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First Time Dayton Went to War

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on February 1, 1931




By Howard Burba


     When the frost gets out of the ground and the green gets back in the trees Dayton is going to get about honoring her earliest military heroes.  She is going to erect a fitting memorial tablet to the little handful of venturesome volunteers who stepped to the front when a troubled nation was trying to shake off the last remaining clutch of the Spaniard north of the Rio Grande.

     Daytonians as a rule are pretty quick to recognize service, and especially when that service is manifested in the defense of country and home.  But she certainly must plead guilty to an oversight in delaying this tribute to those of her early citizens who saw service in the Mexican war.

     Belated, however, as it most surely is, she is going to set things right now.  So when the first, balmy breezes of springtime are wafted up from the great southwest, she is going to place a memorial marker on Patterson blvd., between Second and Third sts., honoring heroes long gone and, as compared with heroes of other wars, practically forgotten.

     Everybody knew, along back in 1844, that the admission of Texas was certain to cause a war between the United States and Mexico.  Texas wanted in the union, the states wanted her to come in.  Although the “Lone Star” republic had gained its independence, which was recognized not only by the United States but by several European countries, Mexico, it was known, would never willingly consent to see it pass into the possession of the United States.

     Just to give you an idea of how violently the subject was discussed and to what extreme men of the ‘forties were going to settle the issue, we turn to the history of our neighboring state of Indiana.  The power of one vote was never more strikingly shown than in an incident arising in that commonwealth over the admission of Texas.  It was early in the year 1844.  A sick man in Switzerland co. was carried two miles in a carriage to vote for David Kelso, who was running for the state senate.  The sick man was a client whose life had been saved by Kelso.  The act of gratitude caused the client’s death, but elected Kelso, who received one more vote than his opponent.

     The Indiana senate had to elect a United States senator.  Kelso bolted the Democratic caucus and took with him a friend.  This tied the vote for weeks.  Then Kelso selected Edward A. Hannigan as a new candidate, and declared that he would vote with the Whigs unless he was supported.  This great threat brought about the election of Hannigan, who took his seat in the United States senate.  Then came the wrangle over the admission of Texas to the union.  The most prudent Democratic candidate before Hannigan entered the field had pledged himself to vote against the measure.  The bill for the admission of the state passed by a single vote, and that vote was cast by Hannigan.  So it may be truly said that the vote of a dying man in the wooded hills of Switzerland co., Indiana, made Texas a state—and the war with Mexico.

     Even while Hannigan was voicing his determination to cast his vote in favor of admitting Texas to the union, Dayton’s sentiments on the subject were being voiced in the lower house of congress by Hon. Robert Schenck, her representative.  And Dayton, or at least that part of it responsible for Schenck’s being in congress, was opposed to bringing the “Lone Star” republic into the fold.

     But that did not mean that Montgomery co. was to assume the role of “slacker” or “conscientious objector” when the crisis came.  The administration--James K. Polk was president at the time—found just as hearty supporters among the Whigs as among the Democrats, and just as much willingness to assist in bringing victory to the flag.

     Some of the solid and substantial men of the community who were too old to go to the Mexican war, were willing to give of their substance to caring for the families of those who were physically able to participate in the actual fighting.  Others were willing to purchase the needed guns and ammunition, for the scarcity of adequate weapons was keenly felt tin those days.

     A turn into the pages of Montgomery co. history at the time reveals that the militia was pretty well organized, even at that early date—16 years before the Civil War.  There were several companies in Dayton.  Regimental bands were popular, and since Dayton boasted one, military parades and demonstrations had been numerous.

     In May of 1846, when the war clouds reached the breaking point, Major General Hiram Bell of Greenville, commanded the first brigade with headquarters in Dayton.  Brig. Gen. Adam Speice had command of the forces in Dayton and Montgomery co.

     Following the announcement that President Polk had made requisition on the state for troops, a mass meeting was held at the city hall.   Gen. Speice presided at this, and his secretary, Thomas R. Tilton, acted as secretary for the meeting.  Addresses were made by Capt. Luther Giddings of the Dayton Dragoons; Capt. Moses B. Walker of the German cavalry company; Capt. Lewis Hormell of the Dayton national guards, a German organization; Lieut. Allen Stut of the Dayton gun squad, and Lieut. John Love of the U.S. army infantry companies, which composed the Dayton group of military organizations.  The Montgomery Grays, the Montgomery Blues and four companies recruited from the townships of the county were also represented by speakers.  A set of resolutions was adopted, and history has preserved their wording for us.  They read:

     “Whereas, the military despot who has recently usurped the government of Mexico, has refused to receive the olive branch brought to his gates by a minister of the United States, has concentrated his forces upon the southern frontier, and has commenced with murder an offensive war,

     “Resolved that we view with satisfaction the promptness with which congress has drawn the sword and appealed to the God of Battles to establish that which has been earnestly sought for and insistently refused—peace with Mexico and peace with Texas.

     “Resolved, that it becomes us as American citizens desiring the success of our arms, to cast off the shackles of party, and to unite in carrying our country speedily and triumphantly through the war.  We will exert ourselves to fill up the ranks and will march to the seat of war, rejoicing in the opportunity afforded of defending our country.”

     Gen. Speice ordered an assembly of his brigade in Dayton on May 18, 1846.  Nine companies responded, and marched out S. Main st. and over to the canal landing at what is now the foot of Ludlow st.  Here they met Gen. Bell and received advice and encouragement from him.

     The Dragoons used McCann’s store, then located on the present site of the Beckel building at the northeast corner of Third and Jefferson, as recruiting headquarters.  Learning, however, that the government would accept no cavalry, they reorganized as the Dayton Riflemen.

     On May 28 another meeting of local citizens was held and Thomas Brown, Peter Odlin, William Eaker, T. J. S. Smith and Frederick Gebhart were named as a committee to secure a loan to equip the companies before they became a part of the United States army.  The resolution to have this committee named was presented at the meeting by John Lowe.

     A committee was also named to raise funds for the soldiers’ families, consisting of Robert W. Steele,

 H. G. Phillips, Peter P. Lowe, Henry L. Brown, Alexander Swaynee and Samuel Marshall of Dayton; Joseph Barnett of Harrison tp., Henry S. Gunckel of German tp., Jonathan Harshman of Madriver tp., John Conley of Miami tp., John Burnett of Jefferson tp., John Sherer of Jackson tp., William Baggott of Butler tp., Amos Irwin of Washington tp., Moses Sherer of Wayne tp., Isaac Voorhees of Clay tp., Dr. Lindsey of Perry tp.

     The long expected day arrived when the companies marched to the public landing, between Second and Third sts., there to board canal boats for the trip to Cincinnati.  Our early historians assure us that there was the usual weeping and wailing and good-byes that attend such events, and that each generation has witnessed since that historic day—one at the outbreak of the Civil War, another at the departure of soldiers in the Spanish-American campaign, and again in the World War of more recent memories.

     A salute was fired by the iron gun, Mad Anthony, so long a vital accessory to every patriotic demonstration in early Dayton.  The women of the city presented a silk flag of their own making, on one side of which were the words “Our Country” and on the other “The Dayton Riflemen.”

     Arriving at Camp Washington, Cincinnati, the recruits from Dayton became Companies B and C of the First Ohio infantry, U. S. I.  The organization of the two companies was as follows: Dayton Riflemen—Capt. Luther Giddings, First Lieut. David Long, Second Lieut. D. Brecount, First Sergt. J. P. Speice, Second Sergt. N. Allen, Third Sergt. G. Coon; Fourth Sergt. C. L. Helrigle, First Corp. W. G. Davis, Second Corp. V. B. Howard, Third Corp. John Smith, Fourth Corp. James Craig.  National Guard—Capt. Lewis Hormell, First Lieut. William Egry, Second Lieut. Chris Knecht, First Sergt. William Spangler, Second Sergt. Peter West, Third Sergt. Adam Ziller, Fourth Sergt, Fred Perch.

     Very soon after they had reached Camp Washington the local men were on their way to the Mexican border.  The departure was on two large river boats, down the Ohio river.  They reached Camp Belknap on July 15, and here, in a reorganization, many of the Dayton men were promoted.

     Companies B and C as members of the First regiment saw actual service in the battle of Monterey, said to have been the greatest battle ever fought on the western continent up to that time.  They bore themselves valiantly throughout and some of the men, who displayed special bravery, received commissions.  But one officer from Dayton fell on the battlefield.  Corp. William G. Davis, Lieut. Motter was severely wounded.

     In the fall of 1846 a company of “tall men” was organized in Dayton.  There were 63 members of this company, and scarcely a man was less than six feet tall.  This organization was captained by A. L. Stout, whose assistants were First Lieut. David Tucker, Second Lieut. J. M. D. Foreman, First Sergt. M. Umbaugh, Second Sergt. Owen Smith, Third Sergt. Joshua Bowersock, Fourth Sergt. William Anderson, First Corp. Lewis Motter, Second Corp. Russell George, Third Corp. Boyle Decker, Fourth Corp. Andrew Curtner.

     In June, 1847, on the same day that a company of Michigan and Wisconsin troops passed through Dayton on their way home it was reported that loved ones would soon be able to see their soldier boys, as Co. B was headed for Dayton, their term of enlistment having expired.  The Riflemen arrived on June 12.  Never, up to that hour, had there been a demonstration of a similar nature to measure the enthusiasm by.  But, population considered, there has been nothing since to eclipse it in point of enthusiasm and rejoicing.  Mayor McKinney made a speech, to which Major Giddings responded.  Capt. Hormell’s National Guards arrived home the next day, and the celebration was repeated.  A big dinner was served the returned volunteers on a large vacant lot at Third and Bainbridge sts., later the site of one of the city’s most flourishing industries, the old Stoddard-Dayton manufacturing plant.

      Forty men of Co. B returned home although more than twice that number braved the unhealthy climate and the perils of Mexico.  Thirty-three men had died, one had been accidentally killed by a comrade, while 16 fell in the battle of Monterey, and one at the battle of Ceraluo.

     One more company was recruited in Dayton and went forth to battle before the conclusion of the war in  1848, a company commanded by Capt. John Werner.  His first lieutenant was John Fries; his second lieutenant, Henry Fries; his second lieutenant, Henry Toeppler.  There were 100 men in the company, of which 35 were from Dayton, 15 from Columbus, and the remainder from the vicinity of New Bremen. Capt. Werner was made lieutenant colonel of the Fourth regiment, which the companies joined.  Henry Toeppler was named first lieutenant, and William Graebe, second lieutenant.

     This old Fourth regiment saw valiant service under Gen. Winfield Scott at Contreas, Cherubusco, Chapultepec and at the storming of the City of Mexico.  Here Lieut. Toeppler and a number of his men were killed and Capt. John Fries was severely wounded.  This regiment was relieved from garrison duty in February, 1848, when the local men returned home.

     It was but a few months until peace was declared, and victory perched on the stars and bars of the Union.  It was a war of aggression, and a war to determine forever the boundary line between the union of the states and the holdings of the Spaniards.  The Rio Grande was chosen as the boundary, instead of the Nueces river, which had served as the line between Mexico and the Texas republic.

     In the military archives of Montgomery co. those names are amblazoned along with the rest of those who, braving the dangers of an almost unknown and treacherous territory, offered themselves on the altar of their country.  They wrote the story of Dayton’s first touch of military service; they passed on as the heroes of the first war in which Daytonians participated.

     The marker to keep those names sacred to posterity for all time to come cannot be erected too speedily.