A Review of “Behind Bayonets”: The Civil War in Northern Ohio by David D. Van Tassel and John Vacha

By Marjorie R. Wilson
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2007, All rights reserved

“There is something behind bayonets…the affections of home – the prayers and blessings of the family circle – the active assistance of the women and children left at home.”

Major General James A Garfield

You may remember the 1998 Western Reserve Historical Society exhibit “Civil War, for God, Union and Glory.” The program was curated by Cleveland historian David Van Tassel, who expanded that research to create this book. Van Tassel died before finishing “Behind Bayonets”: The Civil War in Northern Ohio, and his family asked John Vacha, also a historian, to complete the work.

Behind Bayonets goes beyond the heart of Garfield’s quote and reports interesting details of events in wartime Ohio. The book discusses Cleveland’s pre-war free black population and strong abolitionist politics, Lincoln’s February 1861 stop in Cleveland en route to the inauguration, personal reports of early enlistment and camp experiences, Rebecca Rouse’s incredibly active and successful Soldier’s Aid Society, the Squirrel Hunter’s March, and activities of Vallandigham, Rockefeller, the Hannas, and other prominent locals, plus a few pages about John W. Booth, who gave one of his last theater performances here in Cleveland in December 1863.

Most of what you read here is not included in other Civil War books. Van Tassel and Vacha bring us a fascinating read, liberally illustrated with more than 100 unusual photos from the Western Reserve Historical Society archives.

Without doubt, Behind Bayonets has much to add to the library of Ohio Civil War enthusiasts.

“Behind Bayonets”: The Civil War in Northern Ohio by David D. Van Tassel and John Vacha

From the publisher: Behind Bayonets focuses on Ohio’s substantial role in the Civil War. It is perhaps the only work that uses published and unpublished sources written by northeast Ohioans to comment on the causes, course, and purpose of the war. It does not provide an overview of battles, but it does address soldiers’ enlistments and early camp experiences, women’s experiences, public reactions to emancipation and the general political interest in the war, local business growth during the war, and Lincoln’s assassination and the funeral train’s stop in Cleveland. The authors use moving first-person commentaries and accounts to illustrate and explain these issues and situations. Additionally, the text is lavishly illustrated with rare photographs from the Western Reserve Historical Society’s archives.

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