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posted: 3/23/2014 5:30 AM

Tours, re-enactments mark 150th anniversary of Charleston Riot

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  • A drawing captures the bloody 1864 clash in eastern Illinois that became known as the Charleston Riot.

      A drawing captures the bloody 1864 clash in eastern Illinois that became known as the Charleston Riot.
    Courtesy of Charleston Riot Committee

  • A marker commemorates the deadly 1864 clash between Union Soldiers and those known as Copperheads in Charleston, Ill. Events are planned to mark the 150th anniversary.

      A marker commemorates the deadly 1864 clash between Union Soldiers and those known as Copperheads in Charleston, Ill. Events are planned to mark the 150th anniversary.
    Courtesy of Charleston Riot Committee

  • Charleston is marking the 150th anniversary of the Charleston Riot with events both serious and light, including a Looking for Lincoln's Hat promotion.

      Charleston is marking the 150th anniversary of the Charleston Riot with events both serious and light, including a Looking for Lincoln's Hat promotion.
    Courtesy of Charleston Riot Committee

  • Civil War artifacts will be on display during the three-day event recalling 1864's Charleston Riot.

      Civil War artifacts will be on display during the three-day event recalling 1864's Charleston Riot.
    Courtesy of Charleston Riot Committee

  • Tours for the 150th anniversary of the Charleston Riot include the Charleston Courthouse.

      Tours for the 150th anniversary of the Charleston Riot include the Charleston Courthouse.
    Courtesy of Charleston Riot Committee

 
By Samantha Nelson
Daily Herald Correspondent

Illinois is known as the Land of Lincoln, but during the Civil War support for the president and abolitionism was far from universal throughout the state.

"We tend to think of Illinois as a straight Union state, but it wasn't that at all," said William Furry, executive director of the Illinois State Historical Society. "It was fairly evenly divided."

Illinois never saw any battles during the Civil War, but it did see bloodshed. On March 28, 1864, in the eastern Illinois city of Charleston, a rally of Democrats, many of whom were pro-Southern, clashed with Union soldiers who had returned home on leave.

"Illinois never had a draft, but they did put out a call for volunteers, so people who went to war were all volunteers and the people who didn't felt like they didn't have to or were appalled by it," Furry said. "When those people got together in Charleston in 1864, the scene was very volatile."

Gunfire erupted during a drunken brawl between soldiers and Confederate sympathizers, known as Copperheads. Nine men were killed and 12 more were wounded in what became known as the Charleston Riot.

"There's a lot of people who believe that the Civil War was a black and white event, the South against the North," Furry said. "But it was more fractious than that. It wasn't just in Charleston. Charleston was just where the fire broke out. There were other places where there were arguments and unrest."

After five years of planning, the Illinois State Historical Society is marking the 150th anniversary of the event with a symposium on Thursday and Friday, March 27-28, that will bring together scholars from around the country who have studied Copperheads and war riots.

"All these people are coming together to talk about the events that led up to the riot and the political climate that was in place and the bits of unrest, anarchy and inflammatory events that were happening at that time," Furry said.

The city is also marking the event with a full schedule of activities kicking off with a wreath laying at the site of the Charleston Riot marker at 3 p.m. Friday, March 28. The event also features a re-enacting of the riot, historical presentations throughout the downtown area, interpreters taking on the roles of Civil War generals and Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and displays of Civil War and Charleston Riot artifacts.

There will be food and craft vendors, an old-time medicine show, tours of historic houses and the Charleston Courthouse, live music, book signings and a dedication of a marker where General Ulysses S. Grant mustered troops going off to war.

"I would recommend that students come out along with Civil War aficionados and people who are interested in what Illinois might have looked like in 1864 from a political standpoint," Furry said.

Furry also said that visitors can learn lessons about civil rights conflicts today from understanding the fact that Illinois -- though home of the president known as "the Great Empancipator" -- was still divided during the Civil War.

"Freedom and emancipation and equal rights was a long continuum and it's still a struggle every day," he said.

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