War of the Rebellion: Serial 057 Page 0636 KY., SW. VA., TENN., MISS., ALA., AND N. GA. Chapter XLIV.

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these occasional altercations, rendered inevitable by the disloyal conduct and utterances of these parties, they had as yet engaged in no general outbreak.

On the afternoon of Monday, the 28th day of March last, a dozen or 15 soldiers of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Illinois Volunteers were collected at Charleston, the county seat of Coles County, Ill., in the neighborhood of which they resided, and from which place they were about to proceed by railroad to Mattoon, where the regiment (which had re-enlisted as veteran volunteers) had been ordered to rendezvous preparatory to its return to active service.

The day in question was the one appointed for the opening of the circuit court of the county, and it had also been given out that Honorable J. R. Eden, who represented the district in Congress, was to deliver a speech on the same day. A large number of persons had therefore gathered together, and had assembled mostly in the court-house square. Among these were distributed the soldiers, who were generally unarmed. The court had entered upon its regular business; the grand jury had been sworn, and had retired to its room; the sheriff of the county, John O'Hair, who had thus far been quentily engaged in his usual duties, was proceeding to impanel a petit jury. At this moment, about 3 p. m., a citizen named Nelson Wells, apparently without cause or excuse, suddenly drew a pistol and shot a soldier (Oliver Sallee) of the Fifty-fourth Regiment, who was standing near him in the square, inflicting mortal wound. In falling, Sallee, who was armed, shot and fatally wounded his assailant.

The act of Wells was a signal for a general and evidently preconcerted assault upon the soldiers. The latter were at once fired upon from different directions and shot down by a large number of men armed with pistols, who, as soon as these were discharged, hastened to their wagons, which were near at hand, and in which had been carefully concealed guns and ammunition. With these the firing was continued, and in a very few minutes nearly every soldier in the square had been killed or wounded. One of the official reports sets forth that 100 shots were fired in the space of one minute, so fierce and summary was the assault.

Meanwhile, at the first fire, Sheriff O'Hair hurried abruptly from the court-room, placed himself at the head of the assailants, whose acknowledged leader he at once appeared to be, directed all their movements, and himself participated conspicuously in the murderous attack.

Meanwhile, also, the court-room had been invaded by the same band; Major York, the surgeon of the regiment, had been assassinated and killed, and Colonel Mitchell, of the Fifty-fourth Regiment, set upon by 3 armed men, with whom he had a desperate struggle, from which he barely succeeded in escaping with his life.

All this, as has been said, occurred in a very short space of time. One officer, 5 soldiers, and 1 loyal citizen had been killed; the colonel and 3 soldiers wounded. Of the assailants 2 were killed and 7 wounded.

When the first fury of the onslaught had expended itself Sheriff O'Hair collected his men, who were nearly 100 in number, and presently marched them off to a grove, about a quarter of a mile from the court-house. Here they remained till they learned that a considerable body of troops, for which Colonel Mitchell had at once telegraphed to Mattoon, were on the way to Charleston, where upon they moved out into the country. With them they took 1 soldier as a prisoner.