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Burning the Journal Office

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, December 14, 1930



Burning the Journal Office

By Howard Burba


     If you are of the opinion that presidents of the United States who served their country when it was engaged in war had nothing to contend with, a little dip into history would quickly disabuse your mind.

     You need go back only a dozen years to learn that tremendous pressure was brought to bear upon Woodrow Wilson to force him out of the path of duty and to make the latter days of his life miserable and unhappy.  The World War, indirectly, killed Woodrow Wilson.

     Turn back the pages of our military history just a bit farther, to the Spanish-American war, and there is proof conclusive that William McKinley never had a happy moment from the first cry of “Embalmed beef!” until he fell before an assassin’s bullet in the city of Buffalo.

     But if you want to find out beyond all possibility of doubt what our war presidents have had to contend with, read everything you can get your hands on about Abraham Lincoln’s administration.  And if you seek proof of a local nature, go no further than the wartime files of your own Dayton newspapers.

     Dayton was a hotbed of political discontent during the Civil War.  It was a seething cauldron of administration opposition that boiled over more than once, and in the boiling brought bloodshed and carnage to stain the downtown streets.  The burning of an “Abolitionist” newspaper was one chapter in Dayton’s Civil War activities; the murder of a “copperhead” editor was another.  And only the Lord knows what also would have been recorded had not Abraham Lincoln planted his foot on the neck of pacifism and, after arrest and court martial of the chief offender, placed the city under martial law.

     In the early years of the Civil War this congressional district had as its representative one Clement L. Vallandigham, with whose political history most every Miami Valley resident is familiar.  It is not the purpose of this article to review that history.  But it is necessary to point out that Vallandigham was the foremost pro-Southerner in the middle west; a bitter enemy of the administration of Abraham Lincoln and a violent opponent of its policies.  Early in the war his fiery words stamped him as a radical of the worst stripe, yet one whose brilliance served as a magnet to draw and held a following of no mean proportions.

     The war had progressed to the early months of the year 1863 with no untoward event in Dayton.  Street fights were common among “abolitionists” and “copperheads;” openly-voiced sentiment against the war was common; but no bloodshed of consequence had been recorded locally up to that time.  Military atrocities had their eyes on Dayton.  They realized that since it was Vallandigham’s home, and since he seemed bent upon inciting his followers to open hostility, that sooner or later it was going to be necessary to handle Dayton with an iron hand.  And the time for doing so came, in reality, a little sooner than expected.

     Down on Main st., in a building that stood across the alley from the old Phillips House, and on the present site of a five and ten store, Lewis Marot was publishing The Dayton Journal.  Espousing the political principles of Lincoln and his party; it naturally sought to shield the administration against the bitter denunciation of Vallandigham and his followers, nor did it hesitate to stamp them as “copper heads” and disloyalists, enemies of the Union and corruptionists of the most violent type.  Marot wielded a vitriolic pen.  Fear was not a part of his makeup.

     Over in another part of town William T. Logan was directing the destinies of another daily paper, The Empire.  It supported Vallandigham and opposed the Lincoln administration.  And in the matter of hurling invectives at “the enemy,” Editor Logan easily held his own with his editorial opponent on Main st.

     Passing over events growing out of bitter and personal journalistic activities in the early days of 1863, we come to the morning of Monday, May 4, of that year.  Rumors were flying about the city to the effect that Gen. Burnside had been ordered to squelch Vallandigham, who for weeks had been traveling about the state as the Democratic candidate for governor, and bitterly denouncing the president and his followers, as well as openly opposing a further prosecution of the war.  On that historic Monday afternoon The Empire appeared with an editorial headed “In Great Trouble.”  In it Logan said:

     “The Journal is seriously troubled about Mr. Vallandigham’s growing popularity with the people.  It don’t know what to do about it.  The fact that he made a speech in Columbus and denounced the order of Gen. Burnside and has not been arrested for it is gall and wormwood to the cringing, fawning conductors of that concern.  They can’t understand how a man dare express the constitutional rights of free speech, even in the face of arbitrary and despotic military orders.

     “If the editor of The Journal had been in Columbus and seen the immense meeting which Mr. Vallandigham addressed; if he had been in Mt. Vernon the day after the Columbus meeting and witnessed the devoted enthusiasm of 20,000 Democrats there assembled, and again at Somerset when Mr. Vallandigham spoke to 10,000, he would doubtless be somewhat more confounded than he now seems to be.  It may add to his consternation somewhat to learn that Mr. Vallandigham has appointments to speak in various other places of the state, and has received, and is daily receiving, numbers of invitations which he finds it impossible to accept.  Isn’t it astonishing how popular such a ‘venemous copperhead’ is with the people?  And yet Burnside won’t arrest him.  No wonder Abolitionists are frightened.  They are about to lose their opportunities for public plunder.  But they are making the most of the little time they have left.”

     That fiery editorial appears to have lent new courage to those battling for what later was to prove a lost cause.  For that very night bricks were thrown through the windows of The Journal office, and police found it necessary to disperse a mob of considerable proportions that had gathered in the vicinity of Main and Third.

     Then something happened that history doesn’t record.  The Empire failed to make its appearance on the streets the following day.  Nor did it appear until almost four months later.

     But that night, doubtless incensed over the loss of a press that had openly and fearlessly denounced the abolition of slavery, and learning that Gen. Burnside had at last determined to strike a knock-out blow against the opponents of Lincoln’s policies in this city, another mob, larger and more determined than the one of the previous night, assembled in front of The Journal office.  This time it was not to be thwarted in its designs.  Using pieces of steel piping gathered from the old Globe Iron Works, and with brick enough to pave a street, it charged on the newspaper office, wrecking it completely.  Then the torch was applied.  And as flames mounted high and the sky was reddened so as to be visible for miles around—Burnside’s men were marching into Dayton to complete the night’s work—to arrest Vallandigham.

     The mob dispersed.  Its work had been accomplished, and Dayton was without a daily paper.  That is why hundreds of citizens, upon arising the following morning did not know that a detachment of soldiers had visited the Vallandigham home, read to him the military warrant for his arrest, and spirited him out of town before the mob could be reassembled and offer opposition.

     On the day following the fire, The Journal appeared in leaflet form, a sheet nine by 12 inches in size, devoid of advertising but firm in its announcement that out of the ashes would arise a still stronger exponent of Lincoln policies.  In one corner we find these significant words:

     “The city last night was very quiet and scarcely any pedestrians were out on the streets after 10 o’clock.  Bayonets are dong the work.”

     In another column Editor Morat said:

     “Nothing has yet been said in print which discloses to the public the turpitude of the municipal authorities of the city in connection with the acts of the gang of villains who mobbed and burned the buildings on Main street Tuesday night.  The whole truth should be spoken, and if there is any law, civil or military, which will reach these officials, it should be applied to them as well as to the ruffians who committed robbery, attempted murder and applied the torch.  As to the fact that the outrages committed on Monday night were the result of a preconceived plan, a conspiracy in which robbery, arson and murder were the prominent objects, is not to be questioned.  That the city authorities, from the mayor to the night-watch, with scarce and exception, knew beforehand just what was intended, is not to be questioned.  They were one and all, if not directly engaged in stimulating the ruffians to their infamous work, accessories before the fact to every deed of violence which was committed.

     “To see such officers displaced by military rule is a great relief.  (Dayton had been placed under martial law following the arrest of Vallandigham).  To have martial law in the place of such law as was enforced by these authorities is a public blessing.  Dayton has been at the mercy of a mob for months, without the assurance that even the influence, let alone the power of the city officials, would be exercised to protect it from such scenes as were enacted on Tuesday night.”

     While Capt. Hatton, of Gen. Burnside’s staff, remained in charge of the militia here, and a proclamation of martial law still stared Dayton citizens boldly in the eye from scores of telegraph posts in the downtown district, Vallandigham was under close military guard at Cincinnati.  Two days after his arrest he was led before a military court, and this charge read to him:

      “Publicly expressing in violation of General Order No. 38, from Headquarters Dept. of the Ohio, sympathy for those in arms against the government of the United States, 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.

     “That on about May 1, at Mt. Vernon he did declare the present war ‘ A wicked, cruel and unnecessary war; A war not being waged for the preservation of the Union; A war for the purpose of crushing our liberty and erecting a despotism; A war for the freedom of the blacks and enslavement of the whites; stating that ‘If the administration had so wished the war could have been honorably terminated months ago,’ that ‘peace might have been honorably obtained by listening to the proposed intermediation of France,’ that ‘propositions by which the northern states could be won back and the South guaranteed their rights under the constitution had been rejected the day before the late battle of Fredericksburg by Lincoln and his minions,’ meaning thereby the President of the United States and those under him in authority, charging that “the government of the United States were about to appoint military marshals in every district to restrain the people of their liberties, to deprive them of their rights and privileges,’ and by saying of General Order No. 38 ‘the sooner the people inform the minions of usurped power that they will not submit to such restrictions upon their liberties the better; I am at all times resolved to do what I can to defeat the attempts now being made to build up a monarchy on the ruins of our free government.’”

     Having refused to plead either guilty or not guilty to the charge, the military commission went into secret conference and brought froth this historic finding:

     “And the commission do therefore sentence him, the said Clement L. Vallandigham, a citizen of the state of Ohio, to be placed in close confinement in some fortress of the United States to be designated by the commanding officers of this Department, there to be kept during the continuance of the war.”

      How Vallandigham was escorted below military lines; how he was later transferred to a military prison; how he was carried on a neutral ship to a Canadian port and how he lived the subsequent days of his life is a part of local history that will bear another reading.  For there is no chapter in all of the history of the great struggle between the states more colorful, more thrilling or more pathetic than this.

     Coincidental with the publication by the little leaflet, still struggling to get on its feet and again be a real newspaper, with the banishment of Vallandigham to a point beyond the lines of “the enemy,” there appeared, under date of May 12, 1863, a legal notice advertising for sale by Master Commissioner N. E. Jordan, “all of the materials, presses and machinery of all kinds lately used in the printing and publishing of a newspaper known as The Empire.”  It was the obituary notice, so to speak, of Logan’s paper.  As the fire had for the moment left the “abolitionists” without an official organ, so had the sheriff robbed the “copperheads” of similar defense.

     With all immediate renewal of hostilities precluded by the steady tramp of militiamen, Dayton settled down to a season of whispering.  None of her bitterness had disappeared with the loss of either her newspapers or her distinguished political figure.  There was, far below the surface, an undercurrent of discontent even more pronounced than before.  There had been rioting, fighting, carnage and bitterness such as her citizens had never known.  But there had been no bloodshed.  That, however, was not long to be avoided.  It had to come.

     And come it did within a very short time when a new editor of a new Democratic paper—but still bearing “The Empire” as its title—was shot to death in cold blood.

     And that event will be detailed on this page at an early date.