After marching across Franklin County on a warm, humid day in July 1863, less than 100 Maine soldiers crushed the “Kingfield Rebellion,” the only pro-Confederate uprising that occurred in Maine during the Civil War.
Or was the “Kingfield Riot” — a name appended to the collective events by pro-Union officials — simply some minor spleen-venting by Democrats suddenly drafted into Lincoln’s army?
Exactly what happened remains fuzzy 150 years later. Writing in his annual report in December, Attorney Gen. John Hodsdon described the “Kingfield Affair” as “the only overt attempt to obstruct the enforcement of the conscription law in this State.”
To replenish dwindling Union troop numbers, Congress had established a national draft earlier in the year. The law drew violent criticism in New York City, where rioting that expressed savage racial hatred erupted on Monday, July 13.
Particularly among many Democrats, war opposition was already strong in Franklin County and elsewhere in Maine. Men cited the horrible casualty lists, endless Union defeats (including the May blood-letting at Chancellorsville), and the Emancipation Proclamation as reasons for wanting the war to end.
As New York City blacks discovered to their horror, many white Northerners hated dark-skinned Americans — and refused to fight to free those in Southern bondage.
Such racism infected many Mainers, too.
The Kingfield Rebellion began in mid-July, after Lewiston-based draft officials started drawing the names of Second Congressional District men who must report for medical examinations before joining the army. “The first draft called for 12 men from Kingfield,” recalled Francis Edgar Stanley, who along with his twin, Freelan Oscar Stanley, later invented the Stanley Steamer.
A 14-year-old in that mid-war summer of 1863, F.E. Stanley shared his memories of the Kingfield Rebellion with the readers of the “Lewiston Journal Illustrated” on April 27, 1918. Specific details suggest that Stanley witnessed some events exquisitely described in the article.
When the draftees’ names arrived in Kingfield, “a singular thing was discovered,” Stanley wrote. Although Democrat voters numbered “about one-half more … than Republicans … the Democrats drafted, outnumbered the Republicans four to one.”
The local Copperheads — the term compared pro-Southern or anti-war (not necessarily the same viewpoint) Democrats with the poisonous camouflaged snake familiar to hikers of Southern trails — wondered if they had been hoodwinked. Had Republican Nathan Saunders, “the enrolling officer at Kingfield,” arbitrarily picked more Democrats than Republicans? Or had “the list … been tampered with at [draft] headquarters” in Lewiston? Stanley explained why anger simmered in Kingfield.
Hodsdon described what happened next: In “Kingfield, Freeman and Salem … the distribution of notifications to drafted men by the officers of enrollment was resisted.”
“The drafted men and their sympathizers got together and talked the matter over, and the more they talked, the madder they got,” Stanley recalled. The first incident of the Kingfield Rebellion began when angry Copperheads “decided to vent their spite on Saunders.”
Marching to his store in mid-month (probably after dark), Copperheads repeatedly knocked, but “were informed that Saunders had left town that afternoon and would not be back for several weeks,” Stanley recalled.
The mob then “striped” the white building “with black paint.”
“So Kingfield became the leading secession town,” remembered Stanley, a diehard Republican.
According to Stanley Museum Archivist James Merrick, “the date of the attack on Saunders’ store is uncertain.” He believes the event took place “sometime prior to July 16.”
Draft resistance spread quickly. On Thursday, July 16, “the marshal, whose name was Lambert, drove over from Phillips … some fifteen miles away,” Stanley described the next incident. Lambert left “his team … at the stable” and “went to the hotel for dinner.”
There “he was met by a mob of nearly fifty persons and ordered to leave town, with threats of personal violence in case he refused,” Hodsdon wrote in his report. According to Stanley, Lambert surrendered the draft notices that he carried and left Kingfield post haste.
In Freeman, “a mob visited the residence of Mr. Clark, the enrolling officer, the same night, and destroyed the notifications he had in his possession,” Hodsdon noted. “In the town of Salem, the same operation was repeated.
“Certain other riotous demonstrations took place a few days later” in Kingfield, he wrote without detailing the incidents. Enough was enough; “…unless such a spirit of opposition as was manifested was not put down, serious consequences would be the result.”
But reality had already ridden into Kingfield. On Friday, July 17, (the date is based on Stanley’s timeline) “a thing happened that gave the Rebels something to think about,” Stanley recalled. Several “Secessionists” stood clustered “at the post-office when a team drove up, and in the carriage with the driver was a man wearing the army uniform.”
Home on furlough, the captain wore his left arm in a sling, “the bone having been shattered by a Rebel bullet,” Stanley recalled, using “Rebel” interchangeably to describe his Copperhead neighbors and the actual enemy in Virginia.
The captain chatted with the civilians; when one “commenced to give an account of the [July 16] affair,” the veteran “interrupted him,” according to Stanley.
“Are you Copperheads such fools as to think you can resist the draft?” the captain asked. If the draftees failed “to report for the examination,” they would “be regarded as deserters, and you know what that means.”
A Copperhead “stepped out” from the group “and took hold of the [horse’s] bridle” and started to turn “the team around at the same time,” recalled Stanley.
“You had better mind your own business,” the Copperhead warned the veteran. “You can’t make such talk as that here, we are running this town.”
“Let go of the bridle,” the captain ordered. Fifteen decades later, the chill in his voice resonates from Stanley’s memoirs. “Leveling a revolver at the man’s head,” the captain reminded the Kingfield men about the gulf separating them from him.
“You say I better mind my own business,” the veteran said. “Do you know what my business is?
“Just now it is shooting Rebels, and I will shoot one in Kingfield as quickly as I would down in Virginia,” he commented.
Because “he evidently did not enjoy looking into the muzzle of a revolver,” the Copperhead released the bridle “and quickly placed himself at a safe distance,” Stanley recalled.
The wounded captain was not the only Union soldier inbound for Kingfield that mid-July.
Next week: Avenging soldiers cross Franklin County in a march de farce.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at http:maineatwar.bangordailynews.com.