The name Thomas O. Lowe might not mean a whole lot to most people. I admit that, until a few weeks ago, I was among them. But I’ve learned a lot about the man since beginning to process the Lowe manuscript collection (MS-009) at the Dayton Metro Library. If I told you he is often lumped in with Clement Vallandingham, does that help you? If not, then allow me to explain a little bit about him briefly.
Thomas O. Lowe was a young bank cashier and later lawyer in Dayton at the time of the Civil War. He was also one of the “peace Democrats,” better known as Copperheads. According to research done by Carl M. Becker (see The Genesis of a Copperhead and A Lesser Angel) using the Dayton Metro Library’s Lowe manuscripts, Tom Lowe’s Copperhead sentiments may have blossomed during time he spent working in Tennessee in the late 1850s, as well as the senseless death of his father John W. Lowe early in the war.
Now, I know that everyone has shades of gray and can go through ups and downs in forming their opinions or convictions. But still, imagine my surprise when I came across a letter in which Tom Lowe indicated that he was considering Civil War service.
Except from a letter written by Thomas O. Lowe to his brother William R. Lowe, August 9, 1862:
The prospect of a draft gave a wonderful impetus to volunteering in this section. Col. Anderson’s regiment is full and they are seriously discussing the idea of raising another. I expect to put in my application to the Military Committee tomorrow for an appointment as Major or Quartermaster of the new Regiment if they decide to raise it. I don’t want to be drafted and I want a horse to ride. If I can’t get a position of this kind I will wait until I am compelled to go and then hire a substitute if I can. I still think this war can never restore the Union but I am very much afraid Jeff Davis will be inWashington dictating a disgraceful peace to us soon, if we don’t [bestir?] ourselves, and therefore at present I am a war man.
I laughed out loud when I read the part about wanting a position that entitles him to ride a horse. I suppose I can’t blame him there! If he can’t get a horse-riding position, he’s not going! I don’t mean to make fun; but still, this whole section struck me as funny…both in what he said (the fact that he was even considering joining up), as well as the way he said it (the underlines exist in the original letter, as emphasis).
According to a letter from Thomas O. Lowe to Adjutant General Charles W. Hill on July 12, 1862 (a few weeks earlier) [Ohio Historical Society, Series 147-38: 142], Lowe had already secured a substitute. I wonder whether this was in fact true, because from the sound of what he told his brother, he hadn’t obtained one yet. And what was the need unless he was actually drafted? Perhaps he was just planning ahead.
In the end, Tom Lowe did not serve in the Civil War. He was not even in the country for part of it. After Vallandingham was arrested in May 1863, Tom Lowe headed to Europe for the summer, out of fear that he might be next. (He didn’t limit his opinions to private family correspondence; he had written many letters to the local newspapers, as well, so his views were well-publicized!) Unlike the dramatics attached to Vallandingham, Lowe was able to return to Dayton and led a relatively ordinary life, especially after the war ended. He continued his career as a lawyer and eventually a judge; in his later life he became a clergyman.
The Lowe Collection (MS-009) is publicly available for research at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.