Ohio History Journal

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Newspapers in Battle: The Dayton

Empire and the Dayton Journal

During the Civil War


Throughout the Civil War, as Union armies fought and bled,

Northern newspapers opposing and supporting the Lincoln adminis-

tration engaged in a war of words that sometimes triggered violence on

the home front. Especially in the Middle West the Peace Democrats, or

Copperheads as these ultra-conservative Democrats came to be known,

employed the press for a continuing assault on Lincoln and his

policies.1 Damning the administration as a military despotism that had

illegally used coercion to stay secession and that was suppressing civil

liberties in the guise of patriotism were editors of such copperhead

organs as the Chicago Times, the Detroit Free Press and the Indiana-

polis State Sentinel.2 Calling the Copperheads traitors and defending

the administration were editors of numerous Republican journals-the

Chicago Tribune, the Cincinnati Commercial and the Indianapolis





Carl M. Becker is Professor of History at Wright State University.


1. Because Republicans believed or wanted voters to believe that the Peace Demo-

crats were traitors, they began early in the war to label them as Copperheads to denote

snake-like qualities. Copperheads would sometimes identify themselves as such by

wearing on their lapel an Indian head cut from a copper penny. Another term used to

describe Copperheads was "Butternut." More specifically, it referred to poor farmers in

the border states and in the southern parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois who colored

their outer garments with the brown dye of the butternut, the fruit of the white walnut

tree, and who were usually Peace Democrats. For the origin of the use of "Butternut"

and "Copperhead," see Albert Matthews, "Origin of Butternut and Copperhead,"

Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, XX (1918), 205-37.

2. The best account of the activities of Copperhead editors in the Middle West and of

the Copperhead movement there is Frank L. Klement, The Copperheads in the Middle

West (Chicago, 1960). Also useful is Frank L. Klement, The Limits of Dissent: Clement

L. Vallandigham and the Civil War (Lexington, Kentucky, 1970). For studies of

newspapers and journalists during the Civil War, see Louis Starr, Bohemian Brigade

(New York, 1954); Bernard Weisberger, Reporters for the Union (Boston, 1953); and

Robert S. Harper, The Ohio Press in the Civil War (Columbus, 1961). More general

studies worth consulting are Frank L. Mott, American Journalism (New York, 1950) and

Edwin Emery, The Press and America (Englewood Cliffs, 1954).