Going to Ohio
Some of the very first letters from 65th NY soldiers which I found, back in 2009, were at the Army Heritage Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Charley Crockett wrote to Nellie about the early months of training, while flirting with her about the kiss she had promised him upon his return. Sadly, he was killed at the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 10, 1864. LeRoy Crockett, a First Lieutenant in Company K, described the Chasseurs’ first battle experience, a small skirmish at Lewinsville in September 1861. I discovered another treasure trove of letters on line which were indexed by the Ohio Historical Society. Through interlibrary loan and searches through microfilmed newspapers, I found over thirty letters printed in local newspapers like the Tiffin Weekly Tribune and the Seneca Advertiser. A now-defunct website dedicated to the 6th Corps breakthrough at Petersburg included a number of letters of Company K Captain Sam Kisinger transcribed and scanned. Company K of the 65th NY was raised in Tiffin, Ohio, and the fact that these letters were so accessible to me was an early key to getting the amount of primary source information I needed to write the regimental history I envisioned, No Flinching From Fire.
The first captain of Company K, whose letters I used in my book, Thomas Higginbotham, had risen to command of the regiment and had been killed while leading it at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864. He is buried in Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. When I first discovered his gravesite I was surprised that as a lieutenant colonel his body had not been returned to Tiffin, nearby his home. As I finished the book-writing process, and visited all the battlefields and some of the camp sites of the Chasseurs, I began to get more interested in connecting with the soldiers of the regiment through visits to graves in Green-wood, Arlington National Cemetery, Winchester National Cemetery, and elsewhere. Over time, it occurred to me that Tiffin, Ohio was a likely place to find more Chasseur graves. I also had developed a curiosity about the town from reading so many letters from the “Tiffin boys.” Further, Ohio was home to other sites connected with Civil War figures worth visiting. Generals Grant, Sherman, and Custer all hailed from Ohio. So did General James McPherson. And though the COVID-19 Pandemic crimped some of my original plans (a visit to Grant’s birthplace near Cincinnati, for example, was nixed after it became clear that my plan to include a New York Mets game versus the Reds was out, and that Cincinnati had become a hotspot for the Coronavirus), I knew from experience that socially distancing was eminently possible when visiting old cemeteries.
So, I charted a trip to Ohio. It was a long drive, but there was a statue of General George Armstrong Custer in his birthplace of New Rumley, Ohio. It was barely over the eastern border of the state, so within a day’s drive. And nearby Cadiz offered an old inn called the Lincoln Inn, so there was another Civil War connection. President-elect Lincoln had stopped in Cadiz on his way to his inauguration. The next day’s drive from Cadiz to Tiffin would be under three hours, leaving plenty of time for cemetery-sleuthing there. And the AirBnB small cattle ranch north of Upper Sandusky would be a nice peaceful and safe place to stay, and close to Tiffin. Two days there would afford me plenty of time to visit the three cemeteries I knew I would be visiting to look for Tiffin-area Chasseurs, and the other cemeteries which I might discover in the area. Captain Sam Kisinger’s grave is in Toledo’s historic Woodlawn cemetery, and as his many letters home were a key source of my first book I wanted to see Kisinger, so a stay in Toledo looked likely. When my college roommate Paul Fishback offered to meet me there from his place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that sealed the deal for Toledo. An AirBnB tiny house on Lake Erie could be a perfect place for our mini-reunion.
Then the journey towards home would begin. But with President Rutherford B. Hayes’ home in Fremont opened for limited tours during the Pandemic, and less than an hour away from Toledo, that seemed like a stop worth making. I do like to visit U.S. President’s houses when possible, and Hayes had also been a highly regarded general in the Civil War. Heading southeast to get closer to home I could stay in Somerset at a lovely old house right down the block from the statue of General Philip Sheridan, and near the house which Sheridan helped build for his parents in 1859. And rather than drive home nine hours from there, I could swing a little southward and stay a night in Hancock, Maryland, a place to which the Chasseurs had been sent on a march after the Antietam battle in late October, 1862, guarding against a rebel move which never came. There did not appear to be much there to see at this point, but it was on the C & O Canal, and it was one of the few spots where the Chasseurs had stayed which I had yet to visit. Plus it was four and a half hours from Somerset, and about five hours from home, so a great way to break up the long drive. After booking my stay in the cheap but clean and safe Hancock Motel, I had my trip itinerary complete.
In mid-July I was ready to roll. I got on the road by 7 AM and, crossing the grand George Washington Bridge, was in New Jersey before 8 AM. Crossing New Jersey and Pennsylvania was a long but happily uneventful day’s drive, and I crossed the little sliver of West Virginia and arrived in Ohio before 2:30 PM. My check-in time wasn’t until 3:30 PM, so while I was anxious to get out of the car and do no more driving for the day, it made sense to go see the statue of George Armstrong Custer at his birthplace of New Rumley, Ohio before checking in and resting at the Lincoln Inn in Cadiz.
I had brought my old Rand-McNally map, about which I have gotten grief from my more modern friends, but in fact it would turn out that I would lose phone service repeatedly on my trip through the rural sections of Ohio, so having the map as a backup for my GPS was a good idea. The GPS worked here, though, and it directed me northward towards New Rumley. When it turned me right on Country Road, I knew I was getting close. Unpaved, but well maintained, with good weather, it did not conjure thoughts of my ill-fated drive into a flash flood north of the Rapidan River near The Wilderness. At its end, however, the gravel road finished up a steep short hill which connected to New Rumley Road, the paved road I should have taken in the first place. Unfortunately my front wheel drive stick shift car spun its wheels in the gravel and couldn’t move up onto the pavement on the steep hill where I had to stop at the intersection. I did manage to calmly back it down to flatter ground, start up again, and basically drive right onto New Rumley Road blindly, without stopping. Not to worry; it saw little traffic. A left turn brought me to the impressive statue of Custer in the middle of the not-so-impressive hamlet of New Rumley. The statue supposedly stands at the site of Custer’s birthplace, and knowing what I know of Custer’s ambition I could see why he had left the place. It was a beautiful country of rolling hills, but it did not appear to be a place of much action. I was alone. Custer, much remembered for his last action at Little Bighorn where he was overwhelmed by his Lakota and Cheyenne opponents, actually is also remembered as an outstanding cavalry general of the Civil War. So as I read the signage, the inscription of the statue and surveyed the landscape as well as the sculptor’s vision of Custer, I felt that it was a decent place to begin my Civil War-themed Ohio trip, especially since I was definitely ready to rest and ditch the car for awhile.
The statue of General Geroge Armstrong Custer in New Rumley, Ohio (photo by author)
About a twenty-five minute drive, this time on paved roads the whole way, brought me to Cadiz, where I found the Lincoln Inn and saw I would have a whole floor to myself, with a king-sized bed, and adjoining living room and kitchen. The place was very clean and was a gorgeous old brick building with floor to ceiling windows. Though someone had needlessly added a hideous addition on the front of the house with a three car garage, fake brick exterior, and more living space, the original structure was impressive. And for $69 a night, I could not complain given the accommodations I had.
When I walked into town to order my Chinese food, I found a wine-tasting room in an old building with a wonderful metal ceiling which had been revealed when the new owners removed the lower false ceiling which had been installed below the original. The wines I tasted were all flavored with sweet fruit juice. The owners acquire the grape juice from all over to attain different flavors. I bought a pinot noir with a hint of blackberry, as it was the driest of the ones I tasted. The building had been a grocery before being vacant for a long time; the Ohio Valley winery owners had restored the building nicely–the revelation of the original ceiling alone is a laudable result. And I have a soft spot for local business people trying to restore life in the small downtowns of America, which once were the center of things, but now were often marginalized by the big box stores outside town.
And China King in Cadiz, Ohio, is decent Chinese takeout: the curry chicken dinner I had was solid, for a very reasonable price. My dinner at my own kitchen table was fine.
Co-owner Jamie Miller at the Ohio Valley Winery tasting room, with a part of the original ceiling behind the clock (photo by author)
A short morning run revealed that eastern Ohio was much hillier than I had figured. But I slogged through the run, along local streets, finding a small cemetery with Revolutionary War veterans on the top of a hill, and then checked out and was on my way. Ohio flattened as I headed northwestward. The drive northwest on Federal route 250 Uhrichsville to New Philadelphia featured a wholly unexpected and delightful development. This area was Amish country, and I saw more Amish or Mennonite carriages out for rides, or parked in rows, along with folks on bicycles along the side of the road. I also saw small piles of horse manure along both sides on the shoulders of the road, an indicator that the carriage traffic to which I was a witness on this Saturday morning was a common enough occurrence.
An under-three hour drive through pretty farm country brought me to the most important part of this trip to Ohio: the historic Greenlawn Cemetery in Tiffin, Ohio, where I knew that at least five Chasseurs were buried, the locations of which I had marked on a map made for me by a gracious and generous Theresa Sullivan, a member of the board of directors of the cemetery. On the way I stopped at the tiny Rock Creek Cemetery south of town, finding no Chasseur graves but finding a turkey feather. This was a warm-up for the searches to come.
Entering the Greenlawn Cemetery represented a success in itself, as I had come a long way with no significant issues to get here. Armed with Ms. Sullivan’s hand-made map and photos, I found the four graves she had indicated on the map, placing the small American-made American flags at the grave sites, but I was not able to find the one she had also not found. Often gravestones are buried or worn down to the point of being unrecognizable, so I was prepared to put a small flag down in the assumed vicinity of Private John Arnold if necessary. The cemetery itself had been the victim of a 2017 tornado, and the signs remained of the storm, most notably some trees which had been sheared in half, and one prominent grave of a judge with a stone pillar which had been blown out of alignment.
The first grave I found might just be a memorial to Charles McAlister, on his family stone, as a September 25, 1862 letter to his parents from Lieutenant Henry Ellis, which was published in the Tiffin Weekly Tribune on October 10, 1862, reported that McAlister had last been seen on an ambulance ill with fever during the Seven Days battles, and it was feared that he was left behind during a retreat in a hospital at Savage Station, to die under the control of the rebels. William Sneath’s grave was easy to find, as Ms. Sullivan’s photos of the area around it, along with the map she created, made looking for it and locating it relatively simple. And William H. Kisinger’s grave was one I had looked forward to finding, as even though I did not have letters like I did from his relative Sam, I had just recently acquired his signed application to join the Grand Army of the Republic after the war, so there was that connection. Unfortunately Private Joseph Baugher’s grave had a lot of moss growing on it, and it was worn down and thus hard to read his name, though one can discern it, as well as his unit, if one looks closely.
The memorial to Private Charles McAlister in Tiffin’s Greenlawn Cemetery (photo by author)
Private Charles Sneath was reported missing in the fighting of the first ten days of the Overland Campaign in May of 1864 (photo by author)
Sergeant William H. Kisinger served for three years, mustering out of the regiment in September, 1864 (photo by author)
Private Charles Baugher, Greenlawn Cemetery, Tiffin, Ohio (photo by author)
Ms. Sullivan and her father met me at the cemetery shortly after I arrived, and we shared stories about the place and about the research I had done on the Tiffin boys for the first book. Ms. Sullivan had already pledged to buy two copies of No Flinching From Fire, to my appreciation, and knew I would be around during the day. After we chatted for a while, and I signed the two books for her and her father, I told her I would go to the northern part of the cemetery, where she had indicated on the map she made for me that “In this area there are a number of C.W. graves.” They graciously joined me in the search, and I saw several civil war graves with soldiers from Ohio regiments. One row was distinct, and to the left of the row was a grave a bit apart. When I checked it I was not only excited to see it was the grave of a 65th NY soldier, but that it was Private John Arnold’s grave. Arnold had been the one of the five Chasseurs buried at Greenlawn which neither Theresa nor I could find. No longer.
Ms. Theresa Sullivan alongside the grave of Private John Arnold, 65th NY Volunteer Infantry (photo by author)
Having found each of the five Chasseurs buried at Greenlawn, it was time to head northeast of town to try to find Private Charley Crockett’s grave at the Egbert Cemetery. Crockett’s letters at the Army Heritage Center represented my first plunge into primary research about the regiment, and thus Crockett’s grave held sentimental value to me. And knowing that there were other 65th NY men from Tiffin who had likely come back after their enlistments were done, there may well be other graves to find.
The Sullivans gave me directions to get to the Pleasant Ridge Cemetery, also called the Egbert Cemetery. I still had plenty of daylight left, and the more work I did today, the more options I had tomorrow to look for graves. The cemetery was not far, and it was much smaller than Greenlawn, and thus I could wander it looking for Charley Crockett’s grave without a map. Sure enough, within five minutes of my arrival there I had discovered the grave of Chasseur Jackson Michaels, the victim of an accident at division headquarters during the Gettysburg campaign of May 1863.
Private Jackson Michaels was killed in an accident at First Division headquarters on May 27, 1863 (photo by author)
Charley Crockett’s grave at Egberts Cemetery, Tiffin, Ohio (photo by author)
The inscription on Charley Crockett’s grave (photo by author)
I had used Private Crockett’s sometimes flirtatious letters to his friend Nellie for the other book. On December 1, 1861, he had written to her, “Nellie your letters give your humble correspondent the greatest pleasure—they are so home-like—but never mind I’m not trying to flatter.” Crockett was mortally wounded at The Battle of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864. The amputation of his leg did not save his life, and he died of his wounds after the battle.
Driving to my AirBnB stay at a small farm north of Upper Sandusky that evening, I felt a great deal of success. In my first day at Tiffin, I had successfully found all six of the Chasseurs I had been looking for, and I had found Private Michaels’ grave as a bonus, planting flags at all seven graves. I had already used seven of the dozen flags I had brought, and I knew that Captain Sam Kisinger’s grave awaited at Toledo’s Historic Woodlawn Cemetery. I celebrated my day’s work with an early dinner at MST pub in Tiffin, where I enjoyed a refreshingly cold and locally brewed Tiffin ESB to go with my honey barbecue “chicken chunks,” a local Ohio thing. White meat chicken lightly fried, with one of the twenty-something sauces the pub features, was delicious–much better, I think, than they sound.
As I neared my temporary home, I drove into a little hamlet called McCutchenville and noticed a small roadside cemetery there. I pulled in on a whim, and low and behold, I found yet another Chasseur grave. The name on the gravestone was hard to read, but clearly it said Co. F, 65th NY on it. A text message to my daughter Rachel, who studied the regimental roster and the photo I sent her, and we had identified the soldier as Washington McDurborow, a Tiffinite who had transferred on September 1, 1864 to Company F from Company K after serving in the former from March 1862. Sept. 1, 1864, is when the 67th NY merged into the 65th NY, and thus some shifting of soldiers of the 65th who still served likely occurred. I had found my eighth Chasseur grave of the day, on a whim of pulling over to check out this little McCutchenville Cemetery. I was very happy with my day’s luck.
Private Washington McDurborow, 65th NY (photo by author)
I still had another day’s stay in the Tiffin area before heading to meet my college roommate for a stay at a tiny house on Lake Erie in Toledo, and a visit to the Woodlawn Cemetery there to find Captain Sam Kisinger. Ms. Sullivan had said that Saint Joseph’s Catholic cemetery had some civil war era graves, and that it was much smaller than Greenlawn so should be reasonable to search through. After that, I knew I could go back to Greenlawn in case there were any Chasseur graves we had missed. Also, I planned on visiting Clyde’s McPherson Cemetery to visit the grave of General James McPherson, killed at the Battle of Atalanta and the highest ranking Union officer killed in the war. I had been to the site of his Atlanta death on a graduate class bus tour back in 2000, and I knew McPherson was widely respected as a general and beloved by both Grant and Sherman, so I felt it was worth a trip there, about 25 minutes north of Tiffin. With the successes of the first day, I could add Clyde to my second day’s plans, rather than stop there on the way to Toledo as I had originally envisioned. Though I certainly didn’t hope to find another eight graves, I knew there were a good number of Tiffin Chasseurs who likely came back home and lived and died there after the war, so there was still a chance to find some more members of the regiment before I headed up to Toledo.
I started the day at Saint Joseph’s, a nice, medium-sized cemetery with a decent number of Civil War-era graves. All had been in Ohio regiments, however, and after an hour or so of walking through the older parts of the cemetery, I knew I was done with it. I drove back to Greenlawn, checking out some parts I had not seen the day before with the Sullivans, but in the end I found no more Chasseurs buried there. With plenty of afternoon left, I decided to head northeast to Clyde, to see James McPherson’s grave site.
The very impressive grave of General James Birdseye McPherson in Clyde, Ohio (photo by author)
The drive up to Clyde through farm country was uneventful, and my trusty GPS got me where I needed to go. On a hill in the McPherson cemetery, the general’s grave was hard to miss. I devoted one of my little flags to honoring him before I took a picture, knowing how he had been esteemed by his men and his fellow officers. General Grant and Sherman both thought he would be the overall commander of the United States army before his career was done, had he lived.
Noting at least a few civil war era graves nearby the general, I poked around for a few minutes just in case. And, lo and behold, a Chasseur grave! Veteran Private Henry Rinehart had been mortally wounded in the charge which the 65th New York had been a part of known as Upton’s assault at the Battle of Spotsylvania. I was glad I had come to Clyde to see McPherson! Another Chasseur was visited and honored with a flag.
Private Henry Rinehart’s grave, McPherson Cemetery, Clyde, Ohio (photo by author)
Circling back to the area not too far from McPherson’s own grave, there lay Francis Metcalf. His name was familiar, and indeed on his stone there was the 65th New York reference. Frank Metcalf’s to the Fremont Journal were a good source for the Chasseurs’ first days in Washington D.C., and he described the details of life in camp including building crude shelters which had to be moved repeatedly, serving as pickets on the Union line in northern Virginia, the first encounter with the enemy at Lewinsville, and even witnessing Professor Albert Lowe’s reconnaissance balloon in use near camp. It is hard to describe the connection a historian of the regiment feels when reading multiple letters from a soldier to try and craft the story of their experience. One does feel attached to these correspondents, and as much of a thrill it is to find a stone with a reference to the 65th New York oniot, finding a familiar name like Frank Metcalf’s is particularly special. Those letters were penned by a real person, and he had ended up here, buried in Clyde, Ohio, not far from the towering grave of General McPherson.
Frank Metchalf’s grave, in the foreground with the small flag, near his family’s stone (photo by author)
The trip to Clyde had proved productive beyond my hopes. Though walking the grounds of Saint Joseph’s cemetery and re-visiting Greenlawn cemetery had yielded no new finds, I was so glad that in planning the trip I decided late in the game to include a stop in Clyde to see McPherson’s grave, as I would have missed the graves of Privates Rinehart and Metcalf. I had now found ten Chasseur graves, and, with General McPherson included in my ritual, was down to my last flag of the dozen I had brought for Chasseur graves. And I knew Captain Sam Kisinger in Toledo, a key source for No Flinching From Fire, was yet to be visited tomorrow.
I headed back to Tiffin, with plans to try their highly rated pizza at Reino’s restaurant. As I returned to the now-familiar route 101 heading southwest, I spied a little cemetery on the side of the road called the Lowell School cemetery. Having had success in McCutchenville, I figured I would pull over for a look around. By now I was familiar with the fact that Tiffin’s veteran’s graves were almost always decorated with a flag–the local Ohians clearly do an admirable job of honoring their veterans. However, in this case I was sloppy. A cursory search of the few graves with flags found no Chasseurs. It had been a long hot afternoon of driving and searching. What I did not know is that Colonel Leroy Crockett, a relative of Charley’s whose letter on the skirmish at Lewinsville was one of the first Chasseur letters I found and then used in the book, was buried there. His GAR flag stand had been damaged, and hence no flag had been placed near his grave. When I found the site of his grave on Findagrave.com after my return home, I was bitterly disappointed in myself for my sloppy work. However, happily, Theresa Sullivan was more than willing to visit the cemetery and find Crockett’s grave (she is the one who found the damaged GAR flagholder), and she sent me a great picture. So I did visit this small cemetery, but I cannot claim to have actually found Crockett’s grave myself. It is always good to have kind people like Theresa who are willing to help, and who share my opinion that the process of honoring these civil war veterans is a worthy one.
Colonel LeRoy Crockett, who had been 1st Lieutenant in Company K of the 65th NY Volunteers before becoming Colonel of the 72nd Ohio (photo by Theresa Sullivan)
Reino’s pizza was deep dish style, not my favored New York thin crust pizza, but it was not bad. I brought two extra slices home for my AirBnB host in Upper Sandusky, and took a walk outside that night to admire the incredible night sky over the farm fields. With much less ambient light than I live with in the suburbs of New York City, the number of stars to admire overhead was worth the short walk. A run the next morning between the soybean and cotton fields on the quiet back county road was lovely and mercifully flat, and started my day off right before I drove to Toledo to meet my college roommate Paul.
We had rented an AirBnB tiny house in the north part of Toledo called Point Place, right on Lake Erie, with a firepit. The plan was to order Hungarian hotdogs to take out from Tony Packo’s famous Toledo restaurant and meet for lunch, then visit Captain Sam Kisinger’s grave in the historic Woodlawn cemetery there. Then, back to Tony Packo’s to take out their signature chicken paprikash for dinner at the tiny house and a fire by the lake.
Paul picked up the hot dogs, which Maxwell Klinger references multiple times on M*A*S*H*, and they were indeed delicious. They were a sort of cross between a hog dog and a kielbasa, with a flavorful chili sauce and onions. We met at Toledo’s Wildwood Park, west of downtown, and ate outside in this huge park which is a mecca for runners and cyclists, with many paths through the wooded park. Then it was due east to Woodlawn Cemetery, a beautifully planted cemetery in the 19th century rural cemetery movement tradition. I had been sent a map of Section 41 of the cemetery, with Sam Kisinger’s grave location, so we parked and walked over the lake into the heart of the cemetery. I found Kisinger’s marker quickly, and I placed the last of my dozen small American flags there and we took some pictures. “All I can say is that we have done very hard fighting,” Kisinger wrote home on June 4, 1864. His many letters home and to the Tiffin Weekly Tribune were one of the best sources I had for No Flinching From Fire, so of course honoring his gravesite was extra special for me.
After, we looked over the G.A. R. graves nearby, but found no Chasseurs. Paul and I then walked around the cemetery, admiring the architecture of some of the more prominent graves, and the old trees growing there.
Captain Sam Kisinger, 65th NY Volunteers (photo by author)
Paul and I then picked up our takeout dinner, chicken paprikash, again from Tony Packo’s. The chicken was tender and the sauce and dumplings were fine, though I preferred the Hungarian hot dog. Paul and I spent the night in our tiny house on Lake Erie, setting up our chairs next to the firepit on the lake. Though the biting flies around my ankles left their marks, the bald eagle that flew in front of us along shore back and forth was a treat, and being on the lake catching up about our college days was enjoyable.
The next morning, before I headed off to Fremont, 45 minutes away, for a scheduled tour of President Rutherford B. Hayes’ house and then a three and a half hour drive to Somerset, Ohio, where I would spend my last night in the state, I took a walk north from our tiny house, through the gritty neighborhood of working class homes and marinas. At the turnaround point I reached my goal: the Michigan border. I crossed the state line into Michigan, then retraced my steps home for a goodbye to Paul, a quick shower, and a return to the road.
The marker denoting the border between Ohio and Michigan in northern Toledo (photo by author)
The drive to Fremont was unremarkable and smooth. I was looking forward to the tour of the Rutherford B. Hayes house. Though an unremarkable President elected after a contentious and controversial 1876 election, Hayes had also been a very solid civil war general who had served in some of the same places as the Chasseurs. Hence, visiting his house not only added to my “collection” of President’s houses visited, but it fit in with the Civil War theme of the trip, if indirectly.
With my tour not scheduled until 1 PM, and my arrival at the Spiegel Grove grounds before noon, I had time to peruse the museum there, where people were wearing masks and staying distanced, and where the number of visitors was small enough for me to feel very safe. The museum had some excellent artifacts not only of the Hayes’ life at the White House but also of their son General Webb Hayes’ military career in the Spanish-American War, and in the Philippines and China. I also purchased a postcard for my classroom, to hang on the wall alongside the other Presidential house photos and postcards I have up on display there.
Finally it was 1 PM, and the couple on the tour with me and I were greeted on the porch of Hayes’ beautiful house for the tour. It was well-led by the docent, who was knowledgeable and friendly. And in talking about my trip, the couple I was touring with revealed that their own daughter was an active Findagrave member. They even expressed interest in my own trip, and in the 65th NY story, and bought a signed copy of my book; I have learned to travel with a box of books in my car trunk. The house itself had been gifted to Hayes by his rich uncle, and Hayes and added on it to it multiple times, to make the huge but nice house it had become. My favorite room was the library; I wish I had one like it at home. A visit to Hayes’ grave seemed appropriate given this trip’s theme, and after that I was back on the road for the last part of the trip.
Spiegel Grove, the home of President Rutherford B. Hayes (photo by author)
The library at Spiegel Grove (photo by author)
The drive to Somerset was the beginning of the road home. However, I had chosen Somerset as my last stop in southeastern Ohio as it had its own Civil War connection. Notably, it was where General Philip Sheridan had lived, and where the 1859 home he had helped build for his parents still stood. Finding the nicest of my AirBnB stays of the week here, in a lovely nineteenth century brick home just up the block from the main square of the town, and from Sheridan’s house as well, Somerset turned out to be a great last taste of Ohio. My host Catherine not only made me a great breakfast of french toast casserole and bacon, my best breakfast of the trip, but our conversation about the state of politics in Ohio and in America in general was interesting and provocative. She gave me a view of the racism and provincialism which remained a factor in Somerset life, all the while giving me faith in people everywhere through her own progressivism, insight, and thoughtfulness. And she directed me to the best place to run in Somerset, a soft gravel path around the town park, which offered nice views of the countryside as well as a chance to stay away from the surprisingly busy traffic which converged on the town square.
The statue of General Philip Sheridan in Somerset’s center (photo by author)
Phil Sheridan’s house (photo by author)
My last day of the trip started with a four and a half hour drive to Hancock, Maryland, where I had discovered in a letter from a soldier correspondent that the 65th NY had been sent in late October 1862 on a march to thwart a rebel offensive that never came. The Chasseurs, after a difficult march through mountainous country, briefly guarded the town, then marched back to Williamsport. It was not much in terms of the overall history of the regiment, but it was a place I had never visited, it was on the famous C & O canal, and it would break up my trip home nicely. The Hancock Motel, where I stayed, was simple and cheap, but clean and safe. And the town of Hancock was small but historic.
Crossing the Ohio River into the sliver of West Virginia which precedes Pennsylvania when one drives east out of Ohio, I drove slowly through Wheeling, whose road construction, traffic, and tunnel made the drive a bit harrowing. Exiting Interstate 70 at Washington, Pennsylvania, and then taking the old National Road, current Federal Route 40, would be even more so. Washington, Pennsylvania is a significant town which I had never visited, or even known about. It is hilly with a lot of traffic lights–not so fun in traffic when driving a stick shift, as I was.
The National Road is no joke, and driving up and down the hills on the curvy path was a reminder of the major significance of this road when it was built in the early 1800s. Crossing the Appalachian Mountains was one of the biggest challenges to American development at the time, But driving along the old National Road, even with the improvements which were made to it in the building of Federal Highway 40 in the 1920s and 1930s, is still an impressive undertaking. Curves and hills abound heading east even before Uniontown and the beginning of the most significant mountain ridges to cross. A tollhouse or two is still visible along the road. Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Jefferson and Madison, pushed for the development of this road, continuing the route that General Braddock built and took during the French and Indian War leading to his ambushing by French and Indian soldiers and his death. The overlook on the road at the summit of Chestnut Ridge offers a fine prospect and a sense of the challenge of crossing the Appalachians, and, according to the register at the nearby Summit Inn Resort, which dates to the 1930s, it has been visited by Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein and Henry Ford, among others.
Though it was nearing the end of a long trip, and frankly I was anxious to get over the mountains, into Maryland, and to Hancock and my last night of the trip, the signs for Fort Necessity National Battlefield drew me in, and I did make a quick stop to see the site. I reference this ill-fated battle of the French & Indian War as an example of a big mistake made by George Washington early in his career, in an attempt to bring some reality to the portrayal of our national heroes. Seeing the reconstructed fort (the French burned the original after taking it) where Washington lost about thirty percent of his men in casualties, with the woods’ edge only sixty yards from the fort and offering great cover for the French and their native allies to fire on Washington’s men, it was clear to even an ill-trained eye that its positioning was a big mistake. Having read and talked about the palace for years, it was fun to briefly walk the museum about it, take the short trail to see it, and to snap a quick picture. Then, back on the road over the mountains.
The view from the Overlook at the Summit of Chestnut Ridge on the Old National Road (photo by Joel Brewton, Herald-Standard)
Fort Necessity National Battlefield (photo by author)
Route 40 continued to be hilly right into Maryland, where I confess I was relieved to see it intersect with Interstate 68, where the driving would be easier. It was still about an hour to the Hancock Motel, but it would be smooth sailing from here.
The motel was a sort of throwback to the 1960s, family-owned, simple but clean, and within walking distance to the center of Hancock. It was inhabited mostly by a few cyclists who rode the nearby bike path along the canal which had been a former railroad. Quiet, if snug and unfancy, the place was affordable and met my purpose of breaking up my trip home perfectly. The barbecue pulled pork sandwich I got from a quirky place on Main Street called Buddylou’s Eats, Drinks, and Antiques, to eat in my room to be safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, came with homemade macaroni and cheese and baked beans, and it was excellent. And though the mattress on the bed was a bit soft, for the bargain price I was very pleased with finding this nice old place to stay.
Though the village itself is small, Hancock’s main street made up a part of the old National Road and hence was the likely route into the town of the men of the 65th New York in 1862. Between the National Road and the C & O canal, it would be possible for me to have a strong sense of retracing the steps of the Chasseurs, including those of my great-great grandfather Private Timothy Carroll. Carroll would go on to become a 2nd Lieutenant, and the challenging and pointless march to Hancock in October 1862 was one of many formative experiences for him.
In late October 1862, Newton’s division of the 6th Corps, including the Chasseurs, left their camp on a march to the northwest. According to a letter home from Tiffin, Ohio Private Lafayette Burns, “After two days of hard marching through a rough and mountainous district,” the regiment arrived in Hancock, following reports of an enemy force there threatening a second invasion of Maryland. “On arriving however, we found everything quiet, and no signs of any force of the enemy in that quarter… The Chasseurs were detailed to act as provost guard for the town…But our duties in this capacity were of but short duration, we were just getting ourselves into comfortable quarters when we again received marching orders, and were soon once more on the road, and moving off down the river in the direction of Williamsport again.” This seemingly pointless march was why I found myself in Hancock for the night; that and it was a good half-way point for the drive home from Ohio.
Before leaving Hancock, however, I figured a morning walk along the C & O canal was in orderThe Cumberland & Ohio Canal, begun in 1828 and completed in 1850, was another way to meet that challenge of crossing the Appalachians. By the time of the completion of the last section to Cumberland, Maryland, railroads were already overtaking the canal’s technology and efficiency. But the canal, with its 74 locks and eleven aqueducts, was an impressive feat, and walking along the towpath today in Hancock, looking at the ruins of one of those aqueducts, over Tonoloway Creek, one can still see the impressive feat that was the C & O canal.
The Western Maryland rail trail, with a trailhead at its middle point in Hancock, is a popular 22 mile paved bike trail which clearly is bringing business into Hancock, judging by the cyclists staying at my hotel, parking in the lot at the trailhead in Hancock, and the folks eating at the place I got my takeout barbecue sandwich. But I crossed the canal on a bridge to the towpath, between the canal and the Potomac River. I knew the towpath well, at least the section which passed through Bethesda, Maryland, as I coached the Landon School cross country team in the mid-1990s, and we used the towpath for training quite a bit. Here in Hancock, though, the towpath was very quiet compared to the rail trail. Not so heavily used, I passed only one runner as I walked alone along the path to the east and back. A little over a mile in I reached the Tonoloway aqueduct, thought about this engineering challenge, and took a picture. I had told myself upon seeing a mile marker shortly into the walk that I would go to the next one and turn around, knowing I had a five hour drive home. But seeing the signage near the aqueduct just beyond the next mile marker, I crossed the wooden bridge over the aqueduct and admired it. Turning around, I headed back.
The remains of the Tonoloway Creek aqueduct of the C & O canal, in Hancock, Maryland (photo by author)
The drive home to New York featured the classic traffic delays on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Cross Bronx Expressway; nothing worth reporting here. It was a long haul to Ohio and back, but I had found a lot to be excited about, in particular connecting to the men of the 65th New York Volunteer Infantry. And I had met some nice folks along the way who shared my interest in and passion for history. The trip was a little crazy, and I knew I now faced a fourteen day quarantine back in New York before I could fully emerge from the experience, but it did give me time to write about it.