Lake County History Chapter 79: The Copperheads

The Napa Register set up shop in Lake County twelve years after Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Slavery Speech.’ The newspaper began its birth by printing a non-biased forum that took no part in politics. Then, after the Democratic party, led by Steven Douglas, split over the slavery question, the newspaper changed from night to day.

Its owners were Copperheads. The newspaper gave opinions that were all in favor of allowing the Southern States to keep its slaves and allow any state to have slavery… if they wished. The Napa Register became a vehement opponent of the Lincoln administration. It was the voice of the Copperheads in Lake County (a name given to any Northerner who tolerated slavery in the South).

Although Copperheads were ready to fight to the death for their principles, the reasons they offered for their support of slavery in the South were vague and unclear. The Copperheads fell back on the Constitution (States’ Rights under the Constitution), which said the individual States had the right to decide such questions.

One Confederate officer, Colonel Carlton McCarthy, when asked, explained what he believed were some of the reasons for that point of view. During the war, Captain McCarthy served in the Second Company that headed a Confederate artillery battery. Colonel Cutshaw’s Battalion of the Second Corps of the three Corps that made up the Confederate army was led by General Longstreet under the command of Robert E. Lee.

This southern Captain fought in many battles during the four years of the war, and his brother was killed at Cold Harbor. In telling why he fought the Union, he admitted his reasons were inexact and sometimes based on emotion rather than reason.

‘It is not fair to demand a reason for actions above reason. The heart is greater than the mind. No man can successfully define the cause for which the Confederate soldier fights. He is above human reason and above human law, secure in his own rectitude of purpose, accountable to God only, having assumed a ‘Nationality’ that he vows to defend with his life and his property. He is, therefore, pledged to his sacred honor.’

Still another Confederate, a Union prisoner, when asked that question, replied with the shortest of ambiguous answers.

‘Ah fight for my Rahts.’

His statement, like those of his fellows, was his hatred of a powerful central government and a fervent desire that his state should be free to make all its own decisions.

Robert E. Lee’s reasons may be clearer. When offered command of the Union forces against the Confederacy, he declined. He explained, ‘I am a Virginian. I owe them my loyalty.’

Even today, strong opinions of that war persist. One Lake County resident, a man I know as a good citizen, and a man of integrity, who was born and bred a southerner, made this writer aware of another reason why slave families were broken during that time in history. Phillip Smoley is a writer for the Record-Bee and a person that chairs monthly Civil War Round Table meetings for dozens of interested Lake County persons. Phil is the owner of his own business, an important part of Lake County’s economy. He pointed out a fact of which I had not been aware. What he said might explain one of the tragedies of slavery.

Black families were torn apart, like the book, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ portrayed. Speak to a Southerner living in Lake County today, one who reflects the feelings and beliefs of his Civil War forebears, and he will tell you what he believed was a greater truth.

‘The reason for the terrible separations of black families in the south was because of the Northerners. The southern slave owner treated the slaves as a part of the family. Nevertheless, the money for financing the large plantations and the purchase of slaves came from bank loans by northern banks. When payments could not be met, the banks did, as banks always do, they foreclosed on the debtor. When a plantation went bankrupt, the slaves were sold… by lots as opportunity offered and families were cut apart forever.’

Next Episode: Civil War Vet with a sad end

For more on Civil War History, read Paleno’s ‘The Porter Conspiracy’

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Pal Publishing, PO Box 6, Upper Lake, Ca 95485

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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