Charleston riot

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Charleston riot
Part of Illinois in the American Civil War
DateMarch 28, 1864
Parties to the civil conflict
6 soldiers killed
1 Republican shopkeep killed
2 Copperheads killed


The Charleston riot occurred on March 28, 1864, in Charleston, Illinois, after Union soldiers and local Republicans clashed with local insurgents known as Copperheads. By the time the riot had subsided, nine were dead and twelve had been wounded. It is generally thought that one of the events that triggered the riot was the treatment of Judge Charles H. Constable by Union soldiers. The soldiers humiliated Constable by making him swear allegiance to the federal government, due to his decision to allow four Union deserters to go free in Marshall, Illinois. When the riot began, Judge Constable was holding court in Charleston. [1]

Charleston, Illinois City in Illinois, United States

Charleston is a city in and the county seat of Coles County, Illinois, United States. The population was 21,838, as of the 2010 census. The city is home to Eastern Illinois University and has close ties with its neighbor, Mattoon. Both are principal cities of the Charleston–Mattoon Micropolitan Statistical Area.

Illinois State of the United States of America

Illinois is a state in the Midwestern region of the United States. It has the 5th largest Gross Domestic Product by state, is the 6th-most populous U.S. state and 25th-largest state in terms of land area. Illinois is often noted as a microcosm of the entire United States. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in northern and central Illinois, and natural resources such as coal, timber, and petroleum in the south, Illinois has a diverse economic base, and is a major transportation hub. Chicagoland, Chicago's metropolitan area, contains over 65% of the state's population. The Port of Chicago connects the state to other global ports around the world from the Great Lakes, via the Saint Lawrence Seaway, to the Atlantic Ocean; as well as the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River, via the Illinois Waterway on the Illinois River. The Mississippi River, the Ohio River, and the Wabash River form parts of the boundaries of Illinois. For decades, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport has been ranked as one of the world's busiest airports. Illinois has long had a reputation as a bellwether both in social and cultural terms and, through the 1980s, in politics.

Union (American Civil War) United States national government during the American Civil War

During the American Civil War (1861–1865), the Union, also known as the North, referred to the United States of America and specifically to the national government of President Abraham Lincoln and the 20 free states, as well as 4 border and slave states that supported it. The Union was opposed by 11 southern slave states that formed the Confederate States of America, also known as "the Confederacy" or "the South".



The Charleston riot took place around this courthouse Ctownchouse.jpg
The Charleston riot took place around this courthouse

The news coverage of the event stated that the Peace Democrats were responsible for beginning the event. One such news source, from the Chicago Tribune , later reprinted in the Charleston Courier, labeled Nelson Wells as the instigator of the conflict. Most articles published from the time, insist that the whole event transpired as a more spontaneous event and was not directly prompted by any one individual. The most likely explanation is that the event occurred because a sizable presence of both Copperheads and Union soldiers had been in town that day. Also many sources speculate that a sizable portion of the participants, at least on the side of the Peace Democrats, had been drinking quite heavily all day, and this led to the outbreak that resulted in the confrontation. At any rate, the fighting only lasted a few moments. But by the time the affair was over, the Copperheads had been run out of Charleston. Rewards had been issued for the capture of any of those whom fled the scene. Included in those who left town, was John O’Hair, the leader of the Copperheads, who had been the sheriff of Coles County. Out of those killed, only two had been Copperheads, Nelson Wells and John Cooper; the other participants had been either captured or escaped. Other Union troops were called in from Mattoon to assist the soldiers fighting in Charleston, but by the time their train arrived, none of the instigators were left in the town. Fifteen prisoners were eventually held for seven months, initially in Springfield, Illinois. President Lincoln, whose father and stepmother had lived in Coles County, waived the prisoners' right to Habeas Corpus and ordered their removal to Fort Delaware in the East. He ordered their release on November 4, 1864. Two of the prisoners had been indicted for murder and were exonerated by trial in December, 1864. Twelve other Copperheads had also been indicted for murder. They were never captured, and the indictments were annulled in May 1873.

<i>Chicago Tribune</i> major daily newspaper based in Chicago, Illinois, United States

The Chicago Tribune is a daily newspaper based in Chicago, Illinois, United States, owned by Tribune Publishing. Founded in 1847, and formerly self-styled as the "World's Greatest Newspaper", it remains the most-read daily newspaper of the Chicago metropolitan area and the Great Lakes region. It is the eighth-largest newspaper in the United States by circulation.

Mattoon, Illinois City in Illinois, United States

Mattoon is a city in Coles County, Illinois, United States. The population was 18,555 as of the 2010 census. The city is home to a Burger King that is not related to the worldwide Burger King chain.

The terms Copperheads and Butternuts were used to describe the larger movement, which has been known as Peace Democrats. This political affiliation which stirred up support, as David Montgomery points out in Beyond Equality: Labor and the Radical Republicans, by incorporating the fears that the federal government’s war effort sought to usurp the constitution. The copperheads incorporated a racial component to their disdain for the Northern war effort, as Montgomery points out, that emancipated Negroes would flood the North, because of the Emancipation Proclamation. Using racially charged rhetoric, Copperheads sought to unite opposition to the Radical Republicans. This had become a national phenomenon during the American Civil War. Southern sympathizers were battling to keep their country from becoming, in their eyes, too radical.

Emancipation Proclamation executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 that freed Southern slaves

The Emancipation Proclamation, or Proclamation 95, was a presidential proclamation and executive order issued by United States President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. It changed the federal legal status of more than 3.5 million enslaved African Americans in the designated areas of the South from slave to free. As soon as a slave escaped the control of the Confederate government, by running away or through advances of federal troops, the former slave became free. Ultimately, the rebel surrender liberated and resulted in the proclamation's application to all of the designated former slaves. It did not cover slaves in Union areas that were freed by state action. It was issued as a war measure during the American Civil War, directed to all of the areas in rebellion and all segments of the executive branch of the United States.

Rhetoric art of discourse

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. Along with grammar and logic, it is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the capacities of writers or speakers needed to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. Aristotle defines rhetoric as "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion" and since mastery of the art was necessary for victory in a case at law or for passage of proposals in the assembly or for fame as a speaker in civic ceremonies, calls it "a combination of the science of logic and of the ethical branch of politics". Rhetoric typically provides heuristics for understanding, discovering, and developing arguments for particular situations, such as Aristotle's three persuasive audience appeals: logos, pathos, and ethos. The five canons of rhetoric or phases of developing a persuasive speech were first codified in classical Rome: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.

American Civil War Civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865

The American Civil War was a war fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865, between the North and the South. The Civil War is the most studied and written about episode in U.S. history. Primarily as a result of the long-standing controversy over the enslavement of black people, war broke out in April 1861 when secessionist forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina shortly after Abraham Lincoln had been inaugurated as the President of the United States. The loyalists of the Union in the North proclaimed support for the Constitution. They faced secessionists of the Confederate States in the South, who advocated for states' rights to uphold slavery.

Coles County

Coles County, Illinois, 1875. Colesco.jpg
Coles County, Illinois, 1875.

The Copperheads represented a political affiliation that was staunchly opposed to President Lincoln, the draft, and abolition of slavery. This group favored an armistice to end the Civil War because they opposed the war itself. Most components of Copperhead ideology centered on the mistrust of the implications the war presented to American society. In particular, the aim to free the slaves had become an issue that some white natives of Illinois took issue with. The Civil War had split the country into factions, either side chose to support or oppose the aim to reincorporate the Southern states back into the Union. The Copperheads believed the Lincoln Administration had been out of line by abolishing slavery. Some citizens of Coles County accepted the ideology that it was not in the best interest of the country to free the slaves. Although the exact number is hard to gauge it has been estimated, by Victor Hicken in Illinois in the Civil War, that Coles County had been a significant pocket of Copperhead sympathizers. This idea is supported by the fact that John O’Hair, the leader of the Copperheads, had been the sheriff of Coles County during the Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln 16th president of the United States

Abraham Thomas Lincoln was an American statesman, politician, and lawyer who served as the 16th president of the United States from 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the nation through the American Civil War, its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis. He preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the U.S. economy.

Conscription in the United States "The draft" in the United States

Conscription in the United States, commonly known as the draft, has been employed by the federal government of the United States in five conflicts: the American Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. The third incarnation of the draft came into being in 1940 through the Selective Training and Service Act. It was the country's first peacetime draft. From 1940 until 1973, during both peacetime and periods of conflict, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the United States Armed Forces that could not be filled through voluntary means. The draft came to an end when the United States Armed Forces moved to an all-volunteer military force. However, the Selective Service System remains in place as a contingency plan; all male citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register so that a draft can be readily resumed if needed. United States Federal Law also provides for the compulsory conscription of men between the ages of 17 and 45 and certain women for militia service pursuant to Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution and 10 U.S. Code § 246.

Abolitionism in the United States Movement to end slavery in the United States

Abolitionism in the United States was the movement before and during the American Civil War to end slavery in the United States. In the Americas and western Europe, abolitionism was a movement to end the Atlantic slave trade and set slaves free. In the 17th century, enlightenment thinkers condemned slavery on humanistic grounds and English Quakers and some Evangelical denominations condemned slavery as un-Christian. At that time, most slaves were Africans, but thousands of Native Americans were also enslaved. In the 18th century, as many as six million Africans were transported to the Americas as slaves, at least a third of them on British ships to North America. The colony of Georgia originally abolished slavery within its territory, and thereafter, abolition was part of the message of the First Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s in the Thirteen Colonies.

In the end, the Charleston Riot provides a good example of how local events of Coles County history have fit into national currents as well. The Copperheads of Coles County had been different from other dissenting groups from around the country, in that they chose to use physical violence as their method of dissent. By killing Union soldiers, who had become the emblem of Federal government control, the Copperheads were attempting to project their anger toward the government. The draft, a strong central government, and racism fueled the Copperheads support within the county. In March 1864, these national tensions boiled over in the small town of Charleston, creating one of the most interesting events in the history of the county.

See also


  1. Towne 2006 , p. 43


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