time to glimpse the raiders' near files and to give them one volley at long range. At noon in another curtain of dust came the advance columns of Hobson's federal cavalry, and the 86th gave over. Morgan's men fled on. It was five days before they were over taken at Salineville, where Morgan surrendered.
The dusty prisoners were crowed into a train for Columbus, with Colonel McFarland in charge. Like a mathematician he counted them--565. At Columbus they marched between two lines of union troops to Camp Chase, and McFarland counted the same number. He had not lost a man.
Five months later, after a bleak campaign in the Kentucky mountains at Cumberland Gap, the 86th Ohio returned to Cleveland and was mustered out of service. Back in Oxford, Colonel McFarland, still in uniform, picked up his logarithm tables and began teaching. He talked freely of his war experience, mixing military memories with altitudes and azimuths.
In Miami University there were still some Southern students, from Union families, or families divided, in Kentucky and Tennessee. In the fall of 1863 a new boy came, a lean and sunburned youth of eighteen. Watchful and quiet, William M. Mayes of Pleasant Grove, Kentucky, took his place among the "Southern bunch."
One day Professor McFarland brought to his class in mensuration, surveying and navigation a perpetual calendar he devised. It could be used for thousands of years back, adjusted for Old Style or New Style, and for thousands of years ahead; yet it was compact enough to carry in a pocket. To demonstrate it, McFarland offered to fix the day of Paul Revere's or Perry's Victory on Lake Erie or the rout of Morgan's horse thieves at Buffington Island.
At the mention of Morgan, Billy Mayes' head came up. His knuckles clenched white and he shot a look at the open classroom door. McFarland was still wearing his uniform with its double row of Union buttons. His strong gray eyes swept the room and settled on the startled face of Billy Mayes. He held up the calendar device. What date would the boys like to verify?
Mayes was a good student, alert and curious, but now he closed up like a horse touched with a frosty bit. He stared at the floor, his hands twisting a pencil and muscle flickering in his cheek. He did not watch the demonstration that fixed the day of Morgan's surrender.
Thoughts wander in a classroom, but no one else ever sat in the old mathematics room with the thoughts of Billy Mayes. He could see the hay wagons creaking into Burkesville on the Cumberland-a mound of hay on a bed of loaded rifles-and Morgan riding at the head of the columns four abreast to the crossing at Turkey-Neck Bend. From the rail of the captured Louisville Packet J. J. McCoombs, with the horses stamping on the deck behind him, he could watch the Indiana shore come up, dense and green and hostile. At midnight a file of horsemen, lost on the edge of Cincinnati, drifting, to find slaver dropped from horses' mouths; while they halted men fell out of the saddle, dead with sleep. In long morning shadows the dusty file was singing
"I'll bet ten cents in specieWhile plundered shoes and bolts of calico swung from their pommels. On the bank of the big river he could see the water lapping, feel the lash of willow branches and then the coolness of the water and his aching arms pulling him toward the Kentucky shore. . . . At home in Pleasant Grove his mother fed him, laid out clean clothes and burned his raider's uniform. In September his father, a Union man, brought him across the Ohio to college. Now Bill Mayes, an uncaptured, unparoled Confederate soldier, sat in the Northern room avoiding the eyes of a Union officer who had counted Morgan's men on the way to prison.
that Morgan wins the race"