1862 Civil War Draft Riot
While many European immigrants to America eventually became naturalized citizens of the United States, not all chose to do so, some for fear that they would be drafted into war. Many immigrants came to America to avoid wars that decimated their home countries, and according to U.S. law, foreigners couldn’t be forced to fight for their new country. However, some men who had not filed for naturalization were unlawfully conscripted.

As the Civil War dragged on, fewer men were available or willing to volunteer. Therefore, a military draft was instituted. On September 24, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that anyone resisting the draft or showing disloyalty to the United States would be "subject to martial law and liable to trial and punishment by Courts Martial or Military Commission." By means of this momentous proclamation Lincoln also suspended the right to writs of habeas corpus nationwide, which meant that anyone imprisoned by the military during the insurrection could be held without a hearing.

Shortly after this decree, a draft was instituted in Ozaukee and several other Wisconsin counties because they allegedly had not filled their quota of volunteer soldiers. Ozaukee County fell 700 or 800 men short of the requirement, which was quite a large number considering it was the smallest county in the state. Although several hundred county residents had volunteered, some were purportedly not credited to the quota. Some citizens were convinced that the draft was unconstitutional and thought an active show of objection would convince the government not to impose it on them.

On November 10, 1862, Draft Commissioner Pors commenced the draft in front of the Ozaukee County Courthouse in Port Washington. Hundreds of people gathered at the draft site determined to prevent it from taking place. Draft rolls and other courtroom furnishings were destroyed, and Mr. Pors was pushed down the stairs. The crowd moved on to Mr. Por’s home, destroying it, both inside and out, in their anger. Damage was also inflicted upon at least 4 other residences.

Later that day and into the next, some of the protestors returned to their homes and others arrived to reinforce the group. A 16-year-old boy volunteered to ride to Milwaukee, the location of the nearest telegraph office. He rode home on his Shetland pony, which he then exchanged for a fresh horse. He arrived at the army post to request aid from the army troops stationed there.

Once Governor Salomon was informed of the situation, he issued orders. "I hereby authorize you to proceed immediately to Port Washington, with a sufficient military force to enforce the draft, and arrest the leaders and aides and abettors in the riotous proceedings referred to, as being included in the number of those subject to arrest and punishment."

Eight companies of the 28th Wisconsin Infantry traveled by steamer from Milwaukee to Port Ulao, a few miles south of Port Washington. Some of the soldiers disembarked there and marched to Port Washington. As they neared the city, the Governor later testified before the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, they spotted 100 to 200 rioters, most of whom carried guns, and some of them fired on the soldiers. About 50 protestors were captured.

Meanwhile, the other soldiers continued to the scene of the riot by steamer. Faced with a force of U.S. government soldiers, the rioters quickly fled. Some of the riot leaders escaped, but many others were caught. A provost court was set up at the county court house.

Eighty-one people were judged guilty of resisting the draft and were taken to Camp Washburn in Milwaukee, where they were joined by 49 more. The rioters were later transferred to the Camp Randall stockade in Madison. After holding them for about 3 months, charges were dropped, and the prisoners were released. Just days after the riot, the Ozaukee County draft resumed in Port Washington.