"Arise and save the Nation" - The 168th Ohio at Cynthiana

Updated: 2 days ago

"We'll try to learn the soldier's ways

Nor murmur at privation,

And stay another hundred days

If this will save the Nation;

We're wanted for a hundred days,

Be ready in one minute,

So General Cowan's order says,

There must be something in it.


To arms, ye Guards, Ohio calls,

And louder calls the Nation,

O, then arise, ere Freedom falls,

Arise and save the Nation."

-The Hundred Days Men by P. N. Wickersham


During the course of the Civil War there were two engagements fought at Cynthiana, Kentucky, both involving John H. Morgan's command and both having elements of street fighting, an aspect not overly common during the war. Cynthiana, located in Harrison County and only thirty miles from Lexington, was known to Morgan due to his pre-war dealings there, and offered support and a road network that provided many avenues of advance or retreat as circumstances would dictate on his raids. On Morgan's First Kentucky Raid of 1862 there was a short but fairly intense fight on the afternoon of July 17th at Cynthiana, the only major "battle" during Morgan's thousand-mile raid that summer. In 1864 Cynthiana was targeted again during the Last Kentucky Raid, and wound up being a two day affair with the Confederates successful in two distinct actions on June 11th, but completely routed by Federal forces under Stephen G. Burbridge on June 12th. The first phase of fighting on June 11th occurred between Morgan's troopers and a hastily cobbled together force of Ohio one hundred days men supported by local home guard and loyal citizens. This first phase at Cynthiana would not end well for the men of the 168th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment.


The formation of 168th O.V.I. was a result of Ohio Governor John Brough's idea to supplement the Union efforts by federalizing state national guard units to perform routine duties, which in turn would free up veteran units to be moved to the front, hopefully ending the war with this surge of manpower. Brough had also been concerned with defending the home front after Morgan's Indiana-Ohio Raid of 1863, and met with his fellow governors from Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and New Jersey in order to create a temporary force to support the overall war effort with a major increase of men in the service. Ohio would federalize nearly 36,000 men (serving as the 130th through 172nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiments) and other states would add another 45,000 men. While it was not intended for these newly formed regiments to engage in combat, circumstances meant that several did see some action during their time of service, including the 168th and 171st Ohio at Cynthiana. The 168th Ohio was formed by men from the 66th Battalion (Highland County), the 67th Battalion (Fayette County), and one company from the 35th Battalion (Clark County), the battalions coming from the Ohio National Guard. The 168th went through organization at Camp Dennison from May 12th through 19th, and on June 9th it proceeded to Covington, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Not all was rosy with the 168th in Covington as men of the command stacked arms and refused to serve with the "antiquated muskets, some of them older than themselves" before they were convinced by threats and shouts to continue their service. On that same day the 168th boarded a train on the Kentucky Central Rail Road and headed south towards Cynthiana, sixty rail miles away, in an effort to place a force in front of Morgan's command, which had entered Kentucky on June 6th and was by this time moving on Lexington, which it would occupy on June 10th. On the way to Cynthiana the 168th would drop off detachments of companies to guard the various river and stream crossings along the railroad, and the remaining five companies would arrive in Cynthiana on the night of June 10th with about 300 (one source mentions 250).


The 168th was led by thirty-five-year-old Colonel Conrad Garis. Garis had served for a few months as a second lieutenant in Company C of the 20th Ohio. He would resign his commission in 1862 after experiencing battle at both Fort Donelson and Shiloh. Serving with Garis in the 168th was Lieutenant Colonel George W. Barrere and Major Emery C. Newton. Barrere had served as a private and then as second lieutenant in the 60th Ohio, while Newton had seen service in the 7th Ohio and had been a prisoner after being captured at Kessler's Cross Lanes. Newton was not present at Cynthiana, leading one of the detached companies used to guard the railroad along the way.


When Morgan entered Kentucky at Pound Gap, he had nearly 2,500 men, but by the time he arrived at Cynthiana in the pre-dawn hours of June 11th, that command had whittled down to approximately 1,500 troopers (numbers are difficult to determine due to losses incurred in battle at Mount Sterling, new recruits being added to the command, and deserters who did not enjoy serving under Morgan). Repeating a tactic he used during the First Battle of Cynthiana, Morgan divided his forces about three miles south of town, sending forward on the Leesburg Road Harry Giltner's brigade, while sending the remaining two brigades under the overall command of Dabney Howard Smith to the east in an effort to surround any defenders the town might hold. Giltner's command would first encounter a portion the 168th which was posted among buildings and stone walls along the banks of the South Fork of the Licking River, while Smith would brush against Union pickets southeast of town. It was now dawn, June 11th, 1864.

Map designed by the American Battlefield Trust for author's tour given at ABT Annual Conference

The 350 men defending the town were deployed in stone and brick buildings, including the two-story brick railroad depot. It is unclear why Garis decided to place part of the 168th on the south bank of the river. There was a stone wall located there, which would provide good cover, but the waist deep river immediately in their rear would be difficult to wade across if there was a need to retreat. In the 1862 battle the Federal forces were deployed along the north bank, which gave Morgan and his command some difficulties in trying to force a crossing. But in 1864 the deployment of this part of the 168th would not prove to be so troublesome. Indeed, Giltner's men were able to drive the guardsmen away from their stone wall, causing many of the Buckeyes to surrender, and others to wade or swim across the river. Some of the latter were compelled by the Confederates to retrace their steps and surrender or be shot in the back. This action on the south bank lasted but a few minutes, and Giltner was able to move across the covered bridge into the heart of Cynthiana. Smith's force had pushed into town from the southeast and was occupying the area east of the depot.


From the Daily Ohio Statesmen, an anonymous source would write "Outnumbered and overpowered, they fell back, firing all the time, to the depot buildings, - where Colonel Berry[1] fell almost mortally wounded In the head, and thence to Rankin's unfinished hotel, where, after surrendering and coming out of the house, Col. Garis was shot through the right shoulder to the elbow, and others retreated to the Court House.[2] The consequence was the rebels poured into town and charged into these several places, causing the utmost consternation among the inhabitants."


About seventy men from the 168th and local home guard took positions on the upper floor of the Harrison County Court House (still standing), but as the Federals in their haste to secure the position had broken the doors leading into the structure, the Confederates were able to move into the building and force these Union men to surrender.

Due to the stout defense near the new Rankin Hotel on Pike Street, and having no artillery to compel the Federals to surrender, Morgan allowed Captain William J. Stone of Martin's brigade to start a fire first at a location on the east side of the railroad (the Parrish building), then at the Rankin stables, located on an opposing corner of Pike Street from the Rankin Hotel.[3] This fire would soon burn out of control, the same source above noting that "Colonel Garis not surrendering soon enough to suit the rebels, they set a stable on fire near to our position, and the terror of the flames added greatly to the alarm."


The resulting fire led to the destruction of thirty-seven buildings in the heart of Cynthiana. Due to the continued fighting the fire wagon could not be deployed to extinguish the fire, and some sources mention that Morgan would not allow it. Some of the buildings contained highly flammable items, such as the drug store, which caused wild explosions that would shoot into brightening morning sky. Eventually the fire wagon was allowed to be employed, and some of the Confederate troopers assisted in fighting the blaze, but the damage had been done.


Casualties for an engagement at this time of the war were relatively light for the 168th, with seven killed and twenty wounded, the remainder of the five companies being taken prisoner. But this short fight by the 168th Ohio, a regiment barely trained and having little experience, and not intended for combat duty, delayed Morgan enough to allow the 171st Ohio, coming in by rail from Cincinnati, to deploy at Keller's Bridge (the second phase of the Second Battle of Cynthiana, about one mile north of the town), where in turn they put up their own delaying fight (Dan Masters wrote an excellent piece about the 171st at Emerging Civil War). For the 168th however, the battle was over; the men were gathered, robbed of any valuables or useful items, marched out the Oddville (also known as Claysville or Maysville) Road, and were later on the 12th, along with men captured near Keller's Bridge, given their paroles.


James F. Robinson
Robinson's GAR Badge

A long-time friend of mine, Scott Savory, had a great-great grandfather serving in the ranks of the 168th. James F. Robinson was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in Company D of what was then the 2nd Regiment of Ohio Militia on July 20th, 1863, in Fayette County, Ohio. This unit was later designated as the 67th Battalion, Ohio National Guard, before being incorporated as part of the 168th Ohio. According to Scott's late paternal grandmother, Lieutenant Robinson was present at the Battle of Cynthiana. The story has it that Lieutenant Robinson was in danger of being captured, so he hid his sword to prevent it from being taken by the Confederates. When he later returned to retrieve his sword, it was gone.[4]


The battle dead of the 168th would be buried in the southwest corner what is known today as the Old Pioneer Cemetery on North Main Street in Cynthiana. After the war they would be re-interred at the Lexington National Cemetery and later most of these men would be brought back home to Ohio.


The paroled men of the 168th would return to Camp Dennison, while the rest of the regiment, under Major Newton, stayed in Kentucky until July 10th, when they were ordered to rejoin the rest of the 168th in Ohio. United, the regiment would then be sent to Cincinnati to perform guard duty until mustering out on September 8th, 1864. The 168th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment had not only served their country, but had also seen the elephant, having approximately 10% of their engaged force at Cynthiana killed or wounded. Another eight men would die of disease during their time of service with the 168th.


Known Cynthiana Casualties of the 168th OVI


Killed:

Timothy Bergan - Co. D, J. R. Brady - Co. D, William H. Doyle - Co. I, Alexander Rogers - Co. D, Levi Smith - Co. I, W. D. Stout - Co. A, Samuel E. Wood - Co. A.


Mortally Wounded:

W. B. Chaney - Co. D, SGT William P. Irons - Co. I


Wounded:

Henry P. Blake - Co. H, Jesse H. Burnett - Co. F, Albert Bryan - Co. F, Samuel Crooks - Co. I, Milton Easter - Co. A, 2LT Cyrus Ellis - Co. I, Morris Ellis - Co. I, COL Conrad Garis - Field & Staff, W. S. Glaze - Co. D, Henry Moore - Co. A, William Parkinson - Co. F (Severe wound in left arm, amputated), Jacob Parrott - Co. F, John A. Pine - Co. I (Severe wound in right leg, amputated), Henry H Shoemaker - Co. D, Samuel Sellers (would die later of his wounds) - Co. I, Daniel Tupes - Co. F, Jacob Ulmer - Co. D, CPL William G. Weimer - Co. D.

[1] Colonel Berry was actually Captain George W. Berry, who had been provost marshal for Kentucky's Sixth District. His son, Robert, was on the staff of Martin's Confederate brigade, and would hear about his father's fall, mortally wounded in the head. The elder Berry was taken to the town of Berry, about twelve rail miles north of Cynthiana, and he would pass away a few days after the battle.


[2] The New Rankin House still stands on the corner of Pike Street and the rail line. It was one of the taller buildings in town, being of three stories and stoutly built of thick brick walls. The building made an excellent defensive position.


[3] Ironically Stone would be wounded the next day in the fight against Burbridge's command, a Spencer bullet shattering Stone's leg and resulting in amputation. Yet the irony does not end there. Stone would later serve on the post war commission that would review claims from Cynthiana for damages as a result of the fire, the very one he started.


[4] My many thanks to Scott for providing the info and pictures of his ancestor and the GAR medal.

Sources

American Civil War Research Database website

Daily Ohio Statesman, June 14, 1864

Leeke, Jim - A Hundred Days to Richmond

Ohio in the Civil War website

Penn, William - Kentucky Rebel Town

Roster 168th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Scott Savory conversation

The Highland Weekly News, June 16, 1864

The National Tribune, September 7th, 1905

Western Reserve Chronicle, June 22, 1864

Subscribe Form

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube

©2020 by The Western Theater in the Civil War. Proudly created with Wix.com