As it were

Third year of Civil War begins

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The Civil War transformed America and it transformed Columbus, Ohio as well. Most people -- North and South -- thought the war would be brief and bloodless. They were wrong.

President Abraham Lincoln initially called for 75,000 men to put down a rebellion "too powerful to be suppressed" by normal means. Columbus native Gen. Irvin McDowell led a Union army to defeat in July, 1861, at the first Battle of Bull Run. It would not be the last Battle of Bull Run or the last Union defeat.

But as North and South fought to a standstill in the east, hope began to emerge that perhaps western Union armies -- many of them with people from central Ohio -- would turn the tide. On Feb. 6, 1862, Fort Henry fell to Union forces and Fort Donelson was overcome on Feb. 16, 1862. A local paper reported that, "As the good news passed from lip to lip, beams of patriotic gladness lighted up every countenance and glowed in every eye."

The good news would not last. On April 6, 1862, North and South engaged in what was up until then the bloodiest battle America had ever seen. At a place called Pittsburg Landing, two armies fought and bled near a church that would give a battle its name -- Shiloh.

Over the rest of the year, Union forces would begin the long struggle to open the Mississippi to river traffic while armies in the east tried to capture Richmond, Va., the Confederate capital.

They would not succeed. Most notably, the mixed fortunes of the Union army were illustrated in a battle the Union was supposed to win against an enemy presumed to lose. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia invaded the North to show America and the world that it could strike anywhere it wished anytime it wished. A copy of Lee's plan came by chance to Union General George McClellan, who felt that with this knowledge he had to be victorious.

In September 1862, the two armies met at a place in Maryland the North called Antietam and the South called Sharpsburg. It was one of the bloodiest days in American history. In the end, Lee's army withdrew and President Abraham Lincoln used the occasion to put forth his Emancipation Proclamation. After Jan. 1, 1863, all slaves held in the rebellious South were henceforth considered to be free.

It had been a hard year for Abraham Lincoln and the people of the North. The war that had been predicted to be over in a few months continued to drag on. A call for 75,000 men had been followed by a call for 300,000 more. When that did not prove to be sufficient, an unpopular military draft was ordered in the fall of 1862. Trying to finds a winner, Lincoln continued to change generals and would do so once again after Antietam. In December 1862, Gen. Ambrose Burnside lost badly and bloodily at Fredericksburg while Gen. William S. Rosecrans fought a bitter battle with Confederate forces at place called Stone River in Tennessee.

As the new year dawned, the prospect of an early end to the war seemed remote.

Through all of these struggles, Columbus and its people had begun to change as well. The boisterous optimism and enthusiasm of the early days of the war became muted as casualties increased and the conflict continued. While support for the war remained strong, the city began to settle in for a long and difficult struggle. Columbus slowly but surely became an armed camp.

The town of 18,000 people now served as a mobilization and training center for more than 30,000 Union troops on any given day. Some of the troops could be found at the new Columbus Barracks that would later be renamed Fort Hayes. Others were living at an officer's quarters called Tod Barracks near what is now the convention center. And still others were housed at Camp Thomas in what is now the University District.

But most of the soldiers in the city lived and worked at Camp Chase -- a huge encampment several miles west of the city and south of Broad Street. Because there were so many troops at this one place, Camp Chase was selected in the fall of 1862 to be the location for a major Confederate prison camp. Originally designed to hold 2,000 men the prison would eventually hold many, many more. Thousands of them died there and more than 2,000 of them are still buried there in one of the largest Confederate military cemeteries in America.

It had been a hard year and more hardship was yet to come. But the spirit of the town was still undaunted. On June 7, 1862, a 150-foot flagpole was raised at Camp Chase and Col. Granville Moody, the camp commander, announced to cheers: "In the name of God, and Governor Tod, we'll follow our flag to Dixie!"

And they did just that.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes As it were for ThisWeek News.

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