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Blood, Tears, and Glory: How Ohioans Won the Civil War

by James Bissland, Orange Frazer Press, 2007, 538 pages, $34.95.

Three hundred thousand Ohio men, one in every 10 citizens of the Buckeye State, fought in the Civil War. Thirty-five thousand of them would die. Some native sons, such as Edwin M. Stanton, William T. Sherman and Phillip H. Sheridan, became household names. Four Ohioans, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield and William McKinley, would become president. But the exploits of others, like infantrymen Thomas F. Galwey, whose regiment, the 8th Ohio, was shot to pieces at Fredericksburg, and cavalrymen such as Colonel Ralph Buckland, whose riders made early contact with advance Rebel units at Shiloh, have been lost in the mists of history.

James Bissland, a New Englander transplanted to Ohio, believes these men and thousands of others have stories to tell. He has resurrected them from moldering, mildewed diaries, faded words on the yellowing pages of long-neglected letters, and family histories passed down orally from generation to generation and put them together in Blood, Tears, and Glory, swaggering, broad-shouldered account of the war with a special emphasis on the role Ohioans played in the struggle. Typical is a letter written by Champaign County farm-laborer Private Joseph Diltz of the 66th Ohio to his father-in-law after Antietam. “We don’t mind the sight of dead men no more than if they wair dead hogs,” Diltz wrote. “Why thair at Antietam the rebels was laying over the field bloated up as big as a horse and black as a negro.”

Despite the self-serving subtitle, this is a serious historical study, for the most part engagingly written, supported by a significant amount of research. Bissland admits to having two agendas in writing this book. The first is to correct a perceived Eastern bias in Civil War historiography and give the Western theater of operations its fair share of the glory for winning the war. The second is to wrest from the South its hegemony in storytelling about the war. He quotes Southern novelist Allan Gurganus, who proudly admits: “True, we lost once, big time. But our concession prize? The stories.” In balancing the scales of history, Bissland gives us stories of young men like 19- year-old Liberty Warner, the son of a Methodist minister who joined the 21st Ohio, was wounded at Stones River and later died on Horseshoe Ridge near the end of the Battle of Chickamauga.

While the men were off fighting, Ohio women also contributed to the war effort. We meet Mary Ann Bickerdyke, who “descended on the Union army, shaking things up in a way that would make her a legend.” Bickerdyke accepted her church’s mission to take food and other supplies to the Union hospital in Cairo, Ill. Finding conditions there deplorable, she set out to make things right. After Fort Donelson fell, she made five trips on hospital steamers, bringing back Union wounded. She was later found on the West’s bloodiest killing fields. Bissland includes a story, possibly apocryphal, that she regularly addressed General Sherman as “Bill,” and that when Sherman was asked how she could run roughshod over Army regulations, he replied, “She ranks me.”

With such a rich heritage to chronicle, some stories have either eluded or necessarily been edited from Bissland’s catalog. Sadly, he omits the pivotal role played by Company K, 150th Ohio Infantry, a company of 100-day volunteers composed of students from Oberlin College, who manned the artillery batteries and rifle pits in front of Fort Stevens on July 11, 1864, the first day of the only Civil War battle fought within Washington, D.C.’s boundaries. The Oberlin boys saw President Abraham Lincoln come under enemy fire from Confederate General Jubal Early’s sharpshooters, and 20-year-old William Leach died while defending his nation’s capital.

Occasionally Bissland’s enthusiasm leads him into clichés. Describing early settlers of the territory, he calls them “worker bees” who transformed “a howling wilderness” into, you guessed it, “a land of milk and honey.” In the chapter on the First Battle of Bull Run, we find guileless civilian spectators skylarking in the heat and dust of a Virginia summer: “And the dust settled on them like a shroud.”

Clearly, this richly illustrated book is intended to attract younger Ohioans. But historians, researchers and genealogists looking for anecdotes and vignettes with an Ohio pedigree to spice up their analytical monographs will be well served by Bissland’s research for this book. There’s enough blood, tears and glory within its covers to satisfy even the most veteran Civil War armchair campaigners.


Originally published in the April 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here