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The Charleston Riot – This Day in the Civil War


250px-Ctownchouse150 years ago today, March 28, 1864, Union soldiers and local Republicans had a run in with the insurgent group, the Copperheads, in Charleston, Illinois. A riot ensued leaving nine dead and twelve men wounded.

The event that many believed triggered this riot was the Union soldiers humiliation of Judge Charles H. Constable. They forced him to swear allegiance to the federal government. The reason–he’d allowed four Union deserters to go free in Marshall, Illinois.

At the time of the riot, the judge was holding court in Charleston.

That day Charleston square was alive with activity as residents of Coles and the surrounding counties were celebrating the spring session of the 4th Circuit Court. The Copperheads, as well as about 40 to 50 Union soldiers, filled local saloons. The Copperheads were drawn by a Democratic rally and the soldiers were relaxing prior to reporting for duty in Mattoon.

The Copperheads and soldiers erupted into yelling and shoving matches. The Democratic leaders were forced to cancel the rally and urged everyone to return home, fearing the situation would worsen.

But at 3 p.m. violence ensued.

“In view of the conflicting evidence, it is impossible to say positively who fired the first shot,” wrote Charles Coleman and Paul Spence in the “Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.”

But most who witnessed the riot agreed the soldiers approached Copperhead Nelson Wells and harassed him first. Then a pistol was fired.

The shot caused the entire square to erupt into a sea of madness.

The Copperheads had the advantage. They’d stored weapons under hay and blankets in their wagons in expectation of a confrontation. Most of the soldiers were unarmed.

The shooting and fighting not only engulfed the entire square, but broke into the interior of the courthouse.

After a matter of just a few minutes, nearly 100 shots had been fired. The nine dead included six soldiers, two Copperheads and one innocent bystander. The 12 wounded were four soldiers, five Copperheads and three  residents.

To read more about the riots, visit this site:

To see the mural, and a YouTube video about the riots, visit these links:

For info on my romance books set during and after the American Civil War, visit my website: 




  1. Interesting – had never heard of the Copperheads. Sounds like the group resembled their serpent namesakes.

  2. LOL. Thanks for stopping by, Ashantay!

  3. At least I’d heard about this conflict, Susan, but enjoyed your post. Makes me remember that saying, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

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