In the second year of the Civil War, September 1862 General Kirby Smith had captured Lexington Kentucky. Smith then sent General Henry Heth to capture Covington, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio just across the river. This could have been the South’s first invasion into Ohio. On the side of the North, General Lewis Wallace was tasked to prepare both Covington and Cincinnati to defend themselves against Heth’s army.
Wallace immediately declared martial law upon arriving in Ohio as well as put out a call in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan for volunteer militia. Business owners were on order to close their businesses. Civilians were to report for duty in defense of Ohio’s border. Civilians helped build defensive structures like trenches.
David Tod, Ohio Governor, came to Cincinnati from the state capital. Wallace called for all available troops not currently guarding the border to repot to Cincinnati and for the Ohio quartermaster to send five thousand rifles to equip Cincinnati’s militia.
Some Ohio counties offered to send their able-bodied men to defend the southern border. Tod immediately accepted the offer for Wallace. Wallace instructed that only armed men come to their aid and that the railroads should provide their transport at no cost (Ohio later paid for the transport). 65 total counties sent over fifteen thousand men. This state militia would soon be known as the Squirrel Hunters.
Their name came from the weapons these volunteers brought with them, most of which were outdated and best suited for hunting small game rather than warfare.
Heth reported a force of seventy thousand men along the border and the South’s advance was soon dispelled—with no direct conflict or bloodshed. By September 13th word came that the enemy forces were withdrawing and Cincinnati was no longer in danger.