Book Review: Appalachian Ohio and the Civil War, 1862-1863

Appalachian Ohio and the Civil War, 1862-1863. By Susan G. Hall. (Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2000. vi, 258 pp. $39.95, ISBN 978-0-7864-3738-2.)

In Appalachian Ohio and the Civil War, 1862-1863, Susan G. Hall provides a narrative history of a select group of Ohioans. Hall’s goal is to show how the Civil War affected the “small society” in Harrison County and the surrounding five eastern Appalachian counties during the one year period from the summer of 1862 to the following summer of 1863. For Hall, this represents a time of “crucial battles and political events which shaped the Civil War and the nation subsequently, and altered societies in many ways.” (p. 1)

This of course could be said for many different time periods during the four years of national conflict. But Hall claims that the recruiting of soldiers in 1862 led to a bitter division between Appalachian Ohio citizens who supported the Union’s actions and the growing presence of anti-war Democrats. She asserts that studying this specific period can illuminate the shift in soldier motivations and the rise of Copperhead support in Ohio, both of which contributed to why 1862-1863 was such a pivotal year affecting the home front and the men away at war. These issues are particularly important to the Appalachian region, and somewhat different from other Ohio counties, in that Harrison County had been home to George Armstrong Custer and Republican House of Representatives member John A. Bingham. The significance of Custer to the year or the area is not explored despite the considerable number of sources listed for him and the several reminders in the text that he was a native. Bingham, on the other hand, spoke strongly against the Vallandigham Copperheads in the region. And as Hall points out, Bingham played somewhat of an important role nationally as a Lincoln supporter from Ohio. Unfortunately Bingham’s impact on the local citizens is not explored beyond the extensive quoted sections from contemporary sources.

The book is made up of twenty-five chapters. Starting with “The Land and Its People,” Hall provides the background on the area and its residents before 1862. The chapters proceed chronologically, juxtaposing national events with local reactions by the diverse population that included Scotch-Irish, German, and African Americans. Hall concludes her story in July 1863 with “Morgan’s Raid and the Soldiers.” Although she explains the impact of the year’s events on some of the Appalachian Ohio soldiers, including local blacks who joined the United States Colored Troops, it is an abrupt ending.  The monograph’s lack of a conclusion greatly hinders the reader’s ability to fully understand and appreciate how “this community’s experience was representative of the North’s; otherwise, it resembled that of the divided core of the country, in Appalachia.” (p. 3)

Hall’s narrative is basically a synthesis of county and local histories already in print, but she supplements her summary by including extensive quoting from newspapers, letters, and military reports. One of the potential strengths of Hall’s account is her reliance on letters exchanged between the people at home and the soldiers away at battle. Regrettably, all the reader knows about this correspondence is that it was collected by the author’s great grandmother, a twenty-year-old resident of Irish Ridge during the period under study. Described only in the preface, there is no citation or bibliographic entry provided for the letters which Hall heavily quotes “with some modifications to render then readable.” (p. 5) And these letters between Nancy D. Mitchell, her brothers, and their friends appear to be the only collection of primary correspondence used. One has to wonder if their experiences are representative of people in Harrison and the five other counties.

The text is accompanied by several illustrations and maps. Unfortunately many of the nineteenth-century reprints are of poor quality. For some reason the author changes citation styles between the preface and chapters, an unavoidable annoyance further compounded by the method chosen for newspaper sources. Furthermore, the title is somewhat of a misnomer. The book refers to only six of the twenty-nine Appalachian counties in Ohio, and the focus tends to be on Harrison County. More serious is the lack of interpretive analysis and an attempt to place Harrison and the other counties within a broader context, of Ohio or the north during the war.

Yet Hall’s work is of great value to those interested in local Harrison County history, especially those who do not have access to the numerous monographs from which she draws her narrative. Susan G. Hall has also begun a dialogue which hopefully will be continued, as little has been written on Appalachian Ohio during the Civil War.

Kelly D. Selby
Walsh University