Honoring an old Copperhead

LISBON – One of the more controversial figures of the Civil War era was Lisbon native Clement Vallandigham, whose outspoken criticism of President Lincoln’s policies resulted in his imprisonment and eventual banishment.

Now the Lisbon Landmark Foundation wants to preserve his place in history with a life-size statue of Vallandigham in the town square, with the organization receiving permission to do so at this week’s village council meeting.

The foundation is a committee of the Lisbon Area Chamber of Commerce dedicated to preserving local history and historical structures. Members Ryan Hillman and Susan Mowery told Village Council at its recent meeting the organization has begun seeking donations for the estimated $48,000 needed to have a bronze statue of Vallandigham sculpted and cast by Poland artist Tom Antonishak. The statue is of Vallandigham sitting in a chair, based on a photograph taken of him when he served in Congress.

Hillman said they must raise half of the money before making a commitment to Antonishak, and several organizations have agreed to provide matching funds once fund-raising reaches a certain level.

“Many people believe he was the second-most important person of the Civil War, with the other being Lincoln, and we should recognize that,” Hillman said.

Born in 1820 in New Lisbon – as Lisbon was known then – Vallandigham started his law practice in the village after passing the bar in 1842. He served two terms in the state legislature while in Lisbon before moving to Dayton in 1847.

A staunch believer in states’ rights, Vallandigham became the most famous of so-called Copperheads, the name given by opponents to a vocal group of northern Democrats who opposed the Civil War and wanted immediate peace with the Confederacy, even if it meant preserving slavery.

In 1863, a year after losing his re-election bid to Congress, Vallandigham was arrested and imprisoned after being convicted by a military court of violating a federal order forbidding the expression of sympathy for the enemy. His crime: Making derogatory comments about Lincoln and his prosecution of the war. The president later commuted Vallandigham’s prison sentence and banished him to the Confederacy.

While many view the controversial Vallandigham as a traitor, Hillman believes history has treated him unfairly, noting that regardless of his opinions, he stood for free speech and states rights at a time when it was unpopular to do so.

In addition drawing attention to Lisbon’s history, Hillman said having the statue would also help attract visitors interested in the village’s Civil War ties. “We feel it would be an asset to the community in regard to tourism,” he said.

Council agreed and voted to allow the statue to placed in the town square near the Civil War-era cannon. Hillman said the statue takes six months to cast and would not be ready for this summer’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of Morgan’s Raid.

Mowery, who owns the Vallandigham home at 431 W. Lincoln Way, intends to co-host a fund-raising event with Hillman at the house at 7 p.m. May 24. Tickets prices have yet to be determined for the event, which will feature a performance by German-born pop singer/songwriter Jann Klose, who spent some of his formative years in northeast Ohio.