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The Fishing Creek Confederacy: A Story of Civil War Draft Resistance

Richard A. Sauers and Peter Tomasak,  University of Missouri Press 2013, $35

After the initial burst of enthusiasm for the effort to suppress the Southern rebellion faded, bitter divisions re-emerged in the North. Not surprisingly, it was in traditionally Democratic sections of the North, such as Pennsylvania’s Columbia County, where unity frayed the quickest because of policies Abraham Lincoln adopted to fight the war. Suspending habeas corpus, making emancipation a war aim and decreeing a draft violated deeply held beliefs among Democrats about government and convinced many that Republicans were using the war to transform the republic. Republicans in turn saw Democratic opposition as, at best, misguided and, at worst, evidence of a treasonous “fifth column” in the North.

In Columbia County, this war-within-the-war came to a head in the summer of 1864. After a Union officer was mortally wounded trying to catch draft dodgers, Federal military authorities sent troops into the region and arrested about 100 residents.

More than 40 were imprisoned, and many were then subjected to military tribunals in which much of the evidence of efforts to undermine the government could also be interpreted as attempts by citizens simply to exercise their constitutional rights.

It is, to say the least, a story that stirred bitter passions, fanned by partisans on both sides. Richard Sauers and Peter Tomasak have dug deep into the source material. They deftly analyze reporters’ efforts to put their spin on what happened and provide balanced, fair-minded treatments of all the players in the story—from General Darius Couch to Senator Charles Buckalew to newspaper editor Levi Tate. The Fishing Creek Confederacy is an enjoyable book and a worthy addition to scholarship on the topic.


Originally published in the September 2013 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.