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Lincoln Supporters Trash Copperhead Newspaper


What Happened That Day?

Abraham LincolnHistorians agree that the Portsmouth Newspaper Riot was triggered by Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender to Gen. Ulysses S Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9. News of the end of the Civil War reached Portsmouth the following morning and locals immediately began to party. Work at the shipyard was suspended at noon on April 10.

Most accounts suggest that the riot was spontaneous, not conspiratorial. In his own special report, Joshua Foster insisted that deliberate plans evolved to ransack his States and Union. His rarely seen version of events that day offers a more detailed perspective.

Shipyard workers and visiting sailors celebrated at 50 bars open in Portsmouth that afternoon. At a few minutes before 2 pm, Foster wrote, a man came into The States and Union office and announced that a "committee" was coming to insist that he hang an American flag out his window. Foster reported that he was happy to do so, as long as there was no compulsion. He told the man that he had no flag in the office and that the one in the Democratic club upstairs in his building had been carried away to another part of the city. Fosters office was on the second floor of a brick building where the US Federal Building now stands. When he looked out the window, he wrote, a crowd of one or two thousand had gathered below. Perhaps the earliest news photograph in Portsmouth history shows the crowd gathered at Foster’s office.

"It seemed as if all the inmates of bedlam had been let loose to devour us in their causeless wrath," Foster reported.

Someone got a flag, Foster said, and three men went through the roof "scuttle" in order to attach it to a wire above the office. The scuttle, a wooden trap door in the ceiling, broke off and fell to the street, hitting a bystander on the head and arm. This inflamed the crowd that began shouting for Foster's life. Unsatisfied with the flag, the "mobocrats" insisted that Foster hold the flag himself and make a speech. He refused.

Foster family legend adds one more detail. Lucretia Gale Foster, Joshua's wife, told relatives that -- faced with an angry drunken mob of more than a thousand people celebrating the defeat of the Confederate cause -- her activist husband went to the office window and shouted, "Go to Hell!"

Copyright © 2009 by J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved.

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Monday, December 18, 2017 
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