Riggs Got ‘Em

A Capture by Clay Township Squirrel Hunters
How Jacob Riggs Rounded up 31 of Morgan’s Men

[See follow-up after the article to learn more about Squirrel Hunters.]

     After reading an article about the Squirrel Hunters which appeared in one of our County papers Jacob Riggs gave quite a lengthy reminiscence of the part he acted as a “Squirrel Hunter.” He hunted up his Commission and Discharge, found a list of all the men in his township both of the first and second class, that were subject to draft on this list. Many afterwards enlisted, but none were drafted, and of the 211 men enrolled at that time only 43 or 44 are now living.
     When the call for the Squirrel Hunters was made, Clay Township men with others, assembled in the Chickamauga Bottoms where they elected (?) their own officers. Clay Township elected Walter Thornily, Captain; W.D. Graham, Lieutenant. Their first duty was to go out and bring in those who had failed to report at roll call. There were called “Copperheads,” Rebel Sympathisers [sic],” etc.
     When it was known that Morgan had divided his force and some of his men were intending to cross the River at Jenkins’ ware house, Mr. Riggs asked for a squad of men and the privilege of preventing their crossing or capturing them. When Mr. Riggs with his Squirrel Hunters arrived opposite Jenkins’ ware house they found the rebels at the river trying to locate the crossing. They were ordered to surrender and throw down their arms. Four or five refused and forced their horses into the river and escaped, but 31 men with their Captain and one little nigger boy complied and threw down their arms, but when they saw that there were only 16 of their captors they were very much chagrined. A steamboat with a company of “Cheese-heads” on board had left Gallipolis at the same time that Riggs had and for the same purpose but they were coming in sight when the rebels surrendered. The prisoners were held until the boat arrived and then turned over to the Captain who reported at Gallipolis that they had made the capture.
     Some 37 years after this Mr. Riggs’ son was near Roanoke, Virginia and after registering at a hotel, the landlord, Mr. Halliday, noticed he was from Gallipolis and stated that he went to Gallipolis once very much against his will. This declaration called for particulars and he gave a vivid and correct description of his capture opposite Jenkins’ ware house by a “lot of militia.” He said they found they were too low for this crossing and were going up the shore where the bar came to the Ohio shore when they were surprised to hear the order “surrender” and saw “Militia” coming out of a cornfield nearby. Believing that there was a large body of troops they instantly obeyed the order.
     When Mr. Halliday was told that he was talking to a son of the man who captured him, he was again surprised and sent his compliments to Mr. Riggs.
     Mr. Riggs’ discharge is quite unique in design. In one corner sitting on an old tree eating nuts is a grey squirrel while on the opposite corner an old farmer is loading a long rifle but never taking his eye off of the squirrel while between the two is the Honorable Discharge.

Gallipolis Daily Tribune
March 10, 1908
Transcribed by Henny Evans

     Who was a Squirrel Hunter? In Gallia County over 1100 have been found on official lists. The discharge shows an old man with his rifle, but the fact is that these soldiers were boys and men of all ages. Anyone old enough to hunt and shoot volunteered to help. Although they were credited with one month’s service there is evidence that these soldiers performed various other acts of protection during the war years. In August 1862 after a major Union defeat in Kentucky, the fear of invasion in Cincinnati became a real concern. Governor David Tod from the state capital at Columbus issued a proclamation on September 2, 1862 to the people of the state of Ohio which read as follows:

Our southern border is threatened with invasion. I have therefore to recommend that all of the loyal men of your counties at once form themselves into military companies and regiments to beat back the enemy at any and all points he may attempt to invade our State. Gather up all of the arms in the country, and furnish yourselves with ammunition for the same. The service will be but a few days. The soil of Ohio must not be invaded by the enemies of our glorious government.

     Governor Tod actually went to Cincinnati and ordered the regiments in training or being recruited to be sent there at once. However, troops in the river counties were to remain in their own localities for home defense.
     Governor Tod expected about 8,000 men to sign up. He requested that each bring two days of rations and a blanket. About 16,000 actually showed up in Cincinnati. They came from the backwood regions, the Great Lakes, and farms and towns all over Ohio. Some even came from Indiana. They toted every manner of weapon, including old flintlocks or muskets, powder horns and buckskin pouches and squirrel guns. Men were dressed in homespun goods with a lot of buckskin and coonskin caps evident. Age was of no consequence. One source said that very few Squirrel Hunters came from the southeastern counties as they were far more concerned with attacks on them from eastern Virginia. However, over 1100 men are listed as Squirrel Hunters from Gallia County.
     In March 1863 a joint resolution was passed by the Senate and House allowing for a discharge paper. The governor was authorized by the House and Senate to pay for printing and lithographing discharges to the men who responded to the governor’s call who would be known in history as the Squirrel Hunters.
In 1908 one month’s pay of militia of the time, 1863, $13.00, was issued to those who had served as Squirrel Hunters and whose name was recorded in the files of the adjutant general’s office. The survivor was to be identified by the captain of the company or by two surviving members of the company or by two reputable citizens of the community. In 1911 it was determined that many names were not included and were now to be allowed identity by affidavit.
     Major Malcolm McDowell is credited with first giving the men the name of Squirrel Hunters. Thousands of them went to Cincinnati, but it is also apparent that many stayed in their counties, such as in Gallia, to defend their own county. The eleven hundred from Gallia County is a substantial number.

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