3 August 2017



Abbot Handerson Thayer’s Copperhead Snake Among Dead Leaves, contained in the study folder for his 1909 book entitled Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, now part of the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Today’s word is copperheadism.  Up until last week, I honestly had never even heard of the word.  I came across it while transcribing the August 2, 1917 edition of the Washington County News, in a single paragraph news-brief which read:

“Senator James grew very sarcastic in the senate when the navy and war departments were criticized by Senator Penrose for inefficiency. The senator said there was too much “copperheadism and sniping” in the senate.”

Now I know snakes.  I grew up in the woods.  I know how you can be standing on top of one and not even realize he is there.  I’ve seen it happen.  So when I read this I  figured that copperheadism must be akin to a wolf in sheep’s clothing–someone using a disguise to conceal their true intent.

This was a word after my own heart.  I needed it in my repertoire, so unlike my children, who are more than happy to take my word for something, or anyone’s for that matter,  rather than have to look it up, I clickety-clacked my way on over to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary to find out for sure what it meant.  This was what it said:

“Sympathy to the Confederate Cause in the War; disloyalty to the Union.”

And the Encylcopedia Britannica stated:

“Copperhead, also called Peace Democrat, during the American Civil War, pejoratively, any citizen in the North who opposed the war policy and advocated restoration of the Union through a negotiated settlement with the South. The word Copperhead was first so used by the New York Tribune on July 20, 1861, in reference to the snake that sneaks and strikes without warning.”

OK.  SURE.  Just like there were “Yankee sympathizers” living in the South, there must have been “Confederate sympathizers” living in the North.  Obvious, as in “if it had been a snake it would’ve bitten me” obvious.  Rational, but rationality was not my first reaction.  This was:

WHAT?!  There were Northern citizens that opposed the War?  I took Civil War History.  I watched Ken Burn’s  PBS documentary Civil War all the way through at least ten times.  I’ve read books, and articles, and even seen movies about Unionists in the South and counties seceding from the secession, and states splitting into two over the War, but not this.  Did I miss it?!?  I admit that it has been a few years since I last viewed the documentary and/or took my final exam in Civil War history, and I admit my middle-age mind, isn’t what it used to be, which was scattered at best; but if I ever knew about a political “Yankee” (and I say this with endearment)  faction to end the war, then I must have thoroughly repressed it.  THOROUGHLY.

If you are like me and have seemingly never heard about, read about, or watched a movie about Copperheads, I encourage you to read the full entry at Britannica.com.


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