On March 28, 1864, Charleston, Ill., erupted in riot. A small town in the east-central part of the state, Charleston had been deeply divided between unionists and copperheads since the beginning of the war, and resentment of the military rose steadily after the imposition of the draft in 1863. The tension finally boiled over when an armed band of copperheads gathered at the courthouse on the morning of the 28th, intent on exacting vengeance on soldiers and "abolitionists" alike, and when a soldier of the 54th Illinois Infantry accosted a copperhead, and shots were exchanged, the spark was lit.
For two hours, soldiers of the 54th Illinois Infantry, supplemented by local Republican civilians, struggled violently throughout the city with marauding copperheads, trading gunfire and beatings. The arrival of reinforcements from Mattoon and the capture of several copperheads quelled the riot by about five o' clock, by which time six soldiers, two copperheads and a Republican civilian had been killed, and several more on both sides were injured. For several tense days after the riot, the army was occupied in seeking out and arresting the assailants in the riot, and during the first week of April, an inquest was held to determine culpability.