The Copperheads

     With politics now splitting loyalties, friend from friend, family member from family member, the Democratic Party itself split on their loyalties and where they lay, the Northern Democrats were far more sympathetic towards their southern brethren than that of the Republicans now in control of the national government.

     They were called "Peace Democrats" by their friends and simply "Copperheads" by their opponents identifying themselves with copper pennies worn on their lapels. Clement Laird Vallandigham of Ohio, is known to be the most famous of this party, receiving the most historical press for his outspokenness against the oppressive Lincoln politicians.

     In the spring of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln had turned Ohio itself into a military department and assigned Major General Ambrose Burnside as its commander. In his orders, Series Thirty Eight, stating "…The habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy will not be allowed in this department." Vallandigham, having violated, was arrested and ordered to stand trial by court martial. He refused to enter a plea, refusing to recognize the validity and authority of the court. None the less, the Ohio politician was convicted and sentenced to Fort Wagner out in Boston Harbor.

     A flood of outrage permeated Washington and left President Abraham Lincoln's head spinning. He felt it not right to allow a subversive to the government go, while he induces boy's in the field to desert their posts of honor. With continued opposition, the president commuted the sentence of the court and had Vallandigham banished to the Confederate States.

     It became a full time job exercising martial law in the north and preventing these copperhead followers from furthering damage to the Union Cause. An earlier case was reported to Secretary of State, William Seward in September of 1861, having reported to him a priest by the name of M. M. Hallinan, carrying an abundant sum of money on his person, and offering advice to potential soldiers to give up their convictions and to join the southern cause when their regiment gets close enough to do so.

     Many in the political hierarchy fit the bill of the Peace Democrat, "Copperheads." Mayor of New York City, Fernando Wood had been very outspoken towards his views on states rights, even having an opportunity most would not, speaking directly to the President himself about them. Many in politically high places had deterred the Federal Soldier the freedom of voting in the national elections of 1864. Despite their best efforts however, in the late summer of 1864, the federal armies had delivered home some very key victories ensuring the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln, and from that day the Confederacy was doomed of any hope in survival.

     Whether noble or subversive the Copperhead movement would be one of the major headaches of the Lincoln Government during the American Civil War. Only success in restoring the Union at any cost, would quench the fiery darts thrown by these antagonists to the Union Cause.

Daniel Moran
© 2001

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a new feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff.
He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwar2.com