Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Charleston (Ill.) Riot Records, 1864

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Manuscripts Division Staff

Summary Information
Title: Charleston (Ill.) Riot records
Creator: United States. Army. Illinois Infantry Regiment, 54th (1861-1865)
Inclusive dates: 1864
Extent: 95 items
The Charleston Riot records contain depositions and telegraphs from a riot in Charleston, Illinois between the 54th Illinois Infantry and locals who opposed the draft and the Civil War.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1976. M-1730.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Charleston (Ill.) Riot Records, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


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.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Charleston Riot records contain 80 depositions taken from soldiers and civilians during an inquest into riots held during the first week of April, 1864, along with a series of 15 telegrams transmitted during the riots ordering reinforcements and relaying news of the situation. The depositions are a rare glimpse into the violent opposition to the war and into the sorts of local animosities and political divisions rending the heart of the Midwest.

Subject Terms

    • Abolitionists.
    • Charleston (Ill.)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Copperhead movement--Illinois.
    • Riots--Illinois--Charleston.
    • United States. Army. Illinois Infantry Regiment, 54th (1861-1865)
    Genre Terms:
    • Depositions.
    • Telegrams.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   99, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Charleston (Ill.) Riot records,  1864 March 30-April 8 [series]
    Folder   20  
    Sworn depositions 1-33,  April 1-2, 1864
    Folder   21  
    Sworn depositions 42, 57-80,  April 2-8, 1864
    Folder   22  
    Telegrams,  March 30-31, 1864