A Local Hero: Butler County’s Ferdinand Van Derveer Served as a Lawyer, General, Sheriff, and Judge

By Staff Report


Ferdinand Van Derveer- Photo credit: Public Domain
Ferdinand Van Derveer of Butler County is one of many local heroes. He not only served his country, but he worked in the county as a lawyer, general, sheriff and a judge. He was even a postmaster at one point. Dating back to the 1800’s, he’s one of only a few citizens to hold such impressive titles. One of his most notable roles was he became a brigadier general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Born in Middletown Ohio 

Born in Middletown, he was educated at Farmer’s College in College Hill, Ohio. He studied law, passed the bar exam, and established a law practice in Middletown. He was admitted to the Ohio Bar Association in 1845. However, when the Mexican-American War broke out, he left his law office and enlisted as a private in the 1st Ohio Volunteer Regiment. Van Derveer served as an Orderly Sergeant, 1st Lieutenant, and Captain before commanding his company with distinction at the Battle of Monterey. After the war, he returned to Butler County and resumed his law practice. He also served one term as the sheriff of Butler County, but he was not re-elected. In 1850, he went to California during the Gold Rush.
            Van Derveer served in several leading roles in the military and fought in a number of significant battles. When the Civil War began, Van Derveer organized the 35th Ohio Infantry at Camp Hamilton in 1861, and he became its first colonel. Historic documents reflect he quickly earned the reputation of “a quietly reliable commander.” The regiment, originally consisting of more than 900 men, was involved in the Battle of Mill Springs, in reserve at the April 1862 Battle of Shiloh, and fought in the Battles of Corinth, Perryville, Stones River, and Chickamauga. Half of the soldiers in the regiment were killed or wounded in battle. Historic documents cite that about 750 of the men in the regiment were from Butler County.
            The Battle of Chickamauga on Sept. 19-20 of 1863 was considered to be the pinnacle of Van Derveer’s military career. Historian Steven Woodworth said, “No other unit found so many opportunities to change the course of the battle nor used its opportunities so well.”

A Proven Leader

Proving his strength as a leader, Van Derveer became a brigade commander in the Army of Ohio, and later, in the XIV Corps. He mustered out with his regiment in September 1864, and in October, he was promoted to Brigadier General of the United States Volunteers. He was also assigned to lead a brigade in the IV Corps in Alabama in February of 1865.
After the end of the war, Van Derveer returned home to stay and resumed his legal practice. He was appointed as a postmaster in March of 1885, and he resigned to run as a Common Pleas Court Judge of Butler County. Sources say he was easily elected and re-elected, and continued to serve as a judge until his death in 1892.
In working with Henry Boynton, Van Derveer was instrumental in the establishment of the National Military Park at Chickamauga, according to historical data.
            Van Derveer was born in Middletown on February 27, 1823. After becoming ill, he passed away at the age of 69 on Nov. 5, 1892. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Hamilton.
            According to a Butler County Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee website, Butler County Civil War 150 (https://sites.google.com/site/butlercountycw150/home), no battles were fought in Butler County, but the Civil War and its related events greatly impacted the lives of area residents.  During the four-year conflict, thousands of local men served in the military, some fighting for the Union, others battling for the Confederacy.
            Businesses and industries in Hamilton and Middletown adjusted their operations to back the war efforts. For example, while local men were serving in the military, mothers, wives, and their children operated the family farms and businesses. Political figures and movements across the region took various stances on the war. The region was threatened by sizable Confederate forces twice during the war.