GALLIA COUNTY — Gallia County is unique from much of Ohio in that it once sat on the line of the Union and Confederacy during the American Civil War, much like its neighboring counties of Meigs and Lawrence.
It rests as home to two of the longest running traditions of their kind in memory of a conflict that put family against family and friend against friend. According to Vinton America Legion Post’s John Holcomb “Ohio provided the nation with 310,654 fighting men during the America Civil War, 1861-65. These men fought in nearly every battlefield of the war. In all, Ohio lost 24571 ‘brave boys in blue,’ in its effort to preserve the Union and free slaves over the course of the war. Approximately 11,237 of the men were killed or wounded in combat and another 13,334 died from disease before their term of enlistment ended. One of Ohio’s lasting tributes and living memorials to the ‘boys in blue’ exists in the form of six historic bean dinners which take place across the Buckeye State each year. Governor Bob Taft, during the state’s bicentennial in 2003, officially recognized four of these events, the only four known to exist in 2003. The last of their kind, five of these bean dinners were once sponsored by former Union soldiers who belonged to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR, a Union veterans organization similar to today’s American Legion or VFW). The sixth event was started and sponsored by soliders who served in the 40th OVI Regiment during the war.”
The events were called “Campfires” by GAR members and serve as a legacy for the state’s tie to the American Civil War. Vinton’s bean dinner is considered the oldest in the country and Rio Grande’s dinner will be celebrating its 150th bean dinner in August of next year. Music and other activities commonly accompany these events now.
The Vinton Bean Dinner is typically held the first Saturday of August and was formerly led by members of the Corwin/Matthews Post no. 259 GAR. The Vinton dinner is now hosted by the Vinton American Legion Post 161. The Rio Grande Bean Dinner, formerly held by the I.Z. Haning Post no. 332 GAR is now sponsored by the Rio Gande Memorial Association. The Rio Grande dinner is typically held on the second Saturday of August.
Both dinners honor memories of veterans who sacrificed, those who live and those who are serving. The Vinton dinner is held in Vinton Community Park and the Rio Grande dinner has been held in the University of Rio Grande Bob Evans Shelterhouse.
According to Rio Grande Memorial Association member Robert Leith, the Rio Grande event “was started in 1870 by the village residents to honor returning United States soldiers who had served in the Civil War (1861-1865). This Civil War tradition welcomed those who ‘may have had ties with the Confederacy’ and ‘all men of color.’ Late 19th century fare consisted of strong and bitter black coffee, hardtack, and soup beans cooked over a wood-fed fire (similar to soldier foods eaten in the recent war). Today, the Civil War beans (are annually) supplemented by homemade cornbread, homemade pies, Bob Evans sausage sandwiches, iced water, coffee and soft drinks. Additional charges occur for foods and drinks beyond the basic.”
It’s not uncommon for the event to hold Civil War demonstrations or exhibitions as well.