This modest little clapboard building at 56 Public Square seems like an unlikely witness to history. It has stood on this spot since 1830, when the commercial district of the village of Medina consisted almost entirely of such little wooden structures. It survived two devastating fires in the nineteenth century and has housed law offices, stores, a dental office, and currently, an insurance agency.
However, after the attack on Ft. Sumter on April 12, 1861, this little building served its most dramatic purpose. This was where young men from the village of Medina and the surrounding townships came to volunteer for military service in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops to put down the “War of Rebellion.”
Initially, there was great enthusiasm for the war. But when the Army of the Potomac, under the leadership of General George B. McClellan fared poorly against Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia during that first year and a half of the war — enthusiasm waned. Casualties were high, the Confederates continued to present a serious threat, and confidence in General McClellan dwindled.
So, unfortunately, did the number of volunteers appearing at the recruitment center at 56 Public Square. This prompted Medina’s two term Congressman, Harrison G. Blake (1859-63) to write the following plea to Abraham Lincoln on July 28, 1862:
As one of the representatives from the State of Ohio, I regard it as my duty to say to you that I shall sustain you in all measures you deem proper to take to put down this rebellion… It is proper, however, that I should say to you that there is great dissatisfaction among your friends about the manner that Gen. McClellan has manage the army under his command — most men here doubt his ability, and very many question his loyalty.
…We find it very difficult to to get men to enlist here, they say they will be put to guarding rebel property or digging ditches in some swamp instead of fighting the enemy. We shall do all we can to get the men to enlist, and we are offering from $25 to $50 in addition to all the bounty that Government pays, but it goes hard.
If the people could know for a certainty that a more vigorous prosecution of the war would obtain, and that our men would be placed under competent commanders who desire to put down the rebellion, I have no doubt we could get any number of men to enlist.
I trust you will receive these suggestions in the kind spirit they are dictated….
(Later that year, after the Battle of Antietam in September of 1862, Lincoln did indeed relieve General McClellan of his command of the Army of the Potomac.)
*This letter (portions of which are quoted here) is from the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois.