Just a mile down Jerry City Road from Elmwood High School is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cemetery, nestled off a soft bend in the Portage River.
It’s a graveyard of monuments as conservative as one would expect from a Mennonite cemetery, save one that almost immediately catches the eye.
That grave’s inscription tells the outlines of a story:
DAVIS W. LEGRON
Died at Andersonville, Ga.
Aug. 7, 1864
AGED 32 yrs, 2 M’s, 28 D.
Noble in life
Lamented in death.
Davis Legron’s story started in Perry Township and ended in a stifling Confederate prison camp. It’s another story of one of Wood County’s own that ought to give us pause when we see Confederate memorabilia blithely displayed around here.
In August 1862, when the Civil War was going quite badly for the Union, Davis Legron and his brother, Amos, enlisted in B Company of the 111th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. They trained for about a month, then deployed south to defend Cincinnati against a rumored attack.
They wintered in Kentucky, and when fighting season resumed in 1863, the 111th helped lead the chase against Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s raiders. Once Morgan’s threat to Ohio subsided, the 111th deployed south toward Knoxville.
As they fought in Tennessee that November, a Union general decided to fall back – without notifying the units on picket. Surrounded by Confederates, B/111 were “neglected by our command,” J.L. Richard remembered in an 1888 letter. Of the 80 men the unit started with on Nov. 1, 74 were killed, wounded or taken.
They were transported to the rear of the Confederate lines, after which they experienced horror after horror. In Richard’s words:
“On the morning of the 17th orders were read to the prisoners to the effect that we were to be stripped of nil of our clothing, which was anything but pleasant news to us, it being then late in the season and winter fast approaching. After they had taken everything from us down to our shirts and pants, we were started to Atlanta, where we were confined for two-weeks in a military stockade. From thence we were taken to Richmond, Virginia… Our first feast of bug soup was hailed with great joy. As the boys who were sent after it came in sight we began to remark to each other that it was well seasoned with pepper, but on closer observation it proved to contain small bugs, which looked like pepper.”
Thirty-eight men remained after the stay in Richmond, and were sent to Andersonville, the most notorious of the Confederate prison camps, on March 21,
1864. Eight died by the time they made it to Andersonville; from there, things only got worse.
By the time they were liberated a year later, only 10 of the original 30 were alive. “And yet with this fearful mortality, some say that we did not fare any worse than the boys in the field. How willingly would we have run the risk on the battlefield in preference to starving by inches, as we did in those Southern prison hells,” Richard wrote.
Among those dead, of course, was Davis W. Legron.
Legron wasn’t alone, nor was the 66 percent death rate in his company particularly unusual in Confederate prisons. About three of every ten men who walked into Andersonville would never walk out. Most would die of disease – the lone stream from which they drew drinking water was also the only stream for bathing, and collected sewage run-off.
In so many ways, Andersonville reflected the contours of the Confederate States of America. The planning was criminally inept; officials treated human beings as animals; and unvarnished racism was the heart of the biggest issue. Confederate officials claimed they wanted to empty Andersonville by resuming prisoner exchanges, but stubbornly refused to include African-American Union soldiers in any exchange. It was a deal-breaker for the Union Army, which insisted that African American soldiers be treated the same in exchanges as white soldiers like Legron.
More than 4,700 Ohioans died under the flag Union soldier Frank Haskell called “treason’s flaunting rag” – how many of them were from Wood County is anyone’s guess.
Davis Legron’s grave, thankfully, is not forgotten. Two crisp American flags decorate it right now; reminders of the promise of our country, and the sacrifices made to insure our rights to live in a free society today.