Monday, April 25, 2011

The 1861 Arrest of Col. James Wall

While NJ Militia units were forming and joining federal service to protect the Union, Colonel James W. Wall, son of Senator Garret D. Wall, the man who developed Belvidere as Warren County's capital, had been speaking out against taking up arms against Americans in the southern states.

Col. Wall, a Democrat, was quickly labeled a "Copperhead" by Secretary of War Cameron.  On September 11, 1861, at 2:00 p.m., US Marshall B. Deacon arrested Wall in his Burlington home. 

The September 12th issue of The Trenton Republican stated, "Having procured assistance, the Marshall about half past two o'clock, proceeded to Col. Wall's residence, and informed him that he was there for the purpose of arresting him.  The Colonel, with a fierce oath, declared that he would not be arrested - that he had business of his own to attend to, and that he would be damned if he would suffer himself to be arrested.   The Marshall was prepared for this, and calling his assistants, directed them to take him.  Upon this, Wall started up the stairs but was seized and brought down.  He struggled and swore and struck one or two of the officers, but they did not release their hold.  A man who was employed by him, and Joe Wright, came to the Colonel's assistance, but they were soon disposed of, and Mr. Wall, without any hat, his collar open, and cravat untied, was carried to Belden's Hotel, struggling and threatening the direst vengeance against the Marshall, the Secretary of War, and mankind in general.  After reaching the Hotel, he became rather more quiet, and the members of his family were permitted to see him and take his directions.  When the 2 o'clock train from Philadelphia reached Burlington, the Colonel was put on board and took his departure for Fort Lafayette [in New York], via Amboy.  We understand he threatened loudly to kill the Secretary of War on the first opportunity.  Notwithstanding this, if Mr. Cameron lives until he is killed by Col. Wall, he will enjoy a very respectable immortality.  Our informant says that the arrest gave very general satisfaction to the citizens of Burlington - with the exception of his friend Joe Wright - Col. Wall having made himself very obnoxious by his active and avowed sympathy with rebellion and treason."

On September 13, The Trenton Republican stated, "The arrest of Col. Wall has caused no small sensation in this city, where he was so well known and where he has so many friends.  Whatever may be the regret of the unfortunate condition to which his course has reduced him, there is general feeling of approval at this display of energy on the part of the Government.  All men feel that this is no time for hesitation, but that men who are leading their aid to treason must be made to feel that they cannot do so with impunity.  We regret, however, to hear that a few men have been so thoughtless as to taunt good Union men who are at the same time       Democrats, by saying that Col. Wall was a Democrat.  It is true that Col. Wall was a Democrat, just as John Bell was a Whig, but when men become traitors, they cease to be Democrats or Whigs either...Let us then try to forget old causes of difference and all join heartily in the work of strengthening and upholding the Government in the work of putting down treason and rebellion."

The October 11th issue of The Belvidere Intelligencer followed up on Wall's arrest, "Col. James Wall, the Defender of the Constitution.  We have been somewhat at a loss to know why it was that the admirers of Col. Wall styled him 'Defender of the Constitution.'  We know that his friends, the rebels, have done their best to destroy it, but we never imagined that the Constitution was so desperate as to stand in a need of defense.  But we have found it!  Col. Wall became a 'Defender of the
Constitution' by solemnly swearing to keep the following oath: 'I do solemnly swear that I will support, protect and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States against all enemies, whether domestic or foreign; and that I will bear truth, faith, allegiance and loyalty to the same, any ordinance, resolution or law of any State Convention or Legislature, to the contrary     notwithstanding.  And further, that I do this with a full determination, pledge and purpose, without any mental reservations or evasion whatsoever.'  No wonder his friends rejoiced!"

Col. Wall was imprisoned in Fort Lafayette for two weeks until he signed the oath of allegiance to the Union.  The Democrats in the New Jersey Legislature rallied around Wall, and on February 20, 1862, the NJ General Assembly Judiciary Committee reported the Republican administration in Washington, D.C. had violated the laws and that Col. Wall   should be entitled to redress.  However, the State Legislature had no jurisdiction over the federal government so the  Democrats elected Col. Wall to the US Senate in 1863.

Copyright 1997-2011: Jay C. Richards

No comments:

Post a Comment