Battle of Sunbury

This article ran in 
The Sunbury News
March 20, 2003

Civil War Re-enactment Set May 10


by Richard M. Helwig

According to statistical data, Ohio was perhaps the most important state in the Union during the period of time known as the Civil War. Ohio provided more troops and more generals than any other state. Outwardly it would appear that Ohio was 100 percent behind the Union cause ... or was it?

Even before the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter, Ohio newspapers were carrying articles by Southern sympathizers and state's rights advocates urging Ohio to stay neutral on the issue of slavery. There were even some radicals who wanted Ohio to secede from the Union and join the Southern cause. These Southern sympathizer were known by a number of names although the term "Copperhead" would cover most.

Many Delaware County men and boys answered President Lincoln's first and second call to arms. Other Delaware County men were already in Union blue when the Civil War began Such was probably the case with Captain Charles Gaylord.

Gaylord and his family lived near Sunbury in eastern Delaware County. Not all of Delaware County's young men were becoming OVI's in the Union Army. Some were joining notorious, militant Copperhead organizations like the "Knights of the Golden Circle. This antiwar group established many headquarters throughout the North including in and around the city of Delaware.

Little is known about who Charles Gaylord was. However, the 1860 U.S. census also states that he had a wife and three children. It is probable that Gaylord and his family had strong feelings regarding slavery and the Union and was quite vocal as to his feelings. Gaylord was not afraid to act on his convictions and October 1, 1861 enlisted in the 41 st OVI for three years.

One day the Captain had returned to camp, leaving his wife and family at home near Sunbury.

In the beginning that day appeared to be like any other. Dusk was rapidly approaching as Mrs. Gaylord finished the last of her daily tasks. As she paused, she thought she heard a horse whinny. Suddenly, the woods around her house came alive with yelling and screaming men. A few wore rebel hats while others wore hoods. Some banished weapons, others just shook their fists.

One hooded individual rode to a spot near the porch and yelled, "You! Inside! I know you are in there, so listen close! We don't want any blue-bellied Yankee officer a livin' here in Delaware County. Ya hear!? Get out while ya can. If you don't we'll be back! Show'em we mean business boy's."

With that statement, several of the men discharged their squirrel rifles and other weapons into the air and into the house. Mrs. Gaylord hugged the floor in terror as she heard windows shatter and the thud of bullets in the house's woodwork. The barrage lasted only a few seconds. Many of the men yelled obscenities as they departed. Mrs. Gaylord wasted no time in sending a note to her husband informing him of what had happened. Upon receiving his wife's note, Gaylord got permission to leave camp to recruit a detachment of soldiers.

The Captain and his men then headed for Sunbury. The soldiers secreted themselves on the Gaylord farm. It is possible that Charles then rode into town to make himself visible and also to state emphatically that neither he nor his family had any intention of leaving their Delaware County home.

It didn't take long for Gaylord's challenge to be answered. It happened a few nights after the Captain's return home. As dusk settled over eastern Delaware County, a group of armed riders headed east on the Delaware to Sunbury pike. Other riders joined them as they rode eastward.

When they arrived in the vicinity of the Gaylord place, they paused long enough to cover their faces with hoods, load their weapons and light torches. They then rode at a fast gallop toward the now darkened house. When the riders were well within musket range, the Union soldiers formed a skirmish line and came to the ready.

Gaylord gave the command to fire. The detachment's muskets roared as one. Horses reared, as some of the Knights attempted to return -fire. The Captain's command would be heard above the yells and curses of the Knights, "load and come to the ready!"

"Retreat and regroup!" -one the the Knights yelled. Horses wheeled as animals and men turned showing their backsides to the impromptu skirmish line and raced toward Sunbury. One final command was given by Gaylord. "Fire over their heads." The Battle of Sunbury was over almost as quickly as it began. A few days after the raid on the Gaylord home, Knights of the Golden Circle were ordered by their headquarters in Chicago to disperse in Delaware County and move on to a different state.

Charles Gaylord continued to serve in the Union army until November 24, 1862 when he resigned.

On May 9, 10 and 11, the area around Sunbury will again be filled with the sights and sounds of the early days of the America Civil War as several hundred Civil War reenactors will recreate this exciting era in Sunbury and Galena history.

On Friday, May 9, Civil War reenactors will help Big Walnut youth get a better understanding of Civil War activities though a series of first person demonstrations. Later in the day, reenactors will begin arriving on the Sunbury Square, where they will be establishing a typical Civil War encampment.

On Saturday morning, May - 10, the Sunbury Square will be alive with patriotism as news of Fort Sumter's falling and President Lincoln's call for troops brings on a case of recruitment fever. On Saturday afternoon, the new recruits will fall in at Smith Park as the learn how to become good, skilled Union and Confederate soldiers. The afternoon's activities will conclude with a re-creation of the "Battle of Sunbury." The day's activities will end with an artillery night fire in Smith Park and a Blue/Gray Ball in the Harrison Elementary GYM.

On Sunday morning, May 11, there will be a period church service held at the Olde Church Centre in Sunbury. In the afternoon, activities will move to Rufner Park in Galena, where reenactors will re-create a section of the famous "Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg."

Mr. Helwig based his story on a tidbit found in It Happened in Delaware, a booklet presented by The First National Bank of Delaware in 1976.  
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(04/01/2006 )