Indiana history journal weighs in on famous Civil War-era treason case

Jan. 16, 2014


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The current issue of the Indiana Magazine of History focuses on the landmark Civil War-era U.S. Supreme Court case Ex Parte Milligan. It reveals new details on the life of Lambdin P. Milligan, whose arrest and trial for treason prompted the case itself, and shows how his case has gained relevance again in a post-9/11 world.

The December 2013 issue begins with Civil War scholar Stephen E. Towne’s detailed biographical look at Milligan, the Huntington, Ind., lawyer and politician who was arrested, tried and convicted of treason during the Civil War for his role in a planned attempt to overthrow the government of the state of Indiana. A civilian tried by a military tribunal, Milligan pursued legal appeals all the way to the Supreme Court, where the justices found that civilians, even in time of war, must be given a civil trial as long as the courts remain open.

Milligan has frequently been portrayed as a martyr for free speech and a victim of unjust arrest. But Towne’s meticulous research through primary records uncovers the depth of Milligan’s involvement in anti-Union secret organizations and in their conspiracies. “Milligan,” he writes, “driven by his long-held ideologies, conspired against his government. He was simply tried in the wrong court.”

Elsewhere in the issue, Peter J. Barry details how historians have looked at the Milligan case over the years. Finally, Indiana State Supreme Court Justice Steven H. David examines the Milligan decision through modern eyes.

David, with nearly three decades of service in the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, served for one year as chief defense counsel for the Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Based on his experiences, David examines the complex history of American constitutional law since 2001 and discusses the important contemporary cases that still harken back to the Ex Parte Milligan decision made almost 150 years ago.

The Indiana Magazine of History is published quarterly by the Department of History at Indiana University Bloomington. For general information on the articles, contact the editorial office at 812-855-4139.