The Archbald Draft Riot of September 1862

In the weeks after the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, efforts to enroll Pennsylvanians in preparation for a future draft brought anger in the Coal Region to the boiling point.

Scenes on the battlefield at Antietam, September 1862 (LOC)

The angriest voices in the coal fields were Irish immigrants who largely opposed the Federal government’s handling of the Civil War. In the patch towns and villages of northeastern Pennsylvania, efforts to resist the Union war effort began as state agents attempted to enroll military age men for a future draft.

The Pittston Gazette captured how that resistance played out in the Luzerne County community of Archbald.* This mining community at the northeastern end of the Wyoming Valley had a sizable Irish population who made their opinions about the war abundantly clear. The following story was published on October 2, 1862.

The events it described took place on September 22, 1862. This date is significant, as it was the same day that President Lincoln announced the issuance of a Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. That document further inflamed the situation in the coal fields of Pennsylvania.

Resistance to the Enrollment in Archbald

Three enrolling officers have been forcibly prevented from discharging their duty in Archbald and vicinity. Augustus Brown first undertook to perform the work and then J.S. Spangenberg, but both were compelled to leave their duty undischarged. Charles Roesler of Scranton then undertook to complete the job, and succeeded in making in making nearly a complete enrollment of every class except the Irish, who resisted and swore no man should be allowed to put their names down on the list.

Meeting with constantly increasing opposition and threats of violence, on Monday of last week Mr. Roesler took with him a posse of six men, two of them United States cavalrymen. They arrived in Archbald about noon.

Archbald Town 1892
Archbald, Pennsylvania in the years after the Civil War (LOC)

On entering the town they were immediately surrounded by the Irish women and children of the place, who rush in scores with Indian-like yells, to the hotel at which they stopped. At the hotel a man was arrested for refusing to give his name, but afterward relented and complying with Mr. Roesler’s demand, was released, and for so doing, we are informed, was cruelly beaten the same night by some of his neighbors.

Mr. Roesler then proceeded on his route in the discharge of his duty, still followed by the crowd armed with clubs and stones. The first locality visited by them was “Shanty Hill,” where they succeeded in taking about 30 names, but before they could enroll more, they were attacked and driven off. They then retreated to the hotel.

After dinner, the mob having dispersed, they again started out and endeavored to complete the enrollment of the inhabitants residing in the street along the Lackawanna River – principally Americans and Germans. With these they had no trouble, all giving their names cheerfully, and had nearly finished their labors, when, while in a shoe shop owned by a German, the yelling crowd again rushed from the Irish neighborhood, surrounded the building, and commenced a violent assault with stones, clubs, etc., smashing the windows and otherwise injuring the building.

Affairs now began to look rather gloomy, but they once more sallied forth, determined to do their duty, and amid a shower of stones proceeded towards the office of the Coal Company. On their route, at the entrance of the mines, they succeeded in enrolling a few miners just emerging from their underground labors; but they could not proceed farther in their labors on account of the demonstrations of the mob, and Mr. Roesler took refuge in the office. His aides did not accompany him, but proceeded towards the hotel – one of their number having previously been sent by Mr. Roesler to get the team ready for flight – a precaution, or a “piece of masterly strategy,” as Mr. R. calls it, which probably proved the salvation of the party.

Archbald Colliery
The colliery and associated buildings and offices at Archbald (LOC)

Up to this point the women only had taken part in the offensive operations – their husbands and brothers giving “aid and comfort” to their movements by stationing themselves in the background as a reserve, ready at any moment to decide the fortunes of the day, by a precipitous charge.

As soon as Mr. R. had entered the office, this reserve force of fresh Irishmen rushed up and surrounded the building. Finding the door locked, they made preparations to force an entrance, swearing that Mr. Roesler should never leave the office alive. While one party of brawny Irishmen was trying to break the fastenings of the door, the main body was bombarding the building, and a tempest of missiles was rained against the walls and through the windows almost equal in intensity to the storm of shot and shell which their compatriots at the South hurled against Fort Sumter.

Their stones and clubs had little effect on the building except breaking the windows. The party at the door with their battering-rams, however, had better success. They succeeded in forcing the door; and it flew from its hinges so suddenly, and the impetus was so great, that the whole crowd was precipitated sprawlingly upon the floor.

This was a fortunate occurrence for the solitary individual who was doing garrison duty on the inside; for instantly taking advantage of their situation he sprang over their prostrate forms and started for the spot where he had ordered the wagon to be stationed. His situation was desperate.

About 300 wild Irishmen stood in the way; but he determined to cut his way through. His sudden and unexpected appearance among them aided him in this, and before they were fully aware of his presence he had forced his way through the crowd, a short distance from which stood his aids, prepared with their revolvers to cover his retreat.

His own revolver was out of order and could not be discharged, and emerging from the crowd with blood streaming from his head, he ordered his friends to fire.

They did so, with effect, at the same time retreating towards their wagon, which they reached amid flying stones and clubs, with bloody hands and bruised bodies.

They were pursued for a considerable distance, but the speed of their horses soon outstripped the mob and they reached home without further molestation.

The events in the Wyoming Valley near Scranton presaged even greater resistance to enrollment in the Coal Region. Just a few weeks after the riots at Archbald, hundreds of Irish mine workers walked off the job in Schuylkill County and armed themselves in an attempt to stop enrollment. We’ve written about that uprising previously here at Wynning History. 

*Archbald became part of Lackawanna County in 1878

Featured Image: Archbald in the late 19th century (Library of Congress)

Click here to read our previous work on draft violence in the Coal Region during the Civil War.

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