Nestled in the quiet mountains of Nicholas County, West Virginia, is the small hamlet of Kessler’s Cross Lanes. Nicholas County is a rather sparsely populated county, and the crossroads, originally known as merely ‘Cross Roads’, is today the home of a cemetery, a few residences, and the namesake crossroads. Yet this very land was once the sacred soil where some of the boys of Northeastern Ohio fought and died to save the Union.
The Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes started, in a sense, when President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to join the army and help end the rebellion in the Southern states. At this point, the governor of Ohio would have been responsible for raising Ohio boys to fight, and to that end the regiments of Ohio were formed. Amongst the rhetoric and high pride of the day, young men from Ravenna, Huron, Cleveland, Oberlin, Warren, Youngstown, and Painesville signed up for a ninety day enlistment to quell the rebellion. These young men were formed in companies, and these companies formed a regiment. Typically ten companies made up a regiment; hence the 7th OVI (Ohio Volunteer Infantry) was made up of local boys, many of them friends since early childhood.
Company G was made up of boys from the Ravenna region of Portage County. Mostly farm boys, these young men would have enlisted for their three months service with memories of stories from the Revolutionary War and the heroes it produced. They would have enlisted because they felt it was their duty to their country. They enlisted because they knew the issue of state’s rights was a ploy to prolong the institution of slavery. They enlisted because their friends were going and they didn’t want to be left behind. Or they enlisted because they were just plain bored, and the opportunity of glory in battle was seen as a higher goal than the shoveling of another pile of manure onto the early plantings. For whatever reason, these young men became soldiers in the Grand Army of the Republic and arrived at Camp Taylor in Cleveland determined.
It must be noted that this mustering of troops from the same locale ended with the Civil War. The young men from Ravenna were formed into the same company because logistically it made sense. The world was a much smaller place in 1861 and to try and create companies from various parts of the north would have been much more difficult. Also, recruits from the same region left behind family and friends who were well known to each other. It would have been much more difficult to turn tail and run during a hot portion of an engagement if you knew word of your cowardice was going to reach your family and friends. Hence, these guys in Company G were going to have to fight for each other come what may…or possibly run as a group.
At Camp Taylor our boys from Ravenna would have been trained in the art of warfare 1861 style. They would have learned marching, falling into battle lines, loading, firing, advancing, and retreating as a unit. While at Camp Taylor they were assigned to the 7th OVI along with some of the other companies training at the camp.
In May, the 7th was transferred to Camp Dennison in Cincinnati. Here, the farm boys from Ravenna would have been drilled in moving as a regiment, as part of a brigade, and as part of a division. They would have learned that they were part of something much bigger than they’d expected when they signed up. But the enlistment period was about to expire, and the rebellion in the south was only growing bigger with the entrance of Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina as Confederate States.
Three months turned into three years
Now our boys had a much bigger decision to make. When they had signed up it was for three months…they would be getting out in time for the fall harvest. They would be seeing their families, their sweethearts, their homes again in the fall. But now the government was asking these soldiers to enlist for the next three years…an eternity in the eyes of a young man.
Most of our boys from Ravenna did sign up for the three year stint. The army hadn’t been all that bad thus far, and many of the same reasons they had joined in the first place still existed. So they decided to see the thing through and hit the dotted line with their name.
Little did they know, nor imagine, that a small hamlet in Virginia was awaiting their arrival amongst the heat of the day and the cool of the mountainous night. They knew not that the birth of the state of West Virginia would be heralded by lads like themselves…farm boys from Ravenna, Ohio, who received their baptism of fire at a place known as Kessler’s Cross Roads.