A near hanging in Batavia

An account by James B. Swing of Batavia of his experiences in the American Civil War, related in 1916, began May 1 and continues here.

By Rosanna Hoberg

“Hobson’s men spent nearly the whole day in the village. The men and the horses occupied and crowded all of the village streets. Evidently they did not desire to overtake Morgan at that time.

“It was said afterward that their idea was to catch up with him when he should reach the Ohio River, and there capture his forces, which they did. They spent the time in Batavia resting. The women of the village cooked for them all day, using up all the flout and potatoes and other provisions that could be had. The soldiers, tired and hungry, ate with evident pleasure. After they had eaten, they would lie down in the yards and on the sidewalks on blankets, and go to sleep.

“That morning the people of the village, who had hidden their horses from Morgan’s men, brought them in, not thinking that the Union soldiers would take them. But they took every horse in the village. Their own horses were tired, and many of them had sore backs. Horses with sore backs the soldiers left with the people, in exchange for the fresh horses. One soldier, who ate dinner at our house, and who had gotten a fresh horse from somebody, left his sore-backed horse with me. It was a very good horse. We doctored his sore back until it was well, and I enjoyed riding with him for several weeks. But soon a Government agent came along and took all the Government horses that had been left by Hobson’s men. They belonged to the United States and were branded on their shoulders with the letters ‘U.S.’ I was very much disappointed to have to give up the horse that had been given to me. All the people whose horses were taken by the soldiers were afterward paid for them by the Government, as what came to be known as ‘Morgan’s Raid Claims.’

“The merchants of the village all closed their stores soon after the soldiers began to come. Only one of the stores was at all disturbed. There was a ‘dry goods and grocery’ store on the corner opposite our house (the site of Wilson Realty) kept by a violent Confederate sympathize, a very excitable and violent man, especially violent in his talk; not otherwise dangerous.

“For that day, however, he endeavored to behave himself well, and his wife cooked all day for the soldiers. Along early in the afternoon, an officer who had had dinner at his home, prevailed upon him to come down to the store, that he might get some letter paper and a pen to do some letter writing. I saw him go into the front door with the soldier. There was a crowd of soldiers on the sidewalk. The merchant hesitated a little about opening the door, but he did open it, and as he and the officer stepped in, a lot of soldiers pushed in behind them and began to help themselves to such store goods as they needed. They particularly took boots and shoes. I saw several of them later sitting on the sidewalk, putting on their new boots and shoes.

“The merchant was very excited and angry. The officer finally got them out of the store and it was closed and locked again. The men really took only such things as they greatly needed. The merchant went down the street to the Court House corner, raving about the wrong that had been done him, denouncing the soldiers and Lincoln and the Union cause in a loud voice, and with most bitter and abusive language. A good many soldiers became incensed and declared they would hang the man.

“They accordingly got a rope and a store box for him to stand on and were actually about to hang him to a limb of the sycamore tree on the Court House corner, and I think, would have done it, but my future wife’s father, Judge Philip B. Swing, interfered and made an effective appeal to them and prevailed upon them to let the man go. It was an exciting time for a while. That was the only serious incident of the day.

“In the latter part of the afternoon, the soldiers left us. They marched up Main Street, those in the side streets and cross streets taking their places in the column in Main Street as it moved. They were a fine sight to see as they marched away — real war-worn soldiers of the Union — a long column — riding easily and in perfect order, their flags flying, their carbines slung over their backs, their sabers gleaming in the afternoon sun. The artillery was in the rear and the guns were an interesting sight.

“It had been the greatest day old Batavia had ever seen. It was a great day in the life of a village boy.”

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

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.