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Civil War Blog

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The Hegins Draft Riot

Posted By on July 5, 2013

Nestled in the upper end of the Lykens Valley, Hegins was a sleepy, little farming community in the spring of 1863. The war had taken many of its men off to war, leaving behind families struggling to support their farms.

Then there was those men who stayed behind, for one reason or another. Among these were Israel and Christian Stutzman, and Abraham Bressler.

Map of western Schuylkill County

Map of western Schuylkill County

The second federal draft, The Enrollment Act, was passed into law in March 1863. The law required every able body man in the North to sign up for the draft. Different districts would be assigned agents who were assigned to sign these men up for the draft. For the district including Hegins Township, Peter Kutz, of Monroe County, became that agent.

As Kutz went about enrolling men in the Hegins area on the afternoon of June 4, 1863, he received a most negative welcome. In an affidavit filed with Justice of the Peace, Jacob Reed, Kutz describes the events.

He said that between 4 and 5 o’clock on the afternoon of June 4, he was enrolling and came to the shoemaker shop owned by Israel Stutzman. He enrolled the owner of the shop, but when Israel’s brother Christian and his friend Abraham Bressler walked into the shop an argument ensued.

1855 map of Hegins Township, with both Bressler and Stutzman families present.

1855 map of Hegins Township, with both Bressler and Stutzman families present.

Kutz claimed that Bressler threatened him with a revolver if he ever entered Bressler’s house and that he would “break his bones.”

The Stutzman brothers then joined in as well, shouting about what they considered to be an unjust war for the “negro.” Kutz then left the property, but claimed he was harassed as he continued his work.

Kutz felt threatened, and when he began to leave, was accosted by two men as he left town. They told him to never come back. Another road block, a half-mile further included three men, one of which was armed. They told him “it was best for him to go.” Kutz never returned to Hegins Township, resigning his position out of fear for his life.

Charlemagne Tower, provost-marshal of Schuylkill County, became enraged at this act of mutiny in one of his outlying districts. He ordered Deputy Uriah Gane and several federal marshals to arrest the three men accused of starting the riot.

Charlemagne Tower

Charlemagne Tower

Charlemagne Tower wrote the following to the Provost General Col. James Fry in Washington:

“… At 8 o’clock in the evening of Monday, the 8th [June], Deputy Gane, with the sergeant (William Parks) and three men of the guard and James Bowen, a special assistant, left here in two carriages to execute the order. They reached Bressler’s house after midnight and posted themselves, as the deputy says, properly about the house. Bressler was at home, and a man who is represented to me as named Abraham Reed, and as a hired man of Bressler’s, was also within. Bowen knows Bressler well, and tells me is sure Bressler was within, because he heard and knows his voice.

Bressler refused to open the front door, where Gane and Bowen stood, and tried to escape by the back door. Sergeant Parks and one of the guards were at the back door. It was opened from within, and Bressler and Reed showed themselves there. Sergeant Parks at once laid hold of Bressler and said “you are my prisoner  I arrest you in the name of the provost-marshal,” and then shouted “Marshal! Marshal!” Then one of the men inside called to the other for “the rifle.” Bressler escaped from the sergeant’s grasp and jumped back into the house, and Reed prevented the sergeant following by shutting the door and holding it.

Gane, who was in front, on hearing the sergeant call for the marshal, at once went around to the backdoor, where I understand this happened. A person at the door was holding it to, and as the sergeant and men say, had a rifle in his hand. About the time Gane got there the door was opened, the sergeant had fired his revolver inside, and Gane saw a man disappear in the smoke. He rushed in, seized the man and arrested him “in the name of the United States.” It was dark. On procuring a light he discovered the man he had seized was Reed, and he let him go and went on searching for Bressler. On going to an end window, he found it open and a rifle standing beside it…

…Gane afterward heard Bressler’s wife tell her daughter, in German, that he was gone to Tremont…” 

Tower later describes a wild chase on the mountain road between Tremont and Hegins.  Bressler outran the marshals and escaped. The Stutzmans were taken to Pottsville and interviewed by Tower himself. He had apparently had the idea to send them to Philadelphia where they would be “out of the range of habeas corpus.” On interviewing them, he realize they were no threat, and had been carried away in the moment. He released them on $1,000 bond. It is also revealed that Abraham Reed was wounded in the melee at the Bressler home.

Abraham Bressler was never arrested for anything related to the incident in Hegins.

Charlemagne Tower became incensed later in June when he learned that everyone involved that night’s events had warrants out for their arrests. He accused the Schuylkill County judges of being anti-war and of trying to undermine his authority in the county. The situation in Hegins eventually played itself out, and peace again returned to the upper end of the Lykens Valley.

Stay tuned for more posts as Central Pennsylvania commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Invasion of Pennsylvania and the battle of Gettysburg.

 

 


Comments

2 Responses to “The Hegins Draft Riot”

  1. paul cress says:

    In this story I believe the Israel named is Christian s son not his brother there also is record of Abraham ,Christian and Israel going to court in Philadelphia and wining the case!

  2. Ann Stutzman-Philiposian says:

    Israel B. Stutzman, the shoemaker, was the son of Christian Stutzman. Christian Stutzman’s wife was Elizabeth Bressler, sister of Abraham. From the notes of Attorney Howard G. Stutzman, researcher of the history and descendants of the Stutzman Family.

    “My grandfather informed me that Christian engaged a lawyer in Philadelphia and the foot note at the end of the enclosed opinion found that all three, Abe, Christian and Israel were not guilty of any offense against the laws of the US. My grandfather also informed me that after the case had been dismissed and they were discharged from custody, Christian inquired of his attorney the amount of his fee. Christian was not dressed in the height of fashion and his attorney, evidently, thouht he had little money and requested a fee of $50.00. Christian then ripped open the lining of his coat and produced a wad of bills totalling ovver $500.00. The lawyer, being a Pennsylvania Dutchman, spoke in the dialect, “such a fat goose and I was too dumb to pluck him”.

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