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The Fishing Creek Confederacy

A Story of Civil War Draft Resistance

Richard A. Sauers and Peter Tomasak

Publication Year: 2012

Media Kit

           One hundred fifty years after the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln is thought of as one of the best presidents of the United States. However, most Americans forget that he was elected with only 40 percent of the popular vote. Many Democratic newspapers across the North mistrusted Lincoln’s claim that he would not abolish slavery, and the lukewarm support evidenced by them collapsed after Lincoln announced his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in the fall of 1862. The advent of a national draft in the spring of 1863 only added fuel to the fire with anti-Lincoln Democrats arguing that it was illegal to draft civilians. Many newspaper editors advocated active resistance against the draft. 


            Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin of Pennsylvania was a staunch supporter of the Lincoln administration. The commonwealth supplied more than 360,000 white soldiers and 9,000 black soldiers during the conflict. However, there was sustained opposition to the war throughout the state, much of it fanned by the pens of Democratic newspaper editors. Though most opposition was disorganized and spontaneous, other aspects of the antiwar sentiment in the state occasionally erupted as major incidents. 


           In The Fishing Creek Confederacy, Richard A. Sauers and Peter Tomasak address the serious opposition to the draft in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, in 1864. Egged on by the anti-Lincoln newspaper editors, a number of men avoided the draft and formed ad hoc groups to protect themselves from arrest. The shooting of a Union lieutenant confronting draft evaders in July 1864 resulted in military intervention in the northern townships of the county. The troops arrested more than one hundred men, sending about half of them to a prison fort near Philadelphia. Some of these men were subjected to military trials in Harrisburg, the state capital, that fall and winter. The arrests led to bitter feelings that were slow to die. The military intervention eventually impacted a Pennsylvania gubernatorial election and led to a murder trial.

            Sauers and Tomasak describe the draft in Pennsylvania and consider how Columbia County fit into the overall draft process. Subsequent chapters take the reader through the events of the summer of 1864, including the interaction of soldiers and civilians in the county, the prison experiences of the men, and the trials. Later chapters cover the August 1865 Democratic rally at Nob Mountain and the effects of the draft episode after the war was over, including its influence on the 1872 election for governor, the 1891 murder trial, and the formation of the official Democratic version of the events, which has been used by historians ever since.

            The Fishing Creek Confederacy is the first book to address this episode and its aftermath in their entirety. Sauers and Tomasak present the story and try to disentangle the often contradictory nature of the sources and how both amateur and professional historians have used them.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

I have a great interest in the Civil War. My maternal great-grandfather was a Medal of Honor recipient. Ever since learning about him, I have read widely about the war in an effort to better understand why over 600,000 men died in In the summer of 1991, I met Chester Siegel as a result of research I was con-ducting about North Mountain and the post–Civil War involvement of veteran ...

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Chapter 1: Columbia County Goes to War, 1861–1862

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pp. 1-8

Three days after Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 three-month militia members to sup-press the Southern rebellion. Pennsylvania’s quota was fourteen regiments of infantry, or about 14,000 soldiers. But the response to the insult to the national flag was so great that the commonwealth sent twenty-five regiments to war ...

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Chapter 2: The Democrats Grow Stronger

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pp. 9-14

By the end of June 1862, many Northerners began to doubt that the war would end as they had hoped. The May 31–June 1 Battle of Fair Oaks had startled the Army of the Potomac’s leadership and ended the advance on Richmond. The new Confederate commander, Robert E. Lee, then launched an offensive against McClellan. In a series of engagements known as the Seven ...

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Chapter 3: The Draft Comes to the North

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pp. 15-23

On December 2, 1862, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sent his annual re-port to Congress, in which he acknowledged and praised the efforts of the Northern governors in response to the two calls for troops that summer. Al-though there were problems in many states and a few failed to meet their draft quotas, more than 420,000 men had been furnished when only 334,835 ...

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Chapter 4: Columbia County and the Draft, 1863

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pp. 24-34

As the political parties began arguing about the upcoming gubernatorial election, the armies were again on the move. In the east, Major General Joseph Hooker, the latest commander of the Army of the Potomac, began maneuvering his 120,000 men in late April. He managed to surprise General Lee, whose own army was understrength because a sizeable detachment had been sent to ...

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Chapter 5: Columbia County and the Draft, January–July 1864

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pp. 35-40

The problems associated with the advent of the draft and the creation of the Provost Marshal Bureau often created chaos. Employees of the bureau questioned regulations and sometimes suggested better ways to deal with recurring problems that resulted from enrolling unwilling adult males in the North. General Fry was constantly speaking with congressmen who brought complaints ...

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Chapter 6: A Shooting

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pp. 41-46

War fever gripped the nation in the spring of 1861. As noted earlier, thou-sands of Pennsylvanians answered President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 three-month militia to suppress the Rebellion. The commonwealth easily surpassed its quota and sent more than 25,000 men into the army. Yet there were even more companies of soldiers that were not accepted at first because...

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Chapter 7: Military Intervention

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pp. 47-58

The troops that arrived in Bloomsburg on August 13, 1864, consisted of a cavalry company and two cannons from an artillery battery. Captain Bruce Lambert was in charge of the cavalry company, which had just been mustered into service at Harrisburg on August 12. Lambert’s men were part of the hundred-day state militia called up to help defend the state against a potential...

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Chapter 8: Soldiers and Civilians

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pp. 59-67

The presence of Union soldiers in Columbia County elicited emotional out-bursts from those in uniform and civilians with whom the troops interacted. A few surviving snippets from the Columbia County Republican indicate that loyalists appreciated the presence of troops because many genuinely were afraid of acts of reprisal against them from the men who opposed both the draft and ...

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Chapter 9: Prison

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pp. 68-91

When the army arrested civilians in Columbia County early on the morning of August 31, they were first gathered in the Christian Church in Benton, where Lieutenant Colonel Stewart and Captain McCann interrogated them before deciding who would be released and who would be retained as prisoners. By mid-morning, McCann’s company began herding forty-five men south ...

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Chapter 10: The Military Trials

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pp. 92-119

While the Columbia County prisoners passed their weary and lengthy days in Fort Mifflin, Union authorities combed the county in an attempt to gather reliable information that would either convict or free the incarcerated citizens. As noted earlier, Colonel Charles Albright of the 202nd Pennsylvania was sent to Columbia County in mid-September to supervise the information gathering. ...

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Chapter 11: The War’s End and Knob Mountain

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pp. 120-140

As the military trials wound down and the men found guilty were sent back to Fort Mifflin, the war continued. More men were needed at the front and the draft also continued. A supplementary draft in late December 1864 affected townships in Columbia County that had not met quotas in previous drafts. Seven townships saw 117 men drafted, with 62 required. On January 15, 1865, ...

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Chapter 12: Postwar Reverberations

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pp. 141-158

The war was over and the Democratic Party of Columbia County celebrated its Jeffersonian ideals at Nob Mountain in August 1865. With hostilities over, one might think that bygones would have been bygones, but the bitterness engendered by the military arrests and trials would never completely die out. The controversies that swirled in the nation’s capital over the proper method of ...

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Chapter 13: Historiography

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pp. 159-172

Charles Brockway painted the original picture of how the general public saw the draft problems in Columbia County. His thirty-four-part series in the Columbian and Democrat was a Democratic diatribe against everything that had happened. Using his legal skills, Brockway set the tone of the series in his first vituperative paragraphs when he accused the Republicans of having ...

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Chapter 14: Conclusions

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pp. 173-186

The story of draft resistance in Columbia County is one of the most complex tales of such activity in Pennsylvania, primarily because of the lacunae in the primary sources and the nature of the surviving primary sources. The center of the controversy is the shooting of Lieutenant Robinson. Participants on both sides of this incident spoke about the shooting with much emotion, ...

Appendix: List of Prisoners Sent to Fort Mifflin, September 1, 1864

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pp. 187-190


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pp. 191-214


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pp. 215-220


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pp. 221-224

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272881
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219886

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2012