Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Civil War: Residue of Fort Fizzle skirmish includes tales of intrigue

Written by D.W. Garber

D.W. Garber, born and raised in Butler, wrote a series of history columns, "Tales of Mohican Country," for the News Journal from 1956 through 1964.  This story was originally published in the News Journal on July 1, 1962.

MANSFIELD -- "Eve! Eve! Ain't you ashamed to be so proud when your brother is off on the battle field?"

The attractive young sister of the absent soldier was busy sewing bright flowers on her hat when rebuked for her vanity by an older woman. Both were attending a sewing bee, in Holmes County during the Civil War.

The rebuke was undeserved. Eve's brother, at that very moment, was a deserter hiding under a bed not far from the place where the women were having their sewing bee. This story, out of Glenmont, is typical of those told about the Holmes County Rebellion.

In the wake of every event that catches the public imagination, there is a wave of anecdotes, little stories that reveal the personal side of life. Most are quickly forgotten, but a few become a part of our local folklore. It happens in war time, in political campaigns, and many are told about the Battle of Fort Fizzle. They should be preserved because they provide a look at some of the personalities involved in the resistance movement.

One of the stories, rescued from old-timers in Holmes County, tells about a broken friendship resulting from a rivalry between two neighbors who wished to command a company of copperheads. At Aultman's Woolen Mill, in Doughty Valley, a military company of the Knights of the Golden Circle drilled in the cool of the evenings, marching in formation in the meadow beside the mill. The men were Doughty Valley farmers who sympathized with the South.

Competition for the honor of commanding the company was narrowed down to the two long-time neighbors. If a warm feeling had existed between them as old friends, the age-old saying that "love may turn to hate," was proven true in this instance. The bitterness of the conflict reached a point where the men were on opposite sides in every division of opinion in the community. One of them started to build a fence along their adjoining properties, and while spite fences are not uncommon in personal disputes, these former friends outdid themselves. When the fence was started, the neighbor immediately began to build a second one, a foot from the first, running the length of the boundary.

Eventually the fences were neglected and rows of trees grew along the dividing line. They remained, long after the deaths of the neighbors, as reminders of the bitter fed.

According to the late Walter Aultman, his grandfather, George Aultman, who owned and operated the mills during the Civil War, had attempted to prevent the Knights of the Golden Circle from drilling near his mill. Feelings were strong, however, and the miller was in a difficult position; to have insisted that they not drill would have lost him customers. One suspects George may have been a participant, for it has been found in a number of instances that later generations prefer to forget the family connection with Fort Fizzle.

Doughty Valley provided one of the brass howitzers used by the copperheads. Over on the southeast slope of the valley lived a noted gunsmith, Sam Shepler, who turned out a beautiful, lethal brass cannon. Shepler's cannon was less than two feet long, mounted on a heavy oak carriage with sturdy wheels. Possession of the cannon may have added a little courage to the defenders of the Blanchard stone house where the battle occurred, but it was never fired at the Union troops.

The scene of one of the most interesting and authentic stories about the rebellion was the stately home occupied during the Civil War by William White. The beautiful old house, built of brick burned on the place by the Jones brothers, remains as a show place west of Fort Fizzle. At one time it overlooked a considerable community bearing the name "Jones' Corner." There was a store in the kitchen wing of the house, with a post office bearing the same name.

The house is at the crossroads on Ohio 206, about one half mile north of U.S. 62 near the Coshocton County line. The story was often told to Dr. John A. Reed, of Butler, by his mother Sarah Orbison, who was present when the incident occurred. According to Dr. Reed:

"At the time of the Fort Fizzle war, my mother Sarah Orbison was 14 years of age and living in the home of Bill White. Grandfather Orbison was killed at Corinth, in Mississippi, and mother had gone to live with the Whites.

"There was a preacher in the community, a Rev. William Barrens, who sympathized with the South. He was elected to head the Knights of the Golden Circle, those men who attempted to interfere with the draft. After the war he was always called Colonel Bill.

"The defense of Fort Fizzle, as I recall it, was built somewhat in the shape of a horseshoe and every few days, Col. Bill would drill his soldiers at the fort. Their strategy called for any attack which might be made upon them to be made against the face of the horseshoe, and not at the open space between the toe calks. In the skirmish which took place, however, that is exactly what happened.

"The Union soldiers had orders not to shoot to kill, but to capture the copperheads, but one soldier who had served in the South said that he had 'not come to shoot in the air!' It was he who shot the man named Brown.

"Following the fracas, the federal agents had a list of those who were involved and began to round them up with the assistance of the Union soldiers. They came to White's house where the Reverend Colonel Bill Barnes and his wife, a sister of Bill White's were living. They asked Mrs. Barnes if her husband was there. The Whites were Republicans and supported the northern cause, and Mrs. Barnes pointed at the bed and said, 'Yes, he is, you'll find him under there.' The Reverend Colonel Barnes ... had dressed himself in his wife's clothing and was wearing her calico dress and her hat.

"Barnes was dragged from under the bed and with others who had been taken into custody he was taken to Cleveland. He was not permitted to remove his wife's apparel and was of course subjected to much ridicule."

... Dr. John Reed, long Butler's esteemed family physician, is the county's oldest doctor. His eyes light up with enthusiasm when he recalls the exciting stories about Fort Fizzle.