The Cleveland Grays is the longest operating volunteer militia unit in Ohio's history.
Founded in 1837, the Grays initially helped Cleveland officials in deterring crime. For the first twenty-four years of the organization's existence, its members saw no formal military duty. This changed with the American Civil War's outbreak in 1861.
At the start of the American Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy had to rely on individual states to supply the armed forces with men and supplies. In the case of Ohio, Governor William Dennison turned to the Ohio militia to provide the federal government with necessary troops. The Ohio militia system had been in decline since the end of the War of 1812. With Great Britain's departure from Ohio and the declining threat from Native Americans, Ohio's citizens and their government had felt little need to support this system strongly for the state's defense.
In April 1861, following President Abraham Lincoln's call for seventy-five thousand volunteers to end the South's rebellion, Dennison dispatched George McClellan and Jacob Cox to the state arsenal in Columbus to investigate the guns and other supplies that Ohio had on hand to help equip the militia units. The two men discovered some old muskets, some useless cannons and other things that were of little value. Despite the lack of equipment, Dennison encouraged Ohio communities to revive the militia system and to form units that they would send to Columbus, the state capital.
While the state militia system had deteriorated, numerous communities had maintained units. These units existed primarily to march in parades and to provide young men with something to do in their spare time. Among these units were the Cleveland Grays. This unit, numbering approximately forty-five men, quickly traveled to Columbus, answering the governor's call. It served as part of the first two Ohio infantry regiments organized for the war, becoming Company E of the 1st Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Governor Dennison dispatched these regiments to Washington, DC, to protect the nation's capital, on April 19, 1861. This was just four days after President Lincoln's call for volunteers. The Grays served admirably during this conflict. It participated in all major battles in the war's Eastern Theater.
Following the Civil War, the Grays became a social organization, with its members participating in balls and parades. With the Spanish-American War's outbreak in 1898, 225 Grays' members formed the nucleus of Companies A, B, and C of the 1st Battalion of Engineers in the Ohio National Guard. The men never saw combat, as the war ended before they had completed their training. A handful of Grays' members also volunteered for duty against Pancho Villa in Mexico during 1916. They became Company F of the 3rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. During World War I, the Grays saw their last service as a cohesive fighting unit. In this conflict, the unit's members formed the basis of the 148th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
Following World War I, the Grays, once again, became a social group. As of 2008, the unit continues to exist, serving as an educational and philanthropic organization. The Cleveland Grays also operate a museum, the Cleveland Gray's Armory Museum, in Cleveland, Ohio.
- Dee, Christine, ed. Ohio's War: The Civil War in Documents. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.
- Leeke, Richard. A Hundred Days to
<city> <place>Richmond</place></city>: <state> <place>Ohio</place></state>'s "Hundred Days" Men in the Civil War. <city> <place>Bloomington</place></city>: <place> <placename>Indiana</placename> <placetype>University</placetype></place> Press, 1999.
- Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of Rebellion, 1861-1866. Akron, OH: The Werner Company, 1893.
- Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Generals and Soldiers. Cincinnati, OH: Clarke, 1895.
- Roseboom, Eugene H. The Civil War Era: 1850-1873. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1944.
- Vourlojianis, George N. The Cleveland Grays: An Urban Military Company, 1837-1919. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2002.