Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Civil War in Indiana -- Part 2

"Copperheads" were ruthless
in attacking President Lincoln
The beginning of the civil rebellion in 1861 laid bare the most basic attitudes of Indiana residents.

As is normal when war breaks out, "our side" is probably going to kick the stuffin's out of them in a couple of days, teach them a lesson and ... we'll go back to life as usual.

If it were always so simple.

The Indiana Magazine of History (IMH), published by Indiana University in Bloomington, spells out a simple scenario:

"The border states were in a difficult position, for their people were divided in sentiment, and none relished the prospect of their land becoming a battleground of contending armies. Indianans were particularly concerned about the decision of Kentucky because it was separated from Indiana only by the Ohio River and citizens of the two states had been friends since frontier days. The decision of Kentucky might determine how close the fighting would come to Hoosier soil."

The Kentucky problem would fester and create headaches for the newly-elected president, Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln, who had spent a part of his life in Indiana, was a moderate conservative, a unionist. He had become a leader in the newly organized Republican Party, which stood opposed to the Democrats, mainly southerners who opposed abolition and supported strong states rights. That political drama would play out in odd and frightening ways in Indiana as the war progressed.

Hoosiers, meanwhile, had a vested interest in the war and were generally undivided in their support of the Union cause. The numbers explain Indiana's role, according to the IMH:

"The attention devoted to the Civil War is in part the product of Indiana's disproportionate involvement in the conflict. Second among northern states in terms of relative manpower contribution, Indiana contributed approximately two-thirds of its military-aged men to the Union army. Regiments from the state fought in both the eastern and western campaigns and in many of the war's major battles. Over 25,000 died, most from disease; many thousands more suffered traumatic losses. The hardships of the war took their toll on the home front as well. The household and labor responsibilities of women expanded; questions regarding the legal and political status of blacks attained added importance; and fierce debates over the powers of the state and federal governments helped create one of the most vigorously partisan and evenly divided political systems in the nation."

The complexities of Indiana politics during the Civil War are enough to fill volumes.

Some interesting aspects:

Many Hoosiers were natives of southern states or had relatives still living there. The Civil War, which pitted "brother against brother" was no more apparent than in the border states. "Hoosiers who had been born in the states south of the Ohio had helped to make Indiana a free state in 1816. They knew from experience some of the injustices involved in slavery, and they did not want them in Indiana. They did not object, however, to this institution in the southern states until efforts to preserve it threatened the unity of the nation."

Mixed emotions, to be sure.

Politically, those who opposed Lincoln represented a rather significant minority. After hostilities began, many decided it was practical to temper their criticism and essentially join in the fight to save the nation. Those "War Democrats" included Gen. Lew Wallace.

Wallace, born in Brookville, had his own personal turmoil in the war. That, later.

Meanwhile, the protests among the anti-war Democrats intensified, and that led to some rather ugly episodes. Saying the wrong thing was treason and it was often enforced. The term "Copperhead" took on major meaning. You were either "for" the war, or you were a traitor.

I can't find much in brief reading that suggests Lincoln had much problem with that, though he did censure Gen. Ambrose Burnside for enforcing a too-strict treason policy.

IMH reports:

"The most serious crisis came in Indianapolis on May 20, 1863, when the Democrats held a state convention. The state was then being governed by Gov. Oliver Morton without the legislature because Republicans had bolted the session and left the capital, and the Democrats had failed to pass the appropriation bill. General Burnside, of the Department of the Ohio, issued an order against 'express or implied' treason. Arbitrary arrests which he ordered caused Morton to protest. Morton said, "The General had little faith in the loyalty of Indiana, and it was only Morton's protest that prevented the establishment of martial law in his state."


"Gen. Milo S. Hascal, of the District of Indiana, ordered that newspapers or speakers who endeavored to bring the war policy of the government into disrepute should be treated as violators of Burnside's order. The editor of the Plymouth Democrat, who challenged the order, was arrested and sent to Cincinnati. The owners of the paper were required to hire a new 'loyal' editor and were placed under $5,000 bond not to violate the order again. Other papers were warned to obey or cease publication."

Morton's leadership in Indiana was consistent. He believed himself strong enough to run things in the state.

Elihu Hayward of Fairfield
was a Civil War casualty in 1863.
"Identification by the Republicans of criticism with disloyalty and Morton's insistence that he had saved Indiana for the Union were regarded by the Democrats as brazen distortions of the truth. In April and May the imposition of military government, arbitrary arrests, and interference with freedom of the press angered the critics of Morton almost beyond endurance."

Indiana, despite the heavy-handed control, was far from out of the woods.

Nearly two dozen men who served in the Civil War are buried in the Sims-Brier, Bath Springs and Old Franklin cemeteries in Fairfield.

Later on, we will take a look at that component of the conflict.




Photo source: Copperhead pamphlet from 1864 by C. Chauncey Burr, a magazine editor from New York City

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