At the Buckeye Furnace in southeastern Ohio you can see how pig iron was made during the Civil War era. The furnace is a recreated, charcoal fired blast furnace. This is just one of many that once operated in southeastern Ohio in the Hanging Rock Iron Region. Visitors will learn how these so-called iron making towns helped win the Civil War for the Union.
This 270-acre site contains lots of things to explore. The furnace is the main attraction. It was originally built in 1852 and went cold in 1894. There are other reconstructed buildings and a museum to visit. And if you’ve still got the energy the site has beautiful nature trails to explore.
After the down slide of salt0making in the area (from about 1795-1826) the local economy defaulted to agriculture. Despite the fact that natural resources were abundant in the area no one was taking advantage of them. Specifically, there were isolated parts of southeastern Ohio with iron deposits. This of course led to a limited production period of iron. Between the 1830s and 1840s a total of sixteen furnaces were built to take advantage of these resources.
While several of these original furnaces still stand, Buckeye’s is the only one that remains as it was during its operation.
In the second year of the Civil War, September 1862 General Kirby Smith had captured Lexington Kentucky. Smith then sent General Henry Heth to capture Covington, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio just across the river. This could have been the South’s first invasion into Ohio. On the side of the North, General Lewis Wallace was tasked to prepare both Covington and Cincinnati to defend themselves against Heth’s army.
Wallace immediately declared martial law upon arriving in Ohio as well as put out a call in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan for volunteer militia. Business owners were on order to close their businesses. Civilians were to report for duty in defense of Ohio’s border. Civilians helped build defensive structures like trenches.
David Tod, Ohio Governor, came to Cincinnati from the state capital. Wallace called for all available troops not currently guarding the border to repot to Cincinnati and for the Ohio quartermaster to send five thousand rifles to equip Cincinnati’s militia.
Some Ohio counties offered to send their able-bodied men to defend the southern border. Tod immediately accepted the offer for Wallace. Wallace instructed that only armed men come to their aid and that the railroads should provide their transport at no cost (Ohio later paid for the transport). 65 total counties sent over fifteen thousand men. This state militia would soon be known as the Squirrel Hunters.
Their name came from the weapons these volunteers brought with them, most of which were outdated and best suited for hunting small game rather than warfare.
Heth reported a force of seventy thousand men along the border and the South’s advance was soon dispelled—with no direct conflict or bloodshed. By September 13th word came that the enemy forces were withdrawing and Cincinnati was no longer in danger.