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The Day They Mobbed the Empire Office


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on May 16, 1937
by Howard Burba
     Dayton was a hard town to live in back in the days when the nation was engaged in its first and only Civil War.  From the day the first gun cracked at Fort Sumper until Lee handed Grant his sword, it was a hotbed of “Secessionists” and was the scene of more serious rioting and mob violence than is recorded in the history of any community north of the Mason-Dixon line.
     Then, too, there were few towns in which the daily newspapers were as militant, as vindictive and as free in the doctrine of “might makes right” as characterized the sheets published here during that period.  You couldn’t find in a hard week’s drive editors as bitter in personal invective and as unswerving in party loyalty as the little handful who guided the destinies of Dayton’s wartime journals through four or five years of constant wrangling, bitter bickering, riots, arson and actual assassination.   Dayton suffered all those things—riot, arson and actual assassination—during the years of the Civil War.
     The story of how an angry mob of “Copperheads,” as the secessionists, or Democrats, were then called, sacked and burned the office of the old Morning Journal, has been told on these pages.  So has the story of how Editor Bollmeyer, of the Democratic organ, The Empire, was shot down in cold blood by an over-zealous Abolitionist, as the Republicans were then styled.  With the torch and the revolver writing two tragic chapters into the town’s history it would seem that its citizenry would have been content to “call it a day” and sign some sort of armistice for the remainder of the war.  But they didn’t.  They followed up these two red-letter events by staging still another, and a third riot, and one in which blood flowed in the street, personal property was demolished and the grave closed over one victim.
     It is this third riot and loss of human life, the mobbing of The Empire newspaper plant, of which I now want to tell you, a chapter not heretofore told in graphic detail, yet the one which makes complete on these pages the tragic tale of Dayton’s long siege of hot-blooded activities during the days of the war between the states.
     Dayton was, politically, a Democratic town at the time the Civil War broke out, one of the very few to be found north of the Ohio river.  And those were the days when men took their politics seriously, when they were quick to seize upon any affront to their party principles as a strictly personal affair.  It must be remembered that it was likewise the home of Clement L. Vallandigham, whom history records as the most rabid secessionist leader residing on northern soil up to and during the actual progress of hostilities.  He kept the Democratic party solidified; he kept it fighting mad; he was in a large way responsible for the fact that during the Civil War period Dayton was governed by a Democratic mayor and Montgomery co. by a Democratic sheriff.
     There were two daily papers published here at the outbreak of the war.  The Morning Journal having long espoused the principles of the Union, later Republican party.  The Empire, launched in 1844 by Smith & Munn and later the property of Vallindigham & Munn, voicing the doctrine of the Democrat forces.  Vallandigham edited the paper from 1847 to 1849, after which it passed through many hands, coming into the control of I. R. Kelly & Co. in 1855.  These owners employed J. F. Bollmeyer as editor, and it was during his stewardship that it assumed a militant spirit and took its stand most decidedly against the doctrine of slavery abolition.  Bollmeyer encountered strong opposition to his editorial policies shortly after the war broke out, and in the year 1862, while walking along Second st. between Main and Jefferson, with market basket on arm, he was accosted and shot to death by H. N. Brown, an over-zealous advocate of President Lincoln’s administration.
     With Bollmeyer dead, William T. Logan assumed the editorship and began tossing an even more inflammable type of editorial material on the fire.  Farther down Main st. W.F. Comly was blasting away from the Journal’s editorial tripod, and as a result of this blast and Vallandigham’s arrest at the order of Gen. Burnside, the storm broke.  Angered to a point where it looked for awhile as though Dayton were going to stage a little civil war of her own, supporters of Vallandigham and his doctrine marched on the night of May 5, 1863, to the Journal office, applied the torch and burned it to the ground.
     But the Democrats didn’t get away with that second tragic chapter as easily as the opposition had escaped with the slaying of Bollmeyer.  A few days after the fire Logan, The Empire editor, was arrested and threats made to destroy that plant unless the paper was discontinued.  So Logan went to court a prisoner and The Empire was silenced.
     Along about this time the Journal housed in new quarters and reorganized, brought on as its editor a fiery young writer who, as war correspondent of the old Cincinnati Commercial, had attained wide fame.  His name was Wm. D. Bickham, and he brought to the Journal a new and more polished type of war-time editorial skin-lifting than this old town had known.  With the embers of the burned Journal office having ceased to smoulder but a few weeks before, Bickham proceeded to rally the Republican forces and enthuse them with new vim and vigor.  In August of the same year the Hubbard Brothers acquired the plant of The Empire, revived it and started in where Logan had left off.
     The year 1864 dawned with both editors, Bickham and Hubbard, firing daily broadsides into each other’s camps.  Vallandigham was still a fugitive, having escaped into Canada, but he was in close touch with local political affairs and still constantly defended and applauded by the Empire.  So matters drifted on until Thursday, March 3, 1864.  And that date marked the third Civil War riot in Dayton and the mobbing of The Empire office.  In a copy of the paper appearing on the following day we read these details:
     “At about half past twelve o’clock yesterday while we were sitting wholly unarmed and alone in the job room of The Empire office, a gang of some fifteen or twenty soldiers, together with a few individuals in citizens dress, rushed into the room and began the work of destroying the job type and other materials in the room.  A rush was made for our person by one or two of the ruffians with the exclamation: G— d--n him, go for him.”
     “As we endeavored to escape through the window, we were seized and firmly held.  Mr. Thomas Hubbard, who was upstairs in the news room, unarmed likewise, came down on hearing the noise, and fighting his way through the crowd struck the fellow who had hold of us, which enabled us to escape, and then he, jumping down the stairs on the heads of the gang who thronged it, got out of the front door.  In a few minutes nearly all the type in the room was scattered in a promiscuous profusion on the floor, trampled upon and nearly ruined.  The stove was seized, and the upper portion of it thrown recklessly through the window, at the risk of killing one or more of the crowd below.  The coals were thus scattered on the floor and it was with some effort that the building was saved from burning.  These are the simple facts, up to this stage of the riot.
     “It would be difficult for human ingenuity to devise a more malignantly false history of subsequent events than that given in this morning’s Journal.
     “While we concede whatever credit is due to individual Republicans, for their efforts to suppress the infamous disturbance and restore order, we distinctly brand as a lie the assertion made in a big headline of the Journal that “The Riot Was Quelled by Union Citizens.”  It was quelled by the Democratic city authorities, a Democratic sheriff and the Democratic people, with the aid of a few deserving Republicans, while it was obvious to everybody from the speech and general demeanor on the streets of hundreds of Republicans, that Capt. Badger told the truth when he said that he had abundance of backing in his party.
     “Capt. Badger was permitted to harangue citizens and soldiers in a violent and inflammatory speech, and was allowed to go through with it, notwithstanding the presence of the provost marshal.  The conduct of this man, in the mild language of the Journal, was ‘reprehensible!’  Addressing a mob in the midst of their frenzy, justifying what had been done of violence and outrage, and proclaiming that he was backed by official authority, and by public sentiment, in what he said, and in what had been done, elicits from that master of vile language and dirty epithets, who edits the Journal, nothing severer than that his conduct was reprehensible!
     “It was this assemblage, gathered together by this man, who made the ‘reprehensible’ address, which caused the death and wounds which concluded the scenes of the day.  But for this meeting, it is not probable that a single shot would have been fired.
     “Mr. Corwin’s address is paraded in the Journal with the design that the imputations it contains shall go to the world in mitigation of the outrages of yesterday.  So far from having abused Mr. Corwin, we may be pardoned for our ignorance of the existence of any such a man in the city.  His losses and his wrongs, as well as his name, are first brought to our notice in the Journal.  This is enough to say concerning his speech.
     “It is a new thing in this country, that the common practice of an audience in making side remarks during the delivery of a speech, ‘fires with fury’ persons who chance to hear it, and is held as justification of a deadly assault, in overpowering numbers, upon the individuals who make it.  Yet such is the purport of what the Journal has to say on this head.
     “The sheriff, the mayor and the police did all that it was possible to do, not only to disperse the mob but to prevent the retaliation which was natural and which, but for the energy of those authorities, would have been inevitable.  And yet, it is said with the utmost reluctance, that the Journal accords to Mayor Gillespie and the rest the merit of performing their duty.
     It is said by the Journal that ‘a good police might have nipped the riot in the bud.’  This, like all the rest of the Journal’s, statements, is false.  The police had no notice of the conspiracy, and could have had none.  It required but a very few moments to do the damage that was done in our office, and after that was done, the riot was no longer in the bud.  It was already full-blown.
     “The soldiers have had no abuse from The Empire.  This the Journal well knows, although it asserts the contrary.  Even now we blame the soldiers in this riot not half so much as those who incited them by lying misrepresentations, to do what they did. Of this the Journal has purposely and maliciously done its full share.
     “The loss to our office is very considerable.  A large quantity of type is ruined.  Our books were torn and scattered and we cannot yet say what portion of them will be saved.”
     The mob, having completed its work at The Empire office, marched down Main st. a little distance to the courthouse, and there some fiery speeches were indulged in, chief among the speakers being Capt. N. D. Badger of the local militia.  The Empire reported his speech in these words:
     “Fellow Citizen’s (hiccup) by the Great God and Resurrector of everybody, I swear I am responsible for all this.  (Cheers.)  God d---you, I led the whole thing.  These men are under my control, (Cheers.)  And I am responsible.  (Cheers.)  God d--- you, 200 average veterans such as we are are worth 1000 citizens.  (Cheers.)  There is no line of distinction between the administration and the government (cheers) and I tell you by God if any action is taken against me and my men here the city of Dayton shall suffer.”
     And appended to that burst of oratory The Empire editor ironically carried the line so familiar in newspaper offices of that day:
     “Dayton Journal ‘please copy!”
     Following the speeches another sortie was made on The Empire office.  But this time members of the mob encountered resistance.  Democrats had hurried to the newspaper plant with the first alarm, and by the time the mob got back a goodly number of them were guarding the building and openly defying the mob to repeat their attack.  Among the defenders was E. C. Maxwell.  He drew a revolver and threatened to shoot if the rioters persisted in coming closer.  Brick and stone struck him and glanced into the crowd back of him.  Believing his life to be in danger Maxwell fired point-blank at the mob.
     In a flash pistols were slipping from many pockets and a regular fusillade was on.  When the smoke of battle died away the mob was in retreat, but several of their number were lying wounded on the street and along the curbstone in front of The Empire office.  One man, Daniel Carle, was dead; another, Julius Ogier, was believed to be mortally wounded, though he later recovered.  More that a dozen were nursing flesh wounds.  But the Democrats held their line of battle and won a signal victory.
     Next day, in the same issue in which an account of the rioting appeared we find this explanation from the pen of The Empire’s editor:
     “The editor of The Journal can now contemplate, from a view on a small scale, the probable consequences of the incendiary teachings of his paper.  How does he like it?  How do the citizens of Dayton like it?  How does it please the business men of the flourishing and prospering capital of the Miami valley?
     “The person directly responsible for the riot is Capt. Badger.  The person chiefly guilty is the editor who fanned the flames, and those citizens of Dayton who secretly instigated the difficulty.
     “Capt. Badger and his 15 men were drunk.  What of it?  Did they not start out to get drunk in order to screw their courage up to the sticking point?  Did not Capt. Badger proclaim at the court house steps when speaking to his crowd that he was backed by responsible men who would stand between them and harm?  He did.  He said more-that he was requested by citizens to do what he was doing.  It is very true that a number of our Republican citizens in the absence of the Democracy at their places of work, did interfere at our office, and we give these gentlemen full credit for their respect for law and order.  We may mention the Mr. E. W. Davies, Mr. E. S. Young and Mr. McDaniels, whom we recognized as being particularly prominent in condemning and resisting the outrage.  They behaved well and manfully, and in these times that is a great deal.
     “But the great mass of the party stood round snickering until the gallant boys of the Democracy assembled, when their delight was suddenly changed to fear.  Nothing but the suddenness and the unexpected nature of the attack permitted the squad to do even the damage they did succeed in accomplishing. It was not long before the Democracy were assembled in sufficient force to protect themselves and us.
     “Whether the riot was quelled at the courthouse is a question of great doubt.  But certainly when the soldiers made a mob for Mr. Maxwell, in the presence of his friends, they ought to have understood that that meant war, and would be met as such.  We say emphatically and distinctly, that although the Democracy stood their ground when the assailants were coming up, they did not fire until the first shot came from the opposite side.  Then they did let fly with a vengeance, and a general scatteration was the result.  The misfortune was that at this time Badger was not near the scene of danger.
     “We would inquire of the Journal who, subsequent to the mob, among the prominent Republicans of this city publicly drank with Capt. Badger at one of our drinking saloons.  How many were present at the social gathering?  How much did they disapprove of this conduct? And we finally ask, how much does the incendiary editor of the Journal deprecate it?  Very much, or only a little, just to satisfy the show of decency?
     “One of the parties prominent in the affair is Jules Ogier, of the 11th Ohio, who was a leader.  He has made several demonstrations before upon other persons, not of a peaceable nature.  He is badly wounded.  His fate may be a warning.
     “We congratulate the Democracy upon their firm and noble stand in defense of themselves and their rights.  We congratulate the city that her authorities, notwithstanding the threats of resistance and rescue, promptly arrested the ringleader and such of his party as could be found.
     “Let us do no one injustice.  When speaking of soldiers in this article, we mean only those who participated in the riot.  They numbered 15 in all.  There were in town, not less than 150, not one of whom lent any aid, countenance nor assistance to their drunken comrades, but sullenly stood aloof.  Some of them offered their assistance as special policemen to the mayor and were accepted.
     “This is Dayton’s third riot.  Shall we have some more, or will business men and those interested have a change in tactics?”
    “At The Journal office no rust was gathering on the Bickham editorial pen, as witness this shot on the day following the outbreak:
     “For the information of those readers who may not be familiar with the fact, it is appropriate to explain that from time immemorial certain professional courtesies have always obtained among newspaper publishers, even in the heat of the most bitter political controversies.  Among these are the offer of assistance to a contemporary in extraordinary trouble.
     “Understanding that The Empire office had been destroyed by a mob, believing in the propriety of the custom alluded to above, animated by a spirit of courtesy which any gentleman will appreciate, and being desirous, our sense of disapprobation of the violation of public order by a mob, which from the nature of things, was calculated to implicate the Union party—however unjustly—we offered the facilities of The Journal establishment to the proprietors of The Empire.  We cast pearls before swine, but we maintained our self-respect.
     “In addition, we desire to call attention of the fact—which all readers of The Journal have observed, that we have scrupulously avoided all mention of the Dayton Empire.  From the date the present proprietor took control of The Journal he resolved, after mature deliberation and from sufficient consideration, to avoid all recognition, editorially, of that establishment.  On the day succeeding the resumption of its publication after its suspension, we mentioned incidentally, as an item of news and as a matter of common courtesy, that it had reappeared.  Further, when advertisements have been passed over our counter for the Journal, with request for The Empire to ‘copy;’ we have uniformly declined, preferring to send the copy by a messenger.  Until it was mobbed, its name was not mentioned by us.
     “Therefore all charges, implications or imputations whatever, coming from the source to which we allude and tending to involve the Journal in any way whatever with the troubles or misfortunes of the Dayton Empire are altogether baseless.  We have not specified its conduct which infuriated the solders, nor have we done aught to justify such charges by any but the most vicious and reckless Copperheads and so far from having sought to excite or instigate soldiers of others to disorder, we have steadfastly and vehemently denounced mobism on all occasions.
     “But our readers will understand distinctly from these remarks that we do not offer one word in palliation or excuse of anything we may have said in these columns.  We always endeavor to weigh what we have to say to the public according to the subject treated, and we do not often find reason for retraction.
     “Finally.  The occurrences of Thursday compelled us to depart from our resolution—that no provocation should drive us to mention The Dayton Empire in our editorial columns.  After this date we shall resume the course already so amply justified, and will not again mention The Empire unless public duty requires it of us.”
     News of the riot found its way to various parts of the country and in due course of time editorial comment concerning it began to appear.  In The Cincinnati Enquirer appeared these words, following a detailed account of the trouble:
     “Although the leader of the men in the mob assumed entire responsibility for the act it is not hard to see behind him the real authors.  These soldiers have derived their information of The Empire from the misrepresentations of the Abolitionist leaders, and were undoubtedly instigated by them to the commission of an act that the latter were too cowardly themselves to perform.”
In its issue of Tuesday following the riot The Empire issued the following warning:
     “As the train on the Dayton and Michigan road neared the depot last night a musket was fired from a car—supposed to have been aimed at Messrs. Clark, Stafford and Colhaus, as the ball passed close to them.  The headlight revealed to the would-be assassin as they were walking quietly along the street together.”
     And one day later we scan the editorial column to ascertain if there is any indication of a new outbreak to read this typical Empire comment:
            “THE FUTURE OF DAYTON!
     The reputation of our city abroad is getting to be of an undesirable character.  Whose fault is it?  Who shot Editor Bollmeyer down in the streets in cold blood?  And why was he murdered?  The answer is in everybody’s mouth at once.  Who maliciously entered Vallandigham’s house at the dead hour of night, when all honest men were asleep, and feloniously carried him away from his wife and child?  And why was he thus carried away?
     The answers to both these questions are plain.  Democracy was Bollmeyer’s crime.  An Abolitionist shot him dead, returning to his family with his market basket on his arm.  That was the beginning of the first riot.  Was the author of it punished? What was the verdict of an Abolition jury in Miami co?
     “Democracy of the staunchest kind was Vallandigham’s crime and the brutal Burnside ordered his arrest.  The circumstances and surroundings of that arrest would have justified a revolution and in a less conservative country it would certainly have produced one.  Who was the author of the difficulties that followed upon his seizure?  The Abolitionists who instigated it and the miserable lunatic who ordered it.
     “The last and most recent disturbance came upon the Democracy like the other two, with the suddenness of a thunder-clap in a clear sky.  It was totally unexpected.  It was begun and carried out by Abolitionists.  The Democracy did nothing more than act on the defensive.
     “Is it not time for the business men of the city of Dayton and all property holders, and of all lovers of law and order, to begin to open their eyes?  If they prize the prosperity and safety of Dayton they will pause and reflect on what has happened the last year.  It is not to be expected that the Democracy can be trampled upon and fail to resist.  The spirit and the power of resistance to transgressions upon their rights is growing stronger and more powerful every day.  Their opponents ought to have the good sense to see and appreciate that fact, and to treat them accordingly.  We say this in warning.  The people must have their equal rights in a free government!”
     And that just about concluded the dark chapter in Dayton history, so far as newspaper comment was concerned.  It developed, as time marched on, that this was a riot to end riots in Dayton.  At least we find none subsequently reported as a result of Civil War agitation or high political blood pressure.
     President Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation.  Lee handed over his sword to Grant.  Dayton newspaper editors tempered their language to conform to the new era of peace and dignity.  And riots and arson and assassinations in Dayton became a thing of the past.