Ohio History Journal

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Vallandigham's Arrest and the

1863 Dayton Riot--Two Letters




A noteworthy political event of 1863 was the arrest and subsequent exile of

Clement Laird Vallandigham. A former Democratic United States Representative

from Dayton and one of the most eloquent speakers in the North, Vallandigham

was Ohio's leading Peace Democrat. He sincerely believed that the Confederacy

could not be subdued by force, and, although he never advocated permanent sep-

aration of the North and South, his speeches were so critical of Lincoln and the

President's conduct of the Civil War that he became a traitor in Unionist eyes.

Early 1863 was a time of mounting peace sentiment in Ohio. In the spring

there were several instances of draft resistance, and both Copperhead and Unionist

newspaper editors often found their offices ransacked by opponents. Vallandigham

capitalized on the growing tensions and spoke frequently denouncing military rule

and the curtailment of civil liberties.1

To Vallandigham, the loss of civil liberties was one of the worst aspects of the

war. In the spring of 1863 he selected as his special target of attack General Am-

brose E. Burnside who had challenged his point of view. Not long after the Gen-

eral had established his headquarters in Cincinnati on March 16, he learned of

apparent dangerous Copperhead activities in his district. In an effort to counteract

what he considered to be treason, the military commander issued General Order

No. 38, which stated that spies and traitors would be arrested, brought to trial,

and if convicted, sentenced to death. The order further announced that the "habit

of declaring sympathies for the enemy" would not be permitted; individuals con-

victed of this offence would be imprisoned or exiled to the South. Treason, added

the General, "expressed or implied, will not be tolerated."2

Carl Sandburg has suggested that the harshness of the language of the order

was due to Burnside's "chronic diarrhea," and Ophia Smith has speculated that

Burnside issued the order not only to trap Vallandigham but also to facilitate the

arrest; of Lottie Moon Clark, a Confederate spy operating in Ohio, who had jilted

the General at the altar several years before. Perhaps more plausible than either



1. Eugene H. Roseboom, The Civil War Era, 1850-1873 (Carl Wittke, ed., The History of the State

of Ohio, Columbus, 1944), IV, 402, 404-408, 411-413.

2. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate

Armies (Washington, 1899), Series 2, V, 480.


Mr. Shankman is a doctoral candidate at Emory University.