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Banks was member of Union Light Guards

By Dortha Schaefer 

Last week's 'Progress' carried a Spice Rack column that told of the Union Light Guard, a company of men from Ohio that guarded President Abraham Lincoln.  The publication that carried the original article didn't list any of the men's names who were members of the Guard.

A reader in Antwerp, Mrs. Joe (Barbara) Barker, read the column and knew immediately that an ancestor of hers was the Paulding County Guard.  Barbara's great-grandfather, George Gordon Banks who was born, raised and died in the county, was selected to serve in this honor guard.  Most of the information in this article came from Banks' granddaughter, Mrs. Caroline Hawks.

"My mother" said Caroline, "saved everything.  I found the pictures and papers about my grandfather in her (Pearl Banks Snook) old trunk.  She has been gone since 1955."

"I remember my grandfather very well as he spent a good many years in our home.  He was a loving, friendly man who read a lot and always kept a big garden in the summer.  He was proud of his service record, took part in local Grand Army of the Republic organizations and attended many encampments as the years went by."

G. G. Banks was born near Cecil, in Crane Township Oct.21, 1842, and died Feb.17, 1923. He was a farmer most of his life except for four years spent in the service.  He enlisted at 21 years of age in December, 1863, and remained with the Seventh Independent Company, Ohio Volunteer Cavalry or the Union Light Guard until September 1865.

A yellowed newspaper clipping from the family trunk carries this information:
"While on a visit to Washington, D.C., War Governor David Tod of Ohio had a conversation with War Secretary Stanton.  The vein running through the conversation was the suspected danger surrounding President Lincoln.

The president was in the habit of daily riding in the streets and abduction was rumored and feared.  Tod said he would go and raise a company of hand-picked men.  Tod wrote to each of Ohio's county military commissions that supervised enlistments, asking them to furnish one man for his elite guard.  He asked for special men, preferably over six feet tall, educated and possibly men who had seen service.  Sixty-four counties responded.  Extras came from Columbus and other more highly populated areas.  Sixty of the 108 men were six foot tall and over. They made up a magnificent body of men with George A. Bennett as their captain.

In less than a month Tod had his guard, uniformed after the style of the regular United States Cavalry, equipped and ready for duty.  They weren't told of their special duty until their arrival in Washington.

They were mounted on black horses. So judiciously were the horses culled from the cavalry mount and of such high standard were they that when the troop was disbanded each sold for about $400.

The duty of the Union Light Guard was to attend the person of Lincoln in his rides and walks from his summer home at the Old Soldiers Home (which was about four miles north of the White House) to the White House itself.  They were also required to guard him on other ventures about the capitol but he eluded them often, feeling the concern for his safety was ill-founded.  A company from Pennsylvania called the 150th Pa. Bucktails was also formed to divide the duty.

Still quoting from the Cleveland newspaper clipping: Stanton and General Auger got word of an attempt to be made on the life of the president so for six weeks night and day the Ohio Guard were kept in the saddle surrounding the president.  They attended his carriage in serried ranks.  After a time the schemers abandoned their plot.

Grandfather Banks told of carrying the first message to the War Department of the assassination of Lincoln and of being a messenger on many occasions during his years in the Guard.

"When he left the service," said Mrs. Watkins, "he was encouraged, as all the men were, to homestead land in Missouri and Kansas.  He took his wife Martha Jackson Banks and went west to Kansas in a covered wagon to claim land there."

"The land wasn't much good and they lived in a one room sod hut.  My mother Pearl was born there.   When she was three years old, they moved back to Ohio after selling their land-she remembered the trip home in the covered wagon."

Banks enlistment papers describe him as having grey eyes, light hair and complexion and being 5 feet 10 inches tall.  Mrs. Watkins remembers him as being taller than most people and towering above others at encampments, also recalling that he never seemed old to her. 

Banks died at the age of 80 years.  "He was always so spry and alert.  The family lived at Forders Bridge where Ernie Diesler lived.  He and Martha had six children, two of whom spent most of their lives in Antwerp-Pearl Snook and Jennie Carr."

Grandchildren are Harry Snook and Mrs. Hawkins of Antwerp and Lucile Adams now of Portland, Ore. whom many county people will remember.  Great-grandchildren are Barbara Barker and Jay Snook of Antwerp and Mrs. Carl (Marletta) Riley of Payne, also Joanne Overmyer, Bluffton, Ohio and Jeanne Pepper, Big Rapids, Mich., who helped with this article.

A listing of county men who served in the Guard gives only Banks from Paulding.  There are three names on the list from Defiance county-John Crowe, Martin Gorman and Samuel P. Hibbard.

This anecdote comes from the book "Lincoln's Body Guard" by Robert McBride, a member of the guard and illustrates the way some of the Guard felt about their duty and Mr. Lincoln's attitude: "Lincoln occasionally spoke to and talked with member of the company at the Soldier's Home, and one of the boys, speaking for the company and encouraged by Lincoln's evident interest in their welfare, expressed the belief the company was of no use in Washington and should be at the front.

"You boys remind me," said Lincoln, "of a farmer friend in Illinois who said he could never understand why the Lord put the curl in pig's tail.  It never seemed to him to be either useful or ornamental, but he reckoned that the Almighty knew what he was doing when he put it there!"

Lincoln refused to allow any of the Guard to accompany him to Fords Theater the evening he was shot.

The Union Light Guard attended without arms, as mourners, the funeral of Lincoln, almost filling the Blue Room.  Two companies marched behind the coffin to the Capitol and encircled the coffin in the center of the great rotunda, their last duties as personal bodyguards to one of the county's greatest presidents.

Newpaper article found in the Bowling Green State Library, Ohio, in the Library Archives:
Paulding Progress, Family Focus Section, Page 9, Wednesday, March 1, 1978
Transcribed and contributed by Jerry Gross.   See Contributors Page for address and email.

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