This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on December 21, 1930
The Murder of a Dayton Editor
by Howard Burba
Insofar as the American people as a whole were concerned, the Civil War was looked upon as a war to preserve the union. But as Daytonians of the early years of the ’sixties appeared to define it, it was a war between the Republicans and the Democrats.
Historians have for a hundred years done a half-hearted job of recording the actual history of this community. They have been content to tell us that a man named Van Cleve and another one named Symmes and still another whose name the city now bears were first and foremost is putting the place on the map. But they have, in merely rewriting each other’s frazzled anecdotes, neglected to tell who kept it on the map—and how.
There has been no good or sufficient reason for this. Dayton history is, save for the petty thefts of a lot of these so-called historians, set down in black and white in the files of early newspapers to be found at the public library. Any seeking to acquaint himself with actual events in the early life of the community need only register a request and these volumes are at his disposal. And to anyone seeking the most interesting chapters in Dayton’s history we have this sound advice—throw away every thing purporting to be a history of Dayton and go on over to the library and get it from early newspaper files.
It is next impossible for a historian to avoid partisanship, and that largely explains why the story of those hectic days of the Civil War has never been fully, or truthfully, told. That is why it has been left for this generation to find out for itself that Dayton was a hotbed of Secessionists and a fertile pasture for axe-grinding Abolitionists. That it went through riotous scenes not exceeded in violence and brutality by any other community in America. The fact that she has long since lived it down warrants the truth at this late date, and in all the days to come. And truth is that throughout the entire course of the Civil War Dayton was, borrowing from present-day language, one hell of a town.
There was no particular individual responsible for this. They can’t blame it upon the fact that this happened to be Vallandigham’s home, and that he was the recognized high priest of Copperheadism west of the Alleghenies. There were a few Abolitionists in Dayton as bitter, as determined, as iconoclastic as Vallandigham, but they went about spreading their doctrine for hate in a different way. We can, possibly, attribute it to the fact that in political sentiment, the community was pretty evenly divided. It was pretty much of a fifty-fifty proposition as to the man-power between the Whigs, later the Republican party, and the Democrats.
Then, too, a great deal of it can be carried directly to the doorstep of the “gentlemen of the press” of that period. It was a day of personal journalism; a day when ability to abuse overshadowed whatever desire there may have been to argue. Dayton boasted two daily papers at the opening of the Civil War—The Journal and The Empire. And scarcely had Fort Sumpter been fired upon until the editor of these two rival sheets were engaged in firing at each other. Since daily papers were few and far between, and correspondingly hard to obtain, the average citizen read one and only one—and accepted its doctrines literally. The Whig soon found himself wholeheartedly agreed with the opinions of the editor of his paper; the Democrat considered everything that appeared in the organ of his political party as nearly correct as the Scriptures.
That was the condition in Dayton at the opening of the war. Each succeeding day found the two papers drawing a deeper dividing line in the ranks of local citizenship. And that citizenship was pretty well drawn up in battle formation when a young printer by the name of J. F. Bollmeyer came in from Cleveland early in 1862 and hung up his hat in the editorial office of the Empire. The paper was owned by I. R. Kelly & Co., and was printed on the east side of Main st. near First.
Bollmeyer’s style of writing fitted right in with that of Louis Marot, who was editing the Whig organ on down the street. Abusive, arrogant, actually hateful in the presentation of their views, these two editors were at each other’s throat, figurately speaking, from the moment Bollmeyer reached Dayton. It was to all appearances a race to see which could say the meanest things about the other’s political supporters, with each one holding his own. Bollmeyer quickly became popular in the community, and while he insisted on several occasions that quiet threats were being made against his publication by enemies of Clement Vallandigham, he also insisted from time to time that he was fighting a just cause and that no power on earth could weaken him in his support of the principles for which both he and Vallandigham stood.
Early on the morning of Saturday, November 1, 1862, Bollmeyer, as was his custom, took a basket on his arm and proceeded to do his weekly marketing. He had finished and, basket well ladened with provisions, he was making his way along Second st. When near Jefferson, and in front of a boarding house conducted by a Mrs. Stutsman, he was accosted by one Henry M. Brown, an ardent exponent of Lincoln principles and a personal admirer of the editor of the Republican paper.
“I’m told that you have seen fit to denounce my son and to claim that he killed your dog. I also understand that you have declared him to be a member of a gang of boys that have been ringing your doorbell and disturbing your family,” Brown said in opening the conversation.
Placing his foot upon a horse block at the curb, and setting his basket on his knee, Bollmeyer answered:
“There must be some mistake, Mr. Brown. We have been annoyed by a crowd of boys, but___”
“And you avused me, too,” insisted Brown, “in last night’s paper.
“I did not; you have been misinformed,” replied the editor.
“You’re a damned liar,” hotly retorted Brown. And then he revealed the real motive behind his challenge when he added: “You are a damned traitor and a secessionist--and I’m going to kill you!”
Brown drew a revolver as Bollmeyer stooped to place his basket on the sidewalk. As he straightened and saw the revolver he walked a step or two toward Brown, with hands upraised, and said: “Don’t shoot, Henry, don’t shoot, you don’t understand—”
Another moment and the editor was writhing in his own blood, while his assassin calmly walked away. F. P. Cuppy was there and overheard the conversation, and saw the shooting. In a few seconds he was joined by Christian G. Breene and S. C. Crumbaugh. Someone called for a physician and Dr. Jewett responded. But Bollmeyer was dead when he arrived.
It was the spark that touched off almost two years of fast accumulating political gunpowder. Word flew thick and fast about the town that Bollmeyer had been murdered in cold blood by a leader in the Abolitionists’ ranks. At no time since war was declared had Dayton assumed such a stage of violence. Every man who could find a revolver shoved it into his pocket and sallied forth with a chip on his shoulder.
Night came, and with it a new chapter of horror. A considerable number of Bollmeyer’s supporters assembled in front of The empire office and, forcing a door they dragged fort a cannon that had been stored there for use in political celebrations. They dragged it to the county jail, Brown having been placed in a cell shortly after the shooting. They stormed the jail, insisting that unless Brown was delivered into their hands they would bombard the building.
The mayor, sheriff and police worked manfully to quiet the maddened rioters. The special guards, thrown about the jail earlier in the day, were powerless to restore quiet and, under a battery of brick and stones they were forced to seek shelter inside. Before retreating, however, they fired openly into the crowd, three men being struck by the flying bullets, but none seriously injured.
The officials finally succeeded in persuading the rioters to disband under promise that Brown would be immediately brought to trial. In a way they made good that promise, a grand jury being impaneled on the following Monday. It consisted of these citizens, whose descendants still are quite numerous here: Theo. Smith, Michael Kinsel, John Dilly, George Swartzel, Jonathan Spohn, John Zeller, William Gilliam, John Foutz, John C. Watkins, Jesse Wogaman, Samuel Arnold, Henry Lesher, Samuel Hummel, Solomon Price and Nicholas Viot.
On the same day that the grand jury returned an indictment charging murder, and while the town still was under the watchful eye of a detachment of soldiers that arrived from Cincinnati shortly after the mob had dispersed on Saturday night, the body of Bollmeyer was carried to the Lutheran church on Main st., for funeral services. The Empire, stated in its account of the last rites over its ill-fated editor that it was the largest funeral, in point of attendance, in the history of Dayton. More than 150 carriages were in line while hundreds of citizens walked on foot behind the hearse as it wended its way down Main and out Warren st. to Woodland. The cortege had reached the cemetery long before the last of the mourners had left the church downtown.
From the report of the funeral we take this significant note:
“One of the most notable features of the cortege was the honor shown to the deceased by the military companies comprised of Regular and Volunteer soldiers under command of Capt. Wolf and Lieut. McClure, who were filed on either side of the procession as it passed Warren st., and with reversed arms and most respectful attitude, paid the highest military compliment to the dead. It was one of the most impressive and exquisite marks of respect we ever saw bestowed upon mortal remains.” A little farther on, in another column, an interesting sidelight is printed under the heading “To the Editor,” tending as it does to show that the bitterness and partisanship of the populace was not buried with Bollmeyer’s body. It reads:
“TO THE EDITOR:--The Editor of the Journal is not satisfied with the precious blood that is already spilled. It would have had the mayor and police shoot down on Saturday the citizens who permitted themselves to be carried away by their intense feelings into a mob that was very large and composed of respectable men. The mayor and his friends having quelled the mob by their influence, and without the spilling of more blood, our peace-loving (?) Republicans now cry out for prosecutions. Having preached and practiced mobs for 18 months with impunity, for political opinions merely, it is very late in the day for these men to ask the law against men who had such wonderful and terrible provocation as the friends of Bollmeyer had. The Democrats have borne all they intend to bear. A word to the wise.
With Bollmeyer’s blood still staining the street, and victory at the front perching first on the Union banner and then on the flag of the Confederacy, bitterness grew, street fights were frequent and the editorial columns of The Empire and The Journal were running streams of editorial gore. William T. Logan succeeded Bollmeyer as editor of the Empire and on Nov. 19, three weeks after the assassination, we find this evidence of his determination to take up where his predecessor had left off:
“Since the late demonstration in this city in attempting to forcibly take Brown from the officers of the law, The Journal has changed its base of operations and just now affects a dislike to mob law. What a great pity it could not see it in the same light when Abolitionists resorted to it for the destruction of Democratic printing offices. It then thought it a pretty good way to crush out its political opponents, and not one word of condemnation or approval did it utter in denunciation of the mobbing of Democrats. It has never called for the arrest and punishment of the men who mobbed a Democratic printing office in Lebanon, Ohio, and another in Canton, Ohio. Until the Journal does this we have no confidence in its conversion.”
So it went on during the closing days of 1862, and the birth of a new year brought little peace and less good will insofar as Dayton was concerned. Scarcely had the green got back in the trees until The Journal fell victim to the hatred it had engendered by its inflammatory utterances. The story of its destruction by fire at the hands of a mob on May 4, 1863, was told on this page a week ago.
The breach was not narrowed any by that event, nor by the fact that close on its heels the editor of The Empire was arrested and his paper suppressed. And then, from May until August of that year the Democrats were without an official organ. The Journal managed to get back on its feet, and its rebirth following the fire brought to the city a fresh contender for editorial recognition. Maj. W. D. Bickham came on to take over the paper, and he brought with him the same fighting spirit that had characterized his predecessor.
“We shall never succeed in the war until we hang the traitors at home” became the slogan that divided party lines still more sharply, as the year waned and a newer and more hopeful page was turned. Hopeful because striking successes had been registered by Union forces at the front. Already it was apparent that the struggle could not be prolonged. The south was on her knees. Her hope hung by one slender thread, and that thread was Robert E. Lee.
The Empire had been acquired by the Hubbard Brothers, its press freed of the rust that had developed through long months of idleness. From the masthead floated the articles of ownership and the declaration of principles—a renewal of the pledge to fight for state rights and against abolition to the bitter end.
On Thursday, May 5, an article in the Empire referring to the 63rd Regiment gave offense to the Abolitionists. They misconstrued its meaning. Or at least resented its implications, to the point where once more the political pot boiled over. A mob of about 200 furloughed soldiers, many of them excited by liquor, gathered at the Empire office, forced their way into the plant and set about wrecking it. They attacked the Hubbards, engaging them in a spirited struggle, and while they fought valiantly to protect their lives and property, they were forced, through sheer exhaustion, to give ground. The mob departed from the newspaper plant, but not until they had smashed type stands and machinery and scattered the contents of the type cases over the floor and street.
Calls were made for Capt. Badger, of the 44th O. V. L., and he was quick to answer. In fact, the historian who is anxious to get all the truth into his work would quickly discover the hand of Capt. Badger back of the entire proceedings. The captain had lingered a little longer than usual at the flowing bowl and when he mounted the courthouse steps to address the mob it was to use such vehement language as to cause even The Journal, organ of his own cause, to resort to a liberal use of dashes in reporting his address.
Here is the preface to the address, as reported word for word in The Journal of the following day:
“By the great God and resurrection of every body (hiccup) I swear I am responsible for all this. I led the whole __ __ thing. These men were under my control__”
And so he continued, each declaration carrying a new and additional note of bitterness. Again incited to a high pitch the mob surged back up Main st. to the Empire office. But Democratic supporters of the Hubbards had by this time assembled, and there was an open clash. Outnumbered, however, the Democrats were forced to retreat into nearby stores and offices—all save one man, a staunch supporter of Vallandigham, a man named E. C. Maxwell. He stood his ground and pistol in hand, denounced the leaders of the mob. Only when stones and missles of various descriptions were hurled his way did he resort to the use of the pistol.
Maxwell fired into the crowd and one man, Daniel Carle, father of 11 children, was killed. Jules Ogier, another member of the rioting band was seriously wounded. The shots had the effect of dispersing the crowd, and the last open outbreak between rival political factions was at an end.
Within a few days The Empire was printing a paper at the same old stand. And a hastily impaneled grand jury exonerated Maxwell of a murder charge by refusing to bring in an indictment against him.