How Lincoln Dealt with “Draft Dodgers” and other Dissenters

By: Ryan McMaken reader Brad Cole writes:

A great-great-grandfather Montgomery Cole, got imprisoned during the Civil War because of speaking out against the draft policies. His arrest, along with others, resulted from President Lincoln’s invoking his Proclamation 94 in September of 1862. 

As for a bit of background, Montgomery Cole was 39 years old when arrested. He was married with six children (my great-grandfather came along two years after the Civil War) and nearly 100 acres of fields and livestock to work. He had registered correctly for the draft and was legally excused by furnishing a substitute. Scanned copies of his draft documents are below.

President Lincoln’s Proclamation enabled Mongomery Cole’s arrest by suspending the writ of habeas corpus during the War—no charges necessary for an arrest. In short, Grandfather Cole and other Democrats in the rural part of the northeastern Pennsylvania (Columbia County) area believed that the prolonged War, particularly the draft, caused disproportionate hardships on northern Columbia County, Pennsylvania’s people, and their families. The men were undoubtedly not Confederate sympathizers. However, he and the others arrested got accused by Republicans of discouraging volunteer enlistments and criticizing the draft policies.

Many of today’s citizens don’t know—or care—that in 1964 Lincoln was not necessarily the favored candidate for all. In Columbia County, that was certainly the case. Democrat rival, General George McClellan, carried every district in the County except for the Town of Bloomsburg, Catawissa, and Berwick. The farming communities voted overwhelmingly for McClellan. The vote tally in the County was 3,367 for McClellan and 1,914 for Lincoln. Attached are the vote tallies.

The horrible injustice of military arrest without charges and imprisonment of Cole and his fellow Democrats got named the “Fishing Creek Confederacy”—catchy name but a misnomer. To boil down a complicated story to its essence, it was the wrongful treatment of men who were otherwise upstanding community members.

Montgomery Cole’s release and the Oath of Allegiance he signed are also in my possession (attached with draft documents). It is moving to hold the papers in my hand and imagine what being arrested and imprisoned without charges was like for him and the other Columbia County men. Shortly after the War’s end, Cole was elected a County Commissioner and served from 1866 to 1869. He died of Tuberculosis, known then as consumption, at the young age of 51 in 1877.

As an aside, I turned 18 two years before the draft during the Vietnam War got abolished. Thankfully, I did not have to face getting drafted to head off to an unpopular war by then.


Sep. 24, 1862 proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln:

A Proclamation

Whereas, it has become necessary to call into service not only volunteers but also portions of the militia of the States by draft in order to suppress the insurrection existing in the United States, and disloyal persons are not adequately restrained by the ordinary processes of law from hindering this measure and from giving aid and comfort in various ways to the insurrection;

Now, therefore, be it ordered, first, that during the existing insurrection and as a necessary measure for suppressing the same, all Rebels and Insurgents, their aiders and abettors within the United States, and all persons discouraging volunteer enlistments, resisting militia drafts, or guilty of any disloyal practice, affording aid and comfort to Rebels against the authority of United States, shall be subject to martial law and liable to trial and punishment by Courts Martial or Military Commission:

Second. That the Writ of Habeas Corpus is suspended in respect to all persons arrested, or who are now, or hereafter during the rebellion shall be, imprisoned in any fort, camp, arsenal, military prison, or other place of confinement by any military authority of by the sentence of any Court Martial or Military Commission.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington this twenty fourth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, and of the Independence of the United States the 87th.

Abraham Lincoln






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