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100 Years Ago

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Anti-War Protests

Americans tend to remember this country's wars prior to Vietnam as being patriotic adventures, supported by everyone in the country at the time. In reality, war has never been popular. The Civil War was no exception.

Sidney, Ohio had two weekly newspapers during the war. The "Sidney Journal," which catered to the Republican persuasion and supported the war, and the "Shelby County Democrat," which took an editorial position against the war. Thomas Young (pictured at right — who years after the war would become the Governor of Ohio), resided in Sidney at the beginning of the conflict and served as editor of the "Democrat." "Hitchcock's History of Shelby County" reports that Young printed a violent anti-war editorial, and was forced to leave town. He eventually enlisted and served with the 118th Ohio, "rising by meritorious service to the rank of brevet brigadier-general at the close of the war." Biographies on Young later in his life interestingly deny the "Hitchcock" account.

A hotbed of anti-war sentiment nationally was in Dayton, the home of anti-war activist Clement Vallandigham (shown at right). As a member of Congress, he led a group of fellow members of the House of Representatives that grew in size as the war dragged on. The Union soldiers were aware of Vallandigham and his beliefs. When he was nominated for governor of Ohio in the summer of 1863, a soldier of the 99th Ohio wrote a Letter to the Editor of the "Journal" on July 3, 1863, which said in part: "The good and true men of this army feel that the foolish men of Ohio, who nominated Vallandigham for governor, have offered a gross insult to their patriotism. Is the Democratic party so short of good men that they were compelled to take up a man justly banished for his treasonable practices?"

The soldiers were allowed to vote for governor by absentee ballot in the fall of 1863. Peter Morgan, a member of the 118th Ohio (shown at right), recorded in his diary on October 13, 1863, that Vallandigham received four votes out of at least several hundred cast for governor of Ohio.  The "Shelby County Democrat," which supported Vallandigham, was the target of bitter attacks by the editor of the "Sidney Journal." A "Journal" editorial of February 27, 1863, quoted a Union officer as saying, after reading a copy of the "Democrat," "Seventy-one articles were in opposition to the war. Who is this man Grimes that edits it? Some of my boys...wondered what kind of people we had in Shelby County, that they allowed such men to live there."

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Clement Vallandigham
Peter Morgan

The soldiers were also aware of the unpopular nature of the war to many people, and their reaction was predictable. One young Shelby County soldier wrote to the editor of the "Journal" in May of 1863 with the following bitter remarks: "We fear there are traitors in our rear as well as in our front. They are too cowardly to come into our front, but stay at home and slander us who are in the field. We feel indignant towards these Northern traitors, who are aiding to destroy the best government on the earth. All who are crying peace, peace, and urge an armistice and compromise give aid and comfort to the rebels, and thereby prolong the war. The South began this war and we will end it."

Henry Wilson of Sidney wrote to brother Albert, a surgeon then with the 113th Ohio, in July 1863, telling him that two of his fellow doctors in Sidney had turned against the war. In his reply, Dr. Wilson lamented, "I am greatly surprised to hear you speak of (Dr. Conklin and Dr. Goode) as connected with the Butternut family (the name given to anti-war supporters). Can it be possible. They are the last men that I would ever have suspected of giving aid and comfort to the enemy of our country."

Vallandigham visited Sidney on September 24, 1864, to speak at a political rally. With him that day was George Pendleton, the Democratic candidate for Vice-President of the United States. Several hundred recently discharged soldiers from the 11th Michigan were also in town that day, waiting on a train to take them home.   In the clash that followed with Vallandigham and the Union soldiers, Pendleton and he narrowly escaped alive. A cannon owned by Sidney's Phillip Smith was captured and taken to Michigan.

'Civil War' segment written in July, 1998 by Rich Wallace


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