Shelter from the Storm: How a Union Soldier Sought Refuge at My Great-Grandparents’ House

Martin Andrews’ sophomore year at Oberlin College was abruptly upended in the spring of 1861. On April 12, his 22nd birthday, Confederate forces attacked a federal fort in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.

The attack marked the beginning of the Civil War and sparked a flame among Oberlin’s students and faculty. This is the story of how Private Martin Andrews came to my great-great-great-grandparents’ home in Virginia after an early Civil War battle.

Soldiers for Social Justice

Martin M. Andrews of Company C, 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Martin M. Andrews of Company C, 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

As a student at Oberlin, Andrews learned in an academic atmosphere founded upon social justice and Christian principles. Some of the college’s first graduates were women and African-Americans. One student wrote that “Patriotism and the doctrine of Anti-Slavery very naturally found a place in the category of their principles.”

After the attack on Fort Sumter, Andrews and many of his classmates left school and signed up with the Union army. The young men traveled to nearby Cleveland and were mustered into service of the United States as members of Company ‘C’ of the 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI). A majority of the soldiers in that company were Oberlin students.

Company C’s first taste of battle came in western Virginia. Confederate troops commanded by Generals John Floyd and Henry Wise had pushed into the area around the Gauley River in Nicholas County, where pro-Union sentiment ran high. Among the area’s residents were some staunchly anti-slavery Methodist families, including my ancestors.

The People of Panther Mountain

Days before the battle, the company ended a long day of marching through mud by camping at the foot of Panther Mountain, where many members of my family lived. I imagine when the women found out about the nearby camp they brought food to the troops.

Battle of Kessler's Cross Lanes map, courtesy of Oberlin College

Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes map, courtesy of Oberlin College

Andrews and his company were eating breakfast on the morning of August 26th, 1861, when Rebel forces attacked them at Kessler’s Cross Lanes. The Battle of Cross Lanes is also referred to as “The Battle of Knives and Forks” because of the outbreak of mealtime gunfire. The Yankees did not fare well that day and as night drew near, soldiers and officers who survived fled to the nearby woods and mountains, including Panther Mountain.

According to “A History of Panther Mountain Community,” Andrews and 17 other men wandered to the home of William and Susan Grose, my great-great-great-grandparents. The Groses fed the Yankee men and gave them a place to rest before they went on to their next assignment. Elsewhere on the mountain, my great-great-grand aunt Margaret Grose Renick took in a group of three other 7th OVI soldiers, fed them and helped them hide first in her home and then, as Confederate troops set up pickets on her farm, in a cave on her property. Years later Sgt. Edgar Condit wrote an account of their stay with the Renicks.

I am duly amazed that my family members met and cared for these young students-turned-soldiers in the face of great danger. I have learned so much about my family by researching the Oberlin infantrymen, also known as the Monroe Rifles. I included Martin and his Union comrades in my recently published book, Panther Mountain: Caroline’s Story,  and will share with you here the recipe for hardtack, a type of super-hard bread (cracker-like) that the troops carried in their haversacks during the war.

Painting by Bernie Rosage, Jr.

Painting by Bernie Rosage, Jr.

According to the American Civil War website, hardtack was so hard that soldiers called it “tooth duller” or “sheet iron crackers.” Time and travel sometimes led to the hardtack supply being infested with bugs. To test it, the troops would dunk the crackers into hot coffee. The weevils, who were not swimmers, would float to the top. Um…yummy! Bon apetit!

Union Hardtack

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon of Crisco or vegetable fat
  • 6 pinches of salt

Mix the ingredients together into a stiff batter, knead several times, and spread the dough out flat to a thickness of 1/2 inch on a non-greased cookie sheet. Bake for one-half an hour at 400 degrees. Remove from oven, cut dough into 3-inch squares, and punch four rows of holes, four holes per row into the dough. Turn dough over, return to the oven and bake another one-half hour. Turn oven off and leave the door closed. Leave the hardtack in the oven until cool. Remove and enjoy!