By: Bill Penn
One hundred and fifty years ago, on Sept. 26, 1861, a regiment of recently recruited Ohio soldiers stepped down from a train at the Cynthiana depot. Under the watchful eyes of local citizens, they marched to the northern outskirts of town, and on a ridge overlooking the city, laid out Camp Frazer.
The arrival of a northern regiment on Kentucky soil was completely unexpected by the citizens of Cynthiana.It delighted local Union men but caused trepidation for the many Confederate sympathizers.
Recognizing the importance of the railroad for moving soldiers and supplies to the interior of Kentucky, Union commanders had requested that the 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry be assigned to guard the railroad between Covington and Lexington.
Camp Frazer served as command headquarters between Falmouth and Paris. The regiment was organized in Hamilton, Ohio, and consisted of 11 companies, 26 field and staff officers, and nearly 900 men. After the Kentucky legislature abandoned an earlier proclamation of neutrality, the 35th Ohio was the first non-Kentucky Union troops known to camp in Kentucky.
The campsite was on the farm of Dr. Joel C. Frazer, a Union supporter, and was named in his honor. (His residence is being preserved as part of Flat Run Veterans Park.)
The camp entrance gate appears to have been centered on the bluff on the west side of the old Falmouth Pike in the general vicinity of the present post-war brick two-story Burrier farmhouse.
A map found in a soldier’s diary showed the camp boundary on the east was a now-abandoned section of the old Falmouth Pike, continuing south to the railroad tracks, and then northwest following the railroad and South Fork Licking River, crossing eastward to the old Falmouth Pike near the present post-war St. Edward cemetery.
As well as guarding the railroad, these soldiers enforced laws and military orders meant to punish suspected disloyal activities. In the commanding officer’s first week at Cynthiana, he promptly arrested the pro-secessionist newspaper editor and several leading county politicians, including the sheriff, county clerk, and county judge. These community leaders were sent to Camp Chase for a short time, a major Union prisoner of war camp in Columbus, Ohio. The regiment’s historian initially believed Harrison County was “a terribly hostile place,” but the presence of Federal soldiers and the removal of the community “secsesh” leaders to Camp Chase eventually caused more Union men to come forward and organize. A group of Cynthiana Union women even presented a handmade United States flag during a dress parade for the 35th Ohio.
After the regiment broke camp on October 22, 1861, they were replaced by other Ohio regiments who continued to use the site. During the fall 1862 Confederate invasion of Kentucky, Federal fortifications were placed near the camp entrance, and remnants of entrenchments were identified in a 2006 Civil War preservation plan.
This Union army camp was Harrison County’s introduction to the continued Federal occupation of the area through much of the Civil War. Camp Frazer is one of many important Civil War sites in Cynthiana needing an interpretive sign on a nearby public spot as part of the Chamber of Commerce’s Civil War Driving Tour.