In the early days of Columbus, there was no police force in the modern sense. The earliest peace officer in the village of Columbus was the town marshal.
The town was founded in 1812 but did not become the borough of Columbus until 1816, when the Ohio General Assembly arrived for its first session. The marshal's job was to keep peace in a rough-and-ready way, with the help of residents.
The marshal's office lasted until 1871 when a more formal police force began to be organized.
The last town marshal was a man named Charles Engelke. He came out of the German community in the "Old South End" of Columbus and would end his career as one of the early superintendents of the new police force.
But he got his start in law enforcement many years earlier. An early history of the Columbus police recounted some of that early experience:
"During a portion of the War of the Rebellion he served as a patrolman. He was part of that insufficient police force that was supposed to preserve order during those tumultuous days. His district was from High to Fourth Street, and from Town Street to Main -- then called Friend Street. (Near State and High streets) was a saloon, whose proprietor was a dangerous sort of man, as were the majority of his customers. Here the most turbulent sons of Mars, the reckless soldier of the sixties, were wont to gather, and when they had drunk their fill, there was usually something doing.
"A riot was easily bred in those days and when trouble was imminent, Engelke appeared, and instead of idly threatening, he appealed to their soldierly sense of honor to help him preserve order, that the name of the Capital of the State should not be a reproach to the people of the State of Ohio. Seldom were his appeals disregarded. 'This man is fair with us,' someone would say, 'let us help him,' and thus in a quiet and effective manner, he built for himself a reputation that in less than three years made him the Chief Marshal of the City."
But there were times when diplomacy did not work so well.
With the outbreak of the American Civil War, it rapidly became clear that military bases would be required to gather together the large numbers of men, guns and other equipment needed in the conflict. Great encampments were established near the places where many railroads came together.
Columbus was one of those places. Established shortly after the war began, Camp Chase in what is now the Hilltop neighborhood became the training center for as many as 26,000 Union troops at any one time. It also became the home of the Camp Chase Confederate prisoner-of-war camp. Opened in 1862, the prison camp was designed to hold 2,000 men.
By 1864, it held more than 8,000 men. More than 2,000 of them are buried there in one of the largest Confederate cemeteries in the United States.
But not every Confederate prisoner ended up there. Confederate officers willing to promise they would not flee were "paroled" and permitted to leave the prison camp for visits to downtown Columbus.
Sometimes, this arrangement went awry.
A local history reported that "loud complaint was made of the offensive manners of some of these paroled prisoners while lounging in the streets and hotels. The entertainment of a Confederate officer at dinner by Philip R. Forney, an officer of the United States Army, resulted in considerable feeling owing to the fact that Forney's guest knocked down an intoxicated soldier from the Sixty-First Ohio who approached and annoyed him while at table."
It was not the only confrontation of this kind over convivial dining.
A Capt. Dodge of the 18th U.S. Regulars was a regular acquaintance of a paroled Capt. Joyce, a Confederate officer captured at Fort Donelson and sent to Camp Chase as a prisoner of war. The police history recorded that "one day these two worthies were dining and drinking at Wagner's Cafe, then the exclusive resort of Columbus, when a private soldier, a little worse for drink entered and saluted Captain Dodge. The officer paid no attention to the salute ... and the soldier paused in front of them and said, 'I saluted you, by ____ , and you didn't -- '. In a second the rebel officer sprang to his feet and struck the soldier in the face ... "
"When Wagner observed the soldier who had been assaulted talking with his comrades, he anticipated trouble and sent a messenger to the (police) for a squad at once. The soldiers crowded into the place. ... The two officers sprang to their feet. As the soldiers were about to seize the two captains, a door suddenly opened behind them. ... The officers beat a hasty retreat. ... The soldiers were about to follow when the police appeared. They did not attempt to arrest them ... but bade them get away."
All in a day's work for Engelke and the men who worked with him.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.