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A branch of the Ku Klux Klan is in operation near West Colesville

“While our brave [soldiers]…are writhing in hospitals or exposed to bullet or shell, or giving up property and lives for the cause of the Union, these pitiful demagogues would weaken them by attacking the National cause in the rear” based upon their insidious disloyalty. This was The New-York Times’ observation on October 23, 1863, concerning the fact that in the North during the Civil War, there were numerous supporters of Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy. However, no estimates have been found to quantify this point. For many New Yorkers, the war was that of northern aggression, which prompted them to weaken the Union by following protocols such as encouraging” Boys in Blue” to desert, or to resist the draft, and even to denigrate enlistments.

This was a Northern movement on behalf of Southern interests.

Some New Yorkers were influenced and affected by movement leaders such as Ohio Congressman Clement Vallandigham. The North Country’s Ogdensburgh St. Lawrence Republican briefly detailed one way how this demagogue spread his message. On March 3, 1863, it reported that “several hundred copies of Vallandigham’s recent speech have been procured by Northern traitors” for distribution. Research has discovered one place in New York where the Southern cause was a dominant force. That place was the Town of Colesville in Broome County in the Southern Tier.

On October 15, 1862, the Broome Republican discussed the recent activities of “Northern traitors” who in this case lived in the hamlet of West Coleville where for the second year in a row they hoped to repeat their challenge to the “National cause in the rear” at the annual town fair in nearby Harpersville in early October. Two events on opening day at the fair in 1861 worked in their favor. First, they did not allow Old Glory to be raised on the flagpole at the fairgrounds—unfortunately, the Republican neglected to explain how. Second, the clergyman who at least had sympathies with these Northern Traitors refused to say a prayer for President Lincoln until the Bishop ordered him to do so. No other tactics are described. Even after the War’s end in 1865, a remnant of Confederate supporters functioned in West Coleville, although there is no evidence that they were enamored with the dream that the “South Shall Rise Again.” This remnant belonged to the semi-secret Knights of the Golden Circle, although some Democrats mistakenly called the group the Ku Klux Klan.

On September 19, 1868, the Albany Express reprinted a section from the Republican’s report a few days earlier on the other anti-Union organization in West Colesville. They “meet in an old store-house, of which the windows have been boarded up, and the conclaves are held with closed and locked doors….The men composing the organization belonged to the Knights of the Golden Circle…They are a desperate gang, and nothing but the fact of inconvenient distance from the rebel lines prevented their active participation in the rebellion.” Nothing like this last phrase was used to describe the traitors in West Colesville in 1862. Yet the Republican provided no insight into the KGC’s pro-Confederate activities except for one involving a textbook dispute in their school. Without naming the purchaser of multiple copies of Youth’s History of the Rebellion, this textbook “caused so much indignation that the books [were] withdrawn.” They were not going to proselytize the enemy’s perspective on the war. In contrast, on April 20, 1864, the Republican lavished praise on the book when it was first published, stating clearly that “we advise our young readers to get a copy at once.”

The Republican offered no follow-up on “Northern traitors,” or KGC, nor did any other local newspaper. In 1868, The Republican was furnished anonymously with the names of its leaders but chose not to print them. In the 1860s, anti-Americanism was a focus of residents in a rural town in Broome County. They would not desire to sing, or hear, “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

This article was originally published on 3/19/20 on NewYorkHistoryReview.com.

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