Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Buffington Island Battle

by Shane Holtzman

The fight of Buffington Island was fought in what is now called Portland, Ohio, and left 53 men dead as the memorial on the island states. It was a minor affair, a skirmish at best. The Battle of Buffington Island is the only Civil War battle fought in Ohio, making this site a prime place to visit for Civil War buffs.

As a Civil War enthusiast, the Meigs County memorial to the Buffington battle is a must see. The simple fact that Ohio is a part of Civil War history is astonishing. I had never heard of this battle, surprised me because I grew up in Ohio and have a proclivity for history.

The Battle of Buffington Island was fought by around only 14,000 men. It was miniscule compared to the Battle of Gettysburg, in which a staggering 163,000 men entered combat. However, despite the seemingly insignificant nature of the Buffington Island Battle, it is unique in that it contained three future Presidents of the US, which were James Garfield, Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley. A single skirmish involving three presidents is a steep claim for any Civil War battle.

There are four acres of preserved battlefield in Portland, Ohio, which is operated by the Ohio Historical Society. The Park to preserve the Battlefield of Buffington Island contains battle monuments, an Indian burial ground, and a pair of interpretive markers. Even though the four-acre park does preserve a very specific part of the battlefield, the entire 600-acre battlefield is in danger of coming under construction. This possible construction would turn the majority of the battlefield into a cement lot, which would make the re-enactments of the battle slightly less realistic.

Every spring, people from around Athens County and around the state of Ohio gather on the narrow field, barren of trees stretching along the flood plain of the Ohio River, to re-enact the battle. It smells old. A stiff breeze blows the topsoil off the field and I wonder if that’s the same dirt from 100 years ago. The memorial contains pictures of past re-enactments, even pictures of those portraying the three Presidents. These men were the lucky ones, the pretend future Presidents. From the pictures, the men look authentic, prideful, and even maintain certain nostalgia reminiscent of the real battle.

The Buffington Island memorial is not just for Civil War aficionados, but is a place that will allow the younger and older generation to connect with history.

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