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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Remembering Lebanon's Jesse Durbin Ward

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 4 September 2004
Source:
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Jesse Durbin Ward was born the son of Jesse and Rebecca Ward on February 11, 1819. His birthplace was among the beautiful hills on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River in a small village named Augusta. His middle name was received from the acclaimed Methodist minister, Dr. John P. Durbin, who was a schoolmate of his mother's. Jesse elected to be called Durbin at an early age.
When Durbin was but four years of age the family moved to Fayette County, Indiana, and purchased a farm close to the town of Ererton. Durbin attended school in the new country in a log cabin established as a Quaker meetinghouse that was known as the "Popular Ridge Meeting and Schoolhouse."
His studies were limited so far as the teacher could instruct him. On `is own, without the aid of instructors, he learned the basics of algebra, geometry and Latin.
Durbin also had a great fondness for his own country and its history. History as a studied subject was unheard of in the early days of The Northwest Territory. He, however, pursued his interest of United States history from its settlement by the white man to the origin of the Constitution.
At a young age he could recite all the presidents in order as well as all the cabinet officers. This being no great accomplishment, as only eight presidents had been elected by this time, it was still a stepping-stone and the evolvement of the lads' interests. Young Ward characterized the same scholarly attitude in early life that he achieved in later life.
He entered Miami University in 1838 at the age of nineteen. The university at this time was the leading educational institution west of the Allegheny Mountains. Here he attended school two years.
Involving himself in the debating class, he displayed the talent he was in later life to expand upon.
After his college stint he sought the law profession. However, with no funds at hand, he had to rely on his own earnings. As a source of revenue he taught different schools in the country districts of Warren County.
He commenced law practice first under the direction of Judge George J. Smith, and afterward under the guidance of Governor Thomas Corwin. Ward joined with Corwin in the law practice for three years until the formers election to the office of Prosecuting Attorney of Warren County in 1845. He held this office for six years, performing his duties with devotion and proficiency.
He was elected a member of the Legislature from the county in 1851. His service in this capacity lasted but a single term, he declining a reelection.
Ward thrived on hard work and called attention to himself through his speeches and papers.
He abandoned the Whig party in 1855 and became the Democratic candidate for Congress the following year. He campaigned for Attorney General in 1858, but was soundly defeated.
Ward afterward followed his vocation as a lawyer and opened an office in Cincinnati where he developed a relationship with William M. Ramsey.
When President Lincoln's call for Union volunteers came, Ward was trying a case at the Warren County courthouse. He quickly drew up a paper containing somewhat of the following: "We the undersigned, hereby tender our services to the President of the United States to protect our national flag."
He signed it and proceeded with his case. He was, as is claimed for him, the first man in his Congressional District to volunteer. Only one or two names were obtained until after the war meeting at Washington Hall on the evening of April 16, 1861.
He was a Democrat and a decided opponent of Mr. Lincoln, but the national flag came first.
Declining a captaincy, he enlisted as a private. He soon became Major of the 17th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and took part in the Battle of Mill Springs, Corinth, Perryville, Stone's River, Hoover's Gap and Chickamauga. At the last named battle he was shot through the arm and shoulder, his limb being disabled for life. Nevertheless, he carried his left arm in a sling through the entire Atlanta campaign.
Having passed through the ranks of Captain, Major, Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel, he was brevetted Brigadier General in November 1865 for gallant and meritorious conduct at the Battle of Chickamauga. (There is a national monument in his honor at the Chickamauga National Battlefield in Georgia.)
Following the war General Ward traveled the political circle as a representative of the Democratic Party, making speeches on important public questions. His distinction on the campaign trail allowed him to become the most popular campaign orator in Ohio. A volume of his speeches is presently in the Warren County Historical Society.
His voice was well fitted which commanded the attention of large public assemblies. He sometimes displayed knowledge on various subjects, continually holding the attention of the audience. His words were always well chosen and his sentences well rounded.
In 1866, President Johnson as United States District Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio appointed him, the same year he married to Miss Elizabeth Probasco.
In 1870, he was elected Senator in the Ohio General Assembly.
General Ward was attacked with rheumatism in the spring of 1885. He was restricted to his room for several weeks. He bounced back for a brief period, but never fully recovered. The following spring he was again attacked with the same disease, his home confinement lasting more than eight weeks.
General J. Durbin Ward died on May 22, 1886, aged 67 years, and is buried in the Lebanon cemetery.
After his death it was said by some surviving members of his old regiment that: "As a soldier, he was as brave as the bravest; as a commander, he was efficient, always commanding the love and respect of those who had the good fortune to serve under him."


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This page created 4 September 2004 and last updated 8 March, 2009
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