From Ohio History Central
Squirrel Hunters were civilian men who assisted the federal government in defending Cincinnati, Ohio from Confederate attack in 1862.
In September 1862, Confederate forces under General Kirby Smith captured Lexington, Kentucky, in the second year of the American Civil War. Smith dispatched General Henry Heth to capture Covington, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio. Major General Horatio Wright, commander of Union forces in Kentucky, ordered General Lewis (Lew) Wallace to prepare Covington's and Cincinnati's defenses.
Upon arriving in Cincinnati, Wallace immediately declared martial law. He issued a call in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan for a volunteer militia. All business owners were to close their shops, and civilians were to report for military duty. Wallace stated, "Civilians for labor, soldiers for battle." Men in the regular army would fight on the battlefield, while the civilians would prepare trenches and other defensive features to prepare the two communities for attack. Cincinnati residents reportedly "cheerfully obeyed" the order.
Ohio Governor David Tod left Columbus, the state capital, and came to Cincinnati to assist Wallace. Tod immediately ordered Ohio's adjutant-general to send any available troops other than those guarding Ohio's southern border to Cincinnati. Tod also ordered the state quartermaster to send five thousand guns to equip Cincinnati's militia. A number of Ohio counties offered to dispatch men to Cincinnati as well. Tod immediately accepted the offers on Lew Wallace's behalf. He stated that only armed men should report and that railroad companies should transport the men for free and then later send a bill to the State of Ohio. Civilians from sixty-five counties numbering 15,766 men reported for duty at Cincinnati. These volunteer men became known as the "Squirrel Hunters."
Many of the Squirrel Hunters had no military training and carried antiquated weapons. Despite these shortcomings, they still rallied together to help defend Ohio from Confederate invasion. City officials commandeered Cincinnati's Fifth Street Markethouse to serve as a dining hall for the volunteers. Churches, meeting halls, and warehouses served as barracks. One day after he called for the volunteers, Governor Tod requested Ohioans to stop sending men for duty.
Thanks to the actions of Wallace and Tod, Covington and Cincinnati had adequate defenses to repel Heth's advance within two days. Wallace quickly lifted martial law and allowed all businesses to reopen except for those that sold alcoholic beverages. By September 13, 1862, news reached Cincinnati that the Confederate forces were withdrawing from Kentucky and that Cincinnati was no longer in danger. Wallace earned the nickname "Savior of Cincinnati" for his actions in September 1862. The Squirrel Hunters returned to their homes.
To thank the Squirrel Hunters, the Ohio legislature, in 1863, authorized funds for Governor Tod to print discharges for these men from military duty. The discharges thanked the men for their patriotism and their willingness to sacrifice their lives in the defense of Ohio. The resolution reads:
Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the State of Ohio, That
the Governor is hereby authorized and directed to appropriate out of his contingent
fund, a sufficient sum to pay for printing and lithographing discharges to the
patriotic men of the State, who responded to the call of the Governor, and went to
the southern border to repel the invader, and who will be known in history as the
As further recognition, in 1908, the Ohio General Assembly passed a resolution to pay each Squirrel Hunter $13, equal to one month’s pay for an Ohio militiaman in 1862.
- Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of Rebellion, 1861-1866. Akron, OH: The Werner Company, 1893.
- Dee, Christine, ed. Ohio's War: The Civil War in Documents. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.
- Leeke, Richard. A Hundred Days to Richmond: Ohio's "Hundred Days" Men in the Civil War. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.
- 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.