Friday, February 12, 2010

KGC - Copperhead Activity in Illinois - 1863

Excerpt from, "The Social Order of a Frontier Community, Jacksonville, Illinois 1825-70, by Don Harrison Doyle is provided "for educational purposes only." Material is copyrighted.

The antiwar movement took a more militant form in the rural environs. Copperhead southern sympathizers in Illinois organized a secret political society, the Knights of the Golden Circle, even before the war broke out. Its stronghold was in "Egypt" (the popular label for southern Illinois), but pro-Southerners in all parts of the state joined as the war continued, and the nightmare of treason and civil strife came home to Jacksonville. "We had hopes," the Journal lamented in March 1863, "that no such wicked clans of oath-bound, incipient traitors would pollute the air and soil of Morgan County' Within a week the Journal issued the alarm: "The Copperheads are Arming." It reported "an extraordinary call for Colt Revolvers, for knives, guns, buckshots," among the "rabid Copperheads from the rural districts." That fall the Journal began accusing Jacksonville Democrats of active sympathy for the Knights of the Golden Circle, claiming that at least one-third of the party belonged to the Knights' "castle" at nearby Woodson.

In September,1863 heavily armed Knights some two to four hundred strong swarmed into Jacksonville and swaggered about the square. Their mission was to rescue their leader, John Husted, who had assaulted an informant on the Knights at Jacksonville's railroad station and was being held in jail. They arrived the morning of Husted's trial and claimed that another thousand armed horsemen lay waiting at Mauvaise Terre Creek, ready to attack unless they received assurances that Husted would be given a fair trial and would not be bound over to military authorities.

Jacksonville's Republicans anticipated violence. They had already organized their own secret society, the Union League, as part of a statewide organization that gathered intelligence on Copperhead activities and compiled lists with names of suspected anti-Unionists. Union League members in Jacksonville devised a secret alarm: two quick raps repeated three times with a cane on the sidewalk warned of imminent danger. Just a month before the "Husted Raid," Quantrill and his guerilla raiders had sacked Lawrence, Kansas, and murdered many of its citizens. The morning of John Husted's trial the streets of Jacksonville echoed with the repeated warning taps of anxious Union Leaguers. Bank clerks on the square strapped on pistols to warn away the raiders; the Journal office, twice burned out by anti-Republican arsonists, barricaded its doors. A telegram was sent to nearby Camp Butler for army support, and orders were given to bring out repeating rifles to defend the town. Inside the courthouse Husted's trial proceeded hastily. He was bound over to circuit court under a $500 bond, and his militant defenders out on the square returned home satisfied that they had secured justice. The Journal editor denounced the Copperheads for "inducing a sort of semi-reign of terror amongst the Union men here," and then boasted, "the Knights of the Golden Circle scared nobody.... Jacksonville still lives."

Tensions generated by the war soon disrupted the celebrations of the very nationalism it was fought to defend. After the elaborate 1861 Fourth of July ceremony, the 1862 holiday found Jacksonville unable to organize even the most routine procession. "No general arrangements have been made for celebrating the day in this city," reported the Sentinel, "but the citizens will probably scatter and each enjoy the holiday occasion in his own way." For the first time separate Irish and German celebrations were arranged at picnic grounds outside of town. This, of course, was partly a function of the local temperance issue, but it also reflected the inability of nationalism to overcome internal factionalism during the war. The next year a committee met nearly a month in advance to plan a traditional community procession and barbecue; however, the meeting broke up when Democrats, according to the partisan account in the Journal, "tried to foist upon us" men of "doubtful loyalty" to serve on the arrangements committee.

Two separate committees later met to plan their own partisan celebrations; they came together to settle their "unhappy differences" two weeks before the day. A bipartisan committee was appointed and a new program agreed upon, but by the Fourth the alliance had dissolved in bickering. The Republicans met in their own "Union Yankee" celebration at Salem church, east of town; the Irish "celebrated the day in their own peculiar way" out at the fairgrounds; the Germans met at Bacon's Grove; and, the Journal snidely added, the Copperheads had their own meeting somewhere nearby.

When the Republicans returned to town after a long day of festivities, some gathered on the square. After a few spontaneous partisan harangues, they decided to cap off the day's festivities by harassing local Copperheads. A band of Republican patriots ran through the dark streets shrieking "demoniac yells" and then gathered outside the home of P. B. Price, a prominent Democrat. They called Price outside, shouted accusations of treason, and, according to the Sentinel's account, made "loud threats of hanging him, tearing down his house, etc." The police intervened before the mob got out of hand, but this was neither the first nor the last time Union patriots would threaten with their own "ruffianly raids." Soon after the Fourth an antiwar, Democrat named J. T. Springer was rudely awakened from his sleep when a large mob outside his home invited him to join them in celebrating the Union victory in Vicksburg.

In 1864 the Fourth passed again with "no united movement for the`due celebration of the fourth' in this city in the old fashioned style." Then, as the war drew to a close in the spring of 1865, there was cathartic rejoicing in Jacksonville. Early reports of the Confederate defeat proved premature, and "heartless copperheads" jeered the Union celebrants. When news of Richmond's fall finally came, an enormous crowd gathered spontaneously on the square. Immediately a group of Jacksonville's "enterprising citizens" huddled by the courthouse to design a "programme for the occasion," but the excitement of the crowd proved beyond their capacity to organize. The Journal reported the scene with a mixture of fascination and fear: "Ere any definite arrangements could be agreed upon the enthusiastic multitude becoming wild with joy, broke forth in the most indescribable demonstrations of uproarious, wild almost frantic enthusiasm, setting at defiance all efforts at system, order or arrangements." On through the afternoon and evening the demonstration continued entirely on its own momentum. Flags were displayed, fireworks and guns exploded, boys "and even men" ran through the streets with bells, tin pans, and horns, "rivalling Pandemonium in the noise and confusion they made." By the afternoon the Jacksonville Silver Coronet Band Played loudly, the Home Guards paraded, businesses closed, and the courts adjourned. That evening Chinese lanterns illuminated the festivities as the crowd listened to a series of speeches by local politicos, and "many still held revel in various parts of the city till after midnight." With Lee's surrender a few days later, Jacksonville's citizens were far too exhausted to repeat their orgy of patriotism. A few stalwart young patriots loaded an old cannon with a wad of paper and blasted it across the square through a drugstore window. They then carefully turned it around and sent another load through a window of Marshall Ayer's Bank.

"Cannot we, as one people, forgetting parties and past differences unite on this occasion, kiss the old flag and give it anew to the free winds of a brightly dawning Spring?" Thus queried the Republican editor at war's end. The spirit of patriotic unity did seem to come alive again; a bipartisan committee of arrangements formed as early as May 22 to prepare for the first community Fourth of July celebration since 1861. But the reconciliation was premature. Radical Republicans insisted that only "loyal citizens" be allowed to celebrate the Fourth, and on June 3 they called a new meeting to arrange a "loyal" Fourth of July.

Voices of moderation prevailed at the meeting, though, and a new bipartisan committee was appointed. The Radicals, still unsatisfied, called yet another meeting, appointed their own committee of arrangements, and pressured fellow Republicans to withdraw from the bipartisan committee. A community about to celebrate the end of the Civil War and the anniversary of the Union seemed unable to overcome its own internal divisions; by mid-June, however, the spirit of nationalism managed to subsume all the partisan insults and bickering. The two feuding committees each sent out negotiators "with a view to the conciliation of the unhappy differences that had arisen in the public mind in relation to a grand celebration of the 4th of July." A new committee, formed, "solely to harmonize the citizens of Morgan," planned a celebration that would smother any remaining differences in the largest and most elaborate pageant ever. Representatives from every precinct in the county were invited to participate in this display of unity. Colonel James Dunlap, a Democrat of southern background, was generously awarded the post of president of the day. No less than thirty-two vice-presidents shared the honors. Eight subcommittees were assigned special responsibilities for everything from financing to music and toasts; over them an Executive Committee coordinated plans. Altogether nearly fifty committeemen were involved in this elaborate demonstration of community organization.

The various committees arranged special trains to transport the country folk into town to celebrate the Union's birthday, and detailed plans were made to coordinate the ritual procession through town to the fairgrounds. O. D. Fitzsimmons, chief marshal of the day, was assisted by seventeen assistant marshals and military officers to regulate the enormous crowds. By eight in the morning the procession began to form; soldiers and veterans were placed conspicuously toward the front, behind the officers of the day. Delegations from each section of the town and county were instructed in advance about where to assemble, and at the signal of cannon fire they merged into the procession and marched to the fairgrounds, where the band greeted them with a rousing version of "Rally Round the Flag." There "a united people ... without distinction of party, policy or place" joined to eat and "to rejoice on that most fitting day together over ... an undivided and indivisible country."

The crowd, estimated at fifteen to twenty thousand, amassed at the fairgrounds to hear a full day of readings, toasts, and long speeches by politicians, all carefully prepared to maintain the nonpartisan spirit of unity. Lemonade, ice cream, and beer were served, along with the traditional burgoo. Underlining the frivolity of the day, an incredible Wild West exhibition was staged in the late afternoon. Posters tacked up all over the county had promised a genuine buffalo hunt by "wild Indians." As it turned out, the crowd was too large and unwieldy to risk an actual bow and arrow kill of a loose buffalo; nevertheless, people seemed satisfied with a brief Indian war dance and an exhibition of the beast. Buffaloes and burgoo were far better at inspiring patriotic unity than were civil wars.