A boy tells his Batavia story

By Rosanna Hoberg

Last week’s historical column, “The war touches the town,” began the account given by James B. Swing of Batavia in 1916 of his experiences in the American Civil War, a memoir preserved by Mrs. Jean Hughey. The account follows here.

“I remember the organization of a company at Batavia for what became the Fifty Ninth Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. They would hold meetings in the Court House to procure volunteers. The fife and drums would play, and then a call would be made for volunteers, and men would go forward to a table and sign their names, so enlisting. When one would sign, the presiding officer would call out ‘Another Volunteer,’ and each time the fife and drums would play.

“I saw the enlisted men drill from time to time. One day they met in a hall — Jamieson’s Hall, it was called — to organize by electing officers. I went up and stood just inside the door, a little timid, to look and to listen. Davis Norris, a tall, fine-looking young man with a pleasant and impressive voice, which I have not forgotten, made a motion that Thomas M. Lewis be elected Captain of the Company. The motion was carried, 1 think, unanimously. I do not remember that any other person was placed in nomination. Davis Morris was a grandson of Thomas Morris, once a United States Senator from Ohio, and a great man and an abolition hero in his day.

“Thomas M. Lewis was a lawyer in Batavia. I knew him well for years after the war. He was a remarkable man, exceedingly bright, witty, clear-minded, an able lawyer, and a most kindly and gentle and genial man. He was an illegitimate son of one of our country’s greatest and most brilliant men. Because of his knowledge of his illegitimate birth, he was never married. He became quite dissipated, given to drink, perhaps also because of his birth. He was a good man, religiously inclined, quite religious when a young man, and always held firmly to the Christian faith, of which I have often heard him talk. He became Major of the Fifty-Ninth Regiment.

“I could relate some very interesting and characteristic stories of him as a soldier, really fine stories, but may do so in a little paper wholly devoted to him. The stories showing his kindly, sympathetic nature are as good as the best of the stories that are told of Lincoln. ‘Surely never did there live on earth a man of kindlier nature.’ I have a picture of his eminent father, which is a striking likeness of the son. The remarkable resemblance of the son to the father has always been a matter of comment by those who knew the son and were familiar with the face of the father as shown in the pictures of him, which are known to everybody.

“I remember the Batavia Brass Band, organized for and that went to the war with the Fifty-Ninth Regiment. For some time after the war, that band kept together, and it would play at funerals. It became quite the custom to have the band lead the funeral processions.

“I remember a regiment of Zouaves, I think, in and around Cincinnati, the Thirty-Fourth Ohio, that came out to an old Methodist camp meeting called ‘Teal’s Camp Ground’ near Olive Branch some three miles from Batavia, and that camped there for some time. It was a great experience for the Batavia boys to go to the camp ground and look at the soldiers in their peculiar Zouave uniforms. S.R.S. West was Major of the Regiment. He was the father of our honored Colonel S.A. West. Batavia also had soldiers in the Twelfth, the Eighty-Ninth, and the One Hundred and Fifty-Third and some other Ohio Infantry Regiments and some in the cavalry.

“I remember when the Batavia Company of the Fifty-Ninth Regiment went to Camp Dennison to be mustered into and to be trained for the service. Their leaving Batavia is clear in my mind. They did not march away, but went in wagons. It was a serious day in the village, and there were many tears.

“I recall much of the war news that came to us in the Cincinnati daily papers, The Commercial, The Gazette, and The Enquirer. I began very early to read the war news and used to read it aloud in the evening to a good but peculiar woman who kept house for us. I remember the killing of Colonel Ellsworth, which made a deep impression on the people. Colonel Ellsworth was killed in May, 186l. So early as that, I could read the papers with pretty good understanding, and I did read of his death and remember it to this day.”

James Swing’s memoir continues next week. Excerpted from History of Batavia, Ohio, 1814–1965, by Rosanna Hoberg. Some references are edited to reflect 2014 circumstances.

Batavia is celebrating its bicentennial this year, and The Clermont Sun is publishing a series of historic vignettes. The late Rosanna Hoberg, author, was a columnist and reporter for The Clermont Sun. This column was written in 1964.