Killing the serpent speedily: Governor Morton, General Hascall, and the suppression of the democratic press in Indiana, 1863

By Stephen E. Towne

Discussions of the phenomenon of federal government suppression of the press during the Civil War constitute a substantial body of literature. Historians have recognized that he unique stresses and strains on civil government induced by war resulted in extraordinary measures taken by government leaders to limit the speech of individuals and groups that openly criticized the ways in which the war was being waged. Some of these measures stretched legal and constitutional boundaries; others broke them outright.

Frequently overshadowed in these discussions of the suppression of the press is the attempt by Brig. Gen. Milo S. Hascall to muzzle the Democratic newspapers of Indiana in the spring of 1863. Hascall’s efforts are not unknown to historians; many have alluded to the case. Nonetheless, these accounts, usually based on the small handful of documents published in the official War Department War of the Rebellion series relating to the episode, paint cursory, incomplete pictures of the Indiana events, omit important details, obscure important facts, and overlook the scale of the Union general’s assault on the Democratic press.

General Orders number 38 (issued April 13, 1863, by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside) announced strict military punishment for any persons who voiced opposition to the government in Washington and the sympathy for the rebels in the South.

The Plymouth Weekly Democrat in Marshall County Indiana published anti-war sentiments in their April 30, 1863 issue. Consequently, Brig. Gen. Milo S. Hascall sent 12 soldiers to shut down the publication and arrest all owners. On April 14, 1863 the Plymouth Weekly Democrat became the first of what would be a total of 11 publications shut down by Milo that summer. The April 14, 1863 issue of the Plymouth Weekly Democrat displays an article talking about the publication’s recent shut-down and the arrest of its owners.

Brigadier General Milo S. Hascall. Courtesy of Haskell Family History.
Brigadier General Milo S. Hascall. Courtesy of Haskell Family History.

Milo S. Hascall was born in LeRoy in Genesee County, New York. In 1846 he moved to Goshen, Indiana, where he clerked in a store and taught school. Two years later, he was appointed as a cadet at the United States Military Academy, graduating in 1852. He was assigned as a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Artillery and was stationed in New England doing garrison duty in Newport Harbor, Rhode Island. After two years’ service in the Regular Army, he resigned his commission.

Hascall went back to Goshen, where he became a lawyer and filled various political offices. He also was a railroad contractor, district attorney, and the clerk of the county courts. He practiced law in Goshen, Indiana, from 1855 till 1861, serving as prosecuting attorney of Elkhart and Lagrange counties from 1856 till 1858, and school examiner and clerk of courts from 1859 till 1861.

Read the full article here “Killing the Serpent Speedily.”


Stephen E. Towne is an archivist and historian.  His bio can be found here. He is an Advisory Committee member on the Indiana State Library’s NDNP program.

Indiana State Library Receives National Grant to Digitize Historic Indiana Newspapers

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded a $293,157 grant to the Indiana State Library to digitize Indiana’s historically significant newspapers. Indiana joins 25 states participating in the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), a partnership between the NEH, the Library of Congress and participating states to provide enhanced access to American newspapers published between 1836 and 1922. Newspapers digitized as part of this two-year project will be included in the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America Database (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/).

“This grant is crucial to the State’s efforts to provide optimal public access to Indiana’s historical documents and cultural heritage,” said Jim Corridan, State Archivist and Associate Director of the Indiana State Library. “The State Library houses millions of copies of historic Hoosier newspapers and this initiative will enable Hoosiers instant access to these collections via the internet.”

The Indiana State Library will be assisted on the project by an advisory group of representatives from the Indiana Commission on Public Library, the Indiana Historical Bureau, Ball State University, the Hoosier Press Foundation, the Indiana Historical Society, the Indiana University School of Journalism and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. The advisory group will develop criteria for inclusion of historic papers and ultimately select the newspapers to be digitized.

In addition to the Indiana papers presence in the Chronicling America Database, the digitized papers will also be available through Indiana Memory (http://www.indianamemory.org/) – a collaborative effort to provide access to the wealth of primary sources in Indiana libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions. Indiana Memory’s mission is to create and maintain a digital library that enables free public access to Indiana’s unique cultural and historical heritage. Through information and pictures found in digitized books, manuscripts, photographs, newspapers, maps, and other digital materials available on the Indiana Memory website, the program seeks to enhance education and scholarship of Indiana’s past. As a portal to the collections, Indiana Memory assists individuals to locate materials relevant to their interests and to better appreciate the connections between those materials.

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