Journal-News , Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2002
Hamilton railroad era began in September 1851
By Jim Blount
As the calendar turned from August to September in 1851, Hamiltonians were anticipating a major change in their lifestyle and the city's economy. The final spikes were being driven in the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad, the first to operate in Butler County.
The Sept. 18, 1851, opening came after years of planning, engineering, struggling to secure financing, legal battles for right-of-way and obtaining scarce track and rolling stock.
For more than 20 years, the quickest way to travel or carry goods between either Hamilton and Cincinnati, or Hamilton and Dayton, had been over the Miami-Erie Canal. With a state-mandated speed limit of four miles an hour, the canal trip to either city was seven hours, at best. The alternative, a stagecoach, took 14 hours to cover the same distances, if it was able to maintain its published schedule.
The railroad's plan to deliver Hamilton passengers and freight to Cincinnati and Dayton in about an hour promised a dramatic change.
Henry S. Earhart, a local civil engineer, is credited with proposing a railroad into Hamilton. He soon had many allies in the venture. Dec. 9, 1835, representatives from Hamilton, Rossville (later merger into Hamilton), Dayton, Middletown, Miamisburg, Franklin and Monroe met in Hamilton to discuss the possibility of building a railroad between Cincinnati and Dayton.
The Cincinnati & Hamilton Railroad was incorporated by the Ohio General Assembly March 2, 1846. Three years later, March 15, 1849, the legislature completed revisions and renamed the company the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad.
Robert M. Shoemaker, an experienced railroad builder, was hired that year to construct the CH&D. He had been the chief engineer in building two early Ohio lines, the Mad River & Lake Erie and the Little Miami railroads. His credentials helped convince investors, local and national, to support the project.
Original backers from Butler County included Woods, William Bebb, Lewis D. Campbell, John W. Erwin, E. R. Ruder, Charles K. Smith, Aaron L. Schenck, Francis J. Titus, Abner Enoch, Dr. Andrew Campbell, Samuel Dick, George W. Wren, Solomon Banker, John W. Millikin, Alex P. Miller, O. S. Campbell, Samuel Snively, William Hunter, Sigismund Wurmser, O. S. Caldwell, Taylor Webster and James McBride. Cyrus Falconer and William Beckett were among those who donated Hamilton land to the railroad.
Those prominent Hamilton and Middletown men were joined by business and civic leaders from Hamilton, Warren and Montgomery counties in promoting the venture.
Critical roles were those of William Bebb, Ohio's governor 1846-1849; John Woods, state auditor 1845-1851; Rep. Lewis D. Campbell, in the U. S. Congress; and Stephen S. L'Hommedieu, a Cincinnati banker and publisher. Their personal, professional and political influence helped to convince New York bankers and investors that the CH&D deserved their financial support.
By 1849, a total of $3 million in capital had been raised for the 60-mile CH&D. "It was notable among the railroad enterprises of that decade," said a railroad historian, because it was built without state financial aid. "All in all, as clean and as quick a bit of financing as the land had ever known, and almost without a parallel in railroad history," wrote Edward Hungerford.
A thousand men were hired to clear and grade the route between Cincinnati and Hamilton. The first order of rails (6,000 tons at $35 a ton) had to be imported from England.. After the rails arrived in New Orleans, they were hauled to Cincinnati on steamboats.
Hamilton celebrated the arrival of the first ceremonial train Sept. 18, 1851. Hamilton had another celebration five days later when regular service began. That day, about 2,000 visitors came to Hamilton, then a city of 3,210 people, to welcome the CH&D.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2002
Civil War dissenter counted on Butler County voters
By Jim Blount
Subversion, spying and terrorism in Hamilton? Or citizens exercising their constitutional rights to criticize the U. S. government and support political candidates who would change objectionable policies and actions? Those questions -- with national repercussions -- were hotly debated in Butler County during the Civil War.
In the center of the controversy was Clement Laird Vallandigham, whose congressional district included Butler County. His district also covered neighboring Montgomery and Preble counties, but it was Butler County that powered Vallandigham's political career.
The leading dissenter during the Civil War resided in Dayton, but the outspoken Democrat won his most enthusiastic voter support in Butler County, particularly in Hamilton.
In 1861 and 1862, President Abraham Lincoln's severest critic had the advantage of airing his views on the floor of the U. S. House of Representatives. He enjoyed this protected forum from 1858 to 1863 -- thanks to lopsided backing from Butler County Democrats.
In 1852 Vallandigham challenged Hamiltonian Lewis D. Campbell, the incumbent, for the U. S. House seat. In the three-county district, Campbell won by only 147 votes. They also squared off in 1854, when the Hamilton lawyer coasted by a margin of 2,565.
In 1856, Vallandigham closed the gap, losing by just 19 votes. He challenged that result and succeeded. May 25, 1858, the House voted to remove Campbell and seat Vallandigham.
In the 1858 and 1860 elections he won by slim margins of 178 and 133 votes, respectively, as both contests followed the same pattern.
In 1858, Campbell had an 886-vote lead after votes in Preble and Montgomery counties were counted. That was offset by Vallandigham's 1,064-vote surplus in Butler County.
In 1860, a new opponent, Sam Craighead of Dayton, had a surplus of 1,102 after the tallies in Preble and Montgomery, but Vallandigham's Butler surplus totaled 1,215 votes.
Republicans, who controlled state reapportionment, decided the only way to remove Vallandigham was to revamp the district. The GOP gerrymandered Preble County out of the district and added Warren County. Preble County had a balance of Democrats and Republicans. GOP voters dominated Warren County, offsetting the Democrat majority in Butler County.
Vallandigham's 1862 opponent was a native of Franklin and a war veteran, Major-General Robert C. Schenck, who won by 600 votes.
Vallandigham's term ended March 3, 1863, denying him congressional immunity when speaking. Without that shield, his verbal attacks on Lincoln and the war effort would cause him trouble.
The 42-year-old Dayton lawyer, with gubernatorial aspirations, launched a speaking tour that included a Hamilton stop. At the courthouse, Vallandigham criticized Lincoln and military leaders, charging them with violating the constitutional rights of Ohio and Indiana residents.
By then, he was the undisputed leader of the Copperheads -- the derogatory name given people who opposed continuing the war. Many of them favored a negotiated peace with the seceded Confederate states. Their reasons for opposing Lincoln war policies and actions varied.
Some advocated state rights and believed the government was overstepping constitutional limits in trying to force seceded states to rejoin the union. Some professed more loyalty to their region or state than to the national government. Some believed Ohio and neighboring states were being exploited by Eastern capitalists, including railroad owners, and that the war would increase their financial control over the Midwest.
Others opposed the zeal of the abolitionists (anti-slavery advocates) and blamed them for leading the nation into a needless Civil War and unfortunate bloodshed. Some disgruntled Democrats believed the war was part of a Republican conspiracy to consolidate the party's newly-won political control. Others opposed the war for religious reasons, including Quakers and Mennonites. A few Copperheads were outright southern sympathizers.
Vallandigham and his Copperhead supporters -- many of them Butler County citizens -- brought national attention to Hamilton in 1863 and 1864. Those controversial events, which raised critical legal questions, will be covered in future columns.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2002
War protests led to arrest of former congressman
By Jim Blount
A former congressional -- whose political power had been based in Butler County -- was thrown into prison in 1863 for expressing his opinion. Clement L. Vallandigham -- an ardent critic of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War -- had lost the protection of congressional immunity when his third term in Washington ended March 3, 1863.
He continued his attacks on administration war policies when he returned to Ohio, including a speech at the Butler County Courthouse in Hamilton. He asserted that the president and military leaders had trampled on the constitutional rights of Ohio and Indiana residents.
From the start of the Civil War in 1861, Vallandigham had been the national spokesman for those branded as Copperheads -- people who opposed the way the war was being waged, including the suspension of habeas corpus and other civil rights for civilians.
April 13, 1863, in reaction to such speeches, Major-General Ambrose E. Burnside in Cincinnati issued General Order No. 38. It said the "habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy" would not be tolerated in Burnside's Department of the Ohio. Violators, Burnside warned, would be subject to military arrest and military procedures.
Vallandigham knowingly tested the edict May 1 in Mount Vernon, Ohio, speaking at a Knox County Democratic Party rally. Union army officers were present to record his statements and report them to Burnside.
May 4, without consulting his superiors in Washington, Burnside ordered 100 soldiers sent to Dayton on a special train on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad. They surrounded Vallandigham's Dayton home shortly after 2 a.m. May 5. Their prisoner was hauled to Cincinnati to face a military tribunal instead of a civilian court.
He was charged with "publicly expressing . . . sympathy for those in arms against the government . . . and declaring disloyal sentiments and opinions with the object and purpose of weakening the power of the government in its efforts to suppress an unlawful rebellion."
A two-day trial ended May 7 with a guilty verdict. Burnside sentenced the dissident to imprisonment in Fort Warren in Boston harbor for the remainder of the war. But Lincoln realized that Vallandigham was already a hero to some citizens, and sending him to prison would make him a martyr.
May 19, 1863, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton notified Burnside that "the president directs that without delay you send C. L. Vallandigham under secure guard to the headquarters of General Rosecrans to be put by him beyond our military lines and that in case of his return within our lines he be arrested and kept in close custody for the term specified in his sentence."
Lincoln's order was carried out May 25. Vallandigham was ushered into Confederate lines near Murfreesboro, Tenn.
The arrest, trial and exile of the Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate was called "the most atrocious outrage ever perpetrated in any civilized land" by Dr. John McElwee, editor of the Hamilton Telegraph. That sharp criticism would lead to the arrest of the Hamilton editor.
Lincoln was mistaken if he believed the Confederacy would welcome the Copperhead leader. Southern leaders wanted no part of him. Instead, the exiled Ohioan soon found his way to Canada, first to Niagara July 15 and a month later to Windsor -- opposite Detroit. From there, he was accessible to political friends in Ohio.
From Windsor, he also waged an uphill fight to win the governor's office in Ohio. His setback in the 1863 election didn't end Vallandigham's political aspirations. He would be back in 1864, seeking an even higher office.
The Dayton resident, who had won three elections to Congress with overwhelming support in Butler County, would bring the national spotlight to Hamilton during his 1864 campaign. It also would threaten the city with a terrorist attack, according to government intelligence. That story will be covered in a future column.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2002
Nation's political spotlight on Hamilton in June 1864
By Jim Blount
National leaders focused their eyes and ears on Hamilton June 15, 1864, while the armies of Generals William T. Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant battered their way toward Atlanta, Ga., and Richmond, Va., respectively. Civil War military officers -- thirsty for details of what would happen here that Wednesday -- sent secret agents and detectives to spy on the political event at the Butler County Courthouse.
The attraction was the Third Ohio Congressional District convention of the Democratic Party. The key person -- who was supposed to be in "exile" in Windsor, Ontario -- was Clement L. Vallandigham, a former congressman whose political power base had been in Butler County.
It was a presidential election year, and a likely scenario had the Dayton lawyer winning the Democratic nomination and facing Abraham Lincoln, or his replacement, in the fall vote.
The district convention, said an army officer, "will no doubt go far to influence his final decision," meaning Vallandigham's candidacy. "It is intended," said Colonel John P. Sanderson, "as the opening demonstration of the peace party of the country, and to put in shape and form the objects and purposes it has in view."
As provost marshal-general in St. Louis, Sanderson directed operatives who spied on civilians in the Midwest. Sanderson and colleagues believed the Hamilton meeting of national importance, not just a district convention. He sent William Thorpe -- officially listed as a stenographer, not a spy -- to report on the June 15 event.
"I expected that should it be known who I was reporting this convention for, the members would deny me admittance," Thorpe said later. "So I determined to act as volunteer correspondent of the Chicago Times, and in that character appear before the convention, concealing the other part of my business." By posing as a reporter, he assumed he wouldn't be conspicuous as he copied speeches verbatim.
That may have been a reasonable cover, but the choice of newspaper betrayed Thorpe. The Chicago Times was the Copperhead newspaper with the largest circulation. Many attending the convention not only read the paper, but were familiar with its writers and editor.
Later, another political spy confirmed to Sanderson that Thorpe's cover didn't fool anyone in Hamilton.
Thorpe learned startling information that morning, but he had no way of relaying it to Sanderson in St. Louis, or any military official. He had been informed that Vallandigham would speak at the afternoon session.
May 25, 1863, the Copperhead leader had been sent through the Union lines in Tennessee into the Confederacy, exiled on orders of President Lincoln. Later, he went to Canada.
In defiance of Lincoln, four respected Hamilton men had brought the presidential hopeful from Windsor to Hamilton, via the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad.
That afternoon Thorpe watched as Vallandigham was chosen unanimously as a district delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. "While other delegates were being chosen," Thorpe wrote, "a loud shouting and cheering was heard outside the building." It was the response to Vallandigham's arrival.
Immediately, the crowd became too large for the room and the convention moved to the courthouse yard to accommodate those who wanted to hear Vallandigham.
After the speech, Thorpe went to the CH&D telegraph office to inform Sanderson, Gov. John Brough in Columbus and others of Vallandigham's defiant return. He also watched as Vallandigham boarded a northbound train to Dayton, his residence.
Lincoln finally settled the debate over what to do with Vallandigham, ordering that he be ignored. It worked. The Copperhead leader faded from the limelight and failed to win his party's presidential nomination.
Who engineered Vallandigham's defiant trip to Hamilton? What would have happened if authorities had tried to arrest him? Those questions are the basis for a future column.