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History of Belpre, Washington Co., Ohio
By C. E. Dickinson, D. D.
Formerly Pastor of Congregational Church
Author of the History of First Congregational Church
Marietta, Ohio
Published for the Author by
Globe Printing & Binding Company
Parkersburg, West Virginia


Page 135

     THE causes which led to the great Civil War cannot be fully treated in a local history for this would require an epitome of the history of this country from 1620 until the election of Abraham Lincoln President in 1860.  What has already been given under the head of Underground Railroad will help us understand the causes of the war. The discussion of the question of slavery caused an emnity between the North and South which grew more and more acute from year to year. Compromises were made by the people of the North but instead of satisfying the South they rather incited them to demand more compromises, or rather complete surrender.  The Republican party which elected Abraham Lincoln in 1860 did not propose in their platform to abolish Slavery, but only to confine it within the States in which it then existed, but the politicians of the South understood that when thus confined the growing Anti-Slavery sentiment of the country would eventually demand other restrictions.
     The statement of Abraham Lincoln and other discerning statesmen that the nation could not long exist part slave and part free, was known and understood in the South as well as North and when the sentiment for freedom had become so strong in the North that they had elected a President the politicians of the South saw a hand writing on the wall which foretold the end of slavery, if the Union of States continued, and so they determined to dissolve the union and establish a Southern Confederacy with slavery one of its foundation principles.  This brought to the front a political dogma which had long been discussed, namely that of State rights or the relation of the government of the States to that of the nation.  The Republican party was the national party, which believed in the supremacy of the national government. This in that respect was the party which embodied the teachings of Washington and Hamilton. The Democratic party which

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held almost unanimous control of the Slave States was the States rights party which held that because the States entered the Union voluntarily they had the right to go out of the Union whenever they chose to do so.  As was often stated in those days they commenced the word Nation with a small n and the Republicans with a capital N.
     After the result of the election of November 1860 was known the Southern politicians did not wait for the inauguration of President Lincoln but proceeded to carry their States Rights doctrine into practical operation by appointing State Conventions and securing in them (not by popular vote) votes of secession.  These plans so far succeeded that in February, 1861, six states had voted to secede and had formed a new nation called the "Confederate States of America."  Five other States afterwards joined this Confederacy.
     These states, under their doctrine, that the state was superior to the Nation, took possession of the forts, arms, and munitions found within their borders and, thinking that the States still in the Union would resist them, made preparation for war.  Quotations from documents in which the people of Belpre are specially interested will help in understanding the spirit of the Northern people at that time.
     Governor Dennison of Ohio, reviewing the situation, in his message to the Legislature, January 7th, 1861, said :  "The patriotism of the country is justly alarmed. The unity of the government is denied.  Doctrines subversive of its existence are boldly advocated and made the basis of State action under the pretended right of a State to secede from the confederacy at its pleasure in peace or war.  Constitutional liberty is imperiled, revolution is meditated, and treason is justified.  On the occasion of my inauguration I felt it to be my duty to warn my countrymen against these hostile designs against the Federal Union, but then they were in speculation only, now they are in action.  Shall they be consumated?  Shall national government be degraded into a mere league between independent States, existing only by their approval, subordinate to them and subject to be destroyed at the pleasure of any State of the Confederacy?  Or shall it continue to be maintained as it has always been maintained as a govern-

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ment proper, sovereign within its prescribed sphere — founded on the adoption of the people, as were the States, and creating direct relations between itself and the individual citizens, which no State authority has power to impair or disturb, and which nothing can dissolve but revolution?"
     These sentiments of their Governor were fully endorsed by the citizens of Washington County.  Although on the border of a slave state very few members of the Democratic party in this county justified their erring brothers of the South in their acts of secession but rallied loyally to the support of the Union.
     January 8th, 1861 a large number of leading citizens of Washington County and Wood County, Virginia, met at the Court house in Marietta, discussed the situation, appointed a Strong Committee on Resolutions and adjourned to meet again on January 12th.  On that date a large assembly of representative citizens of the two counties met and passed very strong resolutions of which we quote the second and seventh.
     II.  "The doctrine of the secession of a State has no warrant in the constitution but on the contrary is in its effects fatal to the Union and subversive of all the ends of its creation, and in our judgment secession is revolution; and while we fully admit the right of revolution for the causes set forth in the Declaration of Independence, or for others of equal force, and while we are grieved to say that the governments and citizens of the States, both North and South, have been guilty of acts of injustice towards others, yet facts do not exist which warrant a resort to this last and final remedy, revolution; and we have still an abiding faith in the capacity and adaptation of the general government to redress all grievances suffered by its citizens what ever their origin.
     VII.  Notwithstanding former differences of opinion on the subject, for the purpose of making a final adjustment of the unfortunate controversy now raging in our country, we are willing to accept as a basis of Compromise the adjustment of the Eighth Section of the Missouri Compromise Act.  Or we are willing to adopt the principle that the whole subject of Slavery in the territories shall be left to be determined by the will of bona fide residents of

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such territories provided they also be left free to elect their own officers, executive and judicial as well as legislative.
     These resolutions were a fair representation of the sentiment of the North at that time.  These people were so averse to war that they were willing to make any reasonable compromise to prevent it.  While most of the people in the Northern States believed that it was wrong to hold a fellow man in bondage they recognized slavery as a fact and that slaves were the property of their owners.  The institution had grown up in former years and both the owners and the slaves had grown into these conditions.
     There was at that time no generally accepted plan for the abolition of slavery; some argued the plan of purchasing the slaves, and there were various theories of gradual emancipation and deportation of the slaves to Africa.  Most of the people had a kindly feeling toward slave holders and were ready to make any reasonable compromise to prevent a civil war.  Congress appointed a peace committee of thirty-three to consider the whole matter and report what compromises could be made but the extreme secessionists were not willing even to consider the matter calmly.  Some remained away from the meetings of the committee entirely and others attended, as they confessed, only as spies to prevent radical measures.  The violent secessionists were determined on a dissolution of the Union and the formation of a Southern Confederacy as soon as the result of the presidential election was known and they planned to carry out their doctrine of State rights and secure both the secession of the Slave States and the organization of a Confederacy before President Lincoln was inaugurated, and they would allow nothing to prevent them from carrying out this plan.  This Committee failed to accomplish the object for which it was appointed as will appear from the following extract from a letter from the chairman Hon. Thomas Corwin to the President Elect.
     "I have been for thirty days in a committee of thirty-three.  If the States are no more harmonious in their feelings and opinions than these thirty-three representative men, then, appalling as the idea is, we must dissolve, and a long and bloody civil war must follow.  I cannot comprehend the madness of the times.  Southern men are theoretically crazy.  Extreme Northern men are practical

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fools. The latter are really as mad as the former.  Treason is in the air around us everywhere.  It goes by the name of patriotism.  Men in Congress boldly avow it, and the public offices are full of acknowledged secessionists.  God alone, I fear, can help us.  Four or five States are gone, others are driving before the gale.  I have looked on this horrid picture till I have been able to gaze on it with perfect calmness.  I think if you live you may take the oath."
     The investigations and action of this Committee had no other effect on the extreme secessionists than to strengthen their determination to proceed with their treasonable actions.  The effects how^ever showed the willingness of the people of the Northern States to make reasonable concessions, to prevent civil war, they also caused the delay and ultimately the prevention of secession in the border states.
     Led forward by their determined purpose the radical leaders of the South secured the secession of six cotton states and the organization at Montgomery, Georgia of "The Confederate States of America" on February 8th.  All this, although in the name of Democracy, was done, not by the people but by conventions, who not only issued the ordinances of secession without referring them to the people but the representatives of these conventions composed the Convention of Montgomery and appointed the officers of the Confederate States.
     While these radical measures were being enacted Congress, still anxious for peace, passed the following amendment to the Constitution to be referred to the states for approval.
     Art. 13.  No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere within any State with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State."
     This Amendment was signed by President Buchanan and also approved by President Lincoln in his inaugural Address.  Conditions which followed prevented subsequent action on the matter by the States but it is introduced here to show that the responsibility for the war was with the

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Southern politicians who as Mr. Corwin said were "theoretically crazy," and that the perpetuation of slavery was the object of the war is evident from the following quotation from the "Declaration of the Immediate Causes which induce and justify the secession of the State of Misissippi from the Federal Union."
     "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest in the world. **** A blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.  That blow has long been aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation.  There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.  We must either submit to degredation, and the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union."
     William L. Harris, Commissioner from the State of Mississippi to the Senate and house of Representatives of Georgia used the following language. "Mississippi is firmly convinced that there is but one alternative.  This new union with Lincoln, black republicans, and free negroes, without slavery; or slavery under our old constitutional bond of union without either Lincoln, Black Republicans, or free negroes to molest us."
     It seemed strange to Christian people at that time that such fanaticism was allowed to prevail but in the light of history we may see that in the Councils of Infinite Wisdom it was time for slavery to destroy itself.
     It was a common saying at the beginning of the war both by Officers and men "we did not enlist to free the slaves but to save the Union" and lest some might not understand this, for some time after the war commenced slaves who escaped into our army were sent back to their masters.  After a time General Benjamin Butler, a man who had supported the candidacy of Jefferson Davis in the Democratic Convention of 1860, announced that these slaves should be retained as contraband of war for their return to their masters strengthened the enemy.  As a result such negroes were called "contrabands" for several years.  For the reasons already mentioned the excitement both North and South was more intense than can now be described and when Fort Sumpter, over which waved the

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Stars and Stripes, was fired upon by the authority of the Confederate States of America, the old flag had to the people a meaning which was not realized before.  To attack that flag was to attack not only our nation but our liberty, our homes, our very selves, and thousands of strong men from all ranks came forward to defend that flag, with their fortunes and their lives.  When the call came for soldiers the people of Belpre were more vitally interested than they had been in the war of 1812 or the Mexican war.  The town had become a thriving center of agriculture with a population of 1529 by the census of 1860.  The number of males was 814 of these 152 served for a longer or shorter period and 24 lost their lives.  They belonged to at least thirty regiments and batteries and there were very few, if any considerable engagements in which Belpre was not represented.
     But the cost of the war to the people of Belpre was not confined to those who put on the uniform and followed the flag into dangers and death.  There were fathers and mothers who bade adieu with many tears to sons in whom their hopes centered and who they expected would minister to them in old age, wives who spoke words of parting to husbands whom they loved as their own lives, brothers and sisters, who sent to the front the one who bore the heaviest burden in the home circle, children who might soon be orphaned and early compelled to assume burdens which should have been borne by a father or brother.
     Our country was saved by the patriotism, bravery, and sacrifice of our citizen soldiers and we owe them a debt of gratitude we can never fully repay, but the patriotism, bravery, and sacrifice of the women who remained at home was as truly an element in our country's salvation and is as deserving of a place in our gratitude and honor.  They said to husbands, fathers or sons: "Go to the front" when it mean separation and perhaps death and at the same time largely increased the cares and responsibilities of those who remained at home.  And they sent frequent letters full of good cheer and encouragement.  It was not uncommon when a son fell in battle for a mother to say to another who had remained as her support, you go now and take your place in the ranks and God will take care of us in the home.

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The soldiers were constantly in the thoughts of home friends, when a battle was imminent or had been fought they anxiously scanned the bulletins and newspapers to know if their loved ones were among the wounded or dead.  They knew that their own dear ones were liable to be pierced by bullets or torn by fragments of shell, they might be languishing in hospitals or dying on the battle field with no friend to take their parting message, and the body lie in an unknown grave.  There were soldiers and Societies in every hamlet and neighborhood and the women often gathered to share in each others sorrow and anxiety and to provide articles of clothing and comfort for those in camp or hospital.
     The patriotic ladies of Belpre were not surpassed by the ladies of any other community in the country in their sympathy with their soldiers at the front.  The Ladies Union Circle worked in connection with smaller circles in different parts of the town preparing articles of clothing, and of comfort for the sick and wounded.  They also sent to them fruit and delicacies with letters of encouragement and sympathy.
     In 1864 they held a Fair and Festival at which they realized $370.00 which was devoted to the wants of the Soldiers.  Articles were sent through the Sanitary and Christian Commissions or by those who visited homes on furloughs.  Many also added largely to their own labor and responsibilities that the men could be spared for the war.
     During the early months of the war Belpre was a frontier town and there was much anxiety lest the fighting should come near them.  The war sentiment in West Virginia was divided and soldiers were enlisted in both the Northern and Southern armies and there was some fighting within the state but in 1863 Western Virginia separated from the eastern portion and became a separate state.  There were a considerable number of people in Parkersburg whose sympathies were with the South.  Fort Boreman was established overlooking Parkersburg and a garrison was stationed there during the war, but the good people accepted the situation and there was no disturbance.
     It is stated by Belpre people that during the war or shortly after Capt. Jonathan Stone who had not shown

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himself in Parkersburg: in daylight for twenty years marched boldly up the main street with hat in hand, thanking God that the cause for which he had so long contended was successful and he was safe in Parkersburg.  Notwithstanding the differences and alienations before the war, now, half a century later, the business, social and religious associations between the people of Parkersburg and Belpre are as cordial as they could have been if they had always been in the same state.  Belpre is a suburb of Parkersburg, a large proportion of the inhabitants of Belpre are engaged in business in Parkersburg or at least do their trading and banking business there.  The ministers in the two places exchange pulpits with each other, are members of the same Ministerial Association and work together for the moral and religious improvement of the communities.




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