The Civil War

By Daniel J. Vance

Mankato Times

It was a wrathful horde of Confederate cavalry clopping its way into Ohio on July 13, 1863, after having just heard about their country’s failed war efforts east and west: Gen. Robert E. Lee in the east was in full retreat mode after having been stymied at Gettysburg by Union Gen. Meade; and in the west, Lt. Gen. John Pemberton and his 30,000 half-starved Confederates had surrendered at Vicksburg to Union Gen. Grant after a long siege. Both devastating defeats, coincidentally and perhaps appropriately, occurred July 4.

The rebels were reeling and needed victories.

Simultaneously to Lee and Pemberton losing, Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan and perhaps 2,000 cavalrymen were butchering, burning bridges, and pillaging in southern Indiana, and southern Ohio would be next. One day after bypassing north of Cincinnati, the rebels rode into Mt. Orab, Ohio, 40 miles east. From there, one group split east towards nearby Sardinia, and the rest south towards the Ohio River and Georgetown.

My great-grandfather Joseph Vance, then age 10, watched wide-eyed as the rebels galloped past Vance property to torch White Oak Creek Bridge east of Mt. Orab. Less than an hour later, my maternal grandmother’s relatives in Sardinia watched the Rebs stop to eat doughnuts. My maternal grandmother also had relatives that owned land next to Ulysses S. Grant’s father in Georgetown. So began my Civil War fascination.

My connection with the War is greater than Great-Grandpa Joe. I’ve visited many times Harper’s Ferry (West Virginia), site of the Union’s worst defeat, where my great-grandfather’s older Vance brothers in the 60th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and 12,000 other Union soldiers surrendered. Harper’s Ferry was the site of John Brown’s crushed slave revolt in 1859.

In the ’80s and ’90s, when I lived in Baltimore, my sales territory at times roughly included Civil War notable cities Gettysburg, Harper’s Ferry, Manassas, Antietam, Winchester, Fredericksburg, Baltimore, Washington, and others. I visited Civil War-related sites there. I used to eat tuna subs in Gettysburg for lunch between sales calls. I’ve been to Ford’s Theater.

Finally, the Civil War was fought primarily over slavery. Sardinia, Ohio, where my parents were raised, was home to Rev. John B. Mahan, Presbyterian minister and co-founder of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society. He died in 1844 after having been imprisoned in Kentucky for being an Underground Railroad “conductor.” In nearby Ripley, the Rankin House overlooks the Ohio River. Rev. John Rankin, another Presbyterian minister, was the inspiration for part of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which turned many Northerners against slavery. I’ll write about all these people, too.

I’m not a professional historian, but only an amateur, who would like to share this space with you for a while. I have a good number of Civil War books to draw upon, including Grant, Lee, and Mosby memoirs. Moving forward with this column, which will be published irregularly, I’ll try featuring lesser-known, off-the-beaten path stories—more on people than events. Truly, I welcome other Civil War nuts and your feedback.

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