Nathan O. Smith: Richland County’s First to Fall in the Civil War

Nathan O. Smith was born on October 23, 1834, in Madison Township, Richland County, Ohio[1] to Elisha D Smith and Mary (Page) Smith.  Nathan’s father died on November 4, 1844,[2] leaving Mary a widow with two sons: Nathan and his older brother, Socrates Seneca Smith.  The 1850 U.S. Census shows them still living in Madison Township where Nathan and Socrates were farmers.[3]  In 1852 Nathan and his brother enrolled in the Norwalk Institute in Norwalk, Ohio.[4]  The school was originally a private, Methodist school called the Norwalk Seminary and it opened in 1838.  In 1846 a Baptist church purchased the building and renamed it the Norwalk Institute. The building was later called Central High School under the Ohio public school system.   The brothers returned to Richland County where Nathan became a school teacher and Socrates continued farming.[5]

On April 15, 1861, just three days after the attack on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling forth the state militias, to the sum of 75,000 troops, in order to suppress the rebellion. He appealed “to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate, and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union.” As days passed, senators noted the tremendous response to the president’s call for troops. “The response of the loyal states to the call of Lincoln was perhaps the most remarkable uprising of a great people in the history of mankind,” wrote Senator John Sherman of Ohio. “Within a few days the road to Washington was opened, but the men who answered the call were not soldiers, but citizens.”[6]

Nathan felt compelled to answer this call and entered the service on April 23, 1861.[7]  Two days later, the company under the command of Moses R. Dickey left for Columbus.  The company was presented with a silk flag in the public square, which was accepted by Capt. Dickey on behalf of the soldiers.  They then proceeded, followed by citizens of “town and country”, to the junction to meet their train and start their journey.[8]  The men soon arrived at Camp Jackson in Columbus.  Here Capt. Dickey was appointed Lt. Col. of the 15th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry and Hiram Miller was promoted to Captain of Company H of the 15th Regiment.  They then made their way to Camp Goddard in Zanesville, where they remained until late May “drilling, disciplining and preparing for the field.”[9]

dickey moses

Capt. Moses R. Dickey

The Regiment then made their way to West Virginia, which was still Virginia at the time, and saw their first action on June 3 at Phillippi, West Virginia.  On June 29, 1861, in a town in Upshur County, West Virginia, a group of secession cavalry entered the town in an attempt to intimidate voters.[10]  The rebels began to flee and Captain Miller and some of his men charged them fearing they would escape.  Nathan O. Smith fired on the rebels and was hit in the head by a return shot.  The bullet hit over the left ear, penetrating the brain and lodging in the right cheek.  He died about a half-hour later and was the first Richland County citizen killed in the war.  Three rebels were also killed, including the man who shot Smith.[11]

nosmith grave

Nathan O. Smith’s grave in Windsor Park Cemetery from

The remains of Smith arrived in Mansfield on July 4, 1861, and he was taken to Windsor, where friends and family lived and buried in Windsor Park Cemetery.[12]  That day Capt. Miller wrote a letter to the editors of the Herald:

Rowlesburg, July 4th, 1861.

The circumstances connected with the fall of N. O. Smith will doubtless reach you through other sources.  It is due to him to say, I never saw a better man or soldier.  He never missed a roll-call; he never took an oath and never made use of a vulgar expression during his connection with Company H.  He was always the first to volunteer for any duty.  He was with us upon all our severe marches, and always had a pleasant smile for those who addressed him.  Every member of the company loved him and feel that they have lost a true friend and brave comrade, who fell while defending the cause of his country.

Yours Respectfully,
H. Miller
Captain Co. H. 15th Reg. O. V. I.[13]

The company arrived home from their three-month engagement on August 2, 1861.  The courthouse bell was rung and citizens hurried to greet the returning soldiers.  They marched up Main Street to the square where their journey had begun.  L. B. Matson greeted them and welcomed them home.  Smith was not forgotten in Matson’s remarks: “We mourn the loss of but one of your number, the brave and noble N. O. Smith, who fell as you men were prepared to do, on the field of battle in defense of our common rights.”[14]

[1] Graham, Albert A., History of Richland County, p. 821.
[3] 1850 U.S. Census
[4] U.S., School Catalogs, 1765-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.
[5] 1860 U.S. Census
[6] The Civil War: The Senate’s Story,
[7] Ohio. Roster Commission. (18861895). Official roster of the soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, Vol. 1. Akron: Werner Co..
[8] Captain Dickey’s Company. Daily Shield and Banner. 01 MAY 1961, p. 2
[9] Ohio. Roster Commission. (18861895). Official roster of the soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, Vol. 1. Akron: Werner Co..
[10] From Grafton. Daily Intelligencer. 02 JUL 1862, p. 2.
[11] Death of N. O. Smith – Correction. Mansfield Semi-Weekly Herald. 10 JUL 1861, p. 4
[12] Arrival of the Body of N. O. Smith. Mansfield Semi-Weekly Herald. 06 JUL 1861, p. 4
[13] Death of N. O. Smith – Correction. Mansfield Semi-Weekly Herald. 10 JUL 1861, p. 4
[14] Return of Capt. Miller’s Company. Mansfield Semi-Weekly Herald. 03 AUG 1861, p. 4


One thought on “Nathan O. Smith: Richland County’s First to Fall in the Civil War

  1. Pingback: 160 Years Ago Today: Skirmish at Bowman’s Place – Spirit of '61

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