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THE "FISHING CREEK CONFEDERACY"
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From the 1950 McHenry Book by May and Torrence McHenry, pp 246-250 [see Note 2, below]. Unknown who actually wrote the following: ~~
The illegal and unwarranted military raid upon Columbia County during the Civil War frequently has been miscalled "The Fishing Creek Confederacy" [see Note 2, below]. Because the area of the Fishing Creek Valley was the scene of the raid, and because that area has been the home of many of the McHenrys since, and also because the names of seven McHenry men and five or six of their closely related kinsmen are in the list of those involved in the half-forgotten episode, it is fitting and just that the uncontroverted facts and the true historical significance of the affair be summarized in this volume.
The early settlers of the Fishing Creek Valley, mostly Scotch-Irish, were hardy, honest, hard-working people who believed in God and in themselves. Descended mostly from Revolutionary forbears, they were intensely patriotic, and took a lively interest in public affairs. they read much, and debated and argued and talked among themselves, and after the outbreak of the Civil War, did what they could to help fill the draft quota of their country.
This was a period when the entire nation was over-wrought and excited. There were raids and high-handed military overthrowing of civil rights in several Pennsylvania counties -- Columbia County was not exempt. In this time of tension and trouble, personal and political differences led conniving individuals to near [sic] false witness against their neighbors. Wild rumors and unbased charges were spread, to the effect that draft evaders and other disloyalists had formed a conspiracy, and built a well-armed fort in the mountain wilderness at the head of Fishing Creek.
Exaggerated statements went forth over and over, louder and louder, until outsiders began to believe there might be something in them. Representations were lodged in Harrisburg and Washington, and a thousand federal soldiers were rushed to peaceful Columbia County. After some drilling, and a wait for re-inforcements [sic] at Bloomsburg, a fully equipped "army of occupation," cavalry, infantry, artillery, drums beating and flags flying, marched up the astounded countryside -- along the peacefully beautiful Fishing Creek, to capture deserters who had never deserted; to destroy rifle pits that had never been dug; to hurl its proud strength against a phantom fort manned by phantom soldiers.
Before proceeding toward the purported objective of its campaign, the supposed fort with its big brass cannon, tucked away in a gorge of the looming mountains, the army encamped in a maple-sugar grove below Benton. From here, scouting parties were sent out in various directions, and, true to military tradition, the soldiers "lived off the land" quite sumptuously.
On August 28th, 1861, Major-General Cadwallader arrived to assume command. upon his orders, squads of soldiers were posted at different points over the northern townships of Columbia County. At an appointed time, at break of day, one hundred homes were surrounded, one hundred doors were pounded upon, one hundred citizens were aroused from their beds and arrested without the process of law, in defiance of their constitutional rights, by the armed force of a thousand soldiers. No resistance was made to the arrests.
The prisoners were marched to a nearby church and taken before an officer who blasphemously occupied the pulpit. The proceedings were hurried and summary. About one-half of the prisoners were discharged with no reason given for either their arrest or discharge.
The forty-five retained under arrest were marched to Bloomsburg, taken by train -- without breakfast -- to Fort Mifflin, on the Delaware below Philadelphia. At Fort Mifflin they were herded into an underground unventilated, vermin-infested, bomb-proof chamber. Here they were denied air, exercise and the light of day. They were denied free correspondence with friends or counsel, denied knowledge of the charges against them and of the names of their accusers.
It must be born in mind that these men were not riff-raff or scoundrels. They were citizens of good repute and prominent in their communities. In the veins of most of them flowed the blood of patriots who had helped to make this nation beloved of those who had fought for the colonies in the French and Indian Wars, who took part in the Revolutionary War and in the War of 1812.
After the round-up of those who, according to local plans, were to be punished for something or other, General Cadwallader marched his army to the head-waters of Fishing Creek, and encamped his army at the foot of the close-crowding mountains. Then followed an intensive hunt for that fort, with its two field pieces, its big brass cannon, and its five hundred desperate men.
General Cadwallader was an officer of experience and military reputation, and the search of the upper part of Columbia County was made with thoroughness, according to all the rules of military science. The soldiers who had had such pleasant, well-fed times down among the prosperous farms, fat barn-yards and orchards of the lower valley, had to clamber up steep ravines, around dangerous precipices and numberless waterfalls, through briers and huckleberry brush and almost impenetrable laurel thickets. They scoured the region; they went over into Sullivan County; they captured two old bear traps and a place where huckleberry pickers had picnicked. But never did they find any fort, any cannon, any desperate men. Like that famed horde of ancient Spain they "Marched up a hill and they marched down again."
General Cadwallader was a deeply disgusted man. He went down to Bloomsburg and declared, "The whole thing is a farce." This declaration of the officer in command of the invading force was made in the presence of Presiding Judge Elwell of Columbia County Court -- of Colonel John G. Freeze, eminent attorney and Colonel Tate, editor of the "Columbia, Columbia County's leading newspaper.
General Cadwallader returned to his quarters in Philadelphia, but the soldiers remained in the county like hostile forces in conquered territory under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Stuart, who was subsequently court martialed and discharged as a proven scoundrel. The men who had been arrested at Benton by soldiers were held in the Fort Mifflin dungeon with no charges brought against them, without a hearing of any description.
The soldiers remained in the county until after the Presidential election. At time [sic] of the State election in October and the Presidential election in November, contrary to U.S. Law, armed soldiers were stationed at polling places and along highways in nearly every voting district to prevent Democrats from going to the polls. As a result Columbia County went Republican in a Presidential election.
Along this line it may be noted that all of the forty five men chosen to suffer at fort Mifflin were Democrats; also it may be noted that, with a single exception, none of the arrested men had been drafted or was liable to the draft.
All of the Fort Mifflin prisoners were of equal standing and all are equally deserving of honorable remembrance. for the purpose of this record only the seven who bore the name McHenry may be mentioned.
THE LIST FOLLOWS: [see Note 3, below]
1 - Elias Jackson McHenry, aged 33, imprisoned 2 months.
2 - James McHenry, aged 44, imprisoned 3 months and 11 days.
3 - Elias McHenry, aged 47, imprisoned 1 month and 19 days, discharged on account of illness.
4 - Rohr McHenry, aged 36, imprisoned 1 month and 19 days, discharged on account of illness and carried home on a stretcher.
5 - Samuel McHenry, aged 57, imprisoned 4 months and 15 days, honorably discharged and sent home after acquital of Daniel McHenry and collapse of Prosecution.
6 - Russell McHenry, aged 26, imprisoned 5 months and 15 days, honorably discharged as above.
7 - Daniel McHenry, Treasurer of Columbia county & Stillwater Postmaster, aged 37, imprisoned 4 months.
Daniel McHenry was the only one of the prisoners who was able to prepare a vigorous fight for a full fair defense and his case was the last to be tried. Friends collected witnesses for him and he was ably represented by counsel including Hon. John G. Freeze, Herman Alricks or Harrisburg and U.S. Senator Charles R. Buckalew. The Military Commission postponed his trial three times, each delay adding greatly to the cost of defense. He was secretly approached with offers of release but spurned such offers with a demand for a fair trial that would secure not only his own vindication but also the vindication of his fellow prisoners as the articles of accusation were practically the same in all cases.
The delayed trial was finally called for December 14th. Daniel McHenry was honorably acquitted. By that acquital the Military Occupation of Columbia County stood condemned by its own extraordinary and partial tribunal -- the Military Commission.
With the conclusion of the McHenry case the trials stopped and further efforts of prosecution ended. Prisoners awaiting trial were released and sent home. Seven who had been convicted were pardoned. It should be added here that the question of the consitutionality of military arrests and military trials of civilians was decided by the Supreme court of the United States in the case of Lambkin Millikin No 350 December term 1865. Mr. Justice Davis in delivering the opinion of the court said, "Citizens of the states in which the courts are open, if charged with crime, are guaranteed the inestimable privilege of trial by jury. This is a vital principal underlying the whole administration of justice; it cannot be frittered away on any plea of State or Political necessity -- Martial Law cannot arise from threatened invasion of civil or military necessity. The necessity must be actual and present, the invasion real, such as effectually closes the courts and deposes the civic administration."
So decided the Supreme Court in a decision that covered the case of the Fishingcreek Confederacy and similar cases of military trials.
[see Notes 4 & 5, below]
1) Anyone interested in purchasing one or both of the McHenry family books should contact me for the e-mail address of the person selling the books.
2) As reported in the April 1987 Columbia County Historical Society's newsletter, p. 2, Mr. George Turner, board member and Chairman of the History Department of Bloomsburg University, lectured on this topic at the Columbia County Historical Society (then located in Orangeville, PA), [the following quoted from the newsletter] "entitled 'The Fishing Creek Confederacy' or 'the Military Occupation of Columbia County,' depending upon one's political preference. (the former was preferred by the Republicans, the latter by the Democrats. Mr. Turner prefers the title 'Civil War Dissent.'"
3) I condensed the information in the list of McHenry prisoners. Consult the McHenry book for the complete information in the list, including the prisoners' occupations. Also, this lists only McHenrys. For other names, see the first article I re-typed on the Fishing Creek Confederacy.
4) I have only re-typed this information from the McHenry book; I have not verified any facts contained within it. As always, there will be more than one point of view. Please note that this article does not mention that one prisoner, Mr. William E. ROBERTS, died during his imprisonment (according to 3 Dec 1864 letter of James McHENRY at Fort Mifflin, PA, and the Petition of William APPLEMAN presented to the U.S. Senate by Senator Buckelew on December 24, 1864.
Also note that this article does not include the information that one of the U.S. soldiers was shot during this occupation and later died of his wounds. According to the April 1987 Columbia County Historical Society newsletter (p. 2), "as late as March, 1891, one Elias YOUNG was arrested and charged with the murder, but he was found not guilty. The U.S. officer who was shot is buried in the Bethel Church Cemetery, in the vicinity of Fairmount Springs. The U.S. officer . . . was John ROBINSON."
The following is an excerpt from "The Civil War Times," a Columbia County Historical Society reproduction of that era's articles in an over-sized newspaper printed for the U.S. Bicentenniel: "In the Raven Creek area, east of Benton, on the night of July 30, Lieut. J. Stewart Robinson, who was part of a deputy Provost Marshal party seeking to arrest some deserters, was shot and later died of his wound on November 3 . . ."
5) As for how fragile people's memories are of past events, we only have to think of the History Revisionists, such as the group who insists that the Holocost of World War II never actually happened, and the people who believe them. In 1998, when I interviewed 104-year-old Mr. Karl Fritz of Benton, Columbia County, PA, I mentioned the "Fishing Creek Confederacy" and asked him whether he'd heard many stories about that incident. He smiled and said, "Yes," then added, "but I think the whole thing was greatly exaggerated." So -- who's to know who was right or wrong and what was true or untrue until we can build a time machine and live through the past, ourselves?
PALE July 26, 1998