The Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry Regiment has a unique Civil War history, unlike any other. Initially Companies A, B, C, and D formed the First Battalion of the Seventh Ohio Cavalry, but on December 19th, 1861 these companies were consolidated with the Sixth O. V. C. as its First Battalion, organized at Camp Dennison (near Cincinnati). This battalion, until command of Lieutenant Colonel William O. Collins (and after whom Fort Collins, Colorado is named), was sent to Missouri, and then to Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory, where it arrived on May 30th, 1862. During the summer the battalion was permanently detached from the Sixth and was now known as the First Independent Battalion Ohio Volunteer Cavalry.
A second battalion was formed during the summer of 1863 at Camp Dennison and Camp Chase (near Columbus), and the two battalions were now the Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. Part of the Second Battalion was involved during John. H. Morgan's Great Raid, with a portion of the men engaging at the skirmish at Miamiville, north of Camp Dennison. Added to the ranks of the Eleventh were the "galvanized Yankees" of Company F, former Confederate prisoners of war who decided that service in the territories against the Natives was preferred over rotting in a camp in the north. In August the Second Battalion would be ordered to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, arriving there on the thirteenth of the same month. From there it would be sent in pursuit of William Quantrill's raiders after the Lawrence incident, but being on foot due to a lack of mounts they would be recalled and would head to Fort Laramie. It was at Fort Laramie over the summer of 1864 the Third Battalion would start its formation, with Companies I, K, and L being formed from extra recruits.
The Eleventh was primarily used to guard the Pacific telegraph line, protect settlers moving through the territories, and to control the various tribes. In order to do this the companies were quartered over great distances in smaller outposts, keeping Fort Laramie as their main encampment. The Eleventh was involved in the 1865 Powder River expedition, along with numerous small clashes with the natives. One of these clashes, at Platte River Bridge on July 26th, 1865, led to the death of Colonel Collins' son Caspar. Casper, Wyoming is named for him. Both Collins men are buried in Hillsboro, Ohio.
One man of the regiment, Charles l. Thomas, would receive the Medal of Honor during the Powder River campaign. His citation simply reads "Carried a message through a country infested with hostile Indians and saved the life of a comrade en route." However, the actual story is much more than the citation indicates. Thomas would ride 135 miles through hostile territory with three others, engaging on September 15th, 1865 in an all day running fight in which Thomas was wounded in the right leg by an arrow. then killing a warrior and taking his horse, coming across a lost man from the Sixth Michigan Cavalry and returning him to safety, and delivering the message from the main column to one of the wings, and then returning to the main column after firing all but seventeen of his 350 rounds for his Spencer rifle in the process. Yeah, pretty badass.
The Eleventh would be reduced much as it had been built, in pieces and parts. The last remaining companies would be the last Ohio unit to muster out, this occurring on July 14th, 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
There is a modern day version of the Eleventh O. V. C. dedicated to preserving the history of the regiment, maintaining accuracy of dress and tactics, while educating the public about the Civil War in the region. Selfishly, in an effort to bring to light the Civil War in the Far West, as well as to enlighten my own knowledge of both the historical and modern-day versions of the Eleventh, I contacted Steve Dacus with a few questions. I hope you will enjoy his answers about the Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry.
Tell us about the history of your group. What were the decisions in choosing the 11th, how did you recruit members, and how many years have you been in existence?
The 11th OVC was created in 2011 in preparation for the 150th cycle. We are celebrating 10 years this year. I started the group since there were no mounted units in my area. The group grew organically due to the type of private campaign events we have come to be known for.
What is the mission of the 11th OVC?
Currently the 11th OVC has split into two sub-organizations.
1. Preservation through digitization: The mission statement of the digitization portion of the organization is to preserve original documents and provide access to the public to make primary research easier to the hobby historian and/or reenactor.
2. Living History/Reenacting: The mission statement of the living history portion of the organization is to facilitate experiences for members that recreate historical events as close as possible.
Does each member have to own or have access to a horse? Are there any members used in a dismounted capacity?
The 11th OVC uses donations from the public and current members to provide 6 sets of complete gear, clothing, weaponry and horse flesh to enable new members to decide if they want to commit to the hobby before spending large amounts of money. About half the members in the organization have their own horses while the other half borrow horses from the organization itself. The 11th OVC only does impressions that it can do to the fullest extent, therefore a “dismounted” capacity (as it is widely defined in the reenacting community) is not represented by the 11th OVC.
What is the current number of members?
The 11th OVC currently has about 20 “active” members while we can only field about 6-10 at any given event.
What sort of events and functions are you involved as a group?
The 11th OVC conducts mounted drill at least monthly in addition to the “Spring Drill” which is usually held in May each year and represents a two day extended campaign ride in which new troopers get the ability to use every piece of their gear that they generally don’t get to use at static events (i.e.-picket pin, picket rope, shelter half, cooking skills). The 11th OVC also participates in at least one large national event each year.
The website and Facebook page offer a vast amount of information regarding tactics and equipment. I would venture to say that the 11th OVC is a groundbreaking living history/reenactment group. Does this amount of detail translate well to the general public?
The 11th OVC has created its current website to assist many other historical minded individuals other than just reenactors. The website usually gets at least one request per day from hobby historians, authors, or genealogists looking to better understand the nuances of Civil War Cavalry.
Does the group do any activities with Native American peoples, and if so, has that experience shaped the 11th OVC in any way?
The 11th OVC has worked with native American peoples in the past, however those events are rare. The size of authentically minded native reenactors is very small and creating enough interest to state an event, reenactment or even a commemoration of a historical event is very difficult.
The original 11th OVC contained men in the ranks who had served in the Confederate army. Tell us a bit about these galvanized Yankees.
The 11th OVC’s original cast did have some Confederate POW’s. There is a large variety of information on these individuals which could be compiled into a book all by itself.
Robert H. Jones has written a history of the Eleventh in his Guarding the Overland Trails: The Eleventh Ohio Cavalry in the Civil War (2005, Arthur H. Clark). In 2012, Lee M. Cullimore penned The Boys of Company K: Ohio Cavalry Soldiers in the West During the Civil War (High Plains Press). Caspar Collins seems to have received a bit more ink than probably deserved, but two titles are readily available - The Life and Letters of Caspar W. Collins by Alex Service (City of Caspar, 2000) and Caspar Collins: The Life and Exploits of an Indian Fighter of the Sixties by Agnes Wright Spring (Columbia University, 1927, reprinted in paperback in 1969 by the University of Nebraska Press). The letters of Company G's Hervey Johnson are available as Tending The Talking Wire: A Buck Soldier's View of Indian Country, 1863-1866 (University of Utah Press, 2002). Fort Laramie has several titles, but one may consider Fort Laramie: Military Bastion of the High Plains coauthored by Douglas C. McChristian and Paul L. Hedren (University of Oklahoma Press, 2017). For those wanting to know about the galvanized Yankees, Dee Brown's aptly titled classic The Galvanized Yankees (University of Illinois Press, 1963) covers these southerners including their involvement in the Powder River expedition. Speaking of Powder River, John D. McDermott's Circle of Fire: The Indian War of 1865 is an exceptional overview of the actions of 1865 (Stackpole Books, 2003).
American Civil War Research Database