July 21, 2001
When Port Washington, Wisconsin, draft official William Pors heard the nearby cannon thud, in 1862, he and the others in the courthouse hurried to the door and looked out into the pouring rain. An angry mob of farmers, close to 200 strong and armed with rocks, axe handles, and wooden clubs marched toward building. He took note of the words scrawled on the signs some were waving overhead, "No Draft." Deciding some sort of protest was going on he turned back to his counting. He didn't get far.
A barrage of rocks and bricks flew through the open front door, followed by as many of the mob as could squeeze through the opening. He was dragged out of the courtroom, down the steps, brutally beaten, then thrown in the mud. Some of the farmers grabbed the enrollment records, set them on fire and tossed them out after Pors. Others hauled down the courthouse flag. While attention was focused on this action Pors crawled away and took refuge in the basement of the post office. He managed to get away when the rioters headed for his home, where they proceeded to destroy the entire contents of the house, right down to the preserves in the kitchen. Then they were off to the home of the local doctor, also a Republican and member of the draft board, where they stole several hundred dollars worth of medicines before demolishing the house's contents and tearing up the grounds. Luckily no one was home at either house. Pors, in the meantime was hustled off to Milwaukee, where he wired the state authorities in Madison. The mob, now close to thousand strong and fortified with plenty of grain by-products, went on to destroy local warehouses, the tannery, the mill and the local Mason's hall (many Masons had managed to have their names stricken from the draft rolls).
Things quieted down a bit by nightfall and the participants prepared for a possible counterattack. Several cannon were placed on the hill nearest the Lake and trained on the harbor. By now Governor Salomon had received intelligence the rioters had completely overrun Port Washington. The next morning a small flotilla carrying over 600 troops headed north toward the besieged city. Anticipating what would greet them, the officers landed south of the city, split their forces in two and advanced, one half swinging around to the west, out of sight. When the rioters encountered the force out of the south all of the fight suddenly went out of them. Incredibly, they hadn't expected an armed response. Fifty surrendered, the rest fled to the west, where they ran into the other troops. The rebellion collapsed and its participants tried to hide from the soldiers entering the town. They were routed out from cellars, from under beds, from beneath haystacks and from saloons (where it's possible some had been most of the time). 150 of them were arrested, 82 eventually charged and convicted, along with another 44 captured later. They would spend the next year of their lives in Camp Randall, a prison facility in Madison. The Port Washington Draft Riot was over. Amazingly enough, there were no fatalities. New York City would not be as lucky next year. Things soon settled down, the damages were repaired and Port Washington's citizens went back to their everyday concerns, and waited for the news and casualty lists from the front and finally, the war's end. Things were looking up again. Time to settle down and wait for someone to invent the phonograph.
I'll explain next time. For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor
URL OF THE WEEK
In July of 1863 New York City became a battleground, as result of a new call for volunteers to go off and fight in a war that seemed to many to be unwinnable. This civilian battle was as complex as any between military forces; to give even a semi-rounded view of the events it is necessary to see it from several viewpoints, on several diferent websites. What follows is just three; a search will turn up many others.
This essay ends with links to seven military reports "taken from the 'Official Records of the War of the Rebellion', of some of the individuals involved in the military operations during the riots."
This site contains an essay by Jill A. Pierson on the riots. The author warns that parts may not be suitable for children because of language.
This site contains J. D. Hain's article on the riots from the magazine "America's Civil War"
These are just three sites ; a search will turn up many others.
© 2001 David Minor / Eagles Byte
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