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A Note from Nancy: There has been
considerable interest on the Charleston Riot of 1864 from descendants of the
various participants. I am going to start a separate website for this
topic. If you have information you would like to share or comments, please
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The Charleston, Illinois Riot
Charleston, Coles County, Illinois
28 March 1864
For more than 20 years I have searched for my Rardin ancestors'
participation in the Civil War. Knowing their grandfather (John Rardin JR)
great-grandfather (John Rardin SR) were participants in the Revolutionary War, I assumed those
born in the 1820 to 1845 time span would have been eager to join their Illinois
neighbors in the support of the North's position.
Recently I found three of the sons of Samuel and Catherine Light Rardin in
the Official Records (War of the Rebellion - A Compilation of the Official
Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 volumes). Their listing was not in support of
the War, but in opposition, as Peace Democrats or Copperheads for their
participation in the Charleston, Illinois Riot of 1864
Samuel and Catherine Light Rardin and their children Jacob Light Rardin, John
Hull Rardin, Peter C. Rardin, Nancy Rardin, Harriett Rardin, Julia Rardin,
Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Rardin and George Washington
"Wash" Rardin emigrated from Campbell County, Kentucky to Coles
County, Illinois in the fall of 1842, settling on purchased land in Morgan
When Samuel Rardin died in August of 1843 and his wife, Catherine Light
Rardin, died in September of 1846, it fell to their oldest son, Jacob
Light Rardin and his wife Sarah Rankin Rardin, to provide a home for their
youngest sons and unmarried daughters. The 1850 Coles County Census,
Morgan Township, Greasy Creek Precinct shows that Jacob Light Rardin, now a
widower and his two children David L. and Nancy, had four of Jacob's siblings
living with them - Nancy, Harriet, Franklin (Benjamin Franklin) and Washington
Charleston, Illinois is the county seat of Coles County, Illinois. The
Southern and Eastern parts of the county were settled mostly by Southerners,
many from Kentucky, who supported the democratic party policies and opposed
the Civil War. The Eastern and Northern sections of the county strongly
supported the war. The country provided more than 2700 men to the Union
armies and as these men returned home on furlough there were many physical and
verbal confrontations between the soldiers and those who opposed the War.
Those who opposed the Civil War were called Peace Democrats, Butternuts,
Copperheads and traitors by their neighbors. They opposed the war measures
such as the draft and military rule, believing they were unconstitutional.
The majority of these men were sincere and patriotic, but thought the War was a
mistake and would promote sectional hatred. Many were farmers and felt the
financial consequences of the War as the South had been the best market for
As Southern sympathizers and with relatives still living in the South, the
Rardin men - Jacob Light Rardin, his son David L. Rardin and his brothers
Benjamin Franklin Rardin and George Washington Rardin, likely joined an
organization called the Knights of the Golden Circle in June of 1863 just before
the first national draft. It is thought that members of this group met in
Seven Hickory Township, adjacent to Morgan Township, to organize, practice
military maneuvers, collect arms and discuss ways to resist the draft. The
Knights of the Golden Circle headquarters was in Cincinnati, Hamilton County,
Ohio, the adjacent county to Clermont County, Ohio where Catherine Light Rardin
was raised and where Jacob Light Rardin had
lived and married in 1838.
For six weeks prior to the Charleston, Illinois Riot of 28 March, 1864, there were continuous confrontations between the soldiers home on leave and the known
Democrats or Copperheads. Soldiers stopped known Democrats on the street,
forced them to their knees and required them to take an oath of
allegiance. In neighboring counties of the State, Copperheads had been killed or
injured by overly zealous soldiers.
The Charleston Riot of 28 March 1864 was the culmination of the political hatred
between the two groups.
On the opening day of the Coles County Court on 28 March 1864, the Copperheads
and soldiers home on leave clashed on the Courthouse square in Charleston, Coles
County, Illinois resulting in nine dead and twelve wounded.
More than 50 prisoners were taken, 29 by Colonel Greenville M. Mitchell and the
remaining by the military authorities and citizens. Colonel
Mitchell's prisoners were held at the Charleston Courthouse and then
consolidated with those in Mattoon, Illinois where they were all held in the
Presbyterian Church. After questioning, all but 29 men were released.
The remaining 29 prisoners were taken to Camp Yates near Springfield, Illinois
on 8 April 1864. Again, the men were questioned and 13 of them were
released. It appears that Jacob Light Rardin and his son, David L. Rardin
were released at this time. Miles Murphy, father of the three Murphy boys,
died while imprisoned at Camp Yates. The remaining 15 prisoners, including
Benjamin Franklin Rardin and George Washington Rardin, were transferred to Fort
Delaware prison, which was on an island in the Delaware River.
All of the 15 prisoners were held for seven months at Fort Delaware but were
never brought to military trial.
John Hull Rardin, Jr. related in July of 1938 that Dennis Hanks, a
relative of President Abraham Lincoln, went to Washington D. C. in late October
or early November of 1864, to visit the
President and request the release of the Coles County riot prisoners. He
also related that the prisoners were released so promptly that they beat Dennis
Hanks home to Coles County.
It is presumed that President Lincoln, who had practiced law at the Courthouse
in Coles County and who had relatives in the county, wanted a peaceful end to the
confrontation. Some of the rioters involved were also related to the
President by marriage and blood.
Many others who participated in the riot were never captured. They left
the county and returned only at war's end where they resumed their business
ventures. Many became well-respected, prosperous businessmen. It is
ironic that many of their descendants still reside in Morgan and Seven Hickory
Townships in Coles County and we all attended school together and were friends,
never fully aware of what our ancestors did during the Civil War.
In April of 1864, 14 riot participants were indicted for murder by a Coles
County Grand Jury. But of the 14, only two were ever captured. One
of those was George Washington Rardin, who was one of the two men ever brought
to trial for the riots.
All of the prisoners were released in November of 1864 except George Washington
Rardin and John Redmon, who were delivered to Coles County authorities.
Both requested a change of venue and Judge Constable granted their petition on
25 November 1865.
On 3 December 1864 George Washington Rardin and John Redmon entered pleas of Not
Guilty before Judge Constable in Shelbyville, Illinois. A change of venue
was again granted to Effingham, Illinois.
The case came fore the Effingham County Circuit Court 7 December 1864.
Thirty-eight witnesses appeared in the case. Six witnesses had previously
given statements after the riot that they saw one of the Rardins (George
Washington or Benjamin Franklin) use a gun in the riot, but only two of them
specifically stated it was George Washington Rardin. Only one of the six
was a witness at the trial.
Both John Redmon and George Washington Rardin were found Not Guilty of murder
and were discharged.
George Washington "Washington or Wash" Rardin was born 7
February 1836 in Kentucky and died 5 September 1865 near Rardin, Morgan
Township, Coles County, Illinois. He is buried in Knoch Cemetery, Morgan
Township. His wife, Amanda Malinda Sousley died 31 March 1873 near Rardin,
Illinois. Their four children, Martha Ann "Annie" born 1859,
Jacob Macklin "Jake" born 1862, Sarah L. "Sallie" born 18
September 1864 while her father was imprisoned, and Margaret Catherine born 12
November 1865 after the death of her father in September 1865, were raised to adulthood by their Uncle - Jacob Light Rardin.
Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Rardin was born 15 October 1832 in
Kentucky and died 10 March 1904 near Rardin, Illinois. He married Sarah Jane
Barrett 12 April 1865 in Coles County, Illinois. She died in March of
1866. Their only child, Sarah C. died at the age of eight months in August
of 1866. Benjamin Franklin never remarried and lived with his brothers and
sisters until his death. The family is also buried in Knoch Cemetery,
Morgan Township, Coles County, Illinois.
Arrested & Imprisoned for riot participation
Blueford E. Brooks, Aaron Bryant, George Jefferson "Jeff" Collins,
John Galbreath, William P. Hardwick, Hohn W. Herndon, John W. Murphy, Michael
Murphy, Miles Murphy, Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Rardin, George
Washington "Wash" Rardin, John F. Redmon, John Reynolds, Miner
Shelborne, John T. Taylor and Bryant Thornhill.
Arrested and released at Camp Yates for riot participation
William C. Batty, Stephen Greenville "Green" Hanks, James
E.(Jordan?) Hardwick, James S. Hardwick?, James M. Houck, John P. Keller, James
O'Hair, Nelson O'Hair, David Rardin, Jacob Light Rardin, Henry Stevens, H. P.
Tichnor and Young E. Winkler.
Wanted for riot participation but never captured
Joseph Carter, John Cooper, B. F. Dukes, James W. Frazier, John Frazier,
John Ellsberry "Berry" Hanks, Robert McLain, Henderson O'Hair,
James O'Hair, Jesse O'Hair, John H. O'Hair, Calvin Rice, Harry Ray, Dick
Robinson, Alexander rogers, George Thomas, B. F. Toland, G. W. Toland, B. F.
Williams and Robert Winkler.
The following information concerning the Charleston Riot is from the Official
Records of the War of the Rebellion, the Charleston Plain Dealer newspaper and
various other sources. For a full account of the Charleston Riot see: Coles
County In The Civil War 1861-1865, Eastern Illinois University Bulletin No 234,
April 1961, Lavern M. Hamand, General Editor.
Riot at Charleston, Coles County, Illinois and events leading up to the Riot
Official Records: Page 697, Volume 124
Indianapolis, August 20, 1863
Colonel James B. Fry, Provost-Marshal-General:
Sir: The disloyal element, under the name of "Democracy," are
holding large mass-meetings in different parts of the State, at which the people
are urged to arm and drill, which they are doing in many places in large
numbers. Large quantities of arms and ammunition are being purchased and
distributed, especially in the Seventh District and adjoining counties in
Illinois. I enclose you a poster advertising one of these meetings to come off
on Saturday next. The watchword given on the bill is, I am assured, the
watchword of the Knights of the Golden Circle.
I think the best and perhaps only way to preserve the peace when the draft
takes place in the several districts will be to be so well prepared to promptly
suppress any outbreak as to convince all that an attempt to resist could not be
even temporarily successful. I have the honor, colonel, to be, very
respectfully, your obedient servant.
Conrad Baker, Colonel and Actg. Asst. Provost-Marshal-General for Indiana.
The Democracy of Vigo County propose to give an old-fashioned barbecue at
Terre Haute of Saturday, August 22, 1863, to which they invite the Democracy of
the Seventh Congressional District and the adjoining counties of Indiana and
The fatted calf will be killed and roasted for the refreshment of the
brethren. Distinguished speakers, and plenty of them, will be present and
address the meeting. This is a time for mutual understanding and concerted
action on the part of the friends of the Constitution and the white man’s
liberty. Let all come and bring their families. The meeting will be held in the
grove south of town, near the river, where the teams can be watered. The
watchword of the day will be: "United we stand in defiance of
Official Records: Page 148, Volume 125
Springfield, Ill., March 2, 1864
Honorable E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War:
Insurrection in Edgar County, Ill. Union men on one side, copperheads on the
other. They have had two battles; several killed. Please order
Lieutenant-Colonel Oakes, assistant provost-marshal-general, to send two
companies of the Invalid Corps to Paris, Ill., to put down the disturbance and
keep the peace. I have no arms for militia, as you are well aware. Please answer
Richard Yates, Governor
Official Records: Page 148, Volume 125
War Department, Washington, D.C.
March 2, 1864
Governor Yates, Springfield, Ill.:
Orders will be immediately given Lieutenant-Colonel Oakes to render you
assistance, and Major-General Heintzelman will be ordered immediately to your
aid. His headquarters are at Columbus. You can communicate with him as commander
of the department.
Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War
Official Records: Page 149, Volume 125
War Department, Washington, D. C.
March 2, 1864
Major-General Heintzelman, Columbus, Ohio:
You will repair forthwith to Paris, Edgar County, Ill., and, on consultation
with Governor Yates, assist the civil authorities in restoring order and
enforcing the law. Lieutenant-Colonel Oakes, with two companies of invalids, has
been ordered there, with instructions to report to you on your arrival. Governor
Yates reports an insurrection in Edgar County and asks for troops to restore
H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief
Official Records: Pages 150 & 151, Volume 125
Springfield, March 2, 1864
Have dispatch from Secretary of War that you render aid in quelling
disturbance in Edgar County, Ill. I deemed it necessary only to send two
companies of Invalid Corps to Paris, and so requested War Department.
Lieutenant-Colonel Oakes, assistant Provost-Marshal-General, Illinois, has been
ordered to Paris with 2 companies by General Halleck, and I think that all
action necessary at this time.
Richard Yates, Governor of Illinois.
Official Records: Page 152 & 153, Volume 125
Springfield, Ill., March 4, 1864
Major General S. P. Heintzelman, Paris:
I am surprised that the Secretary of War ordered you to Paris, as I
telegraphed him to let me send two companies of the Invalid Corps there, which I
supposed would do for the present. Colonel Oakes is on his way to Paris; left
here this morning. I desire you to confer with Doctor Kyle and George M. Rives,
of Paris. All that I can suggest that the 2,000 men represented by Rives and
Kyle to be in arms, be informed that any insurrection on their part will be at
once put down by the government.
Richard Yates, Governor of Illinois
Official Records: Page 155, Volume 125
Paris, Ill., March 5, 1864
Major General H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief:
I arrived here yesterday at 8 a.m., and at 3 p.m. Captain Hill’s company of
invalids from Chicago; Lieutenant-Colonel Oakes at 1 this morning. Some more
troops are expected momentarily. I found the town perfectly quiet, the account
being greatly exaggerated. No one has been killed and but three wounded. I will
order Lieutenant-Colonel Oakes back to his duties as his troops arrive, and will
leave for my headquarters by the first train. A more detailed report will be
S. P. Heintzelman, Major-General.
Official Records: Pages 221 & 222, Volume 125
Headquarters Northern Department
Columbus, Ohio, April 8, 1864
Major General H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief U.S. Army, Washington, D.C.:
General: At 11 p.m. 2nd of March I received your telegram directin
me to repair forthwith to Paris, Edgar County, Ill., to assist the civil
authorities in restoring order and enforcing the law. I left immediately on the
2:05 a.m. train. I took advantage of a delay of a couple of hours at
Indianapolis to see Governor Morton and learned that there was no serious
outbreak. Before leaving here I telegraphed to Governor Yates to communicate
with me at Terre Haute, but got no reply from him.
The next morning a little before daylight I took a freight train and reached
Paris at 8 a.m. on the 4th of March. I immediately put myself in
communication with some Union persons to whom I had been referred and learned
substantially what had been told me at Terre Haute.
I again telegraphed to the Governor inquiring what he wished done. I soon
after got answer to my first telegram through Terre Haute.
At 3 p.m. on the 4th Captain Hill, with sixty men of the Invalid
Corps, arrived from Chicago. I quartered them in the court-house. An hour later
got a telegram from Governor Yates that Colonel Oakes was on his way to Paris.
In the night Colonel Oakes arrived. At 2:50 p.m. on the 5th some
forty more men arrived from Springfield. I left in the same train for my
headquarters. As Lieutenant-Colonel Oakes’ services are indispensable for the
draft, I ordered him to return to Springfield in the next train. The troops
under Captain Hill will remain at Paris for the present.
I procured a statement of the different officers and of the condition of the
disloyals and enclose them with copies of all telegrams received and sent.
(Official Records notes that these enclosures have been omitted.)
This man Johnson is said by some to be an escaped prisoner of war from Camp
Chase and under an assumed name. If I can trace him and find this true, I will
direct the arrest of a few of the most trouble-some in the vicinity of Paris,
which would aid in quieting this ill-feeling. I think it advisable that the
troops now there should remain for the present.
I enclose description of the last affair; cut one from the loyal the other
from the disloyal paper of the town. (Official Records notes that these
enclosures have been omitted.) I have the honor to be, general, very
respectfully, your obedient servant,
S. P. Heintzelman, Major-General.
Official Records: Page 178, Chapter XLIV
March 28, 1864 (Received 11:30 p.m.)
I am informed by telegraph that the Copperheads have killed the surgeon and a
private of the Fifty-fourth Illinois Infantry, and wounded the colonel and
others at Charleston, Coles County, Ill., to-day. The mayor of Mattoon
telegraphs that the Copperheads are rising in Moultrie County, adjoining Coles.
I think there is reason to apprehend serious trouble unless promptly checked.
The Fifty-fourth Illinois is now at Charleston. There are veteran troops here in
camp, say 200, and others can soon be gathered up if necessary. I should be glad
to render any service in my power.
Julius White, Brigadier-General, Volunteers.
Official Records: Page 190, Chapter XLIV
Headquarters Northern Department
Columbus, Ohio, March 29, 1864
Brigadier General Julius White, Springfield, Ill.:
Have you any further information from Charleston or Moultrie County? How many
of the Fifty-fourth Illinois are at Charleston? Give me full particulars.
S. P. Heintzelman, Major-General, Commanding
Official Records: Page 190, Chapter XLIV
Headquarters Northern Department
Columbus, Ohio, March 29, 1864
Captain Hill, Invalid Corps, Paris, Edgar County, Ill.:
Have you any information of disturbances at Charleston, Coles County, Ill.?
If so, let me know at once the facts.
S. P. Heintzelman, Major-General, Commanding.
Official Records: Page 629, Chapter XLIV
HEADQUARTERS NORTHERN DEPARTMENT
Columbus, Ohio, March 29, 1864
(Received 2 a.m., 30th)
SIR: There has been a serious disturbance at Charleston, Coles County, Ill.;
5 or 6 men killed, and about 20 wounded. A veteran regiment is there, and I have
made arrangements to re-enforce them should the disturbance be removed. I leave
to-night for Johnson’s Island.
S. P. HEINTZELMAN, Major-General.
General HALLECK, Chief of Staff, Washington
Official Records: Pages 629 & 630, Chapter XLIV
SPRINGFIELD, ILL., March 29, 1864
Six persons were killed and about 20 wounded in the affray at Charleston.
Lieutenant-Colonel Oakes, assistant provost-marshal-general from this State,
sent an officer there last night, who reports no further disturbance. The
strength of the Fifty-fourth (Illinois) is not known here, as it has lately been
recruited, but it is not less than 500. There is no further information from
Moultrie County. I think now that the Fifty-fourth will be able to maintain
J. WHITE, Brigadier-General.
Official Records: Page 630, Chapter XLIV
SPRINGFIELD, ILL., March 29, 1864
There has been a serious disturbance at Charleston, Ill. Captain Montgomery,
an experienced officer whom I sent to that place last night, reports as follows:
MATTOON, March 29, 1864
Superintendent Volunteer Recruiting Service:
The disturbance at Charleston was quite serious; 6 killed and 20 wounded. It
is now quiet. I do not think you need come. I go to Charleston this morning.
Will report further from there.
D. L. MONTGOMERY, Seventeenth Infantry, Mustering and Disbursing Officer.
I will keep you fully informed in case of first outbreak.
JAS. OAKES, Lieutenant Colonel and Act. Asst. Provost-Marshal-General of Ill.
Official Records: Page 197, Chapter XLIV
Headquarters Northern Department
Columbus, Ohio, March 30, 1864
Brigadier-General Carrington, Indianapolis, Ind.:
Please let the veteran regiment take the route through Mattoon, Ill., with
orders as suggested in your telegram, and please report any information you may
have received by telegraph. Respectfully,
C. H. Potter, Assistant Adjutant-General
Official Records: Page 197 & 198, Chapter XLIV
Headquarters Northern Department
Columbus, Ohio, March 30, 1864
Major General S. P. Heintzelman, (Care of Brigadier-General Terry) Sandusky:
The following has been received. I have telegraphed to General Carrington to
send the veteran regiment by way of Mattoon:
Indianapolis, March 30, 1864, Major-General Heintzelman:
Lieutenant Colonel James Oakes, Fourth U.S. Cavalry, assistant
provost-marshal, telegraphs to send by special train not less than 500 men to
Mattoon immediately, with abundant ammunition. A veteran regiment is about
starting for Cairo. If it can take that route, unless you order otherwise, I
shall take the responsibility of stopping it there. There is not time to
communicate with Washington. Please give your opinion.
In haste, Henry B. Carrington, Brigadier-General
Respectfully, C. H. Potter, Assistant Adjutant-General
Official Records: Page 198, Chapter XLIV
Headquarters Northern Department
Columbus, Ohio, March 30, 1864
Major-General Heintzelman (Care of Brigadier-General Terry), Sandusky, Ohio
The following dispatches have just been received. You will see by General
Carrington’s dispatches that the veteran regiment is en route:
Charleston, Ill., March 30, 1864
Troubles continue. Forces of insurgents reported increasing. Have just asked
for 500 men from Indianapolis. You had better come here in person. Answer me at
James Oakes, Lieutenant-Colonel, U.S. Army
Mattoon, March 30, 1864
I arrived here this morning. Proceeded 10 a.m. to Charleston, and have just
returned. In affray at Charleston, on 28th, 10 killed and some 15
wounded on both sides; have some 30 prisoners here. Much excitement here, and an
attack expected to rescue prisoners; reliable (reports?) state insurgents
collecting in large numbers.
James Oakes, Lieutenant-Colonel, U.S. Army
Indianapolis, Ind., March 30, 1864
The Forty-seventh Indiana, 560 strong, started within half an hour after the
receipt of Colonel Oakes’ telegram for Mattoon. Extra ammunition goes on
Henry B. Carrington, brigadier-General
Respectfully, C. H. Potter, Assistant Adjutant-General
Official Records: Page 805, Chapter XLVI
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF KANSAS
Fort Leavenworth, March 31, 1864
Brigadier General Thomas J. McKean,
Commanding District of South Kansas, Paola:
GENERAL:...........The affair in Charleston, Ill., shows the danger that
still exists even in peaceable communities. Copperheads are almost traitors, as
tadpoles approach the resemblance of their more eminent aquatic quadruped
species; they need watching everywhere.
Very truly, your friend,
S. R. Curtis, Major-General.
From: Excerpts from Charleston (Illinois) Plain Dealer, extra edition of
March 31, 1864
Charleston, Illinois, Thursday, March 31, 1864 – E. F. Crittenden, Editor
A Dreadful Fight Between Copperheads and Soldiers
Seven Persons Killed – Eight Severely Wounded
Charleston, Monday, 9 P.M.
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 – wee 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 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 short from another direction,
and fell, but raising himself up, he fired at Wells, the ball taking effect in
Mr. John Cooper, from Salisbury, 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.
Col. Brooks’ squad, going through the O’Hair settlement , re-captured
Levi Freisner and also the guard of Butternuts placed over him, six or eight in
all. 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 northeast
from here. Whether this be so, or not, we are unable to say.... There are now
some forty prisoners, guerillas and citizen of "constitutional" or
doubtful loyalty, under arrest, and more being 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 county.
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 defensive movements, we cannot tell—probably the
Last night several hundred soldiers, from Indianapolis, passed through here
for Mattoon, where serious disturbance was threatened, and who, with others,
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
Official Records: Pages 630, 631, 632, 633, 634 & 635, Chapter XLIV
OFFICE OF ASSISTANT PROVOST-MARSHAL-GENERAL,
Springfield, Ill., April 18, 1864
COLONEL: I have the honor to report that information of this disturbance in
Charleston, Coles County, Ill., on the 28th of March last, reached me
on the afternoon of the same day.
Captain Montgomery, U. S. Army, being about to proceed to Mattoon on
mustering duty, I directed him to repair to the scene of the outbreak, ascertain
the posture of affairs, and telegraph me if my presence was deemed necessary.
About 8:30 p.m. the next day I received a dispatch from Captain Montgomery
requesting me to come down without delay, and left by the next train for
Mattoon, where I arrived on the morning of the 30th. Finding the town
in a state of great excitement from rumors, apparently entitled to credit, that
the insurgents meditated an attack in force to rescue the prisoners which has
been sent up from Charleston, I deemed it prudent to order forward the
Forty-first Regiment, Colonel Pugh commanding, from Springfield.
Taking a freight train I then proceeded to Charleston. Colonel Mitchell, of
the Fifth-fourth Infantry, was absent with a mounted detachment of his regiment
in search of the insurgents, who had left the town and were reported to be
collecting in large bodies in various directions in the surrounding country.
In the afternoon (30th) I received a dispatch from Colonel True,
Sixty-second Illinois, on recruiting duty at Mattoon and commanding post,
representing in urgent terms the need of more troops at that point. I therefore
asked for 500 men from Indianapolis, and returned by next train to Mattoon,
finding the place in a state of the most intense excitement, over a hundred
citizens being organized and under arms, the prisoners lodged in a secure place
and strongly guarded, pickets posted, and every preparation made to defend the
place, an attack upon which was confidently anticipated.
The Forty-first Illinois, Colonel Pugh, and Forty-seventh Indiana, Colonel
Slack, arrived about midnight, and both regiments, under the command of Colonel
True, proceeded to points some 12 miles west and southwest of Mattoon in search
of the rebels who were believed to be there collected in considerable force.
Finding that the insurgents, small parties of whom had been assembled at the
designated places, had dispersed upon the advance of the troops and made good
their escape, the command returned to Mattoon, arriving on the morning of the 31st,
when the Forty-seventh Indiana was permitted to proceed on their way to Cairo en
route for the field.
Leaving the Forty-first at Mattoon, I again repaired to Charleston, where I
found the excitement subsided and confidence partially restored, the people
feeling secure in the protection of the troops, consisting of the Fifty-fourth
Illinois, and Company E, Twenty-third Veteran Reserve Corps, which had been
stopped by Captain Montgomery on the 29th while on its way from
Paris, Ill. After making such arrangements for the protection of the place and
the maintenance of order as circumstances seemed to require, I returned to
Mattoon and thence to Springfield, arriving on the morning of the 2nd
On the 8th instant, I again visited both Charleston and Mattoon,
and found those places and the surrounding country quiet and confidence
generally restored. The Forty-first was furloughed on the 11th
instant, and the Fifty-fourth left for the field on the 12th, leaving
one company of the Veteran Reserve Corps at Charleston and another at Paris,
which I deem ample for the present.
A large number of prisoners were taken by the military and citizens, most of
whom were released for lack of evidence. The proof against 29 was, however,
deemed sufficient to warrant their being held for further examination, and I
ordered them to be forwarded, under guard, to Camp Yates near this city, until
the necessary testimony could be obtained and examined, to enable me to
determine what further disposition should be made of them. After careful
examination of the evidence received, consisting of affidavits, reports,
letters, etc., and which is very voluminous, I have discharged 13 of the 29, and
1 has since died, leaving 15 yet to be disposed of. I have forwarded all the
testimony, together with an elaborate report, to Major General S. P. Heintzelman,
commanding Northern Department, with request that the prisoners might be tried
by military law, if consisted and expedient, and requesting early instructions
or suggestions for my further action in the premises.
It is much to be regretted that the ruling spirits and chief actors in this
treasonable insurrection have not as yet been captured. O’Hair, the sheriff of
Coles County and the ringleader of the insurgents, is not to be found; and
others who were prominent in the murderous assault have made their escape.
It is Impossible to doubt that this outbreak was premeditated and
preconcerted, and that its immediate purpose was the murder of the soldiers, to
be followed by such other movements as circumstances might warrant, and it is
this fact that gives special significance to the whole affair. The occasion was
favorable. The circuit court of Coles County, Judge Constable presiding, was to
open on Monday, the 28th of March, and Mr. Eden, member of Congress
from that district, was to make a speech. It was known that the Fifty-fourth
Regiment was about to return to the field, and that a number of soldiers
belonging to that regiment would take the cars on that day at Charleston for the
rendezvous at Mattoon. There was thus an excellent pretext for a large gathering
without exciting suspicion, while the number of soldiers would be comparatively
small and in no condition for defense.
On the appointed day the court convened. Sheriff O’Hair was present
attending to his official duties; the courthouse square was thronged with
people, including notorious secessionists from the adjoining county of Edgar,
whose sheriff is brother to the sheriff of Coles County. Mingling with the
crowd, an unarmed with one or two exceptions, were some 12 to 15 soldiers of the
Fifty-fourth, who were residents of Charleston and vicinity, quietly conversing
with their acquaintances while waiting for the train for Mattoon. Presently,
without cause of provocation, a desperado named Wells fired upon and mortally
wounded a soldier. Sheriff O’Hair instantly rushed from the court-room,
marshaled the insurgents, put himself at their head, and directed all their
subsequent moments. Every man of the assailants was found to be armed. Pistols
were drawn and fired in all directions. When these had been discharged they
rushed to wagons near by and brought forth guns and ammunition, which had been
lain concealed beneath the straw, etc. In one minute, as Colonel Mitchell
reports, 100 shots were fired and nearly every soldier was either killed or
wounded, although scattered about over the whole square; every blue coat or
brass button, without distinction, became a target for the assassin.
I think all this admits of but one solution, a deliberate plot on the leaders
to murder the soldiers of the United States. This view is confirmed by several
witness, who swear that the purpose of "cleaning out:" the soldiers
and Union men on that day had been avowed by the ringleaders several days
before, and preparations had been extensively made to execute the threat; and I
am satisfied that but for the timely action of Colonel Mitchell in ordering up
his regiment from Mattoon, and the prompt measures subsequently taken to check
the progress of the insurgents and thwart their designs, it would have proved
the beginning of an extensive and dangerous emeute in that part of the State.
I have direct personal knowledge that some at least of the gang were members
of a treasonable secret society, kindred in its character and objects with that
known as the "K. G. C.", or Knights of the Golden Circle, and I have
little doubt that the outbreak was planned and executed in great part by and
through that organization. There is also reason to apprehend that through the
same agency an extensive and formidable conspiracy is being formed against the
Government, and that it is only awaiting a fitting opportunity for developments.
It is therefore not so much on account of the intrinsic importance of these
disturbances, desperate and bloody as they were, as from a sense of their
revelation of and bearing upon future and more daring machinations against the
Government, that I am desirous that these prisoners and the leaders, should they
hereafter be taken, may be tried and (if found guilty) punished by the military
authorities. I fear it would be useless to turn them over for trial by the civil
tribunals, whether State or Federal, to whose jurisdiction they would belong.
Prompt and rigorous dealing by military law could not fail to be of salutary and
lasting effect. It is scarcely necessary to observe that many of the insurgents
were without double merely the dupes of others and were inveigled into the
scheme without apprehending or approving the real purpose of the chief
conspirators. It is proper to add that the opinion of the origin, character, and
purpose of the insurrection, herein expressed, is concurred in by every loyal
man of the counties concerned with whom I have conversed.
Herewith I have the honor to transmit the report of Colonel G. M. Mitchell,
Fifty-fourth Illinois Infantry. I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient
JAMES OAKES, Lieutenant-Colonel Fourth U. S. Cavalry\Acting Assistant
Colonel JAMES B. FRY, Provost-Marshal-General, Washington, D.C.
HDQRS. FIFTY-FOURTH ILL. INFTY. VET. VOLS.,
Mattoon, Ill., April 8, 1864
COLONEL: In pursuance of instructions from you, I have the honor to report my
proceedings during the recent disturbances in Coles County, as follows:
The furloughs granted my men having expired they were ordered to rendezvous
at Mattoon, Ill., March 28. As many of the men lived at, or would pass through,
Charleston on their way to camp, I remained there Monday to see them all on the
train and to prevent any disturbance.
Before the afternoon train left for Mattoon about 3 p.m., Nelson Wells, a
so-called captain of a company organized some 7 miles north of Charleston, whose
object in drilling was only known to themselves, commenced firing at Private
Oliver Sallee, Company C, Fifty-fourth Illinois, so far as I can learn without
the slightest provocation, lodging a ball in Salee’s breast which has since
caused his death. Sallee fell, but partially rising shot Wells dead. This was in
the court-house yard, near the west door. Immediately firing became general, the
sheriff of this county, John O’Hair, leaving his seat and taking the lead in
the attack upon the soldiers. Some 16 of my men were present on the square,
nearly all of whom were killed or wounded. Some 75 men, after firing wherever
they could see a blue coat, collected at a grove about one-quarter of a mile
from the square east of town, under the lead of the sheriff, held a
consultation, and learning the Fifty-fourth Illinois were on their way from
Mattoon, moved out in the country.
Immediately on the report of Wills’ pistol I stepped out of the west door
of the court-room, when 3 men with revolvers drawn, apparently expecting me,
commenced firing, 2 of them running by me into the room. I caught one named
Robert Winler by the wrist as he was attempting to shoot me, turning his
revolver down until he discharged all his loads.
Major Shuball York surgeon of the Fifty-fourth Illinois, was shot from behind
as he was leaving the court-room, expiring almost instantly.
The attack could not have lasted over a minute, during which one hundred
shots must have been fired, nearly all of my men being either killed or wounded.
The fact that my men, scattered as they were over the square, were instantly
shot down, and the systematic manner in which the sheriff rallied and drew off
his party, together with affidavits of reliable citizens forwarded, leaves no
room to doubt that a part of men came to Charleston armed with revolvers and
shotguns with the knowledge and consent of Sheriff O’Hair, with deliberate
intention of killing the soldiers.
As soon as the firing was over I telegraphed to Colonel Chapman at Mattoon to
bring men and guns. He arrived at 4:30 p.m. with 250 men. I immediately mounted
75 men and scoured the country in all directions, arresting several parties
implicated, and releasing Levi Freesner, private Company C, Fifty-fourth
Illinois, who was confined in a house under guard 7 miles from town. He was
arrested by Sheriff O’Hair some distance from the square while on his way to
the station to take the cars from Mattoon, and knew nothing of the affray. His
gun and accouterments have not yet been secured. As the regiment arrived in the
cout-house yard a man named John Cooper, living in this county, who had been in
town all day intoxicated, wearing a pistol in sight and swearing he came to kill
soldiers, was accosted by a patrol, but turning to run was immediately shot
down, citizens and soldiers firing without orders. Unfortunately a ball passed
through the residence of John Jenkins, citizen, wounding him and since causing
Captain Montgomery, mustering and disbursing officer, arrived from
Springfield, Ill., Tuesday morning, and examined several witnesses, instructing
me to remain at Charleston with my command until you arrived.
A company of the Invalid Corps, Lieutenant Baker commanding passing from
Paris, were detained by Captain Montgomery and ordered to report to me.
On your arrival Wednesday you instructed me to continue to arrest individuals
implicated in the murder, procure affidavits of reliable witnesses, and to keep
the peace, which has been done.
Hearing of large bodies of rioters of the country, I left Charleston with 100
mounted men at 9 p.m., April 2, proceeded south through Martinsville, to within
5 miles of Marshall, count seat of Clark County, from thence to Auburn, and
north to the Terre Haute, Alton and Saint Louis Railroad at Kansas, and thence
to Charleston, arriving at 7 p.m., April 4. I found bodies of men from 25 to 100
had been seen, but had dispersed; one squad of 16 I arrested but released. At
present all is quiet.
I forward herewith lists of killed and wounded; also lists of prisoners
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. M. MITCHELL, Colonel Fifty-fourth Ill. Vet Vol. Infty., Commanding.
Lieutenant Colonel JAMES OAKES,
Superintendent Recruiting Service, Springfield, Ill.
The following is the list of killed and wounded during the disturbance at
Killed: Major Shuball York, Fifty-fourth Illinois Infantry; Privates Oliver
Sallee and James Goodrich, Company C, and John Neer and Alfred Swin, Company G,
Fifty-fourth Illinois Infantry; Private William G. Hart, Sixty-second Illinois
Infantry; John Jenkins, citizen (loyal); Nelson Wells, citizen (sheriff’s
party); John Cooper, citizen (sheriff’s party).
Wounded: Colonel G. M. Mitchell, Fifty-fourth Illinois; Privates William H.
Decker, Company G, Landford Noyes, Company I, and George Ross, Company C,
Fifty-fourth Illinois; Citizens Thomas Jeffers, William Giolman, Young E.
Winkler, Robert Winkler, John W. Herndon, George J. Collins, and _______
Summary. – Killed: Officers, 1; soldiers, 5; citizens, 3.
Wounded: Officers, 1; soldiers, 4; citizens, 7.
List of prisoners taken in Coles County by Colonel G. M. Mitchell, and
forwarded to Mattoon, Ill., from April 1 to April 8, 1864: Jacob L. Reardon,
Benjamin F. Reardon, David Rardon, John P. Keller, Nelson O’Hair, Michael
Murphy, Miles Murphy, J. W. Murphy, James S. Hardwicke, William P. Hardwicke, S.
G. Hanks, H. P. Tichnor, James O’Hair, jr., Blueford E. Brooks, Miner
Shelborne, William C. Batty, James (Jordan?) E. Hardwicke, John Reynolds, John
T. Taylor, John F. Redmon, John W. Herndon, John Galbreath, Henry Stevens,
George Jeff Collins, James M. Houck, Aaron Bryant, Young E. Winkler.
G. M. MITCHELL, Colonel Fifty-fourth Ill. Vet. Vol. Infty.
Official Records: Pages 635, 636, 637, 638, 639, 640, 641, 642 & 643,
WAR DEPARTMENT, BUREAU OF MILITARY JUSTICE,
Washington, D. C. , July 26, 1864.
In the case of Coles County prisoners, in custody at Fort Delaware, and
charged with a murderous assault upon Union soldiers at Charleston, Ill., in
March last, I have the honor to submit the following report and summary of
The facts in regard to this striking episode of the rebellion are as follows:
For about a year before the occurrence in question there had been formed in
Coles and Edgar Counties, Ill., an organization which comprised a considerable
number of farmers and other citizens, all strongly in sympathy with the rebels.
It would seem that a portion, at least, of them were associated as "Knights
of the Golden Circle," but that which rendered their organization
formidable was its military character. They appear to have formed an irregular
regiment of companies, which met for frequent drill, which was under military
discipline, and the members of which were tolerably well armed. Between this
body and the loyal citizens there was of course a decided opposition, but it was
against the Union soldiers that their hostility was principally expressed.
Whenever they came in contact with the latter much taunting and threatening
language was interchanged, and now and then personal collision took place as in
the cases of Dukes and Toland, leaders of the "Butternuts" (as these
men were sometimes called), who are said to have been severely handled on the
part of the soldiers. Besides, however, these occasional altercations, rendered
inevitable by the disloyal conduct and utterances of these parties, they had as
yet engaged in no general outbreak.
On the afternoon of Monday, the 28th day of March last, a dozen or
15 soldiers of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Illinois Volunteers were collected
at Charleston, the county seat of Coles County, Ill., in the neighborhood of
which they resided, and from which place they were about to proceed by railroad
to Mattoon, where the regiment (which had re-enlisted as veteran volunteers) had
been ordered to rendezvous preparatory to its return to active service.
The day in questions was the one appointed for the opening of the circuit
court of the county, and it had also been given out that Honorable J. R. Eden,
who represented the district in Congress, was to deliver a speech on the same
day. A large number of persons had therefore gathered together, and had
assembled mostly in the courthouse square. Among these were distributed the
soldiers, who were generally unarmed. The court had entered upon its regular
business; the grand jury had been sworn, and had retired to its room; the
sheriff of the county, John O’Hair, who had thus far been quietly engaged in
his usual duties, was proceeding to impanel a petit jury. At this moment, about
3 p.m., a citizen named Nelson Wells, apparently without cause or excuse,
suddenly drew a pistol and shot a soldier (Oliver Sallee) of the Fifty-fourth
Regiment, who was standing near him in the square, inflicting mortal wound. In
falling, Sallee, who was armed, shot and fatally wounded his assailant.
The act of Wells was a signal for a general and evidently preconcerted
assault upon the soldiers. The latter were at once fired upon from different
directions and shot down by a large number of men armed with pistols, who, as
soon as these were discharged, hastened to their wagons, which were near at
hand, and in which had been carefully concealed guns and ammunition. With these
the firing was continued, and in a very few minutes nearly every soldier in the
square had been killed or wounded. One of the official reports sets forth that
100 shots were fired in the space of one minute, so fierce and summary was the
Meanwhile, at the first fire, Sheriff O’Hair hurried abruptly from the
court-room, placed himself at the head of the assailants, whose acknowledged
leader he at once appeared to be, directed all their movements, and himself
participated conspicuously in the murderous attack.
Meanwhile, also, the court-room had been invaded by the same band; Major
York, the surgeon of the regiment, had been assassinated and killed, and Colonel
Mitchell, of the Fifty-fourth Regiment, set upon by 3 armed men, with whom he
had a desperate struggle, from which he barely succeeded in escaping with his
All this, as has been said, occurred in a very short space of time. One
officer, 5 soldiers, and 1 loyal citizen had been killed; the colonel and 3
soldiers wounded. Of the assailants 2 were killed and 7 wounded.
When the first fury of the onslaught had expended itself Sheriff O’Hair
collected his men, who were nearly 100 in number, and presently marched them off
to a grove, about a quarter of a mile from the court-house. Here they remained
till they learned that a considerable body of troops, for which Colonel Mitchell
had at once telegraphed to Mattoon, where on the way to Charleston, where upon
they moved out into the country. With them they took 1 soldier as a prisoner.
At 4:30 o’clock 250 men of the Fifty-fourth Regiment arrived in a train
from Mattoon, 75 of whom were mounted by Colonel Mitchell. By these the country
was scoured for some distance, and in the course of the next day or two about 30
prisoners were captured. Lieutenant-Colonel Oakes, the acting assistant
provost-marshal-general of the State, also took immediately and vigorous
measures for the protection of the country, and assembled strong bodies of
troops not only at Charleston, but at Mattoon and at Paris (in Edgar County),
which places were supposed to be threatened with attack. It is principally from
the full and detailed official report of this officer that the circumstances
above narrated have been derived.
The insurgents, after leaving the scene of their crime, separated, but
assembled on the same night at a rendezvous which had been indicated by their
leaders. Thence they moved still farther south, separating as before, but
assembling from day to day at some fixed point until Saturday of the same week,
when the main body, which had become less and less, finally disbanded at a
rendezvous near the town of Martinsville, Ill. At each place of meeting the more
violent were in favor of pressing guns and ammunition, returning to Charleston,
and again making an attack upon the troops and loyal citizens. These, however,
were overruled by the majority.
In regard to this remarkable outbreak, it was quite evident at the moment,
and still more so when the evidence now presented came to be taken, that it was
the result of a preconcerted and carefully arranged plan. The parties who had
long been associated in a political and military organization, who had
frequently drilled together under their chosen leaders, who for some time had
indulged in significant threats of "cleaning out" the soldiers and
those who opposed their traitorous designs, and many of whom had been noted for
their openly avowed and bitter disloyalty, expressed even while holding civil
offices of trust and importance, were the same who assembled at Charleston on
the 28th of March with carefully-concealed weapons, and who suddenly
commenced a murderous assault upon every individual whom they saw dressed in the
uniform of the United States.
The fact that they selected for this assault a period most opportune for
their plans, when the presence of an unusual crowd would render their fathering
less suspected, and when at the same time those who were the objects of their
attack would be dispersed and disorganized; the character of their firing, which
appeared to be in a single volley or very rapid succession of shots, and which
followed instantaneously upon the given signal; the implicit obedience which
they gave to the orders of their chief, or so-called "colonel," who
would appear to have been awaiting the right moment to assume command, and whose
appearance on the scene of action was evidently expected; the manner in which
they rallied, marched off together, and held together until a dread of the
increasing force of the U.S. troops induced them to disband-all these are
circumstances which show most conclusively that this insurrection was no casual
effort of lawless men, but the act of a body of conspirators, determined to
effect, and by the most violent and summary proceedings, the overthrow of the
military authority of the Government in that region of country.
That the insurrection was not more widely extended, and did not assume more
threatening proportions, is doubtless owing to the vigorous measures taken by
Lieutenant-Colonel Oakes and Colonel Mitchell to crush it t its inception. Of
this rebellion in petty of traitors but few of the leaders were apprehended. Of
the rioters who were captured, about 30 in number, all were released but 16
little or no proof being found against the others. Of the 16 1 died, and 15
therefore remained and still remain in the hands of the military authorities.
Their names are as follow: Bryant Thornhill, George J. Collins, John F. Redomon,
G. W. Reardon, B. F. Reardon, B. E. Brooks, John Galbreath, Aaron Bryant,
John Reynolds, John T. Taylor, John W. Herndon, John W. Murphy, Michael Murphy,
Miner Shelborne, William P. Hardwicke.
In regard to these men, instructions were conveyed from this Bureau, under
date of the 27th ultimo, to Major Burnett, judge-advocate, to the
effect that their cases were triable by a military commission. It was ruled that
while they might be charged (as proposed) with "conspiring to kill soldiers
of the United States contrary to the laws and customs of war," they were
chargeable with "murder" also. "Not" (as was remarkable)
"murder in the common acceptation of the term of which, when committed by a
citizen in a State where the ordinary criminal courts are open, a military
tribunal would not have jurisdiction, but the murder of soldiers of the United
States, for the disloyal and treasonable purpose of resisting and defeating the
Government in its efforts to suppress the rebellion. Such a crime (it was aid),
when perpetrated in time of war, might well be held to be a military offense,
and, as such triable and punishable by a military court." It was added that
"the circumstances thus conferring jurisdiction should be indicated in the
charge and distinctly set forth in the specifications."
Pursuant to these instructions the trial of at least 4 of these prisoners
has, as it is understood, been entered upon at Cincinnati. These 4 are supposed
to be Thornhill, Collins, Redmon, and George W. Reardon, being the same
when were indicted by the grand jury of Coles County, the two former for riot
and the two latter for murder.
It may be added here that the grand jury ignored bills of indictment against
the other prisoners now held by the military authorities. They however, found
indictments of murder against John H. O’Hair and a number of the leaders of
the insurrection who have never been captured.
At it is understood to be the desire of the President to come to a just
conclusion in regard to the criminality of these prisoners, especially of those
who are believed to have not yet been put on trial, the mass of affidavits and
other written testimony, inclusion the sworn statements filed in their defense,
have been carefully examined. The following is a brief summary of the evidence
in all these cases, including those of the first four:
Bryant Thornhill. – Two female witness testify that at the time of the
commencement of the firing he was at the house of one of them, situated a
quarter of a mile from the court-house. They, however, I do not state that he
remained there during all the firing although they add that when he left he went
toward his home, which was in a direction opposite to the square. One of these
witnesses is the wife of Dukes, a notorious insurgent; the other her next
neighbor. There is another testimony, mostly, however, on the part of men
implicated in the riot, that he left the square just before the firing and
advised others to leave, on the ground that there was about to be a difficulty.
On the other hand, it is testified by Mullen, a soldier, that he saw Thornhill
present at the attack and engaged in firing upon the soldiers. Two others, H. N.
Turner and Robert Smith, testify that they saw him around and in company with O’Hair
and his sons, and that he assisted them in taking prisoner one Freesner, the
soldier mentioned as having been captured. One of these witnesses states that
Thornhill would have shot Freesner if his companions had not prevented him.
Lewis Hevell states that on the evening of the 28th Thornhill told
him that he was present at the assault and that he shot Jeffries (a soldier),
and saw him fall. Richard Stoddard testifies that he saw him counseling with the
leading rioters just before the firing; and B. F. Wells and W. T. Wells,
represent that they were present at a copperhead drill in June, 1863, at which
Thornhill made a speech in which he counseled resisting the draft "to the
death," and made use of highly disloyal and treasonable language. He is
spoken of as the "lieutenant-colonel" of the "Copperhead
George J. Collins, commonly called "Jeff Collins." – No evidence
whatever is submitted I behalf of this man. Several witnesses, V. K. Curg, J. A.
West, D. P. Morris, and A. N. Graham saw him present at the assault with the
other rioters. West testifies that he saw him armed and apparently in the act of
shooting at the soldiers. Morris saw him strike a soldier with a club. Graham
saw him throwing brickbats. Upon his arrest he admitted to the officer making
the arrest, as well as to Colonel Mitchell, that he three brickbats. In the riot
he was slightly wounded.
John F. Redomon. – In the defense of this party is introduced the testimony
of his brother and two of his friends, who state that they all came into
Charleston together on the day in question and returned together to their homes
at night. Two of these state that Redmon was sitting with them in the court-room
before the riot, and that he went out a little before the firing commenced.
These witnesses admit that he was armed and they were also armed with pistols.
Other witnesses say that they saw him running into the court-house, as if for
refuge, a very short time after the commencement of the firing, and that he
remained there during the firing. Between this time, however, and that of his
first leaving the court-house he is not accounted for. On the other hand, it is
testified by William Ricketts, John W. Reat, J. E. Taylor, George McNutt,
William A. Besleton, Feliz Sanders, Robert Kimball and Samuel Bowser that they
saw him present at the firing, and McNutt, Basleton, and Bowser state that they
saw him in the act of shooting at the soldiers. Basleton adds that a soldier who
was fired at by Redmon appeared to be hit, whereupon the latter exclaimed,
"By God, I got him." Bowser says that after seeing him shoot with a
pistol he saw him go to a wagon and take out a gun and shoot with that. Sanders
also saw him take the gun from the wagon and load it.
G. W. Reardon, commonly called "Wash. Reardon," and B. F. Reardon
– No affidavits are presented in behalf of either of these prisoners. The
testimony of Colonel Mitchell, George Ross (a soldier), James B. Campbell,
Charles Fleming, James F. Feeney and Samuel Bowser is to the effect that both
were present and actively engaged in the firing. The former was seen by Bowser
to shoot "several times" at soldiers. Fleming says that he had a
soldier’s coat on, and that one of the Reardons shot at him "five
times." It is fully established that one of them was one of the assailants
of Colonel Mitchell, and that the same one attempted to shoot Ross when he came
to the colonel’s assistance. The weight of the evidence is that this one was
G. W. Reardon, but Ross swears that it was the other.
B. E. Brooks. – Several witnesses, principally neighbors and friends of
this party, who were at Charleston with him on the 29th, state that
about the time the firing commenced he mounted his horse and went away peaceably
homeward with several others, and that at this time he expressed himself as
desirous to get away, since he had no arms. It is added, however, that after
riding some distance he returned to Charleston alone with the avowed purpose of
getting his saddle, which had been left behind. A large number of citizens,
principally of Hutton Township, subscribe a testimonial in which they say that
he has always been a man of good and peaceable character. Three witnesses,
however, H. G. Green, G. P. Smith, and J. B.Hutchason, state positively that
they saw him present and acting with the rioters on the occasion of the attack.
These did not see him engaged in the firing, but Smith testifies that when the
principal firing was over he saw Brooks on horseback with a revolver in his
hand, and heard him ordering or urging his associates to "go back and give
them hell." Green testifies that he saw about 30 of the insurgents
collected and formed in a line by Brooks, and that he heard him whoop, and cry
out, "Bully for you, boys’ we gave them hell this time;" and
further, that he heard him issue orders to them.
John Galbreath. – It is testified by one witness on the part of the defense
that very soon after the firing commenced he saw this man run out of the gate on
the north side of the square, mount his horse and ride away. One of his
neighbors states that he saw him at his house on the evening of the 29th,
and on the next two days; and both this witness and another (the father of the
accused) allege that they never knew him to have or carry fire-arms or to engage
in any "copperhead" drills, and that his character is that of a quiet,
peaceable man. On the other hand, Marcus Hill swears that he saw Galbreath
present during the principal firing; that the latter approached and addressed
some conversation to him, and did not leave his neighborhood till the firing was
about over. David Johnson testifies that just before the firing he saw Galbreath
run to the west door of the court-house, and heard him ask two men who were
there if they had their pistols ready; that they replied, "yes". That
two more men then joined them, and that the five then went rapidly and excitedly
to the west side of the square, where the firing commenced almost immediately
after; that when the principal part of the shooting was over, he saw Galbreath
in a line of some forty of the rioters which had been formed by their leaders
east of the court-house.
Aaron Bryant. – In behalf of this man, it is stated by a neighbor that on
the 28th, about 2 p.m. he saw him about 2 miles from Charleston,
going with a team toward the residence of one Parish, and that he informed the
witness that he was going there for oats. But another witness, who accompanied
Bryant, states that it was about 4 o’clock when the latter started for Parish’s.
Members of the Parish family say that he came to the house "as late as 4 or
5 o’clock," and remained till late in the evening. On the part of the
Government a witness, Robert Kimball, clearly identifies Bryant as having been
present at the riot and engaged in firing upon the soldiers. He says that he saw
him fire "once or more." John Gossett states that on March 23 Bryant
invited him to "join their order," and told him that they were about
to "clean out" the soldiers and union citizens. He adds that the
latter urged him to go to Charleston on or about the 28th and carry
arms with him, stating at the same time that he was then traveling about the
country on "that business."
John Reynolds. – It is testified by three witnesses that they saw this
party run out of the square at the south gate, at the commencement of the
firing, as if trying to get out of the way. One of these, however, mentions that
he was armed with a pistol. A fourth witness testifies that at the time of the
firing he met the accused outside of the town, mounted, with some 15 to 20
others, and heard him advise that they should not go into the town on account of
the shooting, which he thought was not yet over. Three other witnesses, however,
David Johnson, F. Brown, and J. B. Hutchason, testify that Reynolds was present
at or about the time of the firing, and Johnson sates that he was armed with a
pistol. Brown describes him as seen in consultation with O’Hair before the
assault, and as afterward falling into line with others under O’Hair as their
leader. He adds that he has often heard Reynolds threaten to resist and
"fight against" the draft, and to express his determination, if
drafted, to "shoot our own boys." Denry Dittimore testifies that in
riding home in company with R. on the evening of the 28th he heard
him state that he had "let one load off."
John T. Taylor. – The testimony offered on behalf of this party is quite
immaterial upon the question of his participation in the riot. One witness says
that he saw him about 4 p.m. run from the court-house square, go to his horse,
which was fastened at a little distance, and mount him and ride away. Another
states that he loaned his pistol to Taylor in the morning; and a third, that the
pistol was picked up in the square after the firing, covered with mud, with all
the barrels loaded and with the appearance of not having been discharged. On the
other hand, the prisoner is fully identified by N. L. Wyeth as having been
present at the attack. This witness says that he "saw a man by the name of
Taylor, whom we took as prisoner. He had a pistol in his hand, and seemed to be
in the act of shooting; was pointing toward the soldiers." B. F. Wells
states in his affidavit that Taylor, on being arrested by him, at first denied,
but afterward admitted, that he was in the fight, and that he had lost his
pistol there. He also made a similar admission to Colonel Mitchell.
John W. Herndon. – No testimony is offered in his defense. N. L. Wyeth
identifies him as having seen him "in the crowd with a pistol in his
hand." V. K. Curd states that he saw him in Charleston on the morning of
the 28th, in company with Collins and a number of others, who were
indulging in hostile language in regard to the soldiers. At the time of the
firing he "saw Herndon raise a pistol and fire at some person in the
court-house yard." When arrested by Wells, Herndon first denied and then
admitted that he was present at the firth, and was himself wounded there. A
similar statement was made by him to Colonel Mitchell.
John W. Murphy and Michael Murphy. – (With these prisoners was captured
also their father, miles Murphy, who died while in confinement at Camp Yates.)
In behalf of the former, it is endeavored to be shown by members of his family,
etc., that he was either at home or at a neighbor’s house during all the
afternoon of the 28th. But the witnesses do not agree in their
statements; one representing that he was at a certain house from 1 till about 5
p.m. of that day, and another that he was there only till 3 o’clock, when he
returned home and presently went to another house, and did not again return till
dusk. His mother testifies that he had no arms of any kind in his possession. In
behalf of Michael Murphy no evidence is presented. On the part of the
prosecution, it is deposed by Robert Kimball, a soldier, that he saw "one
of the Murphys" (whose first name he does not know) fire "twice"
at himself. George McNutt (a soldier) further testifies as follows: Saw three of
the Murphys engaged in the fight; one of them was Miles; the other two were his
sons. These two young Murphys had guns in their hands. I saw them draw their
guns up to their faces as in the act of shooting. They seemed to be point at me.
I was then trying to get out of their way, and could not say whether they fired
at me or not. The old man Murphy seemed to be engaged in loading the guns and
handing to others to shoot. These guns seemed to be taken out of a wagon; also
saw the old man have a pistol in his hand. Another fact which goes to establish
the participation of the Murphys in the assault is that Freesner, the soldier
who was detained as a prisoner by the insurgents, was confined under guard, on
the night of the 28th, at the Murphy house.
Miner Shelborne. – There is no testimony in regard to the active
participation of this man in the firing. On the morning of the 29th
he was captured at the house of the Murphys while engaged in guarding Freesner,
the soldier taken prisner by the insurgents. Freesner states that when going
toward the railroad station, just after the firing, he was arrested by a band of
about 20 rioters and forced to accompany them till late at night, when he was
placed under guard of Shelborne and others and confined as aforesaid. Mrs.
Murphy represents in her affidavit that when the prisoner was brought to her
house, Shelborne said that Freesner was "put in his charge till
morning," and that he "seemed to be the one in control."
William P. Hardwicke. – In behalf of this party is is represented that on
the 28th he was traveling at some distance from Charleston, on his
way from Edgar County, Ill., with a company of persons who were starting for the
Nevada gold mines; that he stayed that night at the house of one Davis; and that
early the next morning he visited the house of his uncle, Samuel Hardwicke,
which was in the neighborhood, and was there arrested; further, that he was not
at the house of the Murphys before this arrest. This testimony, however, is
somewhat confused, and Freesner testifies positively that when he was released
by the Union soldiers, early on the morning of the 29th, Hardwicke
was engaged with Shelborne in guarding him. His language is: "William
Hardwicke and Miner Shelboren were on guard when the Union soldiers came up and
took them, and released me." He adds also that James Hardwicke and Jordan
E. Hardwicke were at the house at the same time, and were arrested by the
soldiers. These two men were afterward discharged. Their relationship to the
accused is not set forth.
Upon a review of the testimony in these several cases, it seems quite clear
that all the above-named prisoners (except the two last) were implicated in the
murderous assault which has been detailed, and it is urged that all of them
(with these exceptions) be forthwith brought to trial upon the charges mentioned
in the letter of instructions from this office of the 27th ultimo.
It is not merely because these men have engaged in murder, assassination,
riot, and brutal assault that their prosecution before a military tribunal is
thus urged. It is because they have conspired to aim a most deadly blow at the
supremacy of the Government at a time when it is engaged in a struggle for its
life, and when the villainy of the traitor at home is as fatal as keenly felt as
the hostility of the open enemy in the field. Their crime was not committed
against individuals merely, but directly against the military authority of the
nation, and whether viewed as a domestic insurrection en rapport with the
rebellion, or as a vindictive and treasonable assault upon the soldiery to whom
the suppression of that rebellion is entrusted, their act must be regarded as
one of the momentous public importance, and in the fullest sense a great
Moreover, it is to be remarked that these prisoners have been for four months
in confinement, and that a writ of habeas corpus, issue by the U. S. circuit
court, requiring them to be delivered up to the civil authorities, has been
disregarded, and the prisoners retained in the hands of the military by the
express order of the President. The Government would seem, therefore, to have
committed itself to a prompt and special adjudication of their cases as those of
offenders against military law.
In regard to Shelborne, it may be said that testimony other than that at
present submitted may probably be obtained by the judge-advocate, to the effect
that his man personally participated in the riot, but in the absence of such
evidence both he and Hardwicke may be brought to trial upon a separate charge of
violation of the laws of war in illegally imprisoning a soldier of the United
It remains only to add that, though many of the more prominent actors in this
bloody revolt have thus far escaped, they should be deemed as public enemies,
and if the capture of any of them be hereafter consummated by the military
authorities, that they should be brought to immediately trial with a view to
their summary punishment in case of conviction by a military court.
The names of those alluded to are as follows: John H. O’Hair, James O’Hair,
Jessee O’Hair, Henderson O’Hair, B. F. Toland, Ellsbury Hanks, Benjamin
Dukes, B. F. Williams, John Frazier, Robert McLain, Robert Winkler, Alexander
Rodgers, Calvin Rice, Joseph Carter.
With these may also be included as present and concerned with the foregoing
in the assault and riot: Young E. Winkler, G. W. Toland, George Thomas, Dick
Robinson, Harry Ray, John Cooper, James Houck., _______ Wetherall.
A. A. HOSMER, Major and Acting Judge-Advocate-General
To his Excellency A. LINCOLN, President of the United States.
Official Records: Page 950, Volume 120
From: Report on the Activities of the Knights of the Golden Circle to E. M.
Stanton, Secretary of War, dated October 8, 1864
.....In this connection may be recalled the wholesale assassination of Union
soldiers by members of the order (Knights of the Golden Circle) and their
confederates at Charleston, Ill., in March last, in regard to which, as a
startling episode of the rebellion, a full report was addressed from this office
to the President, under date of July 26 last. This concerted murderous assault
upon a scattered body of men, mostly unarmed, apparently designed for the mere
purpose of destroying as many lives of Union soldiers as possible, is a forcible
illustration of the utter malignity and depravity which characterize the members
of this order in their zeal to commend themselves as allies to their
fellow-conspirators at the South. .....
J. Holt, Judge-Advocate General.
Official Records: Page 643, Chapter XLIVNOVEMBER 4, 1864
Let these prisoners be sent back to Coles County, Ill., those indicted be
surrendered to the sheriff of said county, and the others be discharged.
November 5, 1864
Referred to the Adjutant-General to cause the execution of the order of the
President. By order of the Secretary of Ware:
C. A. DANA, Assistant Secretary of War.
Official Records: Page 677, Chapter LI
Headquarters District of Illinois
Springfield, Ill., November 6, 1864
Lieutenant W. B. Feely, Charleston, Ill.:
Transfer all troops at Charleston to Paris, Edgar County, with ten days’
rations, and report for duty to Captain Fithian, provost-marshal, Seventh
District, without any delay.
By order of Brigadier-General Cook:
B. F. Smith, Captain and Assistant Adjutant-General.
Official Records: Page 762, Chapter LI
Springfield, November 12, 1864
Lieutenant W. B. Feely, Paris, Ill.:
Proceed immediately to Shelbyville and obtain from Department Provost-Marshal
Murdock all the facts in relation to contemplated attack upon pay car by sixty
bushwhackers, said to be six miles south of Windsor. The robbery is to take
place between Mattoon and Shelbyville. Having elicited all the facts, proceed
with your command and capture the gang. Report particulars.
John Cook, Brigadier-General, Commanding.
The Charleston Riot – Illinois State Historical Marker
Location: Public Square, Charleston, Coles County, Illinois
Erected: January 1, 1977 by the Coles County Historical Society and the
Illinois State Historical Society.
"On March 28, 1864, a gunfight erupted here between Union soldiers and
Civil War opponents known as ‘Copperheads’. In eastern Illinois, many
Democrats were pro-southern while the Republicans were uniformly pro-Union.
Disturbances had occurred earlier in the area, and Copperheads had been killed
in Mattoon and Paris. In March, 1863, at Charleston there had been a highly
controversial trial of Union deserters. On the day of the riot a large crowd had
gathered here for a Democratic rally. Union soldiers were in town on leave.
Drinking and fighting led to gunfire. Nine men killed and twelve wounded before
troops arrived from Mattoon and quelled the disturbance."