Anti-war Protests

Updated: January 11, 2011

During the American Civil War, nearly 330,000 Ohio men served in the Union military. Numerous Ohio civilians also supported the war effort by growing groups and manufacturing supplies for the men serving in the military.

  • Draft Riots in Ohio
  • Clement Vallandigham and the Peace Democrats
  • Order of American Knights

During the American Civil War, nearly 330,000 Ohio men served in the Union military. Numerous Ohio civilians also supported the war effort by growing groups and manufacturing supplies for the men serving in the military. Despite Ohio's valuable contributions to the Union war effort, numerous Ohioans objected to the conflict and, in some cases, actively supported the Confederacy.

Several reasons existed for some Ohioans objecting to Northern attempts to reunite the nation. First, many white Ohioans had migrated to the state from Southern, slaveholding states. Most of these people settled in the southern one-half of Ohio and had family members who still resided in the South. While not slaveholders themselves, many of these Ohioans still sympathized with the South, believing that the federal government did not have the power to limit slavery.

Second, many white Ohioans living along the Ohio River, especially in cities like Cincinnati and Portsmouth, engaged in business with slaveholders in neighboring Kentucky. Many of these Ohioans feared that the Civil War would hurt them financially, as trade with slaveowners in Kentucky might temporarily or permanently end. Rather than supporting the Union war effort, these Ohioans were more concerned about their financial interests.

Third, Ohio was home to many pacifist religious groups. The Shakers, the Mennonites, the Amish, and the Society of Friends (Quakers) all objected to violence. These groups did not actually vocally or violently oppose the war, but most male members refused to enlist in the Union military or, if drafted, failed to report for duty. A few draftees did not report and usually were able to serve in hospitals rather than on the battlefields, allowing them to not violate their religious principles. Some members of these groups did take up arms against the Confederacy. While they opposed violence, they also believed slavery to be an inhumane and ungodly institution and desired to help end it.

Finally, some Ohioans came to oppose the Union war effort in late 1862. On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. This presidential order proclaimed that the federal government would free slaves in area still in rebellion as of January 1, 1863. Lincoln hoped that this action would convince rebellious states to return to the Union before January 1, 1863. If these states did not rejoin the Union, Lincoln hoped that his action would weaken the Confederate war effort by denying white Southerners the use of their slaves. Many white Ohioans supported reuniting the nation but had no desire to fight a war to end slavery. These Ohioans feared that the freed African Americans would relocate to the North, creating competition especially for working-class whites for jobs and land. Rather than fighting to end slavery, many Northerners, including some Ohioans, deserted from the Union military.

Within Ohio, there were three main forms of anti-war protests. These included draft riots, anti-war rallies, and violent uprisings designed to support the Confederacy.

 

Draft Riots in Ohio

In 1863, due to the declining number of volunteers, the United States government instituted the Conscription Act. Under this directive, which was also referred to as the Enrollment Act, the federal government required states to furnish a certain number of soldiers based on each state's population. States only had to implement conscription--a draft--if they could not secure their required number of soldiers through other recruitment efforts. The legislation also allowed drafted men to find someone else to serve in their place or to pay a fine of three hundred dollars to avoid military service. In response to the Conscription Act, draft riots erupted across the North, with the most notable one occurring in New York City, New York during the summer of 1863. Smaller uprisings erupted in other locations, including in Ohio.

The most notable anti-draft event to occur in Ohio was the Battle of Fort Fizzle. On June 5, 1863, 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 Captain James Drake, from the Provost Marshal's Office, arrested four of the attackers, but local residents quickly freed the arrested men. Officials in Columbus, the state capital, dispatched Colonel 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. 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.

On June 18, local Peace Democrats, led by Daniel P. Leadbetter, negotiated a resolution to the situation. The soldiers agreed to return to Columbus if the four men who attacked Elias Robinson turned themselves in to government authorities. The men did surrender. Government officials also eventually indicted approximately forty men that they believed participated in the Battle of Fort Fizzle. Only one of these men, Lorenzo Blanchard, was found guilty.

 

Clement Vallandigham and the Peace Democrats

Clement Vallandigham was one of President Abraham Lincoln's most outspoken critics and the leading Peace Democrat in Ohio. Peace Democrats were people who sought an immediate end to the Civil War, preferring peace over conflict. Union authorities knew of Vallandigham's anti-war position and did all in their power to silence this critic. In April 1863, the commander of the Department of Ohio, Ambrose Burnside, issued General Order No. 38. This order stated:

The habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy will not be allowed in this department. Persons committing such offenses will be at once arrested with a view of being tried. . .or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends. It must be understood that treason, expressed or implied, will not be tolerated in this department.

Burnside hoped to silence war opponents, including Vallandigham, with this order. While the order stated that deportation of Copperheads to the Confederate States of America was the most likely punishment, Burnside commented that death might be a suitable punishment in extreme cases of disloyalty.

Seeking additional supporters for their cause, Peace Democrats continued to hold rallies in Ohio. One such rally occurred on May 1, 1863 in Mount Vernon, Ohio. At this gathering, Ohio's leading Peace Democrats, including Vallandigham, urged attendees to denounce the Union war effort and to protest against General Order No. 38. In reference to the order, Vallandigham purportedly stated that he "despised it, spit upon it, trampled it under his feet."

At least two Union officers attended the rally, and they quickly informed General Burnside of Vallandigham's statements. Burnside immediately dispatched soldiers to arrest the Copperhead. The men apprehended Vallandigham in Dayton, Ohio, this Peace Democrat's home city. Authorities transported him to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Burnside's headquarters was located and where Vallandigham would stand trial before a military tribunal.

Military prosecutors charged Vallandigham with violating General Orders No. 38, accusing the Copperhead of:

Publicly expressing, in violation of General Orders No. 38, from Head-quarters Department of Ohio, sympathy for those in arms against the Government of the United States, and declaring disloyal sentiments and opinions, with the object and purpose of weakening the power of the Government in its efforts to suppress an unlawful rebellion.

Throughout the trial, the Peace Democrat and his attorney, George Pugh, never denied that Vallandigham had violated General Order No. 38. Instead, the two men claimed that the military tribunal did not have jurisdiction in this case. The military court rejected the defendant's arguments, finding Vallandigham guilty and sentencing him to federal prison until the Civil War's conclusion. Vallandigham attempted to appeal the ruling in United States Circuit Court, but the presiding judge, Humphrey Leavitt, ruled in favor of the military, stating that, during times of war and civil unrest, that the federal government could legally expand its powers to ensure victory.

Fortunately for Vallandigham, President Abraham Lincoln commuted the Peace Democrat's sentence. Rather than imprisoning Vallandigham, Lincoln ordered him to live in exile in the Confederacy. Military authorities escorted Vallandigham to Confederate lines on May 25, 1863, carrying out President Lincoln's decision. Vallandigham only remained in the Confederate States of America for a short time period, moving to Canada in June 1863. In Canada, Vallandigham ran for election as Ohio's governor, but he was easily defeated by Unionist Party candidate John Brough. In violation of his punishment, Vallandigham returned to the North, settling in Ohio, in early 1864.

 

Order of American Knights

The Order of American Knights, also known as the Sons of Liberty, eventually formed in the North to protest the Union war effort. Most of this group’s members were originally Peace Democrats, but as the Civil War continued and Southern victory became less likely, they adopted a more radical approach, including violence and sabotage, to protest the conflict. During the Civil War, Ohio authorities claimed that between eighty thousand and one hundred thousand Ohioans belonged to the Order of American Knights. Today, most scholars believe that significantly fewer Ohioans belonged to this group.

Ohioan Clement Vallandigham won election as the supreme commander of the Order of American Knights in February 1864. One of the more radical Sons of Liberty plots involved freeing Southern inmates at the Union’s Johnson’s Island prison camp on Lake Erie. Sons of Liberty members hoped to capture the Michigan, a Northern gunboat operating on Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio. Using the ship, the plotters intended to sail to Johnson’s Island and to rescue the Southern prisoners of war. These now released prisoners were to become the basis of a new Confederate army that would operate on Northern soil. Union spies infiltrated the Sons of Liberty, alerting Northern authorities to the plot. Officials arrested Charles Cole, the ringleader, before he could put his plot in motion.

While most Northerners supported the Union war effort, Copperheads were a sizable and a vocal minority. Their actions, especially those of the more extremist Order of American Knights, prompted much concern among Northern officials during the war’s first years. By late 1864 however, Union military victories and the nearing end of the conflict caused most Northerners to rally behind President Lincoln and the Northern war effort. The more violent actions of radical Copperheads, including the Sons of Liberty, also caused Peace Democrats increasingly to unite with the federal government.

While the North emerged victorious in the Civil War, the actions of these anti-war Ohioans hindered the Union war effort, causing difficulties for both Ohio and federal government officials.


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"Anti-war Protests," Ohio Civil War Central, 2019, Ohio Civil War Central. 23 Oct 2019 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=235>

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"Anti-war Protests." (2019) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved October 23, 2019, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=235

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