Two years into the Civil War, hostility between America’s political factions had grown nearly as intense and personal as it is today.
As the federal government increasingly infringed on civil liberties in the course of trying to force the rebellious states back into the Union, early supporters of Mr. Lincoln’s war turned against it — and against him.
The imposition of a short-term draft in 1862, and a more comprehensive one in 1863, energized the opposition of those who did not support the war in the first place. A crackdown on free speech, including months-long incarcerations for citizens who merely voiced political opposition, alienated many who had, until that point, backed the war effort.
Converting a war for the Union into a crusade against slavery repelled great swaths of the public, as much because it smacked of bait-and-switch politics as from any sympathy with slavery.
The three northern counties of New Hampshire were dominated by conservative Democrats, many of whom initially rallied round the flag in 1861.
The most famous of those Democrats was Col. Edward E. Cross of Lancaster, who commanded the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers. Cross was killed on July 2, 1863, leading his brigade in The Wheatfield at Gettysburg, but he had soured on the Lincoln government by then. His dissatisfaction with administration partisanship would probably have led him to resign had he survived.
The 1863 draft law created a vast bureaucracy of provost marshals for enrolling potential conscripts, conducting draft lotteries, notifying men when they were drafted and overseeing their induction. The Provost Marshal General’s Bureau was also regarded suspiciously, with some justification, as a national surveillance agency and federal police department. Political patronage determined many of the appointments in the bureau.
In Democratic strongholds, the provost marshal’s men were bitterly resented, especially when they came to deliver draft notices. Handwritten reports filed with the War Department over a century and a half ago describe in detail the reception those federal
officials met with in the northern towns of Carroll County.
Deputy Provost Marshal Hiram Paul of Wakefield traveled by stagecoach to Conway with Enrolling Officer Horace Godfrey of Hampton Falls, whose brother was provost marshal for the 1st Congressional District.
Along the way, they stopped in Tamworth, Madison and Eaton, sometimes separating to drop the unwanted notices at the homes of men on their list. On Oct. 6 they slept at the Conway House, leaving separately the next morning in rented carriages, each with a local guide, and after delivering notices in Conway and Bartlett they met in Jackson the evening of Oct 7.
By then, word of their presence had spread. Godfrey arrived first, around 5 p.m., and was cussed royally by some of the Jackson residents; a few of them threw rocks at him as he drove by.
Paul reached town around 8 p.m. The pair took rooms at Horace Goodrich’s Forest Vale House, which stood on the spot now occupied by The Wentworth Inn. They went to bed at 10 p.m., but soon afterward someone set the hotel afire, kindling at least two separate blazes, and it went up like a match. The Jackson draft resisters evidently meant business.
The pair barely escaped by jumping out a window as smoke filled their room, leaving behind their firearms along with many of their remaining
raft notices. Paul’s carriage and horse were burned up in the stable, but Godfrey had apparently left his rig at the stable of Joseph Trickey’s Jackson Falls House, across the bridge over the East Branch of the Ellis River (now the Wildcat River).
He and Paul adjourned to a room at Trickey’s hotel, where Paul filled out blank draft notices for the men whose names had not been crossed out in his pocket notebook. The fire at the Forest Vale was still burning when he finished, and he surprised many of the lingering spectators with their draft notices.
The next day they continued their rounds in Godfrey’s carriage. They discharged Godfrey’s guide, Elisha Stokes of Bartlett, retaining Conway liveryman Joseph Greenleaf, who had ridden with Paul. Jackson Village residents confronted them as they started away, loosing another hail of stones after them as they crossed the bridge by the town hall, and then the mob turned on Stokes, beating and kicking him and finally chasing him out of town. Greenleaf refused to accompany them any farther, and slipped away.
As Paul and Godfrey continued, alone, they found the inhabitants unwilling to give them any information, but by stopping at every house they did locate several of the men they wanted. Late in the afternoon they drove up the Carter Notch Road, and nearly 4 miles above the village they veered off on a road over the East Branch, looking for the Perkins and Wiggin farms, north of Black Mountain.
People hurled insults at them at the first houses they visited. Paul dropped Godfrey off to deliver notices at the home of Joseph Perkins, the chairman of Jackson’s board of selectmen. Paul himself
drove on to the last house, belonging to Levi Barker Wiggin, to notify his son Henry.
As he drove back to pick up Godfrey, Paul was overtaken by Joseph Perkins, his sons Paul and Cyrus, and young Wiggin. The four promised Paul that he would never get out of Jackson alive. Since he already knew of a hostile crowd in the village, Paul collected Godfrey and started at a trot for North Conway on a “byway,” apparently dodging Jackson Village via Five Mile Circuit, Black Mountain Road, and the Dundee Road.
News of Jackson’s reaction to this federal intrusion had already made its way to North Conway, where it was received nearly as inhospitably. According to one version of the incident, when the two harried officials sought lodging at the renowned Kearsarge House, owner Samuel Thompson refused to accommodate them. They went instead to Nathaniel Mason’s North Conway House, which then stood on the site of North Conway’s present-day library. They had not been there long when another mob gathered, including men who had received their draft notices from Horace Godfrey. The crowd demanded that Godfrey come out of the hotel, but he prudently declined. Innkeeper Nathaniel Mason emerged and talked to his infuriated neighbors, and eventually persuaded them to go home.
Only a few days later, Paul and Godfrey returned to Jackson with Deputy Provost Marshal John Legro, 40 well-armed soldiers from a detachment of the Invalid Corps at Portsmouth, and the U.S. Marshal for New Hampshire.
The troops occupied the town for a few days, awakening the villagers each morning with the sound of
the bugle, while the officers delivered the last of the draft notices and made inquiries about who all the “rebels” might have been.
Early in November, Legro came back again with Paul, Godfrey, and a single constable. The nearest train service to Jackson was the Grand Trunk Railway, running from Portland to Montreal via Bethel, Maine, and Gorham, N.H. The four reached Gorham on Tuesday evening, Nov. 3.
The next day they hired a driver with his team and omnibus to bring in the “rebels,” appearing at Joseph Perkins’ home that night, but every male Perkins was absent. The officials headed for North Conway to look for their prey, arriving in the wee hours of Nov. 5, but their driver learned that Perkins had headed in the opposite direction. Having been warned of the provost marshals’ return by Barker Wiggin, Perkins had started
or Gorham with all his draft-age sons, intending to take the train into Canada.
Determined to fulfill his mission, Legro turned his party back for Gorham on Nov. 5, to lie in wait along the main road to the rail depot.
They picked up Barker Wiggin on the way, and over the course of Nov. 6 caught Perkins and his son Paul on the outskirts of Gorham. Selectman Perkins resisted when they tried to clap wrist irons on him, but leveled revolvers convinced him to submit. Joseph Dearborn, another of the rioters who lived where the Dundee Road spills onto Black Mountain Road, came along later in the day and they seized him, as well. The other Perkins boys had separated, and slipped through undetected.
Satisfied with the catch they had made, the officers took their prisoners to the railroad station, and by noon of Saturday, Nov. 7, they arrived in Portsmouth, lodging their four charges in cells at Fort Constitution.
Records of their imprisonment don’t appear to have been preserved, but government practice at the time implies that Perkins, his son, and his neighbors remained in confinement until their cases came up for trial, in February 1864. President Lincoln had unilaterally suspended habeas corpus in such instances, and there
was no chance of going free on bail.
The Jackson men were lucky enough to be brought before a civil court rather than one of the military commissions the War Department used to assure convictions in higher-profile cases. The trial was held right in Jackson, probably at Trickey’s hotel. One Jackson man who testified for the prosecution lodged his horse and buggy at Trickey’s stable; after testifying, he found his harness chopped into fragments, and his horse’s mane and tail shaved bare.
The outcome of the trial never made the papers, but the absence of such reports suggests that the verdict went in favor of the defendants. They had already spent over three months locked up, but their resistance appears not to have been altogether unavailing, for none of the Perkins or Wiggin boys drafted that autumn ever served in the Army.
Other Jackson and Conway conscripts did ultimately don uniforms, however, or hire substitutes to fight on their behalf. A man could avoid service altogether by hiring someone ineligible for the draft to volunteer in his place, or he could escape a specific draft call by paying a commutation fee that left him vulnerable to future levies. The substitution provision became the favorite means of saving men from fighting in a war they opposed; it also provided an escape clause for proponents of the war who didn’t want to do the fighting themselves.
Through the votes of citizens who were either subject to the draft or had sons who were, municipal funds were often appropriated to pay the substitutes or the commutation fees. That reduced the impulse to violent resistance, but did little to abate the hostility between the pro-war and anti-war factions; it may even have aggravated and extenuated the bitterness, because the resulting debt burdened many towns for years after the war ended.
The biggest loser in the Jackson riot was Horace Goodrich, whose $8,000 investment in the Forest Vale House was a total loss. Two years after the war, he and his wife, the former Harriet Lucy of Glen, took their children to Minnesota and started over in a prairie town near Minneapolis.
Joseph Perkins and all his sons, along with Barker and Henry Wiggin and their families, stayed on in Jackson. They had been unwilling to leave their community to answer the call of an overreaching federal government, or for any other reason, and they all now lie in the Jackson Village Cemetery.
William Marvel is an award-winning Civil War historian who lives in South Conway.