“Deceive and Inflame the Masses”: Placing Blame for New Hampshire Civil War Draft Resistance

“Deceive and Inflame the Masses”: Placing Blame for New Hampshire Civil War Draft Resistance

Near midnight on a crisp October night in 1863, the brilliant fall foliage covering the flanks of the mountains in Jackson, New Hampshire, were suddenly awash in a bright glow. It was not an early dawn. The Forest Vale House, an inn nestled under the hulks of the White Mountains, was on fire. Two U.S. Army officers sleeping in the house awoke to a start and scrambled to escape the roaring flames, with one of them jumping from a third-story window. The conflagration consumed the four-story house and large stable, including the officers’ horses, wagons, and harnesses. Capt. Horace Godfrey, one of the Army officers, asserted in his report of the incident that “the fire was undoubtedly the work of an incendiary.”[1]

Birds eye photograph of Jackson, NH
Jackson, New Hampshire, circa 1890 (Library of Congress)

Godfrey, the Draft Enrolling Officer for the 1st District of New Hampshire, had good reason to believe an arsonist was the cause of his brush with death. The local residents had met him and his companion, Deputy Provost Marshal Hiram Paul, with open hostility since the two officers arrived in the mountains to serve draft notices for the district’s first quota of the 1863 Enrollment Act (which established the first national conscription). The fire at the Forest Vale House was the final straw. Fearful for their safety, Godfrey and Paul gave up on delivering their final four draft notices and retreated back down the long road to their headquarters in Portsmouth. Republican and pro-war newspapers in that port city and across the region disavowed this violence as dangerous and unpatriotic. They did not, however, place full responsibility on the then-unknown perpetrators. Editors instead blamed the inflammatory rhetoric of prominent anti-war Democrats (known as Copperheads) in New Hampshire and across the country, who they claimed had misled an easily influenced citizenry.[2]

The denigration of their Democratic political opponents was a clear objective of this pro-war reporting on the draft resistance; newspapers were, after all, organs of political parties with the goal of making partisanship essential to the lives and identities of American men. What is less evident, however, is if editors intentionally sought to portray the masses as naïve and easily manipulated. Whether intentional, or merely a by-product of their political goals, these newspapers still spread this message to countless loyal readers. The effects of a persistent message of a society unaccountable for its actions on the fabric of a democratic society seems ripe for further study.[3]

Black and white engraving of a large crowd in an office.
An image from Harpers Weekly depicting the draft in the provost marshal’s office of New York’s Sixth District (Library of Congress)

This tactic by the state’s pro-war papers in response to incidents of draft resistance actually began several months earlier. After the initial draft call for nearly 2,000 men in July 1863, restless and rowdy crowds had gathered in Portsmouth, the District’s largest city and where the draft was to be held. Capt. John S. Godfrey, the District’s Provost Marshal (and brother of Enrolling Officer Horace, who would escape the fire in Jackson) called for an extra contingent of soldiers and Marines from nearby Fort Constitution and the Portsmouth Navy Yard to safeguard his office and the administration of the draft. Several days of clamorous protests came to a head on July 16. The Portsmouth civilian police force arrested the supposed ringleaders of the mob. Members of the crowd apparently tried to free them, and in the confusion, someone opened fire. One policeman was shot through the hand and two other people were wounded in the fracas that followed, but no one was killed.[4]

Frank W. Miller’s Portsmouth Daily Chronicle tried to paint the mob as naïve citizens who had simply been led astray by influential anti-war politicians. The mob was “composed chiefly, as all mobs are, of low and ignorant” people, the newspaper claimed, that could be “easily excited to do desperate things.” Their path to violence began at a public meeting held earlier in the week by prominent local Copperheads. The Daily Chronicle asserted the meeting was designed to “denounce the government and encourage the rebellion,” and that eventually “the treasonable ball [had] kept rolling, gaining as it went,” with “the agitators continuing to foment the excitement” up until the shooting affair on July 16. Only the proper show of force from the miliary and the police had dispersed the deluded crowd, which “ran like sheep” back to their homes or to “the low groggeries from which, maddened by rum and inflamed by demagogues’ appeals, they had come forth.”[5]

Black and white photographic view of Market Street in Portsmouth, NH
Market Street, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, circa 1910 (Library of Congress)

When resistance broke out again in the district with the burning of the Forest Vale House in Jackson, pro-war papers continued the narrative they had established in July. A correspondent for the Boston Journal, who had been in Jackson at the time of the burning of the inn, penned an account that made its way into numerous papers across the state and into the minds of countless readers. The journalist ultimately did not regard “those ignorant fellows who commit the overt acts as so guilty as certain leading politicians in that region,” who had done a great deal to “deceive and inflame the masses.” The Oxford (Maine) Democrat[6] meanwhile, asserted that “the trouble [was] attributed to the influence of politicians rather than a disposition to resist on the part of conscripts.” The Exeter Newsletter similarly claimed that the townspeople’s ignorance contributed to their belief in the righteousness of their resistance, and their choice to treat the Army officers “quite uncivilly” upon their arrival in Jackson. Although the Boston Journal correspondent maintained that the government would still enforce the draft in Carroll County, he also warned that “a few desperadoes may be incited to [additional] deeds of violence by men who claim to be respectable.”[7]

The newspapers furthered the notion of a naïve public even in the portrayal of the victims of the draft resistance. Editors described Mr. Horace Goodrich, the proprietor of the Forest Vale House, as “a very quiet man, seldom discussing politics,” who even “refrain[ed] from voting in town affairs.” They claimed Goodrich had been born poor, but “by industry and good management had accumulated a handsome property,” most of which was destroyed in the fire. In other words, how could the offenders be so naïve to burn down the home of an honest working man, who had nothing to do with the draft and only provided lodging to weary travelers?[8]

Several weeks later, the officers returned to the mountains, this time accompanied by a large detachment of Invalid Corps soldiers from Portsmouth. The pro-war newspapers claimed a drastic change in tone and behavior of the area residents. With unsubtle exaggeration, a “looker-on” in Jackson informed the Dover Enquirer that when the soldiers arrived, the fiery rhetoric of the townspeople softened, and “up went the flag…open went the church for their shelter, and loyalty began to abound, which continued to such a degree, that men came in to get notices they were drafted.” Apparently, all it took was a proper show of force to easily persuade an impressionable public and enforce the draft.[9]

Photograph of soldiers standing in a line
Soldiers of Company H, 10th Veteran Reserve Corps (formerly Invalid Corps), April 1865 (Library of Congress)

These sentiments first spread by the press in 1863 continued to hold past the end of the war. In his official report of the draft nearly two years later, new District Provost Marshal Capt. Daniel Hall wrote that “from the beginning of the war, many persons in this District had held and declared the most disloyal sentiments.” Hall claimed that this was “a great degree instigated and encouraged by the treasonable utterances of prominent public men, and newspapers published within the District and the large cities of the North.” Hall, like the Portsmouth Chronicle at the time, attributed the unrest in Portsmouth in July 1863 to the meeting in the city held where residents were “harangued by disloyal persons inciting them to…violence against the Enrollment Laws and its officers.” Hall also believed that the actions of the mob “[covered] in disgrace all who participated in it or its spirit,” particularly “those prominent and respectable persons who sympathized fully with its object and really instigated and sanctioned it,” but managed to “shirk all entire and open participation in its crime.”[10]

Contrary to the writings of newspaper editors and draft officials, however, accountability ultimately fell to those who committed the crime. In November 1865, more than two years after the incident, the Oxford Democrat reported that two men, Joseph Libbey and Elias Nute, were finally arraigned on the charge of burning the Forest Vale House.[11]

[1] History of the operations of the 1st District of New Hampshire since its organization, June 18, 1865, MM1163 (Microfilm), Records of the Provost Marshal General Record Group (RG) 110, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, D.C.; William Marvel, The Neighbors’ War: Conway, New Hampshire 1861-1865 (Conway, NH: Conway Historical Society, 2014), 111-112; “Copperhead Outrage in Jackson,” Dover Enquirer, October 15, 1863; “Riotous Proceedings About the Draft in Carroll County,” Manchester Dollar Weekly Mirror, October 17, 1863.

[2] Copperheads, also known as Peace Democrats, were members of an anti-war faction of the Democratic Party. Operations of the 1st District New Hampshire, RG 110, NARA; Marvel, Neighbors’ War, 111-112; James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 600-611.

[3] Harold Holzer, Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014), XVI-XXII; Elizabeth R. Varon, “Tippecanoe and Ladies, Too: White Women and the Party Politics in Antebellum Virginia,” Journal of American History 82 (September 1995): 504. For examples of misinformation and lack of accountability, see David Klepper, “Defense for some Capitol rioters: election misinformation,” AP News, May 29, 2021 (accessed November 5, 2021), https://apnews.com/article/dc-wire-donald-trump-health-coronavirus-pandemic-election-2020-b7e929bb8d49b77d0922eae7ad3794b7.

[4] Operations of the 1st District New Hampshire, RG 110, NARA; “The Portsmouth Mob,” Portsmouth Morning Chronicle, July 17, 1863; “Rioting in Portsmouth,” Dover Enquirer, July 23, 1863; “Riot in Portsmouth,” Manchester Dollar Weekly Mirror, July 25, 1863.

[5] “The Portsmouth Mob” and “The Riot in Portsmouth,” Portsmouth Morning Chronicle, July 17 and 18, 1863; “Rioting in Portsmouth,” Dover Enquirer, July 23, 1863.

[6] Originally a Democratic paper founded by two former apprentices of Hannibal Hamlin, it had become solidly Republican by the Civil War.

[7] “Copperhead Outrages in Carroll County,” Littleton Peoples Journal, October 17, 1863; “Copperhead Outrage in Jackson,” Dover Enquirer, October 15, 1863; Oxford Democrat, October 16, 1863; “Copperheadism in Jackson,” Exeter Newsletter, October 19, 1863.

[8] “Copperhead Outrages in Carroll County,” Littleton Peoples Journal, October 17, 1863; “Copperheadism in Jackson,” Exeter Newsletter, October 19, 1863; “Riotous Proceedings About the Draft in Carroll County,” Manchester Dollar Weekly Mirror, October 17, 1863; “Copperhead Outrage in Jackson,” Dover Enquirer, October 15, 1863; “The Outrages in Jackson,” Portsmouth Morning Chronicle, October 13, 1863.

[9] Operations of the 1st District New Hampshire, RG 110, NARA; “Letter from Jackson,” Dover Enquirer, October 29, 1863; “The Disturbance in Jackson,” Manchester Dollar Weekly Mirror, October 24, 1863.

[10] Operations of the 1st District New Hampshire, RG 110, NARA.

[11] “Fryeburg Items,” Oxford Democrat, November 17, 1865.

Nathan Marzoli

Nathan A. Marzoli is a Staff Historian at the Air National Guard History Office, located on Joint-Base Andrews, Maryland. A U.S. Air Force veteran, he completed a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in history and museum studies at the University of New Hampshire. Mr. Marzoli’s primary research and writing interests focus on conscription in the Civil War North—specifically the relationships between civilians and Federal draft officials. He is the author of several articles in journals such as Army History and Civil War History, as well as numerous blog posts.

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