In the early months of the Civil War (1861-1865), Ohio Democrats, who supported President Abraham Lincoln’s pledge to preserve the United States, joined with Ohio Republicans to form a single Union Party. In 1863, Ohio’s Union Party nominated as its candidate for governor, John Brough, a newspaper publisher from Marietta and a former Democrat.
The candidate of Ohio’s Democratic Party was Clement Vallandigham, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Montgomery County. He was a wily, pro-Southern agitator, who believed that the Southern states had a constitutional right to secede. Vallandigham was one of Lincoln’s most outspoken critics.
National leaders considered this gubernatorial election in Ohio a referendum on Lincoln’s conduct of the war. On Friday, Oct. 2, 1863, Fayette County’s Union Central Committee held an all-day political rally at the old fairgrounds. John Brough was the featured speaker at the event, which took place 11 days before the election of State officials on Oct. 13.
At mid-morning on Oct. 2, delegations from the county’s 10 townships gathered at the intersection of Court and Fayette streets and paraded to the fairgrounds. The fairgrounds extended eastward from the Columbus Avenue—Willard Street junction to what is now Lincoln Drive.
William Millikan, the indefatigable editor of the Fayette County Herald, reported that “every township had a well-organized procession with appropriate decorations, emblems, and splendid flags.” It was a cool, sunny day.
Men and women from Paint Township marched to the fairgrounds carrying signs with patriotic slogans. A group of young women from Concord Township followed on brightly-decorated horses. Two dozen girls from Jasper Township waved from a large wagon drawn by four horses to the bystanders watching from Court Street and Columbus Avenue. A similar number of young women from Perry Township rode on horseback waving American flags. Colorful ribbons embellished the manes of most horses in the procession.
The festivities began at the fairgrounds with speeches from two well-known Unionist orators. First up was Col. Granville Moody, the former commander of the 74th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry recruited in Greene County. Moody was a Methodist minister, who had earned the moniker the “Fighting Parson” while leading the 74th Regiment at the Battle of Stones River in Tennessee. Lewis B. Gunckel, an important state senator from Dayton, spoke next. Gunckel authored the bill in the Ohio legislature that enabled Buckeye State soldiers fighting far from home to vote by absentee ballot.
An hour-long break in the program gave the scores of families present some time to enjoy the food and drink they had brought.
The rally resumed when a group of ladies from Bloomingburg sang two Unionist campaign songs, whose lyrics they had written to the tunes of “Old Dan Tucker” and the “Old Granite State” (see YouTube). Their lyrics to the snappy cadence of the “Old Granite State” began like this: “We hail from Old Paint Township///, Five hundred voters strong/; Brough and Freedom is our motto///, In the Old Buckeye State/.”
John Brough spoke after the singing. In a booming voice, the corpulent, inveterate tobacco chewer lambasted the traitor Vallandigham before making an ironclad case for preserving the Union and supporting all of Lincoln’s policies. He then explained why Fayette Countians should elect him governor of Ohio. Speeches from several leaders of the local Union Party followed before the mass meeting ended in the late afternoon.
John Brough defeated Clement Vallandigham by 665 votes in Fayette County and by 100,000 votes in Ohio. Abraham Lincoln was jubilant over the election’s outcome. He sent governor-elect Brough an effusive telegram which read: “Glory to God in the highest! Ohio has saved the Union.”
Ohio was a bellwether state in the election of October 1863. It will be so again in the presidential election of 2016.