It’s a little late for Veterans Day, but this week we will cover some of the history of military activity in and around Sandusky.
Among the earliest major military activity in the region was during the War of 1812. We have been observing the bicentennial of that war since last year, with more than a year to go in the national commemoration. The local events of the war have passed the 200 year mark. We all know about the Battle of Lake Erie (a.k.a. Perry’s Victory), which was memorialized in events last September. Some of us might not know about another battle fought nearby during that war, the Battle of Marblehead Peninsula, a skirmish fought in September 1812 between Ohio militia troops and Native Americans allied with the British. Of course, there were other battles nearby, at Fort Stephenson and Fort Meigs, but we will stay closer to Sandusky. The War of 1812 represented the last military fighting in our region, but military activities have continued through much of our history.
Another fact of history that we often forget is that most of our military forces in the early decades of the nation were made of militias, in keeping with the Founders’ admonitions against maintaining a large standing army. Sandusky contributed at least three militia units to service in the nineteenth century, two infantry companies and an artillery unit, all formed around 1850. One infantry unit, the Bay City Guards, was led by Captain Robert McMeens, a local physician. Dr. McMeens served his city and country on many occasions, but is perhaps most recognized for his service during the Civil War, where many who served with him believed he worked himself to death treating wounded soldiers. The city’s other infantry militia, the Sandusky Yager Rifle Company, was composed entirely of German-Americans. The Yager Company was still in service at the time of the Civil War.
Unlike in today’s military, where recruits are trained in centralized installations and assigned to units including people from all parts of the country, most of the Army units in the Civil War were formed within communities by local residents, usually serving under a state banner as well as the national flag. Many of the members of the 128th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry, for example, were residents of Sandusky, mustered into service at Johnson’s Island, serving as the guard force for the prison camp. They were more commonly known as the Hoffman Battalion, named for the Lieutenant Colonel in charge of prisons. Company E of the Seventh Regiment O.V.I. was from neighboring Huron.
Similar recruiting practices gathered soldiers for the Spanish American War in 1898-99. The Sixth Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry was populated by men from northwest and north central Ohio. Company B of this Regiment originated in Sandusky, and served in Cuba from January to April, 1899. The Sandusky Library has images of a parade on Columbus Avenue welcoming the men home in May of that year.
It appears that by World War I, the United States military took on a national composition and command structure, with Sandusky soldiers serving with men from other parts of the country in national units – no longer in Ohio militia regiments called to active duty, but in units of the national armed services. A publication, Honor Roll of Ohio, Erie County Edition, details the services offered for the war effort by local residents, both military and civilian.
The people of Sandusky, of course, also contributed to the Second World War (unfortunately, not as well documented in the Sandusky Library collections – appropriate contributions are accepted). The military draft to prepare for the war began well before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Erie County’s first World War II draftees left Sandusky for boot camp on January 24, 1941. After the war ended returning soldiers were honored with an “All-Ohio Veterans Get-Together Day” in Sandusky on August 3, 1946, featuring a military parade through downtown streets.
Street Wise is presented weekly by Ron Davidson, special collections librarian with the Sandusky Library and author of a local history book by Arcadia Publishing called “Images of America: Sandusky, Ohio.”