The brave home guards

By Rosanna Hoberg

An account by James B. Swing of Batavia of his experiences in the American Civil War, related in 1916, began two weeks ago and continues here.

“I remember well the Morgan Raid in 1863. There was great excitement in Batavia for several days before Morgan’s soldiers reached the village. We knew of their having crossed the Ohio River into Indiana and of their march through the state of Indiana into Ohio, and we were constantly hearing news of their approach through Hamilton County and into Clermont County. The main body of them did not come to Batavia, but passed through New Boston (Owensville) four miles north of Batavia, and went on that way to Williamsburg seven miles east of Batavia.

“About one hundred men came to Batavia. They got there late in the afternoon of a July day, towards evening. All the day long in Batavia, the excitement had been intense. The people feared that most of their property might be taken and imagined many serious things. Nearly all the horses in the village were taken out and hidden in the ravines, in the woods, or wherever there might be a good hiding place.

“Batavia was the County Seat, and the County Treasury was there. The Treasurer, upon advice of leading citizens, took all the money out of the treasury and went with it in a buggy by way of New Richmond to Cincinnati. Many people buried their silverware and other valuables in their gardens under currant bushes, or wherever they thought best.

“In the afternoon there was talk of defending the village against the attack or approach of the enemy. Colonel William Howard, an old soldier of the Mexican War who had been Lieutenant Colonel of the Fifty-Ninth Regiment in the Civil War, but had resigned, a lawyer and a former member of Congress, called together a number of the citizens, as many as were physically able, and organized them into a company of ‘Home Guards,’ as he called them. I remember he had them formed in order in front of the Court House. Two or three, perhaps a few more than that, were armed with shotguns. The rest of them were wholly unarmed.

“Colonel Howard began a speech to them. I stood on the sidewalk and heard it. I remember his telling them that if armed, they would be able to defend the place. That all they lacked was arms. Just as he said that, I saw Uncle Wesley Perkins come riding up Main Street as fast as his horse could run, waving his hat, and shouting, ‘The Rebels are coming!’ and in less time than it takes me to tell it, the Company of Home Guards disappeared from sight. I have never since seen such a sudden and complete disappearance. Where they went I could not tell. It was all so quick. Almost in a minute, I seemed to be the only person on the street. In a little while, however — in a few minutes — the people began to appear again, and in a few more minutes Morgan’s men were in the village.

“They came riding in a body up the main street, and very quickly they had men posted, pickets, I suppose, at the ends of all the streets. In a short time they had scattered about the streets looking for horses, but finding very few, if any. I remember they found a pony belonging to Mrs. Howard, Colonel Howard’s wife, a lovely woman, in the bathroom of her home. They took it out and looked it over, but concluded, I believe, that it was too small to be of any use to them, and as Mrs. Howard threw her arms around the pony’s neck and begged them not to take it, they left it with her. That evening or the next morning, I heard a great deal of talking and laughing about the incident.

‘‘When Morgan’s men were in the village, the omnibus that made daily trips to and from Cincinnati came in. The driver, Mr. ‘Whig’ Holloman, a noble fellow, had been warned before he reached the village that the Confederates were there. But he came in anyway. He drove up Main Street and stopped in front of the village tavern. Immediately the Confederates took possession of his four horses and opened the mail bag. I stood on the other side of the street and saw them unhitch the horses and go through the mail. I believe they got no mail of any value. It was said that tears filled Holloman’s eyes when they took his horses, of which he was very fond.

“The stores of the village were all closed, and so far as I know, the Confederates did not disturb any of them. The only horses they got, that I know of or heard of, were the omnibus horses. They were all well-behaved men. They destroyed nothing and took nothing of any value, except the horses. They talked pleasantly with the people of the village. Mrs. Martha Talley, an aunt of my wife, a noble and patriotic woman of strong heroic spirit, took one of the soldiers severely to task for his disloyalty to the Union. Among other things she said, ‘You poor, misguided wretch.’ He took no offense at her vigorous words, just smiled in good humor.”

James Swing’s memoir continues next week. Excerpted from History of Batavia, Ohio, 1814–1965, by Rosanna Hoberg.