Editor’s note: This is one in a series of historical articles about Champaign County’s part in the Civil War. The articles are leading up to a re-dedication ceremony for the Man on the Monument in Urbana on December 5 at 3 p.m.
It is hard to imagine the impact of the Civil War on St. Paris, Ohio. No war before or since has seen so much involvement and so much death in the small community.
Champaign County experienced approximately 578 service member deaths during the Civil War. If you lived in St. Paris at the time, the question was not “who do you know who died?” but “how many do you know who died?”
Early in the war, St. Paris was impacted by the loss of its relatively new and only high school teacher, Marion Ross, who answered the nation’s call and enlisted in the 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry (O.V.I.).
Although Ross was a resident of Addison (Christiansburg), he taught at the school in St. Paris. He would go on to participate in “The Great Locomotive Chase” also referred to as the “Andrews Raid.”
For his actions in this courageous activity, he would lose his life and earn the Medal of Honor.
What was the impact of this on his students in St. Paris? How many of you can fathom your current teacher dropping everything to join the Army and earn the Medal of Honor?
There are many notable town residents who served during the war, for example, the Riker brothers (John and Aaron), who have a fair bit written about their lives and their houses that can still be seen today.
However, St. Paris had many residents who served during the war who simply disappeared into history.
Probably the saddest story is that of Francis Field, who enlisted in the 45th O.V.I. in August of 1862. He lied about his age to join saying he was 19 years old, when in fact he was only 15. A collection of some of his personal letters is at the Ohio History Connection in Columbus. His letters home envelop the reader with his sense of naivete and patriotism. His love of soldiering is apparent as well as his yearning for home and loved ones.
After his first major battle, the battle of Somerset, Kentucky, he wrote home telling of simple details of the battle such as how the 45th O.V.I. conducted a bayonet charge on the confederate position. He must have witnessed some brutal carnage, but left it out of his letters. Sadly, his story ended on May 17, 1863 near Somerset, Kentucky. Francis Field was posted to picket duty with another Champaign County soldier, Samuel Groves. Upon tying their horses to a nearby tree the two men were pushed between their horses. In the process of pushing the horses away, Samuel Groves’ musket got caught on the horse’s rigging and caused it to discharge. The bullet found Francis Field, entering his shoulder and severing his spine, causing instant death. He was only 16 years old. His name is but one on the altar of freedom that represents the best and brightest who never came home to St. Paris.
Another impact of the Civil War on residents of St. Paris was the plethora of physical and mental trauma.
George Lewis, another St. Paris resident who served in the very same company and unit as Francis Field, is an example of resiliency. In November of 1863 he was captured near Knoxville, Tennessee, along with several other St. Paris residents. He would spend the rest of the war in Confederate prisons. He would serve time in Libby prison, Belle Isle prison, Florence & Charleston prisons and lastly Andersonville prison. Throughout his prison time he witnessed many from his own unit dying from disease and starvation let alone countless others he likely watched perish at the hands of the inadequate and ill-supplied Confederate prisons. George Lewis would come back to St. Paris in 1865 and start his life again. He was a successful tile worker and farmer and donated much of his money to Evergreen Cemetery in St. Paris to be used for construction of a chapel, which still stands and has his picture inside, as well as a public receiving vault, which has since been torn down. George Lewis experienced the torment and hopelessness of prison life, yet came home and flourished as a citizen.
Abram Ingalls of St. Paris is another great example of overcoming physical trauma. Ingalls enlisted in the 66th O.V.I. in August of 1862. He would serve through the major battles of Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. After Chancellorsville, he came down with a bad cold and the unit surgeon gave him an overdose of quinine. This caused immediate stomach issues, but also caused long term cardiac, respiratory, and neurological issues. Unfortunately for him, he recovered enough in time to participate in the fierce fighting on Culp’s hill at Gettysburg. The 66th O.V.I. even erected a large monument to commemorate their fighting at this battle, which is still standing and easy to visit. After Gettysburg, the issues pertaining to his quinine overdose returned as well as an additional injury which caused gangrene and sepsis. He was medically discharged at the end of 1864 and returned to St. Paris. He went on to become the Mayor of St. Paris, he served as a superintendent of a Sunday school, and sold books for the American Tract Society, all while dealing with a multitude of health issues related to his service in the Civil War. He would eventually pass away in 1891 from cardiac issues likely still caused by his overdose of quinine after the battle of Chancellorsville.
War impacts everyone differently. I think St. Paris owes a debt to its citizen soldiers who never returned home, a debt that those who did make it home tried to pay by being strong upstanding citizens and remembering their lost brothers-in-arms.
St. Paris was home to the H.C. Scott Post 111 of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) The GAR did a great job remembering those who were lost, but time is fleeting and the GAR died out as a veteran organization.
It is now up to all of us today to recognize and honor the service of St. Paris’s Civil War generation.