Ohio in the War; Her Statesmen, Her Generals, and Soldiers

By WHITELAW REID. Cincinnati: Moore, Wilstach, and Baldwin. (Published by subscription.)
IT is so very pleasant to turn from Ohio in the last elections to Ohio in the war, that we might welcome Mr. Reid’s work, if it had no other attraction, as a relief from the fact that certain mean prejudices are still dominant among otherwise noble and generous people. But Mr. Reid approaches us with a better claim than this upon the general interest, for it needs no great critical acumen to perceive that the history of Ohio in the war is also a history of the war, since that State gave the nation the great generals who gained its battles. The three leaders, Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan, whose names come first to mind at the mention of the war, as well as McDowell, McPherson, Rosecrans, Buell, Mitchell, Gillmore, Garfield, Cox, Steedman, Schenck, and many other captains only less famous than these, were natives of Ohio, while McClellan was a resident of Cincinnati, and was first appointed to a command by the Governor of Ohio. Her rank and file, moreover, fought in nearly all the battles of the war, and the contribution of Ohio to the success of the struggle was, in point of numbers alone, very great. Under the first call, the State furnished some ten thousand men in excess of her quota; and when the war ended she had given five thousand more than had been asked of her, having placed in the field three hundred and ten thousand men.
Mr. Reid divides his work of some two thousand pages into three parts, of which the first is the history of the State during the war; the second, biographies of all the Ohio generals ; the third, the history of all the Ohio regiments and military organizations, succinctly but very faithfully stating ail the great facts in the career of each regiment, and presenting in tables a complete list of all its officers, with the dates of their appointment and promotion, discharge or death. The whole work seems to us very admirably and clearly arranged; but neither the first nor the third part requires special comment here. The latter has great statistical value, and must be prized for its faithful record of deeds and names heroic enough, but often not famous ; the former is in great degree the story of most other State governments during the war, — the story of peace-bred officials overwhelmed by a sudden and unprecedented demand for military experience, of their rapid education in the main requisites, and of their rise to the level which the people attained with a bound. This record is, of course, varied with full notice of Mr. Chase’s career as Secretary of the Treasury, and Mr. Stanton’s conduct of the War Department; for the latter Secretary, although appointed from Pennsylvania, is a native of Ohio. The picturesque episode of Morgan’s invasion and capture further relieves the accustomed narrative of State governmental action.
In the lives of the Ohio generals, as we have hinted, Mr. Reid makes a demand upon the interest of readers everywhere, and supports this claim with some very obvious qualifications. He was prominent among those bards who sang in telegraphic despatches and letters of epical length the heroic deeds of the war contemporaneously with their occurrence, — in other words, he was the very well - known warcorrespondent (“Agate”) of a Cincinnati journal; and he writes usually about that which he saw, and often about that of which he was part. It is a defect of his present work, that it sometimes reads too much as if even now, after the exigency is long past, it had been written amid the tumult of the camp upon the correspondent’s knee, or a canteen, or a drum-head. We mean to say that it is sometimes careless in style and loose in form. But it is always very lively narrative ; it is unscrupulously frank; and, considering what popular histories usually are and have been, it is amazingly free from idolatry. Plainly, it is Mr. Kinglake among modern historians, rather than the Rev. Mr. Abbott or the Rev. Mr. Headley, whom Mr. Reid has had in mind. If he is at all unjust, it is towards success, and if he has a particular fondness for any general, it is sure to be some one with whom the balance has been inclined by popular estimate, if not actual event, towards failure. General McClellan, it is true, is not one of the gainers by this trait of his biographer. We have found him nowhere more coldly and unpityingly described than in Mr. Reid’s book; and perhaps it would be impossible to kindle sympathy from the facts of that career, which, up to the moment when it closed as effectively as if in death, seemed a game of persistent self-seeking and constant selflosing. But Mr. Reid comes out bravely in defence of Rosecrans, and while acknowledging his ignorance of character, his tenderness towards worthless subordinates, and his indiscreet pride with superiors, vindicates his reputation as a general, and certainly endears him to the reader as a man. He also arrives at a far more favorable estimate of Buell than that usually held, and ranks him, for some reasons, with the ablest generals of the war, while he awards generous praise to McDowell for his most unpopular and unquestionable virtues and talents.
Of the three most distinguished Ohio generals, Sheridan receives by far the greatest share of our author’s liking and admiration ; and we are made to see the heroic cavalryman in his higher character of a skilful and sagacious military leader, and a firm and incorruptible military ruler. It must be confessed that popular worship does degrade its idols a little, in order the better to get at them ; and it is well to have our eyes turned from Sheridan’s ride at Winchester to Sheridan’s generalship in sixty-seven other battles, and Sheridan’s rule in Texas and New Orleans. It is well also to look over his brilliant career in Mr. Reid’s book, and perceive how few errors have marred it, and how generous his instincts have always been. He is almost sole among the soldiers educated at West Point in having had no sympathy for Southern institutions; and, so far as he had been a politician before the war, in being liberal and democratic-minded,—Irish and Catholic as he was by blood and faith.
The want of equally generous instincts in other leaders, and especially in General Sherman, finds no palliation in Mr. Reid’s book. Full justice is done to Sherman’s brilliant and unquestionable military genius, and his success is duly applauded, while his scarcely less remarkable errors are touched with an unsparing hand. The victories of the march to the sea are celebrated, but the ravages which Mr. Reid thinks needless are freely deplored, and. the depopulation of Atlanta bitterly condemned. At the close of Sherman’s life, his biographer groups his characteristic extravagances and inconsistencies of word and deed in a style that must be called effective, if nothing more.
As we have shown, Mr. Reid’s is a very unusual method of writing popular history, but on the whole we are inclined to think it an improvement on the old fashion. His frankness can do little harm to our heroes, and none to the people, who cannot know too much of the feelings and prejudices of men liable to Presidency. Mr. Reid uses the same freedom in speaking of General Grant that marks his treatment of Sherman ; but, the man being different, the result is different. Still, the biography of Grant cannot be called enthusiastic. It is, in fact, a very self-possessed estimate of that great soldier who snatched from egregious errors the most surprising successes, and who, in passing from defeat to victory, was as little elated as he had been cast down. We are told that if Grant did more than other generals, he also received greater and more constant support from the government, and that he achieved many of his triumphs, as he achieved his last, more by reason of his tremendous odds than his military skill. At the same time we are continually reminded of his integrity and his modesty, his good sense and his patriotism. Of his political opinions Mr. Reid says no more than General Grant says himself, and this, as we all know, is very little ; he simply states that before the war Grant’s “ sympathies were strongly Southern,” and that “ since the war his feelings have been intensely loyal, but conservative,” and, he might have added, perfectly Congressional.
We can only refer to Mr. Reid’s biographies of Generals Gillmore, McPherson, Mitchell, and Garfield as exceedingly interesting, like those of greater and minor generals. Of course, the larger proportion of each biography is devoted to the military career of its hero ; but the earlier events and associations that form character are also fully noticed. On this more dangerous ground Mr. Reid does not often lose his footing. He speculates little; and in speaking of the boyhood of his heroes, he does not consider it necessary to become himself puerile. In fact, he is very manly throughout, and we should be very glad to see his lives of the Ohio generals, with the biographic notices of Chase, Stanton, and other Ohio statesmen, published as a work for general sale.