Civil War standoff over drafting soldiers into the Union army took place in Holmes County.
One of the strangest stories arising in Ohio during the Civil War was the tale of the Battle of Fort Fizzle.
This skirmish took place just a short distance -- even in horse and buggy days -- southwest of Canton in what is now a largely Amish-inhabited area of Holmes County.
Taking place more than 150 years ago, this wasn't a struggle between the armies opposing each other in the War Between the States, nor was it directly regarding the major issues that contributed to the cause of the Civil War, such as states rights, succession and slavery.
Instead, although many of the men involved in it likely were Southern sympathizers, the Battle of Fort Fizzle was more of a revolt over who would fight in the war between the Union and Confederate forces and how the North's soldiers would be enlisted.
"The Battle of Fort Fizzle was an uprising in Holmes County to protect local residents from federal provost marshals and deputies sent to Ohio to enforce the Conscription Act, which was also known as the Enrollment Act, during the American Civil War," according to the Ohio History Connection's website, www.ohiohistorycentral.org.
"As the Civil War dragged on and the number of volunteers declined, in 1863 the United States government implemented the Conscription Act," the explanation at the website continues.
"This act required states to draft men to serve in the American Civil War if individual states did not meet their enlistment quotas through volunteers. ... Many people in the Union strenuously objected to the Conscription Act. Draft riots occurred in both New York City, New York and Boston, Massachusetts. Some Ohioans also opposed the draft. These Ohioans encouraged men to resist the draft or to desert once they were drafted. In Holmes County, approximately nine hundred men created a makeshift fort to defend themselves from federal officials sent to enforce the Conscription Act. These men were responding to attempts by the federal government to enlist men into the Union army during June 1863."
According to the website www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com, the "most notable anti-draft event to occur in Ohio" began on June 5, 1863. On that date, "a group of Holmes County residents attacked Elias Robinson, a draft official traveling through the area to enforce the Conscription Act."
"A detachment of men, under the command of Capt. James Drake, from the Provost Marshal's Office, arrested four of the attackers, but local residents quickly freed the arrested men," according to the website. "Officials in Columbus, the state capital, dispatched Col. William Wallace and 420 soldiers from the 15th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry to restore order and to enforce the draft.
"On June 17, 1863, the soldiers arrived in Holmes County. They discovered approximately 900 men fortified in Fort Fizzle. Fort Fizzle was a makeshift fort that was located on the farm of Lorenzo Blanchard on French Ridge in Richland Township," according to the website. "The men were armed with guns, and some sources claim that they also had four artillery pieces, but this is unlikely. The soldiers advanced upon the fort. The defenders fired one volley at the attackers and then dispersed. The soldiers wounded two of the rioters, and the soldiers pursued the resisters.
It was on June 18, 1863, that "local Peace Democrats, led by Daniel P. Leadbetter, negotiated a resolution to the situation," relates the website. Soldiers would return to Columbus "if the four men who attacked Elias Robinson turned themselves in to government authorities." The men did. Of more than three dozen individuals eventually charged with crimes relating to the Battle of Fort Fizzle, only one, Lorenzo Blanchard, the farmer who owned the land, was found guilty, according to the website.
In its June 17, 1863, edition, The Ohio Repository, then a weekly, reported on the "Conscription Order," as outlined by the Hon. Wm. Whiting, solicitor of the War Department.
"The National forces, liable to perform military duty, include all able bodied male citizens of the United States, and persons of foreign birth who have declared an intention to become citizens, according to the law, being between 20 and 45 years of age," the newspaper reported.
The Repository's report indicated that "it is declared the duty of the enrolling officers to enroll all persons subject to military duty," and the story reported that "all persons thus enrolled are subject for two years after July 1."
Men who ignored the order were to be arrested as deserters.
The order declared that army volunteers who had been discharged before March 3, 1863, would be "liable to be drafted in the same manner as if they had never been in service."
"No regard is to be paid to their former period of service, or to the length or brevity of the period between the date of their discharge and that of the draft."
The first newspaper stories published by the Repository about the Battle of Fort Fizzle didn't refer to the incident by that name.
And early reports of the Fort Fizzle event numbered the men involved at more than 900 -- 1,000 and 1,200 collected from Coshocton, Holmes, and Knox counties.
One article printed on Page 3 of the paper on June 24, 1863, called the men involved in revolt "Copperheads," a term defined by the online version of the encyclopedia Britannica as both "Northerners who sympathized with the Confederate cause" and "Peace Democrats," who "opposed the war and called for restoration of the Union through a negotiated settlement with the South."
The Repository's 1863 story detailed the insurrection and its aftermath, calling it a "formidable rebellion in Democratic Holmes."
"They had four howitzers, and provisions stored," the Repository's story reported, "and on the Sunday before had two or three speeches.
"And a preacher named Hastings preached a rebel sermon."
On several occasions during the decades that followed, the Repository published historical articles that recalled the Battle of Fort Fizzle.
In 1892, for example, an article on the editorial page referred to Fort Fizzle when talking about Holmes County as an area then known for leaning toward the Democratic party. The Repository reached back three decades to find long-standing evidence.
"Fort Fizzle was not built in a day," the article claimed, "and there are yet signs of it down in Holmes."
The research of a Columbus historical writer, Leander Hostetter of the Ohio State Journal, was cited in a story published in the Repository on Aug. 25, 1901.
"Fort Fizzle is a ruin crowning a range of commanding hills in Richland Township, in the southernmost part of Holmes County, Ohio, and marks the height where the Holmes County secessionists took their stand to defy the execution of the draft," the story said. "The fort was named Fort Freedom by the hardy spirits who planned and built it, but someone called it Fort Fizzle, in derision, and Fort Fizzle it has been for many years. It is an epithet of contempt to designate the failure of the enterprise."
The article went on to put the Holmes County revolt into what then was believed to be its historical perspective.
"The southern part of Holmes County had been occupied in its early history by settlers from the southern states," the story explained.
"As the political clouds of ante-bellum days darkened the natural horizon, these early settlers and their descendants either secretly sympathized with their brethren of the south or quietly departed for their native heath. When the war broke out, and many thousands of Ohio's sons rushed to the front, many of Holmes County neighbors, these malcontents glowered in sullen silence and awaited the opportunity when they might with impunity defy the national government."
The Holmes County "rebels" formed companies of soldiers, organized these troops, and drilled "at night among the neighboring hills." There they also built their "fort."
"The material of which the fortification was made was at hand, being strewn plentifully around the surrounding surface," the 1901 article said. "The rebels removed thither with their families. Their arms and munitions of war were taken from their hiding places and stored within the fort. Picket lines were thrown out, a code of signals were agreed upon, and scouting parties were daily sent out to avoid surprise by an enemy.
"The whole (operation) had a very military air, and it was whispered among the neighboring populace that the drilling of the men and the construction of the fortification were under the direction of an officer from the rebel army of the Southern Confederacy. This, however, is improbable."
Decades later, discussion has surrounded how much of the story of Fort Fizzle is true history and how much of it has been expanded to legend.
A 1931 article noted how a "crumbling fort stands like a sentinel pointing to the folly of a little band of settlers who defied the government in attempting to evade their duty" in the Civil War. "Tradition, mixed with a little history," told the story of this "band of settlers" who built their fort "surrounded by seven high hills.
"Near the 'fort' is a tunnel that extends far back into the hills and it is said that this was used by the desiring settlers in hiding."
But, by 1952, when Lewis C. Morris owned the farm upon which Fort Fizzle once stood, little of the structure remained.
"A few historical records and crumbling remains of the garrison authenticate the fracas," a 1952 Repository story said. "One wall of the original stone fort still is standing. ... A four-foot hole near the entrance of the fort is the only remaining evidence of the underground tunnel, which was used as a hide-out by the insurgents. According to Mr. Morris the dirt tunnel extended 250 feet to a log cabin and midway had a 50-foot passage which led into the side of a hill close by."
According to the 1952 article, Lou Blanchard, a deceased descendant of the original owner, was the last person to have been known to have gone into the tunnel. "He only succeeded in wriggling part way in the underground shaft."
The story of Fort Fizzle similarly was being buried at the time the article was being published 65 years ago.
"Some citizens are reluctant to talk about the 'rebellion,'" according to the article. "They feel the incident should be forgotten. Perhaps it is because they occasionally are joshed about their ancestors who defied the Union.
"The story has been handed down in fact and fiction in some quarters until it has reached the proportions of a revolution. There are also numerous claims that the minor riot was nothing more than fireside conversation."
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