Department of the Ohio (1861 – 1865)

Updated: February 21, 2014

Created on May 3, 1861, the Department of the Ohio was a Union military administrative unit that existed in various forms during the American Civil War until January 17, 1865.

On April 15, 1861, one day after the surrender of Fort Sumter propelled the nation into civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for seventy-five thousand state militiamen to suppress the Southern rebellion. Thousands of loyal men throughout the Midwest were quick to respond. The rapid buildup of local regiments required the United States War Department to create structure out of chaos.

On May 3, 1861, Washington officials issued General Orders Number 14, which created a new military unit known as the Department of the Ohio, consolidating regiments from the states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Commanded by Major General George B. McClellan, the new department was headquartered at Cincinnati, Ohio. McClellan oversaw the department until June 25, 1861. During his tenure, the War Department issued General Orders No. 30 on June 6, 1861, which added the State of Missouri to the Department of the Ohio.

Following McClellan's departure, General Orders Number 80, placed Brigadier-General Ormsby M. Mitchel in command of the Department of the Ohio on September 19, 1861. Mitchel served as department commander for only two months because the U.S. Senate failed to confirm his promotion to major general.

Meanwhile, south of the Ohio River, Kentucky officials were attempting to avoid involvement in the insurrection. Despite Kentucky's efforts to remain neutral, recruiters on both sides were actively engaged throughout the state. By May 28, 1861, enough pro-Union regiments had been raised to prompt the U.S. War Department to organize the Department of Kentucky, which included as much of the state of Kentucky that lay within one hundred miles of the Ohio River. Brigadier-General Robert Anderson, who had recently surrendered Fort Sumter, was chosen to command the new department.

On August 15, 1861, the War Department issued General Orders Number 57, which effectively replaced the Department of Kentucky with an expanded department that included all of Kentucky and Tennessee. The newly created unit was named the Department of the Cumberland. Two months later, on October 7, Major-General William T. Sherman relieved Anderson, who had taken ill. When Sherman began to act erratically due to stress, the War Department issued General Orders Number 97, on November 9, 1861, which dissolved the Department of the Cumberland and expanded the Department of the Ohio to include the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee, and Kentucky east of the Cumberland River. Brigadier-General Don Carlos Buell was selected to command the department, with headquarters at Louisville, Kentucky. Buell issued General Orders Number 1 on November 15, officially taking command of the department.

On March 11, 1862, President Lincoln issued War Order Number 3, which consolidated three western departments, including the Department of the Ohio into the Department of the Mississippi, commanded by Major-General Henry Halleck. Thus, the Department of the Ohio ceased to exist.

Five months later, on August 19, 1862, the War Department issued General Orders Number 112, recreating the Department of the Ohio. Major General Horatio G. Wright was placed in command of the reconstituted department, "composed of the States of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Kentucky east of the Tennessee river, and including Cumberland Gap, and the troops operating in the vicinity."

On August 23, 1862, Wright took command and moved his headquarters to Cincinnati. During his tenure, the War Department issued General Orders Number 135 on September 19, 1862, which added all of western Virginia to the Department of the Ohio.

Wright commanded the department of the Ohio for only seven months. On March 12, 1863, President Lincoln revoked Wright's promotion to major general after the Senate refused to approve it. Consequently, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck ordered Major-General Ambrose Burnside to proceed to Cincinnati and take command of the department on March 16, 1863.

Burnside arrived in the Queen City on March 24 and issued General Orders No. 27 taking command the next day. One of Burnside's first actions as commander of the department was the circulation of General Orders Number 38, on April 13, 1863, which led to the arrest and trial of Peace Democrat Clement Vallandigham.

As commander of the Army of the Ohio, Burnside thwarted Confederate General John Hunt Morgan's raid across southern Ohio. Burnside also successfully conducted the East Tennessee Campaign (June 2-September 9, 1863), which wrested control of the eastern portion of the Volunteer State from the Confederacy. On October 16, the War Department issued General Orders No. 337, designating the Department of the Ohio (along with the Department of the Tennessee and the Department of the Cumberland) as part of the Military Division of the Mississippi, under the overall command of Major General Ulysses S. Grant. Later that fall, Burnside foiled Confederate General James Longstreet's Knoxville Campaign (November 4-December 14, 1863), securing Union control of eastern Tennessee for the remainder of the war.

In November, Burnside asked to be relieved of his duties with the Department of the Ohio due to illness. On November 16, 1863, the War Department issued General Orders No. 369, relieving Burnside of of command and replacing him with Major-General John G. Foster. Foster replaced Burnside on December 12, 1863. The same General Orders also reconfigured the department to "consist of the State of Kentucky north of the Tennessee river, and such part of the State of Tennessee as may be occupied by the troops of that Army". Foster's tenure as department commander lasted only two months, when he was forced to step down due to serious injuries he sustained when his horse fell.

On February 9, 1864, Major General John M. Schofield replaced Foster. He commanded the Department of the Ohio, as well as the Army of the Ohio, throughout Major General William T. Sherman's Atlanta Campaign (May 7–September 2, 1864) and for most of Confederate General John Bell Hood's ill-fated Franklin-Nashville Campaign (September 18-December 27, 1864).

During Schofield's tenure, the Department of the Ohio was once again expanded. A dispatch from Secretary of War Stanton, dated August 7, 1864, stated that "The whole State of Kentucky is constituted a military district in the Department of the Ohio."

In November 1864, Schofield was recalled to Washington and then sent to serve in North Carolina. His second-in-command, Lieutenant Colonel George Stoneman temporarily replaced Schofield until January 17, 1865. On that date, the War Department issued General Orders No. 5, which annexed the Department of the Ohio to the Department of the Cumberland, thus ending the existence of the Department of the Ohio.

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"Department of the Ohio," Ohio Civil War Central, 2017, Ohio Civil War Central. 23 Jun 2017 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1229>

APA Style

"Department of the Ohio." (2017) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved June 23, 2017, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1229

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