Did the first violent resistance against the draft in Maine occur, in of all places, Prospect?
Bordered by modern routes 1, 1A, and 174, Prospect lies at the eastern tip of Waldo County, spreading across the hills to the bluffs along the Penobscot River Narrows. The town’s population was 709 in the 2010 federal census.
In a separatist effort led by Prospect businessman and Republican legislator Nathan G. Hichborn, part of the town had split off as Stockton in 1857. The bulk of Prospect Republicans apparently went with the new town, and Democrats apparently ran the Town of Prospect (according to the local Republican press).
In late summer 1862, Prospect was connected to larger Bucksport by a ferry and to Belfast and Bangor by stage lines. Suddenly, like everywhere else in Maine, Prospect had to provide men for nine months’ service in the United States Army.
Under an August 4 executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln and signed by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Maine was supposed to provide 9,609 men to meet this latest demand for warm uniformed bodies. The executive order encouraged men to enlist; if not enough volunteers appeared, the federal government would draft men to fill the vacancies.
Governor Israel Washburn Jr., Adjutant General John L. Hodsdon, and their staffs calculated the “quota” of men that each city, town, and plantation must provide. Facing a September 10 deadline to find them, Prospect must send 31 men.
Volunteers did not step forward, so the orderly sergeant of the local militia company called for a meeting on September 10 to draft men. Under the Militia Act of 1862, all able-bodied white male citizens between ages 18 and 45 automatically belonged to local militia companies.
The Prospect militia “assembled at the time and place appointed,” growled William M. Rust, editor and publisher of the Belfast-based Progressive Age, a pro-Republican paper.
When the orderly sergeant called the meeting to order, “he was met by threats from several individuals,” an angry Prospect resident informed the Bangor press.
Anti-war Democrats supposedly ran Prospect. Determined to stop the local draft, opponents promised “that the first man that attempted to draw a ballot would be shot.” Anyone else trying to draw names would catch a bullet, too, the pro-Republican resident noted.
Describing the disaffected individuals as “a considerable number of disloyal men,” William Rust claimed they made “riotous demonstrations, declaring that this was a d—-n black republican war.”
“Two men of about seventy-five years of age were the most conspicuous,” the unidentified resident fingered the ringleaders, who went unidentified in a Bangor newspaper. One septuagenarian had “for years fed upon the bounty of the Government” and “now does what he can to crush it.”
Rust identified that particular ringleader as “Capt. John Odom,” employed by the federal government “for many years” as the light keeper at Fort Point Lighthouse overlooking the Penobscot River estuary in Stockton.
“A Union man named Grant was knocked down and cruelly beaten by the ruffians, and the meeting finally broke up in a row, without any draft being had,” Rust reported in his paper.
As to exactly who Grant was, we do not know; the 1860 federal census found 29 men with the surname Grant living in Prospect.
Someone (likely the orderly sergeant) promptly sent a detailed report to Washburn. Peering through his eyeglasses, he probably read the report a few times; he could not believe that innocuous Prospect had raised such a stink about the draft.
What to do with naughty Prospect, where the behavior of certain men bordered on treason? Always the lawyer, Washburn counseled patience when some gubernatorial aides probably breathed fire and brimstone.
He wrote Prospect officials “that if the quota of that town was in camp [in Bangor] within the seven days allowed,” all would be “well.”
If not, “otherwise a sufficient force would be sent to make the draft, and arrest all who interfered,” Washburn promised, according to William Rust.
“Upon learning this, we understand,” Prospect residents “at once set about raising the quota of volunteers,” Rust reported.
For the first time, the federal government had drafted American men to serve in the army. Maine and other loyal states had produced enough volunteers to limit the number of draftees, at least this time.
Such would not happen again.
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Sources: A Treasonable Resistance To The Government, Daily Whig & Courier, Friday, September 12, 1862; Resisting the Draft in Prospect, Progressive Age, Thursday, September 18, 1862
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He loves hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.