Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

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

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

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

Article excerpt

The Fishing Creek Confederacy: A Story of Civil War Draft Resistance. By Richard A. Sauers and Peter Tomasak. Shades of Blue and Gray Series. (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2012. Pp. [xvi], 224. $35.00, ISBN 978-0-8262-1988-6.)

In the summer of 1864, civilian morale in the North hit bottom. Ulysses S. Grant's army had suffered about 60,000 casualties in the six-week Overland campaign. The other Union armies seemed to be making little or no progress. Going into the service was hardly an appealing option to many northern men, and the military had an increasingly difficult time filling its ranks.

Enter three deserters in Columbia County, Pennsylvania. Confronted with a posse looking to arrest them, the trio got into a gunfight that left a Union lieutenant mortally wounded. That incident sparked what Richard A. Sauers and Peter Tomasak depict as a gross overreaction on the part of military authorities. Over the following months, overzealous troops went into the northern part of the county seeking dissidents and deserters. More than a hundred men were arrested and about half of them clapped in a military prison (though not necessarily tried).

The story of northern Columbia County, known as the "Fishing Creek Confederacy," is a portrait of a community riven by political beliefs. These divisions might create tension in peacetime, but war and the draft raised suspicions--and the stakes--considerably. In that sense, this work is a useful microstudy about Copperheads, conscription, and home-front anxieties during the Civil War. That said, this tale would have worked better as a journal article. That it is book-length brings the work's shortcomings into stark relief. …

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