The larger questions about the protection of civil liberties during times of civil strife, the relationship between rights and responsibilities, and the meaning of the U.S.
Constitution are still pertinent today and are an integral part of this lesson.
Connection with the Curriculum
Materials for Each Student
• A copy of this article's content portion
Objectives for Each Student
• Explore the possible conflicts arising when individual needs clash with civic responsibilities.
Opening the Lesson
• Work through the activities with the students.
Developing the Lesson
• The poems of Activity 2 offer an example of another medium through which political views were often expressed. The poems should be read aloud to be sure that all students understand the provincial language.
• Activity 3 is designed to generate discussion and critical thought rather than any right answers. You may wish to assign the questions as homework since they call for both analysis and synthesis of the excerpts. In question 2 the student must find instances of the Jacksonville writer's undeveloped argument since; for example, he does not address the fact that the opposition may win at the ballot box, nor does he consider what limits obedience puts upon his independence. In question 3 the student must consider the idealism of both Emerson's views as well as the Democrats. Both lines of reasoning may seem vague and contradictory, which underscores the complications of putting idealistic notions into practice.
• Activity 4 may be extended into a role-playing group activity. Divide the class into groups of four. Each group represents one family and offers positive and negative reactions to the continuation of the war based upon their individual situations. One member of each group should act as recorder. As each group delivers its defense of its views, other members of the class may wish to counter with alternative opinions.
Concluding the Lesson
Extending the Lesson
• Assign research and reports on related topics such as Farming on the Illinois Prairie during the Civil War Years; Necessities of Life on the Illinois Prairie: Food, Clothing, Housing, and Animals; Social and Religious Life in Illinois During the 1860s; and Politics of the Illinois Immigrant During the Civil War.
• The lesson may be extended into the language arts classroom. As per the bulletin board suggestion, you may wish to engage the students in writing
political poems. You might also assign Irene Hunt's Across Five Aprils in conjunction with the social studies activities of this lesson. Ambrose Bierce's short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," from Tales of Soldiers and Civilians, also complements this lesson well. In addition, aspects of Bierce's own life story make interesting study in conjunction with this lesson's theme.
Assessing the Lesson
Follow up the activity by having the students consider how the United States might be today—geographically, politically, culturally, racially—if the Copperheads had gained enough support to stop the war without the South's surrender.
The following account of the Charleston Riot is from an extra edition of the Charleston Plain Dealer (March 31, 1864). The editor, and presumably the author of this source, is E. F. Crittenden, who was among those who provided for the "common defense" of Charleston after the incident occurred.
PLAIN DEALER - EXTRA
Charleston, Illinois, Thursday, March 31, 1864
SHOCKING OCCURRENCE. A Dreadful Fight Between
This afternoon a dreadful affair took place in our town, the most shocking in its details, that has ever occurred in our part of the State. Early in the morning, squads of Copperheads came in town, from various directions, and, as the sequel will show, armed and determined upon summary vengeance upon our soldiers. During the day premonitions of the coming trouble were too evident.—Some of the soldiers, about to return to their regiments, were somewhat excited by liquor, and consequently rather boisterous, but not belligerent—were more disposed for fun than fight. About four o'clock, a soldier, OLIVER SALLEE, stepped up to NELSON WELLS, who has been regarded as the leader of the Copperheads in this county, and placing his hand good-naturedly against him, playfully asked him if there were any Copperheads in town! WELLS replied, "Yes, God d—n you, I am one!" and drawing his revolver shot at SALLEE, but missed him. In an instant SALLEE was shot from another direction, and fell, but raising himself up, he fired at WELLS, the ball taking effect in his vitals .... [Fighting continued throughout the afternoon and arrests were made of civilians who had fired upon the soldiers.].. .Mr. JOHN COOPER, from Saulisbury, was captured, and brought in as a prisoner by Mr. W. A. NOE, and a soldier.... When the Copperheads were halted near Mrs. Dickson's, he was heard to say that as they now had no leader, he was ready to lead them back and kill the d——d soldiers and burn the town, or die in the attempt; and at various places he was heard to threaten to cut out the hearts of the "d——d Abolitionists," and used kindred expression ....
Tuesday Morning, 11:30 a.m.
[The search for Copperheads continues]
Col. Brooks' squad, going through the O'Hair settlement [J. H. O'HAIR, Sheriff of Coles County], re-captured Levi Freisner and also the guard of Butternuts place over him, six or eight in all. [Butternut was a term applied to Confederate soldiers and those in the North who were sympathetic to the Confederacy, i.e. another name for Copperheads.] It is said that the "enemy" are now gathered two or three hundred strong, under J. H. O'Hair, at Golliday's Mill, some ten miles north-east from here. Whether this be so, or not, we are unable to say .... There are now some forty prisoners [sic], guerillas and citizens of 'constitutional' or doubtful loyalty, under arrest, and more bring arrested.
Thursday, Noon, March 31
The Copperheads are said to be gathering from several Counties, and moving to some place of concentration, probably in the north-east portion of this country.—Already several hundred are gathered at Donaker's Point, under command of "Colonel" J. H. O'Hair. Whether this concentration is for the purpose of offensive or deffensive [sic] movements, we cannot tell—probably the latter, however.... Last night several hundred soldiers, from Indianapolis, passed through here for Mattoon, where serious disturbance was threatened, and who, with other, will be ready for operations anywhere.
The people here are much excited; no business is being done, and all are preparing for safety and peace. The cooperation of citizens and soldiers will forever put an end to such Copperhead outrages here ... Men, who have apparently been unmoved in these Copperhead outrages, are now decided—many FOR US; some AGAINST US ....
As we have been obliged to be a "minute-man" during the day, and do a full share of guard duty at night, ever since Monday, for the common defense ....
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
from a poem published in Vanity Fair entitled
SONG OF THE COPPERHEAD
The traitor! the sneak! say, what fate shall await him,
Who forgets his fair land, and who spits on her fame?
Let no woman love him! Let honest men hate him!
Let his children refuse to be known by his name!
In the hour of our sorrow all recreant we found him,—
In the hour of his woe may he sign for a friend!
Let his conscience upbraid, let his memory hound him,
And no man take note of the Copperhead's end!
from a poem published in Harper's Weekly entitled
THE "PEACE DEMOCRACY"
Resolved,—This nation's goin' tu reuin,—
Old Abram Lincoln's baound tu strand it.
Thare's sum awlfired mischief brewin',
We Dimmykrats can't no way stand it!
We make a vaow, from this time forth
Tu stop awl warfare in the North.
Tharefore we form a resolushun
The excerpts below express views about individual rights and responsibilities.
Read each and answer the questions that follow.
William Cullen Bryant writes of Copperheadism in the Evening Post,
June 25, 1861
A peace purchased by receding from the policy of emancipation will be but a hollow truce, in the womb of which would lurk other insurrections and rebellions, ready to break out in civil war whenever an occasion like that of 1861 should arise. Suffer the rebel states to return to the Union and the right of slavery acknowledged, and you proclaim to them that they can at any time rebel at their good pleasure, and, if successful in their revolt, take their old place in the Union until a more auspicious moment shall arrive for forming a new confederacy.
published in the Daily Illinois Register
The Draft of the Ninth District-Democratic Loyalty
Jacksonville, Dec. 30, 1863
Stigmatized before the beginning of the war by their present political opponents as "Union savers". .., they are today branded as "disunionists" by the same short-sighted set.... They have seen the best generals slaughtered .... They have seen battle-fields turned into slaughter pens for their brothers and sons .... They have seen men attempt to transform themselves into principles—a president into a "government," in order that for a while the rebuke of the ballot-box might be checked. They have seen their leaders imprisoned and banished, because they advocated the principles upon which the theory of our government rests.
from Ralph Waldo Emerson's Journal, 1861
The war goes on educating us to a trust in the simplicities, and to see the bankruptcy of all narrow views. The favorite pet policy of a district, the epicier party of Boston or New York, is met by a conflicting epicier party in Philadelphia, another in Cincinnati, others in Chicago and St. Louis, so that we are forced still to grope deeper for something catholic and universal, wholesome for all. Thus war for the Union is broader than any State policy, or Tariff, or Maritime, or Agricultural, or Mining interest. Each of these neutralizes the other.
Look at the map and read the family composites on the following page. Refer to the article and the chronology above to help you make assumptions about which of the families might have supported the Peace Democrats and Copperheads and which might have been for the Union. Jot down responses to the questions below for each family to help you form theories.
Four Fictional Illinois Families of the Civil War Era
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