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Our Rich History: Casualties of Siege of Cincinnati, 1862; celebrations as Confederates withdrew

By Steve Preston
Special to NKyTribune

In September 1862, Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith sent General Henry Heth with an advance force of over 6,000 to probe the defenses protecting Covington and Cincinnati. He was unprepared for the size and scope of what awaited them.

Cincinnati managed to mobilize a force around 85,000 strong to man the gun emplacements and rifle pits that were dug on a line from present-day Fort Thomas to the west of Covington, even manning three batteries on the Ohio side of the river. The Confederate force got as far as the southern outskirts of present-day Covington when they ran into resistance from the defenders of Cincinnati.

Fort Mitchel, Harper’s Weekly, September 27, 1862.

Manning the forward post of Fort Mitchel (the later city of Fort Mitchell would add the second “L”) were elements of the 104th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. They scouted for the signs of a Confederate approach. This unit had just mustered into service on August 30, 1862. It consisted of Ohioans mostly from the counties of Columbiana, Portage, Stark, and Summit. Their enlistments ranged from 100 days to three years. Ordered to defend Cincinnati on September 1, 1862, they would get their baptism by fire early in September.

The outpost at Fort Mitchel received the brunt of the probing by the Confederate force. Overlooking the Lexington Pike, today’s Dixie Highway, it guarded the most direct route for an army to take traveling from Lexington to Covington, as Heth’s force was.

Companies A, B, C, D, and F were involved in skirmishes while companies H and I did picket duty. Within the engaged units were William Bleeks, a sergeant, and William Taylor, Henry Shantz, Alexander Lowery, and John Randolph, all privates. All these individuals mustered into the unit when it was formed. Sergeant Bleeks, and most likely the others, were from the area of Massillon, Ohio.

According to the Cincinnati Gazette, Saturday, September 13, 1862 edition, the 104th occupied the property of a local Southern sympathizer by the last name of Buckner. Just south of the Buckner residence was a wooded area that spread over both sides of the road. It had been filled with Confederates rumored to be from Texas. On Tuesday, September 9th, initial skirmishing began. The firefight between the companies of the 104th and the Texan troops reached its peak by Thursday the 11th. That afternoon would be the final action as heavy rains moved in and the Confederate forces withdrew. No known record of rebel casualties from the skirmishes is known.

Constructing defenses south of Covington. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, October 4, 1862.

The 104th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry suffered five casualties, the only known casualties from the Siege of Cincinnati caused by hostile gunfire. Private William Taylor of Company B was shot through the bowels. Private John Randolph of Company F was shot through the chest. Private Alexander Lowery from Company G was severely wounded in the leg. Another soldier, Private Henry Shants (or Shantz) supposedly of Company G, was shot in the right arm with the ball entering his side.

The one fatality was Sergeant William Bleeks of Company A. On Wednesday, September 10, 1862, Bleeks was shot through the heart while on picket duty a short distance from the main force. Sergeant William Bleeks was from Wilmot, Ohio and his last words were; “…tell my friends that I did my duty.” Several variations of his last words exist in period publications. As the rains came in the afternoon of Thursday, September 11th, the skirmishing subsided and the Confederate force would melt away in the night, retreating south towards Lexington.

As the Confederates withdrew, Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky celebrated.

Volunteers returned to their chosen professions, militia disbanded, and regular army units such as the 104th Regiment went on to participate in actions such as the Siege of Knoxville, Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Utoy Creek, and the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee. There would be changes in the ranks. William Taylor would muster out March 16, 1863, with a surgeon’s certificate of disability. John Randolph was transferred to the invalid corps. Alexander Lowery’s injured leg was amputated, and he was discharged from the army.

In regard to Henry Shants, a check of several sources listing the rolls of the 104th do not show a Shants or Shantz serving in company G. There was a George I. Schantz who served in company A and was killed at Utoy Creek in 1864. Also, a Urias Schrantz in company E, who served his whole three-year enlistment. The body of Sergeant William Bleeks was returned home and was buried in the Village Cemetery of Wilmot, Stark County, Ohio. Such was the human cost of the defense of Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati.

Steve Preston is the Education Director and a Curator of History at Heritage Village Museum. He received his MA in Public History from Northern Kentucky University.

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One Comment

  1. Linda Brown says:

    I love that our black contributed to history love it. O k ow that our history has been suppressed very sad I thank you for the history lesson.Thank you again.

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