In no part of the United States did the people spring to arms more willingly, in the Mexican war, than Butler County. The county was Democratic, and the war was a Democratic war. But, although many prominent Whigs held aloof, the masses of the people, uninformed as to the reasons that should induce them to fight or refrain from fighting, only knew that Mexico was in conflict with us, and that our flag must be sustained.
In the month of May, 1846, President POLK called upon the State of Ohio to furnish three regiments of soldiers as its quota of the forces thought necessary to settle the question then in dispute between the United States and the Mexican Government. As soon as the news reached Hamilton the excitement became intense. A public meeting was called in the court-house square for that night, and Judge VANCE made an eloquent and successful appeal for volunteers, announcing that John B. WELLER, a young and eloquent lawyer, was ready to organize a company at once. That night and the next day the names were handed in, until the company was full. As soon as formed, the company - afterwards designated Company I, Second Rifles - went into temporary camp in the old sycamore grove, then standing a half mile below the river bridge. But little drilling was performed, as nearly all the officers were inexperienced, and none more so than Captain WELLER, who was elected to that position during the rendezvous in the grove. James GEORGE, then county recorder, was elected first lieutenant, and Oliver S. WITHERBY second lieutenant. GEORGE was colonel of the Second Minnesota Regiment in the late rebellion, dying only a few months ago, and WITHERLY afterwards became United States judge at San Diego, California, where he yet resides.
Company I went from the sycamore grove to Camp Washington, near Cincinnati, embarking on a canal-boat moored near the head of the basin, which in those days reached nearly as far as Third Street. The embarkation was witnessed by nearly every man, woman, and child in Butler County, and the cries of the women mingled with the shouts of the men made a strange mixture of grief and jollity. On reaching Camp Washington the new troops were assigned to the First Ohio Regiment, of which I. M. MITCHELL was elected colonel, and John B. WELLER lieutenant-colonel. GEORGE became captain and WITHERBY first lieutenant. William WILSON, a brother of John K. WILSON, of this city, was elected second lieutenant, and Jonathan RICHMOND third lieutenant. Ferdinand VAN DERVEER, who rose to the rank of brigadier-general in our late war for the Union, was appointed orderly sergeant. Company I contained about thirteen young lawyers of this city, and it was said by a local wag, that during their absence, Hamilton was more peaceable than it had ever been before.
When the First Regiment was full organized and equipped, it was ordered to New Orleans, the troops embarking on two steamboats, leaving on the 2d of July for the Southern metropolis, where they encamped on the battle-ground where Old Hickory defeated the British in 1815. Here the men rested for three days, at the end of which they were embarked for the sea-shore, and thence upon a steamer for the land of conflict, landing at Brazos Santiago, a small piece of land almost surrounded by water, lying at the mouth of the Rio Grande. They laid in camp at Camp Belknap, fifteen miles distant, for a month, drilling. The regiment then joined General Zachary TAYLOR in the advance, on his march to Monterey. On the way the regiment endured great privations. Water was scarce, and at times the troops marched a whole day without a drop of that liquid. At Camargo, on the San Juan River, the troops halted to rest. Here they found Lieutenant WITHERBY, who was acting as quartermaster, and who had preceded them on a small river-steamer.
Here a laughable incident occurred. WITHERBY had his tent up and in order, and under his hammock, where it could be kept under his eye, was a barrel of whiskey. Orderly Sergeant VAN DERVEER soon discovered it, and came to the conclusion that Company I needed the stimulant more than the quartermaster did. Calling Clem MURPHY, an original character, who came from Rossville, to his aid, the two concocted a plot to possess themselves of the desired luxury. Clem, taking with him a gimlet and several buckets and camp-kettles, crawled under WITHERBY's tent, inserted the gimlet in the barrel, and ran every drop of the precious fluid into the vessels he had brought with him, without attracting attention. At daylight Sergeant VAN DERVEER made the rounds, invited each member of the company to come to his tent, and then gave each one of tincupful of the stolen whiskey. At daylight the quartermaster awoke from a dreamless sleep, and concluded to take an appetizer before breakfast. He tapped his barrel, opened the bung to allow the air to work, and found nothing. It need not be said that he was angry. The joke leaked out, as Company I was drunk from its captain down to the privates. WITHERBY soon after resigned and came home. Sergeant VAN DERVEER was unanimously elected to fill his position, and thus became a first lieutenant.
From Camargo the troops marched through Ceralvo and Main to the Walnut Springs, three miles out of Monterey. The regiment was brigaded with the First Kentucky, was commanded by General Thomas L. HAMER. An immediate attack was then made upon the city of Monterey, garrisoned though it was by eleven thousand Mexican soldiers, under command of General AMPUDIA, and the United States forces consisted of but three thousand men, all told. Zachary TAYLOR was in command, and General WORTH next. The battle lasted three days, September 19, 20 and 21, 1846. At the end of this time the garrison capitulated, the Mexican soldiers marching out with their arms, leving their artillery and stores for their vanquishers. The United States troops lost about fifteen per cent of their number in killed and wounded. Of Company I, about a dozen were wounded, including Captain GEORGE, who resigned and went home, his place being filled by the election of Lieutenant VAN DERVEER. John PEARSON, of Darrtown, Oscar BOEHNE and Samuel FREEMAN, of Hamilton, were killed. After the company was mustered out, Captain VAN DERVEER exhumed the bodies of the three soldiers, and brought them home for burial. The funeral services were held in the court-house square, which was thronged with people, the services being preached by the Rev. Wilson THOMPSON, a Baptist preacher, who was very eloquent. The three bodies were buried in one grave in Greenwood Cemetery, and shortly after the interment Robert E. DUFFIELD, a relative of FREEMAN's, erected a monument to their memory, which still marks their resting-place. FREEMAN and BOEHNE were killed by the Mexican lancers, who were on the plains outside the city during the attack on Monterey.
On the 1st of March Captain VAN DERVEER wrote to his father that they had had some rare diversion. Lieutenant-colonel IRVIN, of the Second Ohio Regiment, was stationed at Marin, thirty miles on the Camargo road, with three companies. The Mexicans, to the number of fourteen hundred, surrounded him, and he sent up for relief. As soon as VAN DERVEER heard of it, he volunteered to go out and aid them, as did also Captain BRADLEY, of
the same regiment. Together with a similar detachment from the Kentucky regiment, and two four-pounders, they started at two o'clock on the afternoon of the 25th of February, and at one o'clock at night arrived at Marin. As they approached the town the enemy's pickets fired upon them, a body forming in the chaparral ready for a charge. The Americans immediately unlimbered one of the cannon, and gave them a round of canister, which speedily sent them off. They then entered the town without opposition, though the garrison, mistaking their advance for that of a detachment of the enemy, fired upon them and wounded one man, though not severely. The garrison were overjoyed to see this re-enforcement, as the enemy were all around, and must have taken them in a short time. The best houses were selected for quarters, a number of hogs were slaughtered, and the men took whatever they could find in the drinking way. This done, they slept til daylight which was only an hour or two later.
In the morning a considerable quantity of stores and camp equipage, which they could not carry along with them, was burned, and the troops started on the return with Colonel IRVIN. During the day numbers of lancers were seen hovering around them; but they were careful to keep out of reach. They returned to a ranch called Agua Frio, seventeen miles distant, where they stopped and made supper, and laid down for the night. But just after dark, they received intelligence that there were three hundred of the enemy in from and six hundred in the rear. Their position was a bad one; and so arms were taken up again, and the men started on, VAN DERVEER's company being the advance guard. They marched until two in the morning, momentarily expecting an attack. By that time they were so wearied that they determined to fight all Mexico rather than march any further. A guard was stationed, and the soldiers laid down in the road and went to sleep. By daylight they were again marching, and were within three miles of Monterey when an express overtook them, and said Colonel MORGAN, of the Second Regiment of Ohio, was at Agua Frio, surrounded by the enemy, and unless speedily re-enforced would be cut off. The colonel had several companies with him, and was on his way to Monterey. The troops immediately turned about, and started on a trot to assist him, going thus for ten long miles, and at every volley stepping quicker. Just before he was reached, or when three-quarters of a mile off, VAN DERVEERS's feet gave out, and he borrowed a horse, going on rapidly in advance. When he as a quarter of a mile ahead of the party he suddenly met about one hundred and fifty lancers. Two or three men were with him; but they all judged discretion the better part of valor. The Mexicans stood looking at their enemies for five minutes, and the Americans gazing at them; but, seeing the party approach, the Mexicans rode off. Captain VAN DERVEER went rapidly up to the brow of a hill, and three hundred yards below it saw Colonel MORGAN, with his companies formed in a hollow square, having just repulsed one attack, and awaiting another. As soon as the Americans were seen, the command of Colonel MORGAN prepared to give them a fire, mistaking them for some of the enemy. When this was seen, the men pulled off their caps, and, swinging them about their heads, gave a hearty hurrah. After this had been done twice, the part at bay perceived the difference between an American yell and those of the heathenish Mexicans. They returned the shout, and the new troops charged down the hill at full speed.
"I have seen," says Captain VAN DERVEER, "persons who exhibited joy at an event - mothers at the restoration of a lost child; but the joy of these men exceeded any thing I have ever witnessed. They broke ranks, ran to us, laughed, yelled, and almost tried to hug us. It was then ten o'clock, and they had been marching in square ever since daylight, the enemy harassing them at every moment. Our party soon approached, and the enemy at the same moment commenced a fresh attack upon MORGAN's rear. I jumped off my horse, took command of the company, hurried with the remainder of our men to the point of attack, and opened upon them a hot fire. They were in the chaparral, so we could scarcely see them. We had a beautiful little fight for twenty minutes; but the rascals would not stand. They killed Major GRAHAM, the quartermaster, and two artillerymen, and wounded one or two others; but nearly every one of their bullets went over our heads. They always fire too high. We do not know how many of the enemy were killed, as we had not enough curiosity to go into the chaparral for examination; but some friendly Mexicans reported that their loss during the whole expedition, in killed and wounded, was nearly three hundred - a statement which I think exaggerated."
When the enemy retreated, the troops returned for Monterey, Company I forming the advance guard, being fortunate enough to have this post of honor during the expedition. They arrived safe in Monterey before sundown. On the way back, Major GIDDINGS, with five companies of the First Regiment, was met, coming to assist their detachment; but they were too late, and were not needed. Captain VAN DERVEER's company had marched eighty miles, and fought the enemy on two meals and four or five hours of sleep. When they arrived at Monterey they found that all the troops had left town and gone into the citadel. The company's tents were lost, and not wishing the men to lie in the open air after so many hardships, leave was obtained, after much solicitation, to go into town. A large and commodious house was selected, which was call the "Butler Barracks." It was on the Grand Plaza. The inhabitants, almost to a man, had left the city, and all the other trooops were in the citadel, a mile off, so that it might be said that the "Butler boys" were the only inhabitants of Monterey.
Here the regiment remained during the battle of Buena Vista. The regiment was ordered to that battlefield in anticipation of being needed, but was sent back at once. At the end of the year for which they had enlisted the regiment was ordered to New Orleans and mustered out, Company I reaching Hamilton about the 20th of June, when a reception and banquet was prepared for them in the court-house yard, which drew an immense concourse of people, proud to honor their soldiers, fresh from the field of battle.
Two weeks after, a great Fourth of July celebration was held at Middletown, attended by a large number of the citizens of Middletown and vicinity. A processions was formed at ten o'clock , A. M., under the direction of the marshal, in the following order: Band of music; the Middletown Guards; the soldiers of the late and present war; chaplain; the reader of the Declaration and orator; the ladies, and a large number of citizens from town and country. The procession marched to a beautiful grove on the farm of Mr. Shobal VAIL, adjoining town. After prayer, by the Rev. Dr. LAWDER, the Declaration of Independence was read by Dr. G. E. WAMPLER, which was followed by a highly interesting address by the Rev. Samuel ADAMS, of Sharon, Hamilton County. After the address, the presentation of a beautiful sword, from the citizens of Middletown, to Captain F. VAN DERVEER, of the "Butler Boys," was made, as a slight tribute of respect to the worth of this meritorious and gallant young officer. David HEATON, Esq., on behalf of his fellow-citizens, presented the sword in a neat and appropriate address, which did honor to his "head and heart." The reply of Captain VAN DERVEER was in a happy and appropriate strain. To add still farther to the pleasures of the day was the presentation of a beautiful rifle to each Messrs. Francis COLLINS and Oscar LORING, two of the "boys," who served with honor to themselves and credit to their State, in the war with Mexico. The task of presentation was again imposed upon Mr. HEATON.
After the above ceremonies were over, the company repaired to a sumptuous repast prepared by Messrs. YOUNG & MARLETT, of the Union House, to which they did ample justice. The cloth having been removed, regular and volunteer toasts were drunk, amid the hearty cheers of the company and the roar of the artillery. Among these were: "The immortal memory of LAFAYETTE;" "Generals SCOTT and TAYLOR - The glorious victories which they have achieved place their names high on the list of military heroes;" "The Army and Navy - Recent events have demonstrated that they are the two strong arms of our national defense;" "Patrick HENRY - The orator of the Revolution - In more sacred reverence should they be held as their numbers diminish." Volunteer toasts were offered by V. D. ENYART, Captain VAN DERVEER, Miss Sarah DRAKE, and others.
John F. HOLLOWAY, a young man about the age of twenty-three, died suddenly of fever at the residence of his brother-in-law, Mr. Samuel RAYBURY, in July, 1847. He had just returned from the hardships of a campaign in Mexico, where he was a member of Captain VAN DERVEER's company. He had undergone the dangers and fatigue incident to a soldier's life, and came home to give his friends a hearty welcome. A large and respectable procession, together with a military escort of the "Butler Blues," who performed their part well, considering the inclemency of the weather, accompanied the corpse to the grave.
After the return of the regiment, one of the men, name LEIGH, was buried near Miltonville, the funeral being attended by an immense number of people.
In the First Regiment there were many gallant young men, ambitious to distinguish themselves and attain promotion by deeds of chivalry and daring. Among others were Captain Carr. B. WHITE and Lieutenant James P. FYFFE, both belonging to the company from Brown County, raised by General Tom HAMER. While the regisment was stationed at Monterey, a misunderstanding arose between the officers on account of WHITE being elected captain over FYFFE, who was thereby relegated to the first lieutenancy. The affair became so serious that, finally, it culminated in FYFFE sending WHITE a challenge to mortal combat. The invitation was promptly accepted; but, on account of the well-known prejudices against dueling of General TAYLOR, it was determined to await the mustering out of the regiment, which was to take place the following June. The original challenge has been lost; but Lieutenant James F. HARRISON, adjutant of the regiment, bore the cartel, and delivered it to Captain Ferdinand VAN DERVEER, of the "Butler Boys," who acted as second to WHITE. The terms were fully agreed upon at once, every effort to make friends of the parties proving unavailing. The following is a copy of the correspondence:
At the expiration of the term of service of the regiment it was ordered to New Orleans, to be mustered out. It was found inconvenient by the parties to go to the old battle-ground, so that it was determined to watch for an opportunity to wipe out old scores on the way North. In the mean time Lieutenant HARRISON was compelled, on account of illness, to decline acting in the matter, and Lieutenant James MOORE, of the "Butler Boys," a brother of Colonel Thomas MOORE, of Hamilton, was selected by Lieutenant FYFFE to be his second in the affair of honor.
While the regiment was lying at New Orleans Captain WHITE had purchased a pair of long dueling pistols, carrying a very heavy ball. Lieutenant FYFFE had no pistols; so the parties mutually agreed to use WHITE's. Neither of the principals had had any experience in practicing with these weapons, and thus went to the field, in that respect, equally unprepared. The whole regiment left New Orleans for home about the 10th of June, 1847. One morning, as they were coming up the river, it was ascertained from the captain of the steamer that the boat would lie to for wooding on the Arkansas shore, for probably two hours. It was at once agreed upon that this would be the proper place to settle all difficulties between the belligerents. It was just after daybreak, and very few of the passengers were up as the party quietly went ashore and rendezvoused in an old cotton-field a few hundred yards from the river. There were present, besides the principals and their seconds, only Colonel John B. WELLER and surgeon CHAMBERLAIN, known in the newspapers of the time as "Old Medicine."
The pistols were duly loaded in the presence of all parties, and cuts drawn as to the choice of positions, and who should give the word. Lieutenant FYFFE was placed with his back to the river, giving WHITE the advantage of the eastern light. Captain VAN DERVEER won the giving of the word. The parties stood at twelve instead of fifteen paces, as at first agreed upon, each with his right side toward his adversary, and the pistol arm hanging by his side. The arrangements having been completed, Captain VAN DERVEER gave the command: "Are you ready? One, two, three - fire!" At the word "fire," both parties instantaneously leveled, and discharged their weapons, and both missed. Colonel WELLER and Dr. CHAMBERLAIN the proposed to the principals to settle their difficulty without another exchange of shots. This good advice finally prevailed; explanations were made, mutual concessions followed, and after shaking hands, all parties returned to the boat. It was a matter of great satisfaction to their friends that their duel was a bloodless one. WHITE was afterward colonel of the Twelfth Ohio in the late war, FYFFE colonel of the Fifty-ninth Ohio, and HARRISON colonel of the Eleventh Ohio. Lieutenant James MOORE died a few years after his return from Mexico. Dr. CHAMBERLAIN died about the same time. Colonel WELLER died in New Orleans in 1878. Colonel VAN DERVEER is the only one of the dueling party now alive.
But four members of the company are now living. Their names are James B. MILLIKIN, General Ferd. VAN DERVEER, James LANAHAN, and Cicero BIRCH.
Lieutenant RICHMOND, one of the "Butler Boys," was colonel of an Illinois regiment in the late war; George WEBSTER was colonel of the Ninety-eight Ohio, and was killed at Perryville; Alfred A. PHILLIPS, who as a corporal in this company, was a major in the Ninety-third Ohio.
The company whose exploits have been mentioned was known as the "Butler
Boys No. 1," and another company afterwards organized here called the
"Butler Boys No. 2." The first call was made by William P. YOUNG, who
afterwards became major of the Fourth Regiment, of which the new troops
formed a part. His invitation for recruits was as follows:
They do not appear to have been on the road before July. They went down the river to New Orleans,and thence to Matamoras. After a pleasant passage, they arrived there on the 18th of July. They were informed by Colonel DAVENPORT, who was in command at that post, that they were to relieve the Tenth Infantry, which they were willing to do, on condition that they should be relieved in turn by the next troops that ascended the Rio Grande. This, he said, was contrary to his orders. Colonel BROUGH protested strenuously against such a course of procedure, on the ground that it was not founded in justice. Colonel BROUGH immediately called a meeting of the officers of the regiment, at which a protest, or rather a request, was drawn up, and signed by the officers, that they should be relieved in turn, which was immediately dispatched to head-quarters. They had preceded the Indiana regiment in crossing the gulf, and were pushing forward to get as near head-quarters as possible, when they were stopped there, the Indiana regiment passing up the river. Colonel BROUGH soon received an answer to the dispatch from general TAYLOR, stating that the Fourth should be relieved by the next troops on their way up the river. They were then daily expecting the New Jersey battalion, on the arrival of which the regiment would take up its line of march for the upper Rio Grande, and perhaps General TAYLOR's head-quarters. That old hero said, in answer to Colonel BROUGH, that it was his intention to have some of the troops from each State under his command with him in case of an advance on San Luis Potosi, which, when he wrote, it was expected would be in the forepart of September.
The day before, the entire regiment was in the highest spirits, expecting daily to strike their tents, and take up the line of march for the head-quarters of the old hero, and to accompany him to death or victory; but the next day both men and officers were somewhat chap-fallen. Their curses were not loud, but deep. It was said by many who had viewed the regiment, that it was the best one that had passed up the river. There was considerable sickness in the companies; but it was principally owing to the change in water and climate. There had been but three deaths in the regiment since it left Camp Ohio.
The "Butler Boys No. 2" were considered one of the best companies in the regiment. Lieutenant PFEIFER had tendered his resignation, and would return home shortly. It was also said the Lieutenant-colonel WERNER was going to resign. He fell from his horse shortly after their arrival, while on battalion drill, from which he had not entirely recovered. He thought he would not be able to stand the campaign.
Major YOUNG wrote on the 30th day of August: "In two or three days the Fourth regiment of Ohio volunteers will be en route for Jalapa. Three thousand men go from General TAYLOR to join General SCOTT, and on this line there will be no forward movement. It is supposed that General TAYLOR will resign and go home this fall, as he will be left only with a garrisoning force on this line.