The Copperheads Raised Cane in the North During the Civil War

Generally branded by Republicans as traitorous, most Copperheads defined themselves as a patriotic, loyal opposition that advocated a union restored by negotiation rather than war. They denounced military arrests, conscription, emancipation, and other controversial war measures as unconstitutional attacks by a tyrannical president on the civil liberties of American citizens. Copperhead leaders included Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio, Alexander Long of Cincinnati, Fernando Wood of New York, and Benjamin G. Harris of Maryland. Prominent newspapers supporting the Copperheads were the Columbus Crisis (Ohio), the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the Chicago Times.

Harassed by Union supporters and the military, Copperheads created secret societies. The Knights of the Golden Circle borrowed the name and ritual of a southern rights organization. By 1863, this organization was known as the Order of American Knights. In May 1863, the military arrest and court martial of Vallandigham for alleged disloyal statements embarrassed the Lincoln administration

In 1864, Vallandigham, then supreme commander of the Copperhead Order of Sons of Liberty, counseled his supporters against treason and violence. In that year, however, extremists of his order were charged with plotting the formation of a "Northwestern Confederacy," and planning the release of Confederate prisoners at Camp Douglas near Chicago and elsewhere. The plot was uncovered before any overt acts took place, and members of the Sons of Liberty were tried for treason before a military court in Indiana. Three of those tried, including the Democratic politician Lambdin Milligan, were condemned to death. In its landmark decision in Ex Parte Milligan, the Supreme Court declared that the men should have been tried in Indiana's civil courts and freed them.

By 1864 Democrats hoped to elect a new president. Copperheads were able to control the party's national platform, including a plank written by Vallandigham pronouncing the war a failure and demanding peace on the basis of a restored federal union. Democratic presidential candidate George McClellan, however, rejected this plank. Crucial Union battle victories and Lincoln's reelection helped discredit the Copperheads. After the war Democrats at the national, state, and local levels gradually overcame recurrent Republican charges that their party had supported the South, secession, and treason. Below are images of a very rare Copperhead cane dated 1864, and of the head Copperhead Clement Vallandigham.

Article & presentation ©Rick Mack quantrillsguerrillas.com 2012. Written permission should be obtained for any utilization of this copyrighted essay and or article. 

Below are images of a very rare Copperhead cane dated 1864,  and of "Head Copperhead" Clement Vallandigham.

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