A Sign from the Heavens?

Most of you regular readers know I am a native of southeastern Ohio (Zanesville to be specific, about an hour east of Columbus). I spent a lot of hours in the state capital over the years and have been interested in regional Civil War history all my life. My parents used to regularly send me newspaper clippings for ACW events and articles. Here is one anecdote I particularly like, which I adapted from a column by John Switzer in the April 17, 1996, Columbus Dispatch.

Camp Chase (named for Salmon P. Chase) was one of Ohio’s largest prisoner-of-war camps. The sprawling camp along today’s West Broad Street was used early in the war as a training grounds for newly recruited Ohio regiments, but sections of Camp Chase had been transformed into a prison once the numbers of Confederate prisoners began escalating.

On June 7, 1862, Federal authorities held a ceremony commemorating the erection of a gigantic flagpole. Two huge trees were spliced together to form a 150-foot high wooden pole that could be seen for quite some distance. A hand-sewn 42’x27′ American flag proudly flew from the lofty pole. Dignitaries, politicians, military officers, and leading citizens were all present, along with Governor David Tod. Bands played patriotic airs, speeches were given, and the mood was light. At last it was time for the camp commander, Col. Granville P. Moody of the 74th Ohio Volunteers, to stand and deliver his speech. The Methodist minister, known affectionately as the “Fighting Parson,” electrified the boisterous crowd with his final comments, “In the name of God and Governor Tod, we’ll follow our flag to Dixie!” The crowd erupted in cheers and applause, except for the penned up Rebel prisoners not far away.

Days later, strong winds toppled the upper portion of the flagpole, causing the huge banner to crash to the ground. Seeing the flag lying ingloriously in the dirt, the entire Confederate population of 9,000 prisoners erupted in their own cheers. Many danced and laughed and pointed at the fallen Old Glory. Shouts of “Hurrah for Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy!” rang out throughout the compound.

Some prisoners proclaimed it was a portent or sign that the North would end up the same way – fallen and disgraced, toppled in wreckage. God was on surely on their side, and “the whirlwind of heaven had joined them in warring against the Stars and Stripes.” Riotous prisoners crossed over lines they had been forbidden to cross within the stockade. Colonel Moody called out the guards, who leveled their muskets at the crowd and threatened to open fire if they did not disperse. After further threats, order was finally restored.

The flagpole was repaired and Old Glory again floated over Camp Chase, much to the chagrin of the Rebels. Ironically, Moody’s wife hailed from Virginia, as did her parents and relatives. Moody’s brother George was a Confederate captain who commanded a Louisiana artillery battery in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. At Gettysburg, Captain Moody’s CSA gunners played a prominent role under E. P. Alexander in the famed artillery bombardment that preceded Pickett’s Charge.

For Granville and George Moody, the Civil War was truly “brother against brother.”

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Categories: Civil War anecdotes, Gettysburg | Leave a comment

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