Tuesday, March 22, 2011

OUT OF OUR PAST: Butternuts storm Centerville streets

On May 2, 1863, the Civil War battle lines were drawn in Centerville.

It wasn't North versus South but Abington Butternuts perceived as southern sympathizers against their Wayne County neighbors.
(Butternuts or Copperheads were purported members of the Knights of the Golden Circle, who urged President Lincoln to seek peace with the Southern Confederacy and not crush the rebellion by force of arms. Some wore Butternut or Copperhead symbols of defiance.)

The Butternuts "stormed the streets of the county seat at Centerville ... having had the gall to wear Butternut pins and to shout their allegiance to the Confed [sic] leader, Jeff Davis."

Nearly 100 people from Richmond armed themselves with rifles, shotguns and muskets "and fell over themselves scurrying to Centerville."

According to the May 8, 1863, Palladium: "The little army formed a line of battle and charged the Butternut invaders on the double-quick. The Butternut cowards did not wait for the shock of clamor, but went at once to the skedaddle, and dust rose in their stead. Though the main body escaped, five of the Copperheads were overtaken and deposited in jail. The deputy U.S. marshal with a Richmond contingent of about 50 men rode in fast pursuit. On approaching the little town of Abington, it was found that armed Copperhead pickets were posted on the outskirts, who seeing what was coming, attempted to run, but the sight of a few cocked shooting irons pointed toward their backsides ... they halted. Five more were made prisoners for the calaboose.

"Marching further into Abington, some 16 or 18 more prisoners were taken, most of whom were armed with shotguns, revolvers and squirrel rifles. A leader of the Copperheads, two or three of his sons, and three others were made prisoner. All of these proved to have been in the previous Centerville raid ... They were marched to the county seat and placed in the calaboose. Twenty-seven prisoners were now in lock-up, all being citizens of Abington and vicinity. The casualties of the affray were a broken shotgun, a busted snoot, a stolen Butternut pin, a bunged Copperhead ... and 27 confined traitors alive and well, having yet to repent of their evil ways. Fearing an attempt would be made to release the scoundrels, the jail and all approach to Centerville were guarded on Saturday night, Sunday and Sunday night ... On Sunday afternoon, an extra train from Richmond took reinforcements over to the seat of war, and a bevy of armed citizenry were there in carriages and buggies in quite a temperamental calamity."

Thankfully, when someone shouted, "Bridle thy emotions! Whoever makes thee angry has won already" things calmed down.

"No further disturbance occurred ... and the cheering news was brought to Richmond on Sunday eventide about 12 o'clock:

The paper continued:

"On Monday next, 19 of the prisoners were taken to Indianapolis, eight being released in consideration of their youth and naiveté. The Abington 'Benedict Arnolds' were henced to the capital and, after an investigation, 12 more released. There were now seven Abington brigands to contend with."

Back in Wayne County, a search was made in Abington that revealed "a cache of shotguns, rifles, revolvers, flasks and bottles filled with powder, buckshot, bars of lead, some whisky, all found in fence corners and in corners of sheds."

The feeling prevailed locally that "the sorry lot were simply terribly misguided and easily swayed."

Alfred J. Lashley of Centerville was sent to reason with the imprisoned "Wayne County transgressors" in Indianapolis. After his talk, he went to see Oliver Morton. Both men ultimately felt "the Abington rowdies were innocent of disloyal intent ... They were merely easily wooed and highly impressionable."

The "polecats were thus flushed home," having been warned by Gov. Morton to "be careful what you say or do. These are troublesome times. It is a very serious thing that many of you are wont to spit vile epithets that will divide and distract our country. In putting a stop to such practices, your leaders from now on will be held principally responsible. ... You are victims of a traitorous propaganda. As well I might place a number of smallpox hospitals in the heart of a city and then punish the people for becoming infected with that loathsome disease, as to allow newspapers and public speakers to belch forth their disloyal and treasonable doctrines, and to blame the people for becoming contaminated therewith. Such things will not do in these times ... To kill the serpent speedily, it must be hit on the head! Go! And do no more!"

The Butternut activity in Abington subsided, but six days later the Wayne County "True Republican" reported, "A female visitor to the Centerville was wearing one of the Butternut pins... and the capture of that pin was made by some desperate and faithful Union women, Miss Groves and three other young ladies -- Mary E. Kuhn, Fanny Hall and Mattie Thomas -- who held the hands of the Butternut girl, while Miss Groves took the pin off! -- We understand that Miss Groves was bitten by the Butternut from Abington. 'Tis a shame!"

Steve Martin is a reference librarian at Morrisson-Reeves Library and a member of the Palladium-Item editorial board.  “Wayne County Bicentennial by the Numbers,” compiled by Steve Martin in conjunction with the Palladium-Item in commemoration of the Wayne County Bicentennial, can be bought at the Palladium-Item, 1175 N. A St. in Richmond during office hours, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday. Cost: $19.99 plus tax (and shipping if needed). Info: (765) 962-1575.


The Knights of the Golden Circle Research and Historical Archives