Sunday, April 17, 2011

April 14, 1861 Belvidere's Brief Secession

One hundred and fifty years ago the United States was divided on political and economic issues. The disagreement turned to violence and civil war when Southern militia soldiers fired their artillery guns on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. 

Warren County, NJ was, and still is, a rural county.  Most of the men of Warren had rarely traveled more than 15-20 miles from their farms or hamlets until the war took them south and west to unknown places and into situations of which they never dreamed.  A number of Warren County soldiers wrote letters to their families and to their local newspapers.  The Belvidere Intelligencer, originally created as The Belvidere Apollo by the father of General Daniel Sickles, offered to print all letters about the war written by local veterans.  The Warren Journal also asked soldiers to be their war correspondents.  This blog will showcase the firsthand accounts of local soldiers.

Belvidere's Brief Secession
On April 12, 1861, members of the South Carolina Militia artillery  fired on the soldiers of the United States Army garrisoned at Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, SC.  Although seven states had seceded earlier, it was this attack on a Federal installation that triggered the Civil War.

Two days later, Belvidere, the county seat of Warren County, NJ, seceded from the Union - if only for a few hours.  The tale of Belvidere's secession is practically unknown in the 21st Century, but in April 1861 it was the subject of newspaper articles and gossip.

Late in the evening of April 13, or in the early morning hours of April 14, someone had raised a specially made flag over the Stadelman Institute on Prospect Hill (also known as Seminary Hill) where most of the townspeople could see it when they awakened. The flag honored South Carolina and the seven Confederate states - but with a Belvidere twist.  The flag was red with the white Palmetto tree of South Carolina and seven red stars in a circle were placed in a white canton. 

In the April 19, 1861 issue of The Warren Journal, editor and publisher John Simerson wrote, "SECESSION IN BELVIDERE - Last Sunday morning, the citizens of this town were very much astonished to see a Palmetto Flag waving proudly from the Stadelman Institute.  the flag was composed of red and white, with a large Palmetto tree in the center, and seven stars on a white field.  It was promptly taken down as soon as discovered by those having charge of the Institute, and efforts have since been made to find out who placed it there, but yet without success."

No one ever found out who the prankster or pranksters were.  However, from the moment Stadelman Institute founder, Dr. J. Marshall Paul, ran up the hill from his Paul Street mansion to tear down the secessionist flag and replace it with the American Flag, Belvidere residents and merchants felt the honor of Belvidere was at stake and patriotism had to be displayed.  American Flags popped up throughout Belvidere like quills on a porcupine. 

Simerson wrote in The Warren Journal, "On Monday last [April 15, 1861] the Stars and Stripes were raised in front of the Post Office by Mr. William Carhart.  A subscription paper is now being circulated for the purpose of purchasing a large flag, which will be raised, at some point hereafter agreed upon, in this town.  The Star Spangled Banner is now floating on almost every post in this village. On Wednesday and Thursday, flags were raised by Mr. Peter Fisher on the American Hotel, Mr. William A. Fritts on the Washington Hotel, Rev. J. Addison Whittaker on the Belvidere Seminary, on the Cotton Factory, Mr. R. A. Boyd, Druggist, Dr. J. Marshall Paul, and others." 
Copyright 1997-2011: Jay C. Richards

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