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Civil War Draft Riots
Port Washington, Wisconsin
12 November 1862

In Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, Catholic farmers from Luxemburg practically declared a Civil War of their own against the immigrant German Protestant and native American businessmen of the county seat and trading center, Port Washington. Here the draft commissioner, William Pors, was a German Protestant and a Mason, and he was accused of exempting his Republican and Masonic friends from military service.

When Pors got ready to start the drawing of names in the courthouse, an angry crowd of about 200 farmers marched up to the courthouse. Their banners reading "NO DRAFT" made the reason for their demonstration clear, and the clubs and bricks they carried showed they meant it. Port Washingon Draft Notice Pors began drawing names, thinking the farmers were there just to protest, but then the mob rushed the courthouse. Pors was dragged to the door, thrown down the steps, and pelted with stones as he fled for his life. He took refuge in the post office, where he locked himself in the cellar.

The rioters destroyed the boxes containing the names and then roamed through the town looking for Masons to vent their anger on. In several hours of pillage and plunder the mob severely damaged the Masonic hall, looted Blake's Warehouse, broke the windows and trashed the offices of Tomlinson's Mill and smashed windows and furniture in several fine residences, one belonging to Pors himself and others to local businessmen.

Pors escaped town via horse and buggy and headed to Milwaukee for reinforcements. Expecting trouble, the town's four pound cannon used in 4th of July celebrations was loaded with the only cannon ball in Port Washington. The rioters placed it on a bluff and aimed it toward Lake Michigan. They formed a defensive line, assuming the authorities would approach from that direction.

This was the 28th Wisconsin's first assignment. The regiment had been training for just four weeks at Camp Washburn, Milwaukee.

And indeed, Governor Salomon dispatched six companies of the 28th Wisconsin Regiment, who sailed up Lake Michigan from Milwaukee on the steamers Comet and Sunbeam. Four companies of soldiers disembarked before sunrise at Port Ulao, about five miles below the town and marched the rest of the way in. The remaining two companies continued on to Port Washington aboard the steamers. At dawn on November 12, they quickly surrounded and occupied the town. Taken by surprise, about 50 rioters surrendered immediately, while others ran for the other end of town. There, they ran head-long into an advancing line of soldiers. The men of the 28th gradually surrounded the rioters.

The arrival of the 28th left the farmers dumbstruck; they had not expected an armed response. A story in the Manitowoc Herald reported that the alleged ringleader, a Mr. Kemp, had had a change of heart as soon as the soldiers arrived. Kemp had made boasts before the troops arrived that there were not enough soldiers in the state to take him. But, when Col. Lewis and a few others went to his house and took him into custody, he was "as tame as a chicken". Soon, all the rioters were in custody. According to one of the soldiers, streets once filled with angry words and threats now echoed with laughter and cheers. "We were greeted with shouts of joy and exultation from ladies at almost every house," he recalled.

The soldiers celebrated their bloodless victory by restoring the national flag atop the courthouse. They had captured 150 of the most conspicuous rioters. The prisoners were escorted to Camp Washburn by Captain White and Company F, and from there to Camp Randall in Madison, where they remained in custody for about a year.