Charleston Riot

I live in Central Illinois.  Illinois is a long state on a north-south axis, stretching over 300 miles.  In the Civil War it was a divided state.  While giving Lincoln and Grant to the Union, and contributing the third most men of all the states to the Union army, pro-Southern sentiment in the state was not in short supply, and the farther south in the state the more of it there was, with Illinoisans in the extreme south even supplying a company that fought for the Confederacy as Company G of the 15th Tennessee. 

On March 28, 1864, this sentiment exploded in the small sleepy college town of Charleston, Illinois, in Coles County.  Armed southern sympathizers, known as Copperheads, from the Liberty pennies they wore on their lapels, attacked Union soldiers, some of them drunk, returning to their regiment, the 54th Illinois, from leave.  The Copperheads, almost all of them Democrats, had assembled to protect the local Congressman John Eden, a Peace Democrat, who was scheduled to speak that day.  Republicans had also assembled who were opposed to Eden to jeer his speech.  They were in an ugly mood and chanted, “Butternut britches and hickory poles, Democrats, Democrats, damn their souls.”   Political differences in the midst of Civil War were at white heat.   A small battle erupted in downtown Charleston, and by the end of the day, nine men lay dead, and twelve wounded, six of the dead being Union soldiers.

As one can imagine, this fight caused an uproar in the State and around the nation.  Here are some depositions that were taken at the time from witnesses of the riot.  27 men were arrested and, after the usual speedy trials of the time, were held by the Federal government at Fort Delaware in Wilmington, Delaware.  They were ordered released and returned to Coles County on November 4, 1864 by President Lincoln, who doubtless realized that political passions had simply gotten out of hand that day, rather than a manifestation of an organized conspiracy against the Union.

Published in: on August 4, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Charleston Riot  
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