With the American Civil War's outbreak, neither the North nor the South had sufficient military forces to conduct a war. Both the United States of America and the Confederate States of America, at first, relied upon volunteers either to form or to bolster their respective militaries.
With the American Civil War's outbreak, neither the North nor the South had sufficient military forces to conduct a war. Both the United States of America and the Confederate States of America, at first, relied upon volunteers either to form or to bolster their respective militaries. Typically, individual states would recruit and send volunteers to their respective federal governments. Initially, many states relied on militia forces. Historically, every British colony in North America had established a militia. The militia usually consisted of adult, able-bodied men, who would rally to defend the colonies and, following the American Revolution, states during military crises. By the start of the American Civil War, unfortunately for both the Confederate States of America and the United States of America, most state militias were in a decline and unprepared for a major war.
In Ohio, Governor William Dennison hoped to supply the United States government with men and supplies from the Ohio militia. Ohio's militia system was virtually nonexistent by 1861. While militia forces played a vital role in Ohio's history from the American Revolution to the War of 1812, most major military threats to Ohio's security ended with the War of 1812. Following this conflict, the federal government quickly removed most Native Americans further west, and in the decades immediately following the war, no European or other major power attacked the United States. Facing no serious internal or external threats, most states, including Ohio, allowed their militia organizations to weaken. Most militia groups became mere social organizations and did not actively practice or study military maneuvers or tactics.
Dennison quickly discovered that Ohio's militia system could not play an active role in the American Civil War. Following the Battle of Fort Sumter and President Abraham Lincoln’s call for seventy-five thousand volunteers to return the seceded states to the Union in April 1861, Ohio's governor sent Jacob Cox, a state politician, and George McClellan, a former United States Army officer and current businessman, to Ohio's arsenal to assess the availability of weapons and supplies. Cox and McClellan found three or four crates of smoothbore muskets, a number of inoperable six-pound cannons, and some mildewed horse harnesses. Upon learning of the dire condition of the state's military supplies, Dennison still encouraged Ohioans to reestablish militia units to defend the state from Southern attack and to assist the federal government in reuniting the nation.
Ohioans quickly responded to the governor's and the federal government's call for troops. Among Ohio's earliest regiments was the 17th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry. This organization enrolled between April 16, 1861 and April 27, 1861. Companies A and F organized at Lancaster, Ohio on April 27, 1861 and April 22, 1861 respectively. Company B formed at Granville, Ohio on April 26, 1861. Company C organized at London, Ohio on April 19, 1861. Company D originated at Logan, Ohio on April 25, 1861. Company E formed at New Lexington, Ohio on April 27, 1861. Company G formed at Pleasant Valley, Ohio on April 16, 1861. Company H organized at McConnelsville, Ohio on April 27, 1861. Company I formed at Fort Recovery, Ohio on April 27, 1861 and Company K at St. Clairsville, Ohio on April 22, 1861. The State of Ohio formally mustered the regiment into service for three months of duty on June 5, 1861, with the effective muster date being April 27, 1861.
The 17th Regiment departed for western Virginia (modern-day West Virginia), where the regiment escorted supply trains, hunted Southern guerrillas, and conducted various reconnaissance missions. While in western Virginia, the 17th's commanding officer issued the following report:
BUCKHANNON, VA., July 8, 1861–3 p. m.
GENERAL: My scout Edwards, just in, effected his escape through the enemy's lines at Glenville about two hours after the fight began yesterday. Thirty-five men first attacked and fired upon our pickets without injuring them. They returned the fire effectually, and got safely into camp. All of our pickets got safely in during the night. The advance of the enemy was composed of about 160 well-armed and disciplined men, and dark last night our little force was surrounded, the enemy covering the three roads leading past the Court-House.
He brings no definite information as to number of enemy; thinks at least 2,500 1,000 of whom are an Eastern Virginia regiment, well armed and equipped and disciplined, the militia.
Irregular firing was kept up during the night. At daybreak, in the language of the scout, "Both sides were firing like hell," our men holding good their position. Tyler's two companies stopped last night ten miles this side of Glenville, for what reason God only knows. But the delay has probably occasioned the cutting off my brave boys.
Col. Tyler himself at 10 o'clock morning was not a mile and a half from Weston. If our men at Glenville cannot hold out till to-morrow morning Tyler and Lytle will not reach Wise at all.
The scout reports that our men are behaving nobly, determined to hold their position.
J. M. CONNELL,
Seventeenth Ohio Volunteers.
On August 3, 1861, the 17th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry received orders to travel to Camp Goddard in Zanesville, Ohio, arriving at this location on August 13. On August 15, 1861, officials mustered the regiment out of duty. During its term of service, the regiment had two men die from disease and one man drown.