“...You shall hear of war and rumors of war.” That passage from Matthew could be the theme of the early days of the Civil War — especially the rumors. With hard news scarce (early skirmishes in Missouri and a fight at Vienna, W.Va., were the big news in late June), reporters and editors jumped on every rumor that came down the line.
But they weren’t the only ones jumping to conclusions and even panicking over nothing.
On June 24, 1861, Kenyon College students who had organized into the “Kenyon Light Guards,” decided they needed to experience the hardships of a soldier’s life. They would march to a spot out in the countryside, camp, and return the next day.
So, on the 24th, they set out on their “grueling” march (of about three miles) and camped at a spot they had previously selected: “a beautiful grove on the farm of Mr. Reuben Wollison in Monroe Township.”
According to the account in the Mount Vernon Banner, the students: “Arriving at the woods about dusk, without explaining their purposes to anyone, or without asking permission of the owner of the woods to occupy the premises, they proceeded at once to erect their tents, build a campfire and place sentinels on guard, according to the rules of military life. It seems that a son of Mr. Wollison soon came into camp, to whom the whole object of the expedition was explained; but this young man, having been kindly treated by the students, made himself perfectly happy among them, and did not return home until it was late in the evening. In the meantime the women folks became terribly alarmed, and fled to the neighbor’s house, under the erroneous impression that the encampment, instead of being a harmless collection of college boys, with wooden guns, assembled for innocent pastime, was in reality a company of soldiers, armed cap-a-pie (head to foot), assembled avowedly for the purpose of hanging Mr. Wollison and some other men in the neighborhood. To strengthen this belief, it is said that anonymous letters were dropped into Mr. W’s yard but a short time previous, threatening to mob him on the very night the students marched there. Like letters were received by other Democrats in that vicinity, purporting to come from that everlasting ‘Vigilance Committee.’”