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1862 October 28: Copperheads, Knights of the Golden Circle, Secessionists in Wisconsin

October 28, 2012

The following unsigned letter appeared in The Prescott Journal of November 5, 1862.


SPARTA, October 28, 1862.

DEAR LUTE :—Never were political circles, in this county, more agitated than at the present moment.  Sore-headed and addled-brained Republicans are uniting with the pure Breckenridge1 [sic] democracy of the E. G. Ryan stripe, against the regular Administration nominee, and we are having a “gay and festive” time.

A few days since Capt. G. A. Fisk, and Lieut. D. W. Wilson, of the 18th Reg. Wis. Volunteers, returned from their long and dreary imprisonment in Dixie.  They were taken prisoners at the battle of Shiloh, on the ever memorable Sabbath of April 6th, 1862.  For nhearly seven months they endured sufferings, hardships and privations, a recital of which makes the blood curdle in the veins.  Fiendishness, such as no people under Heaven making the least pretensions to civilization, ever dreamed of, has characterized their treatment of these noble men, who are sacrificing themselves upon the altar of their country’s only hope.  Wilson is an excellent speaker, and he, in connection with the Hon. M. L. Rice, of Ky., late Adj’t General of the State, have spoken to the people of this county, Tunnel City, Tomah, and Sparta.2  Immense crowds were present at each meeting, and the wildest enthusiasm.  Copper-headed Democrats, of secession proclivities, shrink away from their terrible, withering denunciations liked whipped curs.  These unflinching patriots have done efficient service there for the Union cause.  Hanchett will get a splendid vote from gallant Monroe.  Our shoulders are all put to the wheel, and we are doing the utmost to sustain the policy of Abraham Lincoln.  The success of the Knights of the Golden Circle3 in Indiana, Ohio and Pennyslvania [sic] ;  the jubilant feeling manifested in Southern periodicals over these results, and the macchinations [sic] of traitors at home, have awakened us to a realizing sense that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,”4 and and that we must pay the price if we wish to secure the blessing.  To our shame, it is said that we have men among us who talk blatant treason in the streets, and as yet go unpunished !  The reigns must be drawn tighter.  We must show that earnestness and determination in our efforts to crush this hellish treason, which our enemies do, in their unholy attempt to destroy the best government on earth.

The dark thunder cloud of rebellion lowers, the shoals thicken around us, the vortex yawns, and the boiling surge of traitorous despotism threatens us all.  But,

“Thank God !  that a limit is set.”

A light breaks away on the lee bow.  A grateful breeze from the Capitol strikes the sails of the old ship of State.  She feels it !  She feels it ! !  The proclamation of Honest Old Abe paralyses the rebellion, the serpent uncoils his shiny folds, and the glad light of UNIVERSAL Emancipation breaks in upon the troubled earth.

“The memory of a glory passed away
Lingers in every heart, as in the shell
Ripples the bygone freedom of the sea,
And every day new signs of promises tell
That the great soul of man shall yet be free.”5

*   *

1.  John C. Breckinridge had been a candidate for U.S. president in 1860 and is now a Confederate general.
2.  In Monroe County, Wisconsin.
3.  The Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) was a secret society active in the southern parts of several Union states, like Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. It was strongest among Copperheads (anti-war Democrats), some of whom felt that the Civil War was a mistake, some who supported slavery, and others who were worried about the power of the federal government.
4.  A well-known quotation of Thomas Jefferson.
5.  From the sonnet “Sub Pondere Crescit” by James Russell Lowell.

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