In the autumn of 1861 the rebellion began to assume such a magnitude, and degree of earnestness of purpose with the people of the South, that it behooved the friends of the Union to make greater efforts than they had hitherto made to recruit and reinforce the army, now insufficient in numbers and discipline to protect the borders and defend the National Capital. The rebel armies had possession of almost every slave State, and were contending with alternate success for Missouri and Kentucky. In the East the enemy was entrenched within cannon range of Washington City.
Darkness enveloped the nation. The nation's life was in imminent danger. The bugle gave the alarm to all parts of the country, that all would soon be lost unless the people would, with one accord, rally round the standard of the Union. Many had already responded to their country's call, and were bravely and nobly holding the enemy in check, but must soon be overwhelmed unless reinforced by the strong and patriotic men who, as yet, seemed not to realize the peril of the nation.
The response to the earnest and loud call of the nation was soon made. Men left the plow, the workshop, the desk and the pulpit, determined not only to drive back the enemy, but to push the war into the very heart of rebeldom, that the rebels who had instituted the war might see its desolations and feel its terrible and frightful consequences.
M. D. Leggett, then Superintendent of the Public Schools in the City of Zanesville, felt that it was his duty to abandon his high position of usefulness and go in defense of the flag of his country. He made an appeal to others in whose patriotism he had confidence, and who occupied positions similar to his own, but who had not, as yet, the most remote idea of engaging in the bloody conflict then going on in the nation. Many come forth at once in response to the appeal of Lt. Colonel Leggett, and encouraged him in his efforts to enlist men for the war. It was proposed to raise a regiment, and that M. D. Leggett take the lead, many promising to engage in the work under his superintendence. He was commissioned Lieutenant-Colonel by Governor Tod, and authorized to raise a regiment to be known as the SEVENTY-EIGHTH REGIMENT OF OHIO VOLUNTEER INFANTRY. He at once selected his men to superintend the raising of companies in the counties of Muskingum, Morgan, Guernsey, Noble, Monroe, Belmont and Columbiana. Recruiters for other regiments were already at work in this field, and putting forth their best efforts to fill up regiments not yet complete. Colonel Leggett visited all the important places in these counties, and by his earnest and eloquent appeals to the patriotism of the people, aroused them to a sense of their duty to their bleeding country. Strong, young and intelligent men were induced to leave all, and fly to their country's rescue.
The regiment rendezvoused in Camp Gilbert, near West Zanesville, and on the 11th of January, 1862, was organized and reported ready for the field. It mustered nine hundred and forty men. No other regiment excelled it in intelligence and high-toned morality. It had, perhaps, more professors of religion than any other regiment recruited in the State. Genuine patriotism inspired every heart.