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Report of General George H. Wood on the Dayton Flood of 1913
Part One - March 25th to March 31st, 1913




General George H. Wood

On The

Dayton Flood


From: George H. Wood, Brig. Gen. Commanding Dayton Military District.

To: The Commander-in-Chief.

Subject: Tour of duty in Dayton.

1. On or about noon of the 22nd day of March, 1913, a steady precipitation began extending over a large portion of the State of Ohio. The fall of rain was continuous from that time until the morning of the 25th day of March. By reason thereof, all of the water courses in the southern part of the state became swollen to a point more and greater than their normal capacity, and substantially everywhere streams overflowed the surrounding lower grounds.

2. Official business connected with the military department had on the morning of the 25th of March separated the officers of the National Guard at divergent points within the state. The rapid rise of the waters resulted in almost complete paralysis of all lines of transportation throughout the state, so that it occurred, in the ensuing duties of the National Guard, that various officers assumed or were placed by their superiors in command in various districts wherever they happened to be, until such time as transportation facilities were again opened.

At the time when all the severance of the principal lines of transportation occurred through the action of the elements, the senior Brigade Commander then happened to be at his home station at Toledo; the junior Brigade Commander happened to be at his home station at Columbus, and the Adjutant General in like manner had been by reason of his official military duties called to the City of Dayton. Each general officer and a number of officers of the field and staff, in the ensuing emergency acted as directed by the regulations in such cases, and assumed command of the troops in his immediate vicinity until such time as orders were received from the Commander-in-Chief, which orders when issued in each case approved of the course taken.

I was in the City of Dayton on the morning of March 25, having gone there to conduct an examination for commissions, and had started for the depot a little after 7:00 o'clock A. M. to take a train for Columbus, when I learned that the Civil Authorities in Dayton had called out the available organizations of the Ohio National Guard to assist them in the work of rescue. I at once went to the City Hall and conferred with the highest civil authority present at that time and place, and received from him a verbal official request to mobilize such troops of the Ohio National Guard as were available for duty. I then sought information respecting the situation from various sources, and was informed that the river had been rising rapidly, that large portions of North Dayton and Riverdale were submerged, that there were breaks in the levee along Mad River -which had let the water in over portions of the eastern and southern parts of the City of Dayton; and that the railroad bridge at Sixth Street was damming the river and threatening the levees on both its sides.

At 7:45 A. M. a detachment composed of men of Companies G and K; Third Infantry, reported to me, and at the request of the police department, were by me sent north along the levee to collect the boats at White City and Y. M. C. A. Park. Shortly after, about 8:00 A. M., Captain Deaton and a detachment of Company C, Ninth Infantry, reported, and were sent to the assistance of Sergeant Johnson of the Police Force at the Keowee Street Bridge for duty in North Dayton. Up to this time I had seen none of the Civil Authorities except Sergeant Fair of the Police Department, but a little after 8:00 o'clock I met Director Dodds of the Department of Police Safety, and acted with him until all work was stopped by the flood.

Director Dodds stated to me that the Sixth Street Railroad Bridge was a terrible menace and requested that it be blown up. A search was made for dynamite but none could be located.

The reports from Riverdale were very alarming, and I went to the north end of the Main Street bridge with a few National Guardsmen. I found Riverdale north of the bridge completely submerged and the water close to the top of both sides of the levee along Lehman Street.  There were in the neighborhood of fifty men and women on this levee sight-seeing; and I at once ordered the levee cleared.  This was most fortunate as in a very few minutes the water from Riverdale rushed over the drive-way just west of the bridge and cut off the levee.  It would have been impossible to escape from the levee, it being broken at the west end near the old Hydraulic.  Rescue work was then being done in boats in the lower section of Riverdale, which was already submerged, but after the water broke over the drive-way it made such a current across Main Street that it was impossible for boats to reach the bridge.  To make a safe port a rope was fastened near the Bellevue Apartments and then carried diagonally northwest across Main Street by the heroic efforts of firemen and National Guardsmen, the water being shoulder deep and very swift, and fastened to a telegraph pole.  All boats were ordered to keep on the north-east side of the rope, but, unfortunately, two men in a boat pushed under the rope, were caught by the current  and swept over the drive-way into the main channel of the river.  One never appeared again; the other caught in the branches of a tree about twenty-five feet south of the bridge.  Two most heroic attempts were made by officers and soldiers of the Ohio National Guard to rescue this man, but both failed.  In the second attempt Battalion Sergeant Major Edward L. Harper, Third Ohio Infantry, lost his life.

            At about 10:30 A.M. the current through Riverdale had become so swift that rescue work had to be given up and I returned to the south end of the bridge.  The river had risen to the top of the banks and water was pouring down Main Street.

            At this time I had with me Lieutenant Matthews, Third Ohio Infantry, and eight enlisted men and with this force I determined to try and reach City Hall.  Single file and holding hands in the manner I had used in the Philippines in crossing dangerous rivers we started down the west side of Main Street, with myself at the head of the line and had reached the residence of Dr. C. W. King, when Private Coble, Company G. was torn from the rear of the line and swept past us by the current.  Fortunately, I was able to seize him and, although carried off my feet, the line back of me held and Private Coble was rescued.  Seeing that it was impossible to proceed further, the entire detachment took refuge in the homes of Dr. King and Mr. Oswald Cammann.  This was a little after 11:00 o’clock on Tuesday morning.  The water kept rising rapidly all Tuesday afternoon and evening.  At about 1:00 o’clock P.M. we were driven by the rising water to the second story of the house.

            The water continued to raise until 12:00 o’clock midnight when it remained stationary for some time, and then slowly rose until 2:00 A.M. Wednesday morning, when it attained its greatest height.  From 2:00 A.M. the water fell very slowly but by daylight the fall had become noticeable.

            During the night four distinct fires were visible and the danger of fire was added to the terror of the water.  Dawn broke and disclosed a dull overcast sky with frequent heavy showers.  About 9:00 o’clock the northwest corner of Steele High School fell, the foundations having been washed out by the heavy current sweeping around the corner.

            About 2:00 o’clock P.M. a canoe containing two men, afterwards learned to be Frederick Patterson and Nelson Talbott, was paddled up Main Street and then south after rounding the Monument, this being the first sign of life on the main street of Dayton in twenty-four hours.

            The water fell steadily but slowly during Wednesday, and the north-south current on Main Street was noticeably less violent, but the east-west current on First Street was running like a mill race.

            At 5:00 o’clock, I secured a boat from the Main Street Engine House, manned by Captain Koepnick and Fireman C. W. Heiser of the Dayton Fire Department, and made an attempt to reach the central part of the city.  The current running on First Street caught the boat, swept it toward the Dayton Club where it struck a submerged hitching post which sank the boat. We with difficulty escaped by swimming, and obtained refuge in the Dayton Club.

Shortly after dark a fire broke out at the corner of St. Clair and Third Streets, and from the roof of the Club we could see it rapidly spreading westward.

At 12:00 o'clock that night I succeeded in wading to my home, 121 North Main Street, the street being brilliantly illuminated by the glow of the fire on Third Street.

To give an idea of the depth of the water and the terrific force of the current, I was separated from my family for thirty-six hours and not able to reach them or ascertain their fate, although within one city square of my home the entire time.

At daybreak Thursday morning, I found that. the water had fallen so that Main Street as far south as Second was practically dry, but the scene of desolation was terrible. The asphalt paving on First Street had been torn from the foundation in sheets. The streets were covered with mud and huge bars of gravel and wreckage were everywhere. The plate glass windows had been swept from the stores and the picture of ruin was complete.

The situation was critical, as all civil government had disappeared, and, after a conference with Judge Carroll Sprigg of the Common Pleas Court and Judge Roland Baggott of the Probate Court, upon their request, I assumed responsibility and declared Martial Law. My force consisted of Lieutenant Charles Parrott, Company H, the first man to report to me Thursday morning, Sergeant Hoover and three enlisted men. I immediately placed guards on the Rike-KumIer Company and ordered all saloons out of water to close.

Being destitute of everything, the question of communication with the outside world wag most important. We were completely surrounded by torrents of water and the fire was still raging on East Third Street and threatening to spread to the west.

First Sergeant William Harris; Company K, Third Infantry, 0. N. G., Fireman George Nee, and Fireman Huesman, volunteered to cross through the water then surrounding us to the higher ground, and I gave each of them a telegram directed to yourself, and directed them to reach the nearest telegraph or telephone station. Fireman Nee and Huesman made their perilous trips in safety but Sergeant Harris was caught in the current at Library Park, his boat overturned and he was himself drowned.

There were many brave men in Dayton during this period but I wish to particularly commend the gallantry of Sergeant Harris, Fireman Nee; and Fireman Huesman.

About 9:00 o'clock, Major E. L. Hubler, Third Infantry, 0. N. G., reported for duty and I directed him to go to Dayton View and assume command of that suburb.

A little later in the morning I was notified that the Central Union Telephone Company had a wire working to Columbus, and that you were very anxious to get in touch with me. I at once waded to their office on Ludlow Street and reported to you, as Commander-in-Chief. You placed me in command of all troops in Dayton, directed me to enforce Martial Law and do everything possible for the lives and property of the people of Dayton. You further informed me that Colonel Charles X. Zimerman had arrived in the southeast, portion of the city with parts of the Third and Sixth Regiments of Infantry, 0. N. G., and the Naval Militia, and that Colonel J. H. Patterson was doing glorious work in South Park.

Armed with these instructions I at once went to the Rike-Kumler Company, bought the entire store' for the State of Ohio from Mr. I. G. Kumler, placed Captain William V. Knoll, Third Ohio Infantry, in charge, and directed him to issue such food, clothing, etc., as were necessary, taking a memorandum of every issue made by him.

Mr. Mays Dodds, Director of Public Safety of the City of Dayton, reported to me on Thursday, and, after a conference, I directed him to devote his entire energies to the rehabilitation of the Fire Department, while I assumed the policing of the city with ! the National Guard.

About noon, I succeeded in reaching Colonel Patterson by telephone, communicated the Governor's orders and directed him to assume command of the southern part of the city.

Colonel Zimerman was communicated with at the East Telephone Exchange on East Fifth Street, and received similar orders covering the eastern and southeastern portions of the city.

In the afternoon Captain Hapner, Third Ohio Infantry, was located at Fifth and Western Avenue, and placed in command of Edgemont; and late that evening I got into communication with Major L. E. Smith, Third Ohio Infantry, byway of Columbia and assigned him to the command of North Dayton.

By midnight on Thursday, all portions of Dayton out of water were under Martial Law and divided into the following districts under the following commanders:

North Dayton—Major Smith.

East and Southeast Dayton—Colonel Zimerman.

South Park—Colonel Patterson.

Riverdale, Dayton View and Miami City to Third Street—Major Hubler.

Miami City south of Third Street and Edgemont—Captain Hapner.

Central Dayton being under my immediate command.

Thursday afternoon, the water had fallen sufficiently to enable the Fire Department to prevent any danger of spreading westward, and the menace of fire thus removed from the central part of the city.

By night fall, Thursday, the water had receded to the southern line of Third Street, but every inch of fall meant additional guard duty as every store and bank door had been forced open by the elements and their contents lay open to any marauder.

Between three and four o'clock Thursday afternoon, a corporal and three enlisted men of Company A, Fourth Ohio Infantry, reported to me, being the first troops to reach the central part of Dayton. My entire force Thursday evening consisted of this detachment and about ten of twelve local National Guardsmen and volunteers part of whom were already on duty at the Rike-Kumler, Whitaker-Gwinner Co, etc.

As there was no street lighting of any kind, I cleared the streets before night fall, and permitted no one on the streets south of First or east of Ludlow Streets. At mid-night a riot was reported at the Union Station and I sent Captain Gimperling, Third Ohio Infantry there with a small force, but the report was without foundation, as most of the reports, during those trying days were. Between midnight and daylight, Friday morning, the water receded nearly to the line of the railway, and I followed the water and placed guards over the central banking and business sections bounded by Jefferson, Fifth and Ludlow Streets.

The amount of valuable property of all kind covered by our guards that night was very great. At the jewelry store of A. Newsalt, I should estimate that from $10,000 to $15,000 worth of jewelry and valuable merchandise was scattered on the sidewalk and in the gutter. I take great pride in saying for the National Guard of Ohio that not a single case of looting was reported as the result of this night's work, although the opportunities were limitless.

At 4:30 A. M. Friday, Lieutenant E. 0. Clark, Third Ohio Infantry, reported to me at the corner of Fifth and Main Streets with seventeen men from Company A, Fourth Infantry, 0. N. G. This was a most welcome assistance as it enabled me to strengthen and extend my guard line before daylight.

At daylight, hundreds who had been marooned in the office buildings and stores began to pour out into the streets. They were directed to keep off the sidewalks and ravel in the middle of the streets and were directed and assisted to places of safety. 

At 8:00 o'clock A. M. Colonel L. W. Howard, Sixth Ohio Infantry, reported with eight companies of his regiment, and was placed in command of the central portion of the city.

At 10:00 o'clock A. M. Colonel Vollrath, Eighth Ohio Infantry, with four companies of his regiment and Colonel E. S. Bryant, Second Ohio Infantry, with ten companies of his regiment reported. Colonel Vollrath was .directed to proceed to North Dayton and assume command there. Before any disposition was made of the Second Infantry, reports of serious trouble on Franklin Street were received, and Major Gale, Second Ohio Infantry, was ordered to proceed there at once with his battalion and establish order. Other necessary details scattered the Second Ohio Infantry and Colonel Bryant served in Dayton View for a few days until he assumed command of the Miamisburg District.

At noon Friday I went to the National Cash Register where a conference was held with Hon. George Burba, Secretary to the Governor, and Colonel J. H. Patterson. You were communicated with and I was directed to appoint a Citizens' Relief Committee. At 2:00 P. M. a meeting was held in the Council Chamber, attended by Mayor Phillips, other city officials and members of the Council, and a committee from the Chamber of Commerce. I presided over the meeting and appointed as the Citizens' Relief Committee:


Colonel John H. Patterson, Chairman.

Mayor E. T. Phillips.

Colonel Frank T. Huffman.

Adam Schantz.

John R. Flotron, members.


I advised the Committee to organize at once, and stated that I would do all that lay in any power, as Military Governor of Dayton, to assist them.

On Friday afternoon, you officially notified me that Martial Law had been proclaimed over Montgomery County, and. directed me to assume command and enforce the law. I at once organized the sub-district of Carrolton, Miamisburg and Germantown, and placed Chaplain Hughes, Third Regiment, Infantry, 0. N. G. in command.

The following staff was appointed by me:


Captain Cyrus E. Mead, Adjutant General.

Lieutenant E. 0. Clark, Assistant Adjutant General.

Captain J. B. Gimperling, Jr., Chief Quartermaster.

Major D. A. Lynch, Chief Commissary.

Major Frederick C. Weaver, Chief Medical Officer.

Colonel H. E. Talbott, Chief Engineer Officer.

Lieutenant C. W. Parrott, Aid-de-camp.


At the same time by G. 0. No. 4, the city of Dayton was divided into the following military zones and each zone commander was placed in control of the sanitary and relief work in his zone. Such division was. absolutely necessary on account of the crippling of telephonic communication and the impassable condition of the streets:

Zone No. 1. North Dayton. Bounded by Stillwater and Mad River. Colonel Vollrath in command.

Zone No. 2. East and South Dayton. Bounded by Mad River, the line of Detroit Street and stretching North from the line of Apple Street as the water recedes, and getting in touch with Colonel Howard. Colonel Zimerman in command.

Zone No. 3. Central Dayton. Bounded on the northwest by the Miami River, on the east by Detroit Street and stretching south until communication is established with Colonel Zimerman. Commanded by Colonel Howard.

Zone No. 4. Riverdale, Dayton View and Miami City to Third Street. Major Hubler in command.

Zone No. 5. Miami City south of Third and Edgemont. Colonel Catrow in command.

At this time the following troops were on duty in the City of Dayton:


Ten companies, Second Ohio Infantry—Colonel Edward S. Bryant.

Nine companies, Third Ohio Infantry—Colonel H. G. Catrow.

Three companies, Fourth Ohio Infantry—Major Roll G. Allen.

Twelve companies, Sixth Ohio Infantry—Colonel C. X. Zimerman.

Eight companies. Sixth Ohio Infantry—Colonel L. W. Howard.

Four companies, Eighth Ohio Infantry,—Colonel Edward Vollrath.

Companies A and C, Ninth Battalion, Infantry—Captains Frye and Deaton.

Battalion or Engineers—Lieutenant Colonel John R. McQuigg.

Company A, Signal Corps—Captain Kirtland.

First Ambulance Company—Captain Dale Wilson.

Second Field Hospital—Major H. H. Snively.

Ship's Company—U. S. S. Essex—Commander Nicklett.

Ship's Company—U. S. S. Dorothea—Lieutenant Commander Bolton.


The darkness of the streets, the gas and electric light plants having been totally crippled by the flood, and the unprotected condition of all banks, etc., necessitated the most watchful guard duty, and both officers and men responded nobly to the exigencies of the situation.

At an early hour Saturday morning, Colonel Zimerman was ordered by you to proceed to Hamilton and assume command there. This necessitated a change in the zone commander and Colonel Catrow was assigned to command the third zone and Colonel McQuigg assigned to command the fifth zone.

The Pennsylvania Railroad sent to the City of Dayton a completely equipped work train with, sixty-five mechanics, picked men, the cream of the Columbus shops. The fireman reported to me for duty late Friday night and on Saturday morning the force was divided between the Dayton City Waterworks and the two plants of the Dayton Power and Light Company, and did most efficient service in the work of rehabilitation.

On Saturday, March 29, Secretary of War Garrison and Major-General Leonard Wood visited the city of Dayton, making their headquarters at the National Cash Register. The General Commanding called upon these distinguished guests and placed at their disposal automobiles so they might have a good opportunity to see the Work of destruction and appreciate the situation.

The question of patrolling the streets and protecting property, the water having practically receded now from all parts of the city, became the most important one for determination, and the solution considered by me best for this problem was to establish a rigorous curfew. Therefore, on the afternoon of Saturday, March 29, notices, were posted all over the city of Dayton directing that from 6:00 o'clock P. M. until 5:30 A. M. no one would be allowed on the streets of Dayton without a pass from a zone commander. It is to be said, to the credit of the citizens of Dayton, that this stringent regulation was received in the spirit in which it was ordered and from the very first evening but little trouble was encountered in enforcing it.

To avoid interfering with the work of the various public utilities companies, which were making every endeavor to repair their damaged plants and wiring, passes (public service so called) were issued to their employees, good at all times and not needing reissue every day, but with the rest of the citizens a pass had to be issued good for a specific night.

On Sunday, March 30th, I had a consultation with yourself, over the telephone on the question of the sanitary work. The Federal Government having very kindly placed Major Rhoads, Medical Corps, U. S. A., at our disposal, it was determined to place him in charge of the sanitary work, and make him a member of the staff of the Brigadier-General Commanding the Dayton Military District. It was understood, however, that all work was to be done under the authority of the State of Ohio, and that no encroachment on its work was to be made by the Federal Government, you believing that the State of Ohio had the strength to handle this herculean task and that the people wanted the State to do it.

On the afternoon of Sunday, March 30th, I received orders from your headquarters in Columbus directing me to send Colonel Howard and the eight companies of the Sixth Ohio Infantry on duty in Dayton, the First Ambulance Company and the Ship's Company of the IT. S. S. Essex and Dorothea, to Cincinnati, to report to General McMaken. An order was issued at once to the various organization commanders, transportation was promptly secured and all the organizations covered by the order left Dayton on Sunday afternoon.

Major D. A. Lynch was also relieved from duty and directed to proceed to Cincinnati, the vacancy on my staff caused by his removal being filled by the appointment of Captain C. W. Hosier as Chief Commissary Officer.

On March 30th, by G. 0. No. 13, the second and third military zones were consolidated and Colonel H. G. Catrow placed in command of the consolidated district.

March 30th, being Sunday, the city was over-run by a horde of sight-seers. It finally became necessary for me to issue orders closing the various roads leading into the central part of the city to try and avoid the crowd.

On Monday, March 31st, the work of the street cleaning was proceeding slowly, and I deemed it necessary to impress every able bodied man found on the streets and put them to labor in the work of renovation. This order was enforced by details from the National Guard and the number of sight-seers in Dayton diminished very materially. This labor, while forced, was paid for by the Citizens' Relief Committee at the regular rate established for all street labor.

In this connection I wish to commend the great labor of love performed by the Dayton Bicycle Club during these first terrible days.

The loss in horses in the city from the flood was very great, nearly thirteen hundred horses and mules having been drowned, and their carcasses scattered all over the sub-merged portion of the city. The Dayton Bicycle Club very nobly volunteered to take care of this work, collect the carcasses and remove them to the fertilizing plant east of Dayton, and having put their hands to the plow, I wish to state, to their credit, that they performed this most disagreeable task in a business like and prompt manner.

The question of subsisting nearly the entire population of Dayton on some kind of a relief basis was a most serious one, and was handled by the Citizens' Relief Committee with the assistance of the various zone commanders. Mr. Finfrock of the National Cash Register took charge of the purchasing department, and Mr. Grant of the same institution managed the work of distribution.

I kept closely in touch with the situation and wherever necessary confiscated, under military authority, food supplies, etc., and turned them over to the Citizens' Relief Committee. The Federal Government forwarded to Dayton 300,000 rations which were of the greatest assistance.

The work done by Mr. Finfrock and Mr. Grant was performed in a most satisfactory manner.

The high water mark was reached by Tuesday, April 1st, when the books of the Citizens' Relief Committee showed 83,000 people were fed. From that time, however, the number gradually became less.


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