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History in the Hills: Civil War impacted area

February is typically a slow time at Historic Fort Steuben. We are generally recovering from the excitement of the holiday season and looking forward to months of warmer weather.

This year, though, we are getting ready to unveil an exhibit on the Civil War that will open Sunday and run through March 20. What makes this exhibit personally exciting for me is that it emphasizes actual artifacts and objects from the time.

Thanks to our donors, Lewis Anile and James Ludwig, who generously loaned their incredible Civil War collections, we can welcome visitors here to experience the Civil War through these objects first hand.

In our area, the war was not fought as it was, for example, in Virginia or in Pennsylvania, not including Morgan’s Raid, of course. We in this area were spared the big battles on our soil. But that doesn’t mean that the war did not impact us. In Hancock County, 466 men went to fight in the Civil War. In addition, the Home Guard organized as the Panhandle Grays in Hancock County consisted of 59 men at its height in 1862. But it was one Holidays Cove native, named James Andrews, who made quite an impact during the Civil War.

James was born here in the Cove in 1829 and after living quite the colorful life of a teacher, brick maker and house painter among other professions, ended up in Kentucky at the outbreak of war. Jack Welch in his book, “The History of Hancock County,” explained that Andrews, during a trip to Louisville, was “contacted by a Northern officer who suggested he become a spy for the Union. He was a strong Union sympathizer, though he did profess to be a Secessionist.” After many successful trips South selling, as Welch explains, needed medical supplies, Andrews gained access to southern military positions, and upon his return to the northern lines, would report to Union officials of all he learned.

By April 1862, Andrews had been chosen to lead a group of 22 men from the 2nd, 21st and 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry to travel to Marietta, Ga., and capture a locomotive called the General and bring it north, burning bridges and disrupting rail lines as it made its way to the Union lines. The group did succeed in capturing the locomotive, but the mission ultimately failed, but not before an exciting and daring attempt by Andrews and his men to move the locomotive north. In 1956, Walt Disney memorialized the event in his movie “The Great Locomotive Chase,” staring Fess Parker.

Andrews never returned to Holidays Cove. He was captured and hung by the Confederacy for treason on June 7, 1862. You can still visit the General today as it is permanently parked in the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Ga. Coincidentally enough, one of Andrews men who had taken an active role in the operation to capture the locomotive was William Pittenger, a Jefferson County native. Due to his bravery during the raid, Pittenger received the fifth Medal of Honor ever to be awarded in United States History.

In Jefferson County, thousands of soldiers fought for the Union during the Civil War. According to the “1897 Centennial Souvenir of Steubenville and Jefferson County,” 20 companies were organized in Steubenville and Jefferson County in addition to Jefferson County soldiers who were in 45 other companies. Jefferson County has an impressive war record to be sure and it is said that there was “not a battle fought of any importance in which some of Jefferson County’s sons did not take part.” But the efforts of those on home front also are of great importance.

One of my favorite stories about Steubenville during the war years is that of the sending off of the first group of Steubenville soldiers, within a short time after Abraham Lincoln called on 75,000 volunteers to march south and squash the rebellion. The excitement of that specific time and place in Steubenville was captured by Emelda Junkin Donaldson in her address to the Fort Steuben Daughters of the American Revolution in 1922, at a dinner at the Fort Steuben Hotel.

Donaldson was at the time of the address 81 years old, but had lived and experienced the Civil War in Steubenville firsthand. Addressing the crowd, she related that the old bell on the top of the courthouse rang to muster the townsfolk to enlist. That bell today is in Union Cemetery. The prominent ladies in town also wanted to show their support for the war effort and soon formed the Woman’s Soldiers Aid Society.

Their first office was located on Market Street, east of where the fountain at Fort Steuben Park is located today. Upon the disembarkation of the first wave of soldiers from Steubenville, amid the parade of soldiers and civilians marching down Market Street to the station at the foot of the hill, the group stopped at the Woman’s Aid Society.

Here speeches were made, and a handsome flag furnished by the society was given to the men in addition to a Bible from Mrs. Beatty on behalf of the Bible Society. Little did the soldiers know that the war would last almost four more years from that moment.

Not unlike their descendants in World War II, the Woman’s Aid Society did its part to help the war effort. Uniforms and clothing were made by the group to aid the soldiers, and due to the fact that at that time, Steubenville was a center for woolen manufacturing, supplies were readily on hand. Donaldson explains that jellies and fruits were saved in case there was need. The ladies helped the families of those soldiers in the service who were in need, helping to secure jobs, write letters and generally advise the families in solving perplexing questions. Donaldson waxes warmly of the efforts of Steubenville folk during the Civil War and her address is worth the read. One can find it preserved for posterity on the Jefferson County Historical Associations website.

The Civil War, although long over, was and continues to be, a national defining event in our history. The struggles which our ancestors endured in fighting that fight can no longer be passed down in their own words by the living, except by the objects they left behind. Anile, summed it up powerfully in a quote that is on display as part of his collection at the fort this month: “It has been said that history is a way to live extra lives, to cheat the limits of flesh and blood, to roll the rock back from the tomb and free the resurrected dead.”

These objects can speak to us of the past.

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