May 8, 1861
Union Meeting at Fairmont—A Great Crowd of People—The Weather inclement—The Court house Denied the Union Men—A Secession Flag Raised on the Court House and Taken Down Again—Speaking in the Rain—Eph. Hall tells some “Out-Spoken Truths”—A Secession Mob try to Hoot Down the Speakers—A Free Fight, and a High Old Time—Aid-de-Camp Thompson Orders out the Military—Nobody Hurt—The People Go Home, and Order Reigns Again—A Suicide.
[From the Special Reporter for the Intelligencer.]
Fairmont, May 6.
This was Court-day here, and had been set apart fir a great rally of the Union men of this county. And there was a great rally of them, “notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather,” as the good deacon said when thanking the Lord for being present at his class meeting.—This morning dawned with a fair prospect of sunshine, which disappeared about noon in frowning clouds that poured their garnered fullness down, and tried their best, but unsuccessfully, to throw cold winter on the occasion, as they did on the people. The deceptive appearance of the morning, however, had been sufficient to bring the people into town, and by noon an immense crowd had gathered about the Court House and on the streets. Monongalia county sent up a large delegation, which came into town with band and banners flying, eliciting cheers from the immense mass of Union men, and curses, not loud but deep, from the few secessionists scattered here and there. It was evident there was considerable feeling in the crowd, and this was heightened by the raising of a secession flag on the Court House about 11 o’clock. This piece of bunting had not floated to the breeze very long till it became evident that it would be torn down. The old farmers of the surrounding country eyed it indignantly, and paced the street like caged beasts; for they were the law-abiding people, and the flag was rais[ed] by order, or at least, with the consent of the county authorities, and they hesitated about making an assault upon it. But this was too much for human nature, and it soon became apparent that the flag would be torn down, and the biggest kind of a row inaugurated; so the Court, with its accustomed discretion, ordered the offensive bunting to be removed, and it came down amidst the cheers of the crowd.
It was expected that the Court would organize and give way, as is usual here on such occasions. But no; there was a concerted determination to break up the meeting, if possible, and the Court went on with its business. The crowd collected in the street in front of Ben. Fleming’s hat store, and after dinner an effort was made to address them from an elevated porch. Mr. Pierpoint ascended the porch and began to address the people, and his appearance was the signal for a volley of vile and abusive epithets from a mob of secessionists, some forty of fifty, perhaps, who had congregated on the outside of the crowd. This the Union men didn’t like to stand, and a series of scrimmages began to sway the crowd back and forth; and threaten a serious fight. The secessionists tried to get up a row and draw the crowd away and for a time partially succeeded. But the people would listen to Mr. P. and they returned to the charge hooting and groaning, so that it was impossible for the speaker to be heard. They had threatened for some days that Mr. Carlile should not speak, and as he did not come, they were resolved to vent their blackguardism on the other speakers. Mr. P. desisted; he having, however, accomplished his object in drawing the crowd together.
Yells then arose for “Hall! Hall!” and Ephraim B. Hall, Esq., one of the delegates to the Convention from this county, came forward and began to address them. He was greeted with a round of applause, and when that subsided everything was quiet—the secessionists remaining silent, anxious, probably, to hear what he would say about the Convention. Hardly had he commenced when the rain began to pour down, but the crowd yelled for him to go on. They didn’t care for the rain and they stood there in the street, oblivious of the torrents, while some one held an umbrella over the speaker, and he proceeded. He told them he had been elected to the Convention as a Union man, and he was one yet. He had not evaded the point in the canvass; he had been elected as a representative of the Union sentiment of that people and to the extent of his ability he had represented that sentiment, and now he felt it his duty to give some account of his stewardship. He had declared before his election that secession was no remedy for existing evils, and he said so yet. It was supposed when the Convention had assembled that the Union men had a majority but it was not so in reality. The genuine Union men did not constitute more than one third of the Convention. When they went there they had found a tremendous outside pressure brought to bear for the purpose of dragooning them from their position into the measures of the secessionists, and assuming that Richmond was the whole commonwealth of Virginia.—They brought every influence that could be brought to bear to drive the Convention into secession. We were subject, he said, to all sorts of insults; we were hissed at, and groaned at. The galleries were brought to bear upon us whenever any man dared utter a sentiment for the Union. He had looked on at this outside pressure on the Legislature, in order to call the Convention, and he said the first act ought to be to adjourn the Convention to Stanton. He had gone there determined to urge that course, but he found a number of the members were also members of the Legislature and Senate, and, from other considerations, the measure could not then be carried. Before these difficulties could be obviated, the feeling of the Union members changed, and they said they would not be driven away. We were insulted by the galleries; some of us were spit upon. We were told that we would be driven out at the point of the bayonet. He had thought if some of them should even fall by the bayonet, it might be the best sacrifice they could make for their country. (Cheers.) For himself, he had determined to stand at his post though he should fall in doing so. (Applause.)
I come before you, to-day, he said, with the Commonwealth’s muzzle upon my mouth. (Cries of take it off!) When it had been found that we were not to be driven by ordinary means, you know what followed. We were finally forced into secret session. I had read of these things. I was unwilling for Virginia to do anything but what she could do openly, on the house tops. We remonstrated, but to no purpose. A majority insisted upon it. We went into secret session against my protest and vote. They told us that before the convention adjourned the injunction of secrecy should be removed, and they would retain a reporter and keep an accurate record of the proceedings. We continued in secret session till last Wednesday night when we adjourned. Before we adjourned we brought forward a resolution to remove the injunction of secrecy. I am not permitted to tell even this, except that I dare, to “take the responsibility.” (Out with it.) We asked that this injunction be now removed. They refused to do it.—Why? Did not you promise us you would? O, yes; but then a great many imprudent things have been done here. But what was the father argument? The venerable ex-president of the United States finally came forward and gave as a reason and made a speech appealing to the fact that he had a son who had been in Pennsylvania and had been driven out, and he did’nt [sic] know what had become of him or where he was—and so you must not remove this injunction! (Laughter.) And yet the Richmond Examiner had published these things day by day and had proclaimed that 58 voted against the ordinance.—I did not always have an opportunity of being heard, but I persisted in getting the floor; and I told them then and there that I was one who voted against the ordinance of secession, and who would come home and vote against its ratification, and beg my people in the name of liberty to do likewise, and that I had a right to say who had voted against it to show that it was not universal. (“Sound! Good!”) I told them if there was one man in the convention who would not sign it that man was myself. (Cheers.)
There were two other ordinances made public. The one was the act by which you were transferred to the President of the Confederate States in a military point of view. By that act he is made commander-in-chief of your military forces—and I voted against that. (Applause.) Before the ordinance of secession was passed we were told Virginia had men, money, arms, munitions of war and resources without end, and we had but to secede to enable us to stand against any enemy in the world. And now that we have seceded it is discovered that we are bankrupt and have got nothing, and unless we hand ourselves over to somebody we are ruined and therefore you must give yourselves over to the tender mercies of Jeff. Davis, (cried of “Never!” “never!”) and as he is supreme authority he can take you down to attack Washington, or set you to work in any aggressive policy he may see fit to inaugurate. (“Can’t do it!”) You are bound to do it if you recognize the act. (“Never! We’ll die first.”) I am not willing that Virginia shall be given over to any man under heaven. (Cheers.) They adopt the Constitution of the Confederate States and give you no voice to say whether you will ratify it or not. I begged them to let the people pass on it, and offered an amendment for that purpose. But they ruled it out of order and moved the previous question. They said they had incorporated a provision that if the ordinance of secession was not ratified, this ordinance of transfer would be inoperative. You have no voice on the question of what is to be done with you. The only way you can object is to vote against the ratification of the ordinance of secession.
You are now a member of the Southern Confederacy. That provisional government was established with a provision that it was to remain in force twelve months unless superceded by a permanent government. This cabinet met on last Monday, and the President reports to the authorities of State that the people do not vote for ratifying the Constitution of the permanent government, and now they are ready to dispense with this provisional government, and establish a permanent one. But I am bound to tell you in whose faces stare the consequences of this thing, that in the eastern part of the State everything is brought to bear, and every policy and expedient resorted to, to hasten and fasten upon you at the earliest moment, a connection with the Southern Confederacy. (“We will never submit to it, we will rebel!”) They have got you into it for a time, and they think it will be an easy thing to clamp you. (“They haven’t got the clamps that will hold us.”) I warn you to keep an eye to it. I predict now you will see if you watch the operations that every [sic] more will be to carry you, at the earliest moment, into a Southern Confederacy, not with your surroundings, but to take Virginia alone, and without expression from you, or consultation with the border slave States. And why? Because they are abolitionized. Cannot trust Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware and Missouri; they are all abolitionized. (Laughter.) And they tell you that your country out here, too, is abolitionized. (Laughter.) What do they mean? Why if you are not ready to sing paens of praise to the negro alone, and allow him to swallow up every interest you are an Abolitionist. I have as strong pro-slavery sentiments as anybody, but I have got a soul and body outside of the negro. (Cheers.) I believe I am half as good as one myself.—(“We are proud of such negroes as you—wish we had thousands of them.”) [here the rain poured down still harder, and the speaker instated that he would not keep them standing in the rain, but the cry was, go on! go on!] He resumed: I tell you it is a matter of fact, and any man who was in Richmond this winter, will bear me out in it, that the expression of any opinion that was adverse to secession—not secession merely, not resistance to aggression only, but aggressive secession—was hooted at, and no man was permitted to express any such sentiments. Were persons driven away? I know if I had regarded their threats, I should have been driven away long ago. And I tell you, to-day, that but for the fact that we went there as representatives of a free people out here in the mountains, who were able to avenge any injury to us, not one of us would have been permitted to remain there. When they struck a representative of the people, there was a mountain [man] that they might encounter. (Cheers.)—And it was you, gentlemen, who protected me there. (Applause.) If any man had described to me before hand such scenes as I saw there, I never would have believed that they could have been enacted in a civilized country. I spoke without fear—I said what I believed, and was ready to take the consequences. (Cheers.) I was warned by members of the Convention—secession members—and by other persons, that I was imperiling my life. I thought, if I died in that cause, so be it. I remained up to the bitter end, and saw the whole elephant. (Applause.)
You thought you were going to have a Congressional election here, but we in our wisdom said no, (laughter) we will do that for you. We, the sovereign convention, had carried you away in spite of your 50,000 votes, that no act we did would be valid till you sanctioned it. We had taken Harper’s Ferry and the Custom House at Norfolk, and were going to carry on things generally. We established telegraph lines, took possession of others, and had thought to make some railroads over into this country, but that would have given an outlet to Western Virginia, and they shut down on that. In coming home I had to come away around by way of Gordonsville and thence to Alexandria. (“Did you get a pass?”) No, sir. Many did have to, though. But I concluded so long as I was a free white man I would not travel like a free negro. (Great cheering.) I was told I could not get away without a pass. I told them I could start without one. (Applause.)
But I was speaking of your Congressional election. We concluded to hold that election ourselves. We held it and elected five delegates to Montgomery. (“That knocks Kidwell out.”) Was that right? Are we out of the government? (No!No!) Are we to be represented down there before you say whether you will ratify this ordinance of secession? I thought not and I voted against that thing. I told them they had as much right to send delegates to Japan as Montgomery. The first one elected as Hunter. The next nominations were Seddon and Wm. C. Rives. The vote was taken and resulted in a tie. I could’nt resist the temptation to hit Seddon the old secessionist with a brickbat. So I cast my vote for Rives and he got it by one. Senator Mason was next and Brockenbrough beat him. Then John S. Preston, in the Southwest, and Samuel G. Staples beat him pretty badly. Then they nominated Charles Russell and Judge Camden and their vote was just equal. I could’nt resist the temptation to vote again. So I got up and hit Charley with a brickbat, though I should like to have had one for both of them. It may not have been right for me to vote at all on a thing I protested against, but I could not resist the temptation in these two cases. You are now represented in the Southern Congress. I do not know how soon the delegates propose to go; but be assured they will take you South as fast as you can stand it.—(“Never! Never!”)
We had, you recollect, a pet measure of taxation. We brought that question up at an early day. We did all we could up until after the ordinance passed. They said if we taxed the negroes it would drive them all out of the State. I told them if they were not worth paying taxes on, let them go. (“Sound!” “Good!”) You remember the charge of the Richmond papers that there was a bargain to give us taxation if we would give them the ordinance of secession; and that prince of secessionists, Mr. Fisher of Northampton, did make the proposal. Some Western secessionists said it had been made as a joke. Finally they got the ordinance of secession, and a number of the members of the West came home. They came home under emergencies that compelled them to come; and said if anything occurred by which they again could do anything as members of the Convention to telegraph to them and they would return. They were denounced as traitors, and all sorts of epithets and indignities showered upon them. Finally the proceedings of the meetings at Clarksburg and Morgantown got there, and they began to open their eyes. They had been told that the West was as ripe for their schemes as the East. They began to think may be it was not so, and they said, we have got to pass this tax bill to save the Northwest. (“It won’t save it.”) They said we must pass this tax bill as a reward for our noble brothers from the West! (Jeers and laughter.)
Some one asked Mr. H. how many voted for the Ordinance of Secession from the West. He replied that was so nearly a personal matter, that he did not think it would be right for him to say. He continued—
I had told them, in the early discussions on the tax question, that we people in the West were not cattle. When this proposal was made, I obtained the floor and told them so again. (“Good.”) They might bolster up the Secessionists in the West with that if they chose, but we demanded the equalization of taxation as a right; we did not beg it, we demanded it, and would take it on no other conditions. But they did take the vote, when the leading and most efficient advocates of the bill had gone home, and I think there was only about sixteen votes against it.
Why did they make the proposition?—If you will give us an Ordinance of Secession, we will then give you this tax bill. Why because, when the Ordinance has passed and gone into effect without your ratification, and you have been made the tail end and heel-tap of a Southern Confederacy, they knew that all the tax bills that could be written would not avail you any thing. But it rains too hard. (“Go on! go on!”)
There is a great deal of excitement—Let me beg you to avoid every thing like personal difficulties and bickering. Allow every man his opinion, and demand the right to your own. I am not going to suffer my mouth to be shut, and I want you to let everybody else do the same. Let us have it as a fair contest; and let me tell you, that while I deprecate the idea of drawing lines among ourselves, through the State and Nation, yet there is a time coming, when, if we are to be thrust alone into that Jeff. Davis Confederacy by Eastern Virginia, that the law of self-preservation—the first law of nature, will drive us, by necessity that knows no law, into a separation from her. (Tremendous and prolonged cheering.) I want to keep off the issue till it is proposed to transfer us permanently, and then act as we must act. (Applause.) We have the example before us, and on that principle I do not know who could object, if we should be driven to the necessity.
Mr. H. went on to day that immediately after the passage of the ordinance of secession a resolution was sprung upon the convention and passed, inviting Jeff. Davis to make his headquarters at Richmond, and showing that it transferred the seat of war, from the South to our borders.—Speaking of the ordinance of the Convention defining treason, he said:
About ten o’clock one night an ordinance defining treason passed, which declares that to say anything against the government of Virginia, or the authorities thereof; or against the government of the Confederates States, or the authorities thereof; or against the government of any member of the Confederate States, is treason and, of course, punishable as such. I think that is fairly the substance of the bill. Outside of this, there is no treason. I have been told that to oppose Virginia’s going into, or to object to the fact that she is already a member of the Southern Confederacy, is treason. If this be treason, then I for one am guilty. (Cheering.) I am ready to say or do whatever may be necessary to protect our rights, and hope you will all do the same. [“We will! We will!”] I cannot consent to detain you longer in this rain. [“Go on; we’ll hear you!”]
In taking the position I have taken here to-day, I have said some things I am not authorized by the San Hedron to say, but it was your right to know them. The convention appointed a committee of three to determine what to conceal and what to make public. How much they propose to disclose I do not know; but if they do not, I will at some future time disclose more of this thing. After some of the Western members went home I remained, and voted against measures till I was called a negative pole. I voted no. [Applause.] I knew I could do do [sic] good by remaining there, but I anticipated that perhaps this muzzle was not to be removed, and I determined to stay and see the last prance of the elephant; and now, after having stated to you the leading features of this matter, you will excuse me. I shall be able very soon to say about all I know.
After Mr. Hall had concluded, the cry went up for “Burdett! Burdett” And in obedience to the call, John S. Burdett, Delegate to the Convention from Taylor county, came forward and attempted to address the crowd. But his appearance was the signal for a perfect storm of hooting and groaning from the secessionists in the crowd. The Union men however cheered him loudly, and it was evident that there must soon be a collision of forces. Some one called him “John Brown.” He told them he would rather be a John Brown than a Benedict Arnold. (Cheers from the Union men.) He told the men who were trying to hoot him down that they were blackguards—off of the same piece with the ruffians who tried the same game in Richmond—where there had been a crowd of 1700 assembled to intimidated the convention, not one of whom paid taxes or his board while there. Within an hour after the ordinance of secession had passed 1700 of a mob of just such chaps as those, said Mr. B., were in the Capitol grounds. (Applause.) They went to the Arsenal, got out the cannon, and paraded round the capitol. We adjourned, went to our boarding houses to get away from the mob. I felt for the first time, when I saw them break open the doors of the capitol and plant on the top of it while a sovereign convention was in session, the secession flag, how deeply disgraced was the ensign of the nation. A portion of this dirty mob, with a rope in their hands, went to the boarding house of Mr. Carlile. (“Wish he was here to-day.”) He is in better business, replied Mr. B. (Cheers.) And in this connection, let me tell you, men of Western Virginia, fear not. I know what I speak. You are not to be intimidated here. (Cheers from the Union men and groans from the mob.) Wouldn’t they be a pretty crowd to rule a country. (Mingled applause and groans.) This exhibition affords a better argument than I could make. When a free people are to be handed over to such hands, don’t you see where we would be? (Applause.) Mr. B. went on, notwithstanding the uproar, to pelt the secessionists with the most unrelenting severity. They continued to yell and groan and shout, so that it was impossible for the reporter to hear only detached portions of his sentences. But he still went on, and at every hit the Union men would cheer, and the secessionists would groan, until it was evident, by the repeated demonstrations in the crowd, that this state of things would not be endured much longer. A Union man turned round to the secessionists, and said he could whip the best man they had. The “best man” very speedily presented himself, and they went into it real bull dog fashion, with fists and finger nails. Then the excitement was intense. At least three-fourths of all the men in the street were armed, and everybody expected weapons would be used freely. The fight went on fiercely, and the crowd swayed back and forth like a turbulent tide. “Go in, Jenkins,” and “give it to him, Stevens,” was the cry that rose above the din.—The two principal combatants were powerful men, and fought blindly and savagely. Others began to join in. One old man near seventy threw off his coat and prepared to participate. But the crowd was so thick that there was no room to fight, and none but those immediately around the combatants could join in the meelee with any certainty of hitting the right man. Many rushed in with clubs and canes, and reaching over the heads of the others struck wildly and at random.—Others who could not reach over contented themselves with punching the combatants with the ends of their canes. The leading antagonists were both evidently men of pluck, as well as muscle, and neither seemed disposed to give up.—They fought on for at least ten minutes till they became so exhausted that they were separated without difficulty, with the blood flowing freely and their faces and heads cut up and bruised dreadfully. As soon as they were separated the rest of those who were fighting on their own hook desisted, and in a very short time the hoarse roar of the exasperated crowd subsided, and to the surprise of everybody the row ended without a weapon having been drawn or a single man dangerously injured, though some half-dozen were badly bruised up.
But the speaking was broken up for the day, and the rest of the evening was spent in discussing the merits of the respective pugilists. As soon as all danger was over Aide-de-camp Thompson ordered out the Marion Guards, and very soon the “tramp of soldiery” was heard back of the Court House, and the military with burnished flint-locks and fixed bayonets, to the number of some fifteen or twenty, were paraded on the portico with all the pomp and circumstance of war. But nobody was alarmed by the terrible display, and what was better still, nobody hurt. A heavy rain came on, and the crowd, which two hours before was so belligerent, quietly dispersed, a few lingering at the Court House where it is said Alf. Haymond made a secession speech.
William Black of this place was disecteted [sic] to-day, shot through the heard. The report of the pistol was heard and he was found a few minutes afterwards quite dead with a pistol lying beside him in an old house. The verdict of the Coroner’s jury was that he shot himself. Cause unknown but many suppose he was laboring under an attack of delirium tremens.
Marion county is confidently claimed by the Union men who assert that they will poll a good majority in the coming election. The claim of the Secessionists that they will carry the county by 1800 is supremely ridiculous. The Breckinridge majority was only some 600 or 700, and all the best Breckinridge men in the county are Union men. Great changes are going on every day. Eph. Hall’s speech will do good, though the reports I send you of it is necessarily imperfect, owing to the difficulties in the way of writing. Marion county will be well represented in the Wheeling Convention. Of this I am assured.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: May 1861