A look back: Newspaper takes shot at Copperheads

News-DemocratApril 12, 2014 

EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IS PART OF A SERIES OF OCCASIONAL COLUMNS THAT WILL APPEAR ON BELLEVILLE'S HISTORY IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE CITY'S BICENTENNIAL CELEBRATION.

Although the North did win the Civil War, it wasn't an easy struggle.

And not everyone in the North thought there should even be a war. Some of them formed the Copperhead Party, campaigning for a settlement with the South. Loyalty was a contentious issue.

The Copperheads were termed that because loyal Northerners said they were traitors who attacked with no warning like the snakes they were named after. The Copperheads, meanwhile, adopted the symbol of Liberty from the copper penny of the time.

The division was reflected in the Belleville newspapers even when it was obvious the North was going to win.

As late as September 1864, the Republican newspaper Belleville Daily Advocate was railing against anyone still opposed to the war, including the Belleville Democrat newspaper.

"Every Union man has long been aware that the northern Copperheads hate the Federal soldiers with all the venom of a reptile nature," the newspaper wrote in an article describing the humiliation of a local Copperhead.

"On Saturday last a notorious Copperhead (but good Democrat), Michael Miller, living on Turkey Hill, came to the city and seeing the stars and stripes in almost every window in honor of the arrival of the Ninth Illinois Regiment, enquired what it meant. On being informed, he uttered some highly offensive remarks about the soldiers, and expressed a very indelicate wish in regard to the flag."

His demonstration of his feelings were passed from mouth to mouth and some soldiers in town wanted to straighten him out. Miller, apparently realizing he might have spoken rashly, had snuck out of town, the newspaper said. But his pursuers didn't give up.

"The boys procured a wagon early Monday morning and securing a beautiful United States flag, proceeded to the residence of Mr. Miller, and requested him to nail the same to the top of his house," the paper wrote.

Miller protested he was too old for the climb so some of the boys did it for him, the newspaper wrote.

"He was advised not to remove it until it rotted down," the paper wrote.

The boys then asked him to go back to town with them and although he supposedly offered them $100 just to leave, they insisted he come.

In town, "... all the soldiers around were treated by their good friend Mr. Miller, the Democrat, at the expense of $25. The boys express themselves highly gratified at Mr. Miller's generosity and there is good reason to hope that he will give up his Copperheadism and become a truly loyal man," the paper concluded.

In another short note, the newspaper noted the death of a local German newspaper. "Daily Volksblatt Defunct -- This Democratic luminary has given up the ghost. It died of Copperheadism on the brain."

This next short article has nothing to do with Copperheads but it showed that even civilians in the North, far from the war, were in danger.

"Bad accident -- As a veteran was fitting a cap to his gun, in the grocery of Nicholas Spanagel, at Illinoistown, on Wednesday evening, the piece went off, the ball striking the head of another soldier, and passing to a boy, the son of a Mr. Koester, going through the body and into another boy, son of Widow Brady -- causing death to all three."

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service