Military Wiki
Defense of Cincinnati
Part of the American Civil War
DateSeptember 1–13, 1862
LocationKenton County & Campbell County, Kentucky, & Cincinnati, Ohio
Result Union strategic victory
United States United States (Union) Confederate States of America CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
Lew Wallace Henry Heth
[approximate 25,000 military & 60,000 militia]
Casualties and losses
(1 killed
 5 wounded)

The Defense of Cincinnati occurred during what is now referred to as the Confederate Heartland Offensive (or Kentucky Campaign) of American Civil War from September 1 through September 13, 1862, when Cincinnati, Ohio, was threatened by Confederate forces.

Confederate Brigadier General Henry Heth had been sent north to threaten Cincinnati, then the sixth largest city in the United States. Heth was under orders from his superior, Major General Edmund Kirby Smith not to attack the city, but to make a "demonstration".[1] Cincinnati's mayor George Hatch ordered all business closed, and Union Major General Lew Wallace declared martial law, seized sixteen steamboats and had them armed,[2] and organized the citizens of Cincinnati, Covington and Newport, Kentucky for defense. Among the groups organized were the Black Brigade, a volunteer force of free men of color. Although not armed, the Black Brigade was given a flag and paid $13 for one month's service (the same pay given to privates at that time).

Along eight miles of hilltops from Ludlow to present-day Fort Thomas, Kentucky, volunteers and soldiers constructed rifle pits and earthwork fortifications, which were defended by 25,000 Union Army soldiers and 60,000 local militia volunteers, called "Squirrel Hunters." Construction of the defenses was directed by Colonel Charles Whittlesey until relieved by Major James H. Simpson, chief of Topographical Engineers for the Department of the Ohio. On September 5, Ohio governor David Tod announced to the public that no additional volunteers would be needed for the defense of Cincinnati, but he advised that all military organizations be kept up for future needs.

Heth and his men marched from Lexington, Kentucky on the Lexington Turnpike (present-day U.S. Route 25) arriving south of Covington on September 6. After reconnoitering the defenses at various points, he determined that an attack was pointless. Heth's forces stayed only a few days, skirmishing near Fort Mitchel on September 10–11 and returning south to Lexington on September 12, 1862.

On September 12, Wallace telegraphed Major General Horatio Wright (commander of the Department of the Ohio) in Cincinnati: "The skedaddle is complete; every sign of a rout. If you say so I will organize a column of 20,000 men to pursue to-night." The large pursuit was never ordered as most of the military forces were sent via steamboats to Louisville, Kentucky to prevent capture by General Braxton Bragg. However, small scouting forces were sent southward to harass the rear-guard of Heth's forces. A skirmish occurred at Florence, Kentucky on September 17.[3] Another skirmish occurred near Walton, Kentucky on September 25 when Colonel Basil W. Duke attacked a Union camp of approximately 500 men near Snow's Pond. For his vigorous defense of the city, Wallace earned the nickname "Savior of Cincinnati" and within a month of the panic, the Squirrel Hunters returned to their homes.[4]

The defenses

In September 1862, only five batteries were extant in Kenton County and only three in Campbell County, all having been constructed in 1861. Two batteries protecting the city's flanks were located on hills at the west and east sides of Cincinnati. Altogether, the defenses were armed with just 15 heavy guns. When Wallace moved his headquarters from Cincinnati to Kentucky, he selected the main building at the Thompson Winery that was designated Fort Henry, although no earthworks were ever constructed on the site. It was the approximate center of the line of fortifications and telegraph lines connected each of the earthwork positions with his headquarters.

Following the threat, many more batteries and forts were constructed through November 1864, mostly under the direction of Major James H. Simpson.

Kentucky batteries

[Note: Unless otherwise noted, all traces of these earthworks are gone.]

Kenton County

  • J. L. Kirby Smith Battery - Located in the southwest area of modern Ludlow. It was named for Colonel Joseph L. Kirby Smith, 43rd Ohio Infantry, who was mortally wounded at the Second Battle of Corinth, October 1862.
  • Coombs Battery - Believed to be named for Leslie Coombs, a member of Wallace's staff. Remains of this battery are found in Covington's Devou Park.
  • Bates Battery - Brigadier General Joshua Hall Bates, chairman of the Cincinnati Committee for Public Safety, was the namesake for this battery. Well-preserved, Bates Battery is located in Devou Park, but is difficult to reach.
  • Perry Battery - Named for Cincinnati attorney Aaron F. Perry. Traces are located on private property.
  • Rich Battery - Named for Stephen Rich, landowner of the site. This position was built in 1861 and by the time of Heth's threat, it was considered out of position and unusable. It was referred to as "Old Battery" on military maps.
  • Fort Mitchel - Constructed in 1861 and named for Major General Ormsby M. Mitchel, who originally directed the construction of Cincinnati's defenses in November 1861. (The modern-day city of Fort Mitchell, Kentucky—chartered in 1909—derives its name from both the fort and the general, although misspelling his name.) The fort was greatly expanded in 1863-64. Today, only the road leading up to the fort remains.
  • Kyle Battery - Located immediately east of Fort Mitchel on a farm owned by Robert S. Kyle. Site destroyed by construction of Interstate 75.
  • Fort Wright - Constructed in 1863, this fortification was left uncompleted in 1864. Designed for thirteen heavy guns, Fort Wright could cover all of the ground from the front of Kyle Battery eastward to the Licking River. It was named for Major General Horatio Wright, commander of the Department of the Ohio. The modern city of Fort Wright, Kentucky derives its name from this fortification.
  • Hooper Battery - Initially designated Kyle Battery, it was along the same ridge as McRae. The site of the battery was covered over with earth to make a level back yard for a private home that is now the James A. Ramage Civil War Museum.
  • Carlisle Battery - Named for local attorney and politician John G. Carlisle.
  • Hatch Battery - Alternately known as Brickyard Battery, it was named for Cincinnati's mayor George H. Hatch.
  • Buford Battery - Constructed in 1863 and dually named for Kentucky half-brothers and generals Napoleon Bonaparte Buford and John Buford. This position was selected to command the ground from Fort Wright to Holt Battery in Campbell County.
  • Burnet Battery - First known as Quarry Battery, it was renamed for Robert W. Burnet, commander of a local militia unit from the Cincinnati Literary Club, known as the Burnet Rifles.
  • Anderson Battery - First known as Tunnel Battery, due to being located directly above a railroad tunnel (still in modern use), it was renamed for Larz Anderson II, a Cincinnati businessman and brother to Brevet Major General Robert Anderson. Minor traces of this earthwork and a few rifle pits can still be seen.

Campbell County

  • Wiggins Battery - This position overlooked the Licking River valley and was named for Samuel Wiggins, a Cincinnati banker and realtor. It was also known as John's Hill Battery.
  • Holt Battery - Originally known as Three Mile Creek Battery and alternately as Licking Point Battery, it was named for Major General Joseph Holt, Judge Advocate General of the Army . This easily-accessible earthwork is owned by Vista Pointe Apartments in Wilder, Kentucky; residential construction as destroyed much of the original site.
  • McLean Battery - Also known as Locust Hill Battery, it was named for Major Nathaniel H. McLean, Chief of Staff for the Department of the Ohio.
  • Harrison Battery - Believed to have been named for Montgomery Pike Harrison an Indiana officer killed in Texas by Indians in 1849.
  • Shaler Battery - Located on property owned by Dr. Nathaniel B. Shaler, chief surgeon of the Newport Barracks, and then in use as a vineyard but adjacent to Evergreen Cemetery. Today, the cemetery encompasses the entire Shaler property. The first earthwork built on the site was leveled by U.S. Army Engineers. A larger earthwork was constructed behind the original position and remains intact. This is the most easily accessible of the remaining defensive positions.
  • Groesbeck Batteries - Referred to as Batteries 1 & 2, Groesbeck, these two small positions were built in 1864 to guard the approaches to Fort Burnside. They were named for William S. Groesbeck, a Cincinnati lawyer and politician.
  • Phil Kearny Battery - Originally named Beech Woods Battery, it was renamed for Major General Philip Kearny, who was killed at the battle of Chantilly, September 1, 1862.
  • Fort Burnside - Constructed in 1863, this elaborate earthwork fort commanded the area from Shaler Battery to Fort Whittlesey. It was named for Major General Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Department of the Ohio, 1863-1864.
  • Fort Whittlesey - Named for Colonel Charles Whittlesey, who had retired a few months before the threat to Cincinnati and was called back into service by Wallace, his former division commander.
  • Battery Lee - Constructed in 1863 to overlook the Ohio River valley to the east and named for R. W. Lee, whose identity is still unknown. The earthwork was leveled for the construction of a parade ground for Fort Thomas in 1890.

Ohio batteries

  • Price's Hill Battery - Located on the western edge of Cincinnati overlooking the Ohio River.
  • Mount Adams Battery - Located on the eastern side of Cincinnati near Immaculata Church on Mount Adams. The present site is known as Fort View Place.
  • Butcher's Hill Battery - Located near the present site of Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in Eden Park.


  1. "About midnight, he [Smith] came to my room and said I might take such and such brigades and make a demonstration on Cincinnati." Heth, p. 166.
  2. OR, Series I, Volume 52, Part I, p. 281-282.
  3. A force of 53 Union cavalry engaged 101 Confederates. 1 Union man and 5 Confederates were killed and 1 Union soldier and 7 Confederates were wounded. Additionally, one civilian (Larkin Vaughn) was killed by a stray shot.
  4. Ohio History Central


  • Adams, Roger C. "Panic on the Ohio: The Defense of Cincinnati, Covington, and Newport, September 1862" The Journal of Kentucky Studies 9 (September 1992), pp. 80–98.
  • Heth, Henry. The Memoirs of Henry Heth (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press), 1974.
  • Ramage, James A. "Panic on the Ohio!: Confederates March on Cincinnati, September 1862 - II. Panic in Cincinnati" Blue & Gray Magazine Vol. 3, No. 5 (April–May 1986), pp. 11–15.
  • Roth, David E. "Panic on the Ohio!: Confederates March on Cincinnati, September 1862 - III. 'Squirrel Hunters' to the Rescue" Blue & Gray Magazine Vol. 3, No. 5 (April–May 1986), pp. 16–18.
  • U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 16, Part II (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office), 1886. [See pages 470-511.]
  • U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 52, Part I (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office), 1886.
  • Walden, Geoffrey R. "Panic on the Ohio!: Confederates March on Cincinnati, September 1862 - I. Introduction" Blue & Gray Magazine Vol. 3, No. 5 (April–May 1986), pp. 7–8.
  • Walden, Geoffrey R. "Panic on the Ohio!: Confederates March on Cincinnati, September 1862 - IV. The Defenses of Cincinnati" Blue & Gray Magazine Vol. 3, No. 5 (April–May 1986), pp. 19–29.

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