Ohio History Journal

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Groping Toward Victory: Ohio's

Administration of the Civil War




The American Civil War posed a vast challenge to the limited administra-

tive capacities of the national and state governments, both North and South.

As the chaos of 1861 painfully revealed, recruiting large numbers of men,

supplying them with weapons, uniforms, and equipment, and transporting

them to the field were tasks initially beyond the ability of any American gov-

ernment to perform efficiently. To sustain a long war, therefore, both the

North and the South had to increase the size and efficiency of their military

administrations. Both sides, though the Union more than the Confederacy,

would adapt fairly quickly to the demands of the war, and within a year they

would manage to build and maintain armies far larger than any in previous

American experience. Yet even by 1865 there were areas in which administra-

tion was still defective.l

The experience of Ohio illustrates well both the process and the difficulties

of developing administrative systems for the war. Ohio began the conflict

with a militia system still in the early stages of reform, a military staff made

up largely of political appointees, and a nearly empty armory. Its initial mo-

bilization was typically chaotic, and errors in the first months of the war

plagued not only Governor William Dennison but also his successor,

Governor David Tod. Haphazard federal policies, shortages of resources, dis-

agreements with the War Department, and mere inexperience all created nu-

merous difficulties, as did a resentment of increases in executive power. But

Ohio's three war governors, Dennison, Tod, and John Brough, all proved to

be dedicated and innovative administrators, and by 1863 most areas of Ohio's

mobilization were functioning smoothly. Part of the state's success, though,

resulted from simply abandoning numerous responsibilities to the federal

government and focusing on a narrow range of activities, particularly recruit-




Noel Fisher received his Ph.D. from The Ohio State University in 1993.

1. Eugene C. Murdock, One Million Men (Madison, 1971); Richard D. Goff, Confederate

Supply (Durham, 1969); Russell F. Weigley, Quartermaster General of the Union Army: A

Biography of M. C. Meigs (New York, 1959); Fred Albert Shannon, The Organization and

Administration of the Union Army (Cleveland, 1928); Albert Burton Moore, Conscription and

Conflict in the Confederacy (New York, 1924).