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“A Plain, Honest, Unostentatious Man”: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922

Posted on 04/20/2015

The April release of The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes a defense of the leadership style of General John Fremont, a Pennsylvania Republican's critique of a Pennsylvania Democrat's secessionist pamphlet, and a history of illegal arrests and political imprisonments during the conflict.

General Fremont, and the Injustice Done Him by Politicians and Envious Military Men (1862)

By William Brotherhead

In 1861, while serving as Commander of the Western Armies, John Charles Fremont issued a proclamation putting Missouri under martial law and ordering the emancipation of slaves belonging to rebels. Fremont had gained a reputation for unilateral decision-making and later that year President Lincoln relieved him of his command for insubordination. 

Fremont remains controversial. He is criticized as impetuous and overly ambitious by some and lauded as a military hero and political leader by others. Believing the latter, William Brotherhead in this work compares Fremont to the leadership of both the Union and Confederacy:

Jeff Davis though at the head of the Rebels formally, it is well known that he was not the originator of the Rebellion; but only a follower at the call of South Carolina. Though he is a shrewd cunning man, lacks talents requisite to become a popular leader. His messages are written in a terse and business-like style; yet they lack soul, unction, the power that takes captive the sympathies of a nation….But while the South are fighting without a leader equal for the occasion, we in the North are more deficient than the South. Our President is a plain, honest, unostentatious man, and never expected to be drawn from the rural haunts of Springfield.

Brotherhead continued:

We must not only have an honest man that tries to do all he can for the good of the country; but we must have a man placed and retained in such a position as Major General Fremont was, when in command of the Missouri Department; who not only follows public opinion, but initiates public policy as he has done so far nobly and well.

A Reply to Mr. Charles Ingersoll's “Letter to a Friend in a Slave State” (1862)

By Martin Russell Thayer

A Pennsylvania Republican, Martin Russell Thayer served in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1863 and 1867. His reply to Letter to a Friend in a Slave State, written by Pennsylvania Democrat Charles Ingersoll, begins with a sarcastic tone, complementing Ingersoll’s work by comparing it to other secessionist pamphlets:

You have not employed your time amid the convulsions which shake our unhappy country…in criticizing the rhetorical inelegancies of official dispatches, or stooped to the invidious office of sneering at the President and his “social meridian,” or ridiculing the names of his subordinates. Your work, such as it is, has a higher aim, and has been performed in a more manly manner. This excellence I willingly accord it,—that its attack upon the Government of your county, if ill-timed and unpatriotic is at any rate fearless and open. If unjust and pernicious, it is at least dignified and decorous. If breathing the spirit of the political partisan, it nevertheless does not condescend to subjects unworthy of the reflections of the patriot.

Thayer then attacked Ingersoll’s paradoxical argument for compromise:

You do not, it is true, suggest any terms of compromise yourself, or say to whom they are to be proposed. You declare the opinion that no terms which could be offered, would be accepted by what you call “the government of Richmond.” To whom then are the terms of compromise to be offered?....The only people in the South who have it in their power to entertain your offers, are at Yorktown, at Corinth, and similar places; but they are people with guns in their hands, living in curious places with mud walls around them, and looking out windows that have no glass in them. Would you make your compromise resolutions to them? Try it. If you do, you will be referred to the chiefs of these interesting communities, who will refer you again to Richmond. But at Richmond, your game, as you admit, is blocked. You cannot move.

American Bastile: A History of the Illegal Arrests and Imprisonment of American Citizens during the Late Civil War (1873) 

By John A. Marshall

In this work John Marshall offers an “authentic account of the Arrest, Imprisonment, and Terrible Sufferings of American Citizens incarcerated as Prisoners of State.” Among these political prisoners were Edward and Charles Ingersoll. On April 13, 1865, the day before Lincoln would be assassinated, Edward Ingersoll was in New York City advocating for states' rights and against the re-payment of the national war debt. On April 27, he was accosted and assaulted by a crowd led by “a little Captain of volunteers.”

Mr. Ingersoll defended himself as well as he could, till, overwhelmed by the odds, and his cane breaking in his hand, he retreated a few yards, and drawing his pistol from his pocket, cocked it promptly in the face of his assailants.

Edward Ingersoll was seized and arrested by two policemen for assault and battery and for carrying a concealed deadly weapon. He was refused bail because “a charge of high treason was to be preferred against him.”

Marshall describes Charles’s attempt to visit his brother and arrange for his release:

Mr. Charles Ingersoll…was…assaulted and most violently and brutally beaten. A night watchman at the Custom House, a hired bully of the town, was one of the immediate assailants. There was at the time within and immediately in front of the station-house, a very large force of police. No arrests were made, nor any effort of the sort. Indeed, when Mr. Ingersoll got into the house, wounded and bleeding as he was, the plain, though mutually expressed sentiment of the numerous surrounding policemen was, that it was “a good thing” “well done.”

For more information about The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922, or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

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