Civil War’s Last Rebel Town Rejoins the Union—in 1946!
There have been thousands of books and movies produced about the American Civil War, hundreds of thousands of eager visitors flock to Civil War battlefields every year, and the nation is in the midst of commemorating the sesquicentennial of this great and tragic conflict that caused more than a million casualties. With all this interest and knowledge, however, there are many Civil War stories that remain little known to this day.
For example, how many people know that:
• The first combat deaths of the Civil War actually occurred in a federal city between Union troops and civilians?
• During the war’s first year the Union almost went to war with England?
• A brutal riot erupted in New York City when the Union tried to draft men to fight in the Civil War?
• A Civil War battle was fought in Brazil?
• A Confederate force once attacked a town in northern Vermont?
• The last Confederate general to surrender his army was a Cherokee Indian?
• The last Confederate warship did not surrender until Nov. 6, 1865—seven months after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee?
Of all these surprising stories, however, perhaps none is stranger than this: the last Rebel town to rejoin the Union after the Civil War was not south of the Mason-Dixon Line, but was in upper New York—and did not officially come back to the U.S. until 1946!
That town was a tiny hamlet called Town Line, in upstate New York near Buffalo. For reasons no one seems to know anymore, the hamlet’s eligible voters (all 125 of them) met in 1861 and, after an intense debate, voted 85 to 40 to secede from the Union! Apparently the hamlet even sent five men to fight in the Confederate army in Virginia. But as the war dragged on the secessionist fever cooled, and the locals appear to have politely decided to quietly forget about their defiant stance.
However: they never officially rejoined the United States, until the patriotic fever following victory in WWII moved the residents of Town Line to rethink this matter of secession.
A reporter sent President Harry Truman a letter about the situation, and he cheerfully wrote back: “Why don’t you run down the fattest calf in Erie County, barbeque it and serve it with fixin’s in the old blacksmith shop where the ruckus started? Who can tell? The dissidents might decide to resume citizenship.”
Well, they did just that, holding the barbeque in October of 1945—during which they agreed to hold a vote soon on the great matter at hand. On Jan. 24, 1946, by a vote of 90 to 23, the last Rebel town of the Civil War officially rejoined the Union—85 years after it had seceded!
The following newspaper articles fill in some of the details of this remarkable story.
This copyrighted article was printed by the Sunday Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) on Sept. 9, 1945:
Now the U.S. Is Complete
By Carl Carmer
Author of “Stars Fell on Alabama”
Now that so much bright new global history is being woven, it’s encouraging to know that we’ve been busy at home too, tying up some of the loose ends of our own frazzled past.
It was commendable, for example, when Dade County, Ga., hauled down the Confederate flag from the courthouse staff last Fourth of July and came back into the Union.
Equally noteworthy was this year’s observance of Independence Day in Vicksburg, Miss., which had proudly ignored that occasion ever since General Grant won his celebrated siege and his troops moved in, July 4, 1863.
Evidently impressed by such manifestations of genuine patriotism, Town Line, a village in upper New York State, is now apparently about to follow suit—having grown self-conscious, no doubt, over the feeling of being conspicuous as what is perhaps the last remnant of the Confederate States of America.
But Town Line didn’t mind being conspicuous back in 1861.
At that time, the village’s 125 qualified voters had their dander up over the great armed struggle between the Northern and Southern states. Many of them were of Vermont ancestry—a heritage that gives a man a mind of his own. Others were from Germany, or their parents had been, and the reason they had come to America was to avoid the aggressive militarism that even then pervaded the German nation. These people were not to be stampeded into approval of a civil war just because public opinion throughout the North was overwhelmingly for it.
One cold night late in that year Town Line’s 125 held a meeting in the schoolhouse. (It’s the blacksmith’s shop now.) There was a mighty debate and some pretty hot things were said. Then a vote was taken. When the ballots had been counted no one there was particularly surprised to discover that Town Line stood 85 to 40 for secession.
In the years that have come between, Town Line has not officially changed its decision. Technically, by choice of its voters in 1861, it is still not a part of the United States. But the folks that live there now feel that it is time for something to be done about it. “If our former allies in Mississippi and Georgia feel that the Civil War is over, so do we,” said a prominent citizen of Town Line the other day.
This copyrighted article was printed by the Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington) on Oct. 8, 1945:
Barbeque Will Entice Hamlet Back to Union
Town Line, N.Y., Oct. 8.—(AP)—The hunt is on for Erie County’s fattest calf following President Truman’s suggestion that barbequed calf serve as the peace vehicle to entice this hamlet back into the United States.
The community, 14 miles from Buffalo, cast its lot with the Confederacy in 1861 by an 85-to-40 vote for reasons long since forgotten. It never rejoined the Union.
Stephen V. Feeley, member of the committee which seeks to return the hamlet to the Union, wrote to the President asking advice.
The President replied:
“There are few controversies not susceptible to peaceful resolution if examined in tranquility and calm rather than strife and turmoil. I suggest roast veal as a vehicle of peace.
“Why don’t you run down the fattest calf in Erie County, barbeque it and serve it with fixin’s in the old blacksmith shop where the ruckus started? Who can tell? The dissidents might decide to resume citizenship.”
The calf will be barbequed at a mass meeting October 27 in the blacksmith shop, formerly a schoolhouse, where the articles of secession were signed 84 years ago. An attempt will be made to set a date for a vote on returning to the Union.
This copyrighted article was printed by the Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) on Oct. 23, 1945:
Truman May Get Town Back in U.S.
(The Associated Press)
Town Line, N.Y., Oct. 22.—President Truman’s attempt to annex this hamlet to the United States of America has moved Union-minded residents to perpetuate his name in a village square.
The town of Alden trustees, who voted for “Truman Square,” believe they are the first to take such action.
The gesture was made in appreciation of the president’s advice, solicited after a reporter discovered that Town Line had seceded from the Union in 1861 and never reinstated itself. Nobody knows why Town Line rebelled.
“Why don’t you run down the fattest calf in Erie county, barbeque it, and serve it with fixin’s in the old blacksmith shop where the ruckus started?” the president wrote. “Who can tell? The dissidents might decide to resume citizenship.”
This copyrighted article was printed by the Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) on Jan. 25, 1946:
New York Rebels Return to Union
(The Associated Press)
Town Line, N.Y., Jan. 24.—Residents of Town Line voted 90 to 23 today to return to the Union.
The results were announced after the votes were collected by Henry Urshel, owner of the blacksmith shop where 85 years ago the tiny community decided for reasons now unknown to secede.
The ballots were counted by Movie Actors Cesar Romero and Martha Stewart, here for a premiere of a modern picture stressing the theme of unity between the North and South.
Before the balloting began, the 250 Town Liners participated in a “Truman lunch” consisting of barbequed veal sandwiches and coffee.
President Truman had suggested a “fatted-calf” barbeque to act as a “peace vehicle” to get the hamlet back into the Union.
This copyrighted article was printed by the Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey) on Jan. 25, 1946:
Town Is Back in Union
Town Line, N.Y.—(UP)—The last Confederate stronghold was back in the Union after 85 years of allegiance to the South’s once-hopeful scheme for a separate national existence.
Town Line’s eligible voters finally “went Yankee” yesterday by a vote of 90 to 23, and the Stars and Stripes were raised for the first time since 1861 above the sagging blacksmith shop where the secession movement started.
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