C. L VALLANDIGHAM
by Charles F. Sullivan
There is an old fashioned bell and the double doors formerly the front entrance to the home of Clement Laird Vallandigham at 131 W. First street, where the Loretta Guild now stands, on exhibition in the Newcom Tavern upon E. Monument Avenue. These things were so intimately connected with a very exciting event in his life, that I will give you the history of them.
Michael Van Landegham and his wife, Jane, settled in Northumberland County, Virginia, and they were the great grand parents of C. L. Vallandigham, and he was a prosperous farmer there. At some time along the line the name was changed and some think it spelled one way and some another, but since his brother says it was Vallandigham, I think it must be right but I never heard him spoken of except as Vallandigham. The next we know of the family they were living at New Lisbon, Ohio. His Father was a minister of the gospel with a family of seven children and Clement was the fifth in the line.
To educate a family of this size required considerable effort and expense and the minister took up the work personally and must have made a success of it at home. Clement was born July 29, 1820. He was a very bright boy and was so far along with his studies, that he was able to enter the junior class in Jefferson College, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at the age of 17 and would have graduated the next year except that he had a misunderstanding with Prof. Matthew Brown, the president of the college.
The next year he went to Snow Hill, Maryland as a preceptor in Union Academy and was there two years. Going back to New Lisbon he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1842.
He was elected to the house of the State Legislature in 1845 and became quite an influential member. He married Louisa McMahon in 1846, a resident of Baltimore, Maryland. She was an aunt of J. A. McMahon, later a very prominent member of the bar of Dayton, Ohio. In 1847, he moved to Dayton and took up the practice of law and also bought the newspaper known as the “Western Empire” and edited it and this gave him a reputation in two different lines. He sold the Empire in 1849 and ran for Common Pleas Court Judge here but was defeated at the polls. He was the unsuccessful candidate for
Congress in 1854 and again in 1855, but the second time he contested the election and was seated in the House May 25, 1858. He was re-elected in 1858 and 1860.
During the last term, Fort Sumpter was fired upon, starting the Civil War and causing lots of unpleasant relations between friends and relatives. Mr. Vallandigham did not favor slavery but was very strong for States Rights and was upholding it upon every opportunity and had been doing so for many years. This made Dayton a hot bed for trouble and the people were divided into three classes, Union, Anti-Union and Peace Democrats. Vallandigham led the Anti-Union forces fearlessly and the feeling was stronger outside of Dayton than in the City. He was what we would call a “Rabble rouser” and he had a great power to sway the people to his way of thinking.
The name used for the Anti Union forces was Copperheads and Vallandigham was their leader and in Congress, he was opposed to any measure to appropriate money or hasten the war action and he associated with those opposed to the war. Being a member of Congress made him almost immune from any action by any civil authorities and he certainly went the limit.
On August 2, 1862, he spoke to a large audience from the Court House facing Third street and was cheered frequently and spoke for three hours and of course it was his disloyal talk.
In 1862, Hon. Robert C. Schenck by a combination of Union and Peace defeated him for Congress, for they saw that he was not fit for a job of that kind and replaced him with a loyal Union man.
Vallandigham went so far as to advise men not to enlist in Federal forces and to desert at the first opportunity and if drafted to keep out as long as possible and delay in every way possible.
His term ran out March 4, 1863 and from then on he was just a citizen of the United States but he went along in the same old way.
He went to Philadelphia, Newark, New Jersey, New York, Albany, and other places making speeches wherever he went to large crowds of people.
Although defeated at the polls, he went on as usual talking against the President, the Military and war and for the Southern people.
On April 30ty he went to Columbus making a very strong speech there and then on to Mt. Vernon where he spoke for two hours, making many statements that did not suit the authorities at Washington. Coming back to Dayton, he heard rumours that he was to be arrested but since he had heard such things before, he did not pay much attention to it, although he always went well armed and with a bodyguard.
General Burnsides received word from Washington to send to Dayton and arrest him and he sent Col. Parrott with quite a squad of soldiers by train to do the job. Leaving Cincinnati upon May 4th and arriving here about two A.M. May 5th. They marched to his house 131 W. First Street and surrounded the house completely. They rang his front door bell (which is now the exhibit at Newcom Tavern) and pounded upon the front door, also on exhibit, and he came to the front window and asked what was wanted. He was told what it was and he refused to surrender, hoping some of his friends would hear of it and come to his assistance and drive the soldiers away. About this time Mr. W. H. Gillespie, Mayor of the city of Dayton, who lived on Water street (now Monument avenue) just a few houses away came to his assistance.
On the road, he met a soldier who asked him where he was going, and received the reply that he was going to the assistance of his friend, Vallandigham. The soldier told him that he was much mistaken for he was going right back home and going to stay there and the soldier went right along with his bayonet at this back to be sure that he did what he was ordered to do. While this was going on along Wilkinson streeet, the military attacked the double doors at the front of the house, but as they are still very strong (as you can see by a visit to the Log Cabin where they are on display), they went to the rear and soon broke that door in and went upstairs, breaking a door there, but Vallandigham had retreated to another room.
After breaking in another door, they found him with his family and surrendered to them. They immediately went back to the depot and boarded the train which was off toward Cincinnati, having spent about a half hour in Dayton. This occurred so quietly that few knew about it until the next morning when many under cover things were done. His friends went to the fire department and told them not to answer any alarm of fire that night, if they wanted to keep out of trouble.
The Dayton Journal was a strong advocate for the federal government and was supposed to be at the bottom of the arrest of Vallandigham.
About ten P.M. the next evening, a mob stormed the Journal office breaking every thing and then firing the building, burning it completely and also another building next north of it.
This building was then located where the Woolworth store is at present, 21 South Main along the alley. The firemen did not come to it until they were sure nothing could be saved from the fire.
Seemingly they were very successful in burning this newspaper, for the owner Mr. Comly was unable to repair the loss and repair.
Major W. D. Bickham was then on the staff of Gen. Rosenerans in Tennessee. He had been a newspaper correspondent and was well known as a federal man and a truly loyal officer for the government.
He was asked to come to Dayton and look over the ruins and take over the paper with the help of many of the citizens who had raised a sum of money for the re-building. He came, and while looking over the wreckage, was approached by two men who asked him if he was there with the idea of running the paper. He replied in the affirmative.
These men then told him they would give him just a half an hour to get out of town and stay out, but instead of going, he used his fists upon them and they had important business elsewhere, and they did not come back for another answer. The Major took over the ruins, using the money raised for re-building upon condition that he would repay it within three years, which he did. He made a fine paper of it and ran it until his death in 1894. He was a firm supporter of the federal government.
When the Journal office was fired, Gen. Burnsides sent a squad of soldiers to Dayton and declared Martial Law and no further disturbances occurred and Dayton soon quieted down. When the leader was taken away, it would be natural for the balance of his friends to be very careful of their actions.
At Cincinnati, eight men were appointed to hear the case against Vallandigham. The charge against him was “Publicly expressing in violation of general order #38 from head quarters, department of Ohio, his sympathies for those in arms against the government of the United States, declaring disloyal sentiments and opinions with the effect and purpose of weakening the powers of government in its effort to suppress an unlawful rebellion.” He was found guilty and was refused a writ of habeas corpus in the United States Court and sentenced to imprisonment in Fort Warren in Boston Harbour for the duration of the war.
President Lincoln, hearing of the case, changed the penalty to banishment, sending him through the lines to his friends in the Confederacy. On May 19th, he started by boat of Louisville and from there by rail to Nashville and Murphreesboro, Tennessee, to Gen. Rosencrans, with orders to send him through the lines under a flag of truce to his friends in the south.
The Democratic Convention of Ohio was held at Columbus early in June and Vallandigham was nominated for Governor of Ohio, almost unanimously being considered a martyr to the cause. The convention also passed a resolution asking President Lincoln to free Mr. Vallandigham so that he could campaign for the office and sent it to the President by a committee. Mr. Lincoln refused to do this unless the committee would advise Mr. Vallandigham to support the federal government and to this they refused to agree.
The Republican Convention later nominated Gov. Brough for Governor and at the election with the help of the peace Democrats, he was elected by a large majority.
Mr. Vallandigham left Wilmington, N. C., on the Cornubia for the Bermudas arriving there June 20th, and almost at once sailed for Halifax, where he arrived July 6th and reached Winsor, Ontario, on the 24th. Here he stayed doing his disloyal work, seeing his friends who would come over the river to see him and planning many things for his followers to do during his absence. On June 14, 1864, he thought it safe for him to disguise himself and come to the district convention at Hamilton. He appeared as a surprise at the convention and he made a speech to it of the usual kind. This Convention also appointed him, delegate to the National Convention which nominated Seymour for the Presidency and also nominated Vallandigham to Congress again but he was defeated at the election.
After being defeated twice at the polls in a year, he ought to take stock of himself and wonder if there was not something wrong with himself or his objective. He then settled down to the practice of law and seemingly did not come out for any public job or to lead the Democratic party for several years. About 1870, he seemed to have a change of heart and tried to get the party to come out for the federal government but was unsuccessful in doing it and he became remorseful about it.
In 1871, there was a fight in a faro game upstairs over a saloon in Hamilton, in which Thomas Myers was killed with a shot from a pistol and Thomas McGahan was charged with the murder. As both of these men were very well known in Hamilton, a change of venue was asked and the case was carried to Lebanon, Warren County and Mr. Vallandigham was retained by the defense for this case.
During the trial, Mr. Vallandigham attempted to show that Mr. Myers had shot himself accidentally in trying to get his pistol out of his pocket. About 9 P. M. after all the evidence was in, Mr. Vallandigham was showing another lawyer for the defense how Mr. Myers had killed himself. Each one of these principle men had had a pistol upon the night of the murder and both were used in evidence, one was loaded and the other empty. It is supposed he mixed the two pistols, for during the exhibition, the pistol was discharged and the ball entered Vallandigham’s abdomen.
Doctors were called from Lebanon, Cincinnati and Dayton but to no avail for he died the next morning June 17, 1871.
The body was taken to Dayton for burial at Woodland cemetery. The monument at his grave, just south of the old lookout house, bears a bronze portrait bas-relief showing a fine intelligent head and face—too fine for his misguided efforts to destroy the Union.
The Jury at Lebanon in the Lebanon case, did not agree and was discharged and the case taken to Dayton, where a verdict was returned for second degree murder. A motion for a new trial was made and granted and this Jury brought in a verdict of acquittal.
Chas. F. Sullivan
40 Glenwood, Dayton, Ohio.