The Hunt men: from left, Grandfather Roy, Great-Grandfather Frank, and Great-Great-Grandfather Horace.
I drive past two thousand, two hundred and sixty dead Confederate soldiers every morning on my way to work. Perhaps this would not be noteworthy were I a denizen of the south, but I live in Columbus, Ohio, well into old Union territory. The fallen rebels are permanent residents of the last surviving parcel of Camp Chase, a military installation that prepared Ohio recruits for battle in the Civil War and housed a prison for captured enemy soldiers.
Today the once-sprawling complex is nothing more than a modest cemetery enclosed by stone walls. Among its neighbors are a library branch, an ice cream stand, and a deserted corner gas station. It is probable that most commuters traveling along Sullivant Avenue are unaware of the sacred historic landmark they are passing.
One step within its iron gates is a sobering antidote to such ignorance. Walk around outside the cemetery’s perimeter, or scan its area as depicted in a satellite photograph, and you may perceive only a small rectangle of land. Stand within its walls, however, and its interior seems to expand to impossible dimensions. Row after row after row of small white headstones crowded together evoke the seemingly infinite crosses of Arlington National Cemetery. The Confederates buried there were once held captive on Union soil, and following their deaths due to disease, they remain prisoners to this day.
The gravity of its significance and the walls that buffer it from passing traffic make the Camp Chase cemetery a tranquil and contemplative island in a city that is rarely preoccupied with the War Between the States. Each headstone is a tragic tale of a man who never came home, not even in a coffin. Today we would call that a lack of closure, but for the families of these lost men, it must have been the bitterest aftertaste of the Confederacy’s collapse.
Even so, I ask myself if my empathy may be the least bit traitorous. This is not just because I am grateful that the Union prevailed and the abhorrent practice of slavery was abolished. It is mainly because when I stand among the Confederate graves of Camp Chase, I know that I am not far from the very spot where a fifteen-year-old boy made the fateful decision to lie about his age and join the 84th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. His name was Horace Waite Hunt, and I am his great-great-grandson.
The legend in my family is that Horace ran away from home to become a drummer boy in the Civil War. While there is no evidence to prove this romantic notion, a quick cross-examination of his death certificate and 84th Regiment rosters reveals an important discrepancy. The roster records the enlistment of an 18-year-old soldier on May 27, 1862, whereas the birth date on Horace’s death certificate indicates that he would have been only fifteen at the time. Lying about your age so that you will be permitted to fight in the war – it’s arguably even more romantic than running away to be a drummer boy. For all we know, Horace may have done both.
The 84th Ohio Infantry was sent to Cumberland, Maryland in June of 1862 for the purpose of cutting off Confederate supply lines. By September they had moved on to New Creek, West Virginia, but the expected skirmish there was avoided when the enemy retreated. Horace is listed as mustering out with the company on September 20, but a curious item on his pension record notes that he received medical attention in June and was subsequently discharged. Next to the date is a telling descriptor: “Youth”. Was the boy soldier found out and sent home?
However Horace’s service with the 84th turned out, records show that just ten days shy of his sixteenth birthday, he enlisted with the 21st Independent Battery of the Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery in January of 1863. Although the battery would remain in service until the end of the war, Horace fought with them for less than five months, receiving his discharge via a surgeon’s certificate of disability on the first of June.
Apparently you couldn’t keep a good adolescent soldier down for long in those days, because Horace was enlisting again by the end of July, this time with Company E of the 9th Ohio Cavalry. It was with this regiment that Horace apparently saw the most significant action. The 9th joined General Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea, providing cover for the advancing infantry and misdirecting the enemy with false marches. When hostilities had ended and the company was mustered out in July of 1865, Horace was, at last, eighteen years of age.
Our family is unsure of exactly what Horace made of his adult life, but we do know that he married Fannie Owen in Council Bluffs, Iowa in the summer of 1868. The following spring brought the birth of a son, Frank, who would grow up to become a practicing doctor in Adamsville, Ohio. Frank and his wife, Mary, had six children, including their son Roy, who was born in Toledo in 1894. Roy also fathered six children, the youngest of whom is my own father.
Aside from this legacy, a pair of family anecdotes provides some insight into Horace’s character. One is a notorious incident in which he allegedly cast a salt shaker across the dining table in a fit of temper. The other tale involves Horace waking up in the middle of the night and suspecting the presence of an intruder in the house. He is said to have grabbed a firearm to discharge it at a figure lurking at the end of the hallway, only to discover that he had merely shot at his own reflection in the hall mirror. I imagine a few years fighting in the Civil War might make a man a little jumpy on the trigger when he’s startled.
By 1895, Horace was 48 and plagued by chronic hemorrhoids and rheumatism. “I believe I am one-third disabled for performing manual labor,” he wrote in his affidavit for an invalid pension. A pair of friends also testified to his persistent suffering. For a Nineteenth Century man who had seen action in the Civil War, Horace ended up living longer than he might have expected and was able to enjoy the arrival of a great grandson before he died in 1920 at the age of 73.
Now, nearly a century later, the great-great grandson of Horace Waite Hunt drives past the graves of the old soldier’s fallen enemies every morning and wonders what his legendary ancestor would make of Camp Chase today. Perhaps he would be grateful that such tangible evidence of our country’s greatest struggle remains to remind his descendants of the boy soldier who fought so long ago.