Ohio History Journal

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Pretty Scaly Times: The Ohio National

Guard and the Railroad Strike of 1877


The employment of the Ohio National Guard at Newark during the

railroad strike of 1877 represents an effective use of military force dur-

ing a potentially explosive labor dispute. In contrast to West Virginia,

Maryland, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Missouri, and Indiana, the state au-

thorities of Ohio did not have to call on federal troops to enforce civil

authority. During the strike, relations between the militia and strikers

were not characterized by the violence that occurred in such cities

as Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Martinsburg between strikers and Na-

tional Guardsmen. Historian Robert W. Bruce, whose book is one of

the few treatments of the 1877 strike, attributed this lack of violence

to factors outside the state itself:

Ohio got off lightly for two reasons. Tie-ups to the east made it pointless to

break the freight blockage by force. And the examples of Baltimore, Read-

ing, Buffalo, and above all, Pittsburgh, made it seem wise not to try.1

Such an explanation gives inadequate recognition to the part played

by the Ohio National Guard in reducing domestic disorder. In Balti-

more, Reading, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh the use of state troops to re-

store order led to bloody street battles between soldiers and strik-

ers. In Ohio, the very opposite appears true. Called up on July 20,

within a day of the strike at Newark, the Guardsmen showed "an in-

telligent appreciation of the delicate circumstances" in which they

were placed.2 As one Guardsman noted:

Our policy has been to keep in the back as much as possible .... We under-

stand our duty as "citizen soldiers" and we return to our homes with the



Brian M. Linn is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The Ohio State University. An

earlier version of this paper was presented at the spring 1984 conference of the Ohio

Academy of History.


1. Robert W. Bruce, 1877: Year of Violence (Indianapolis, Ind., 1959), 203.

2. Ohio, Executive Documents, Annual Reports for 1877 Made to the Sixty-Third

General Assembly of the State of Ohio at the Regular Session Commencing January 7,

1878, Part 2, "Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the Governor of the State of

Ohio," 465. Hereafter cited as "Adjutant General's Annual Report."