The Confederate Town In New York That Held Out Until 1946

“One guy, he was calling me a Yankee. And I says, ‘Excuse me, I’m from Town Line, I’m a Confederate. We were Confederates for the longest time.’ He said, ‘If that’s true I’ll kiss your rear end in front of everybody to see.’ He looked it up and I guess he believes me now that we were the last of the Rebels.” —Brandon Adkins, resident of Town Line, New York

In A Nutshell

Unusually for a town so near the Canadian border, Town Line, New York voted to secede from the Union in 1861 and join the Confederacy. While the circumstances surrounding the treasonous act is shrouded in urban legend, the secession—ignored by the Union government—remains a curious aberration. Town Line was the only Northern town to turn rebel during the Civil War, and didn’t rejoin the US until 1946, making it the last stronghold of the Confederacy.

The Whole Bushel

Town Line in Erie County, New York is only a few miles from the Canadian border. Go to the local fire station and until recently, you might have seen the personnel wearing shoulder patches reading “Last of the Rebels 1861–1946.” During Civil War celebrations, townsfolk display the Confederate flag and wear the Confederate gray. Any visitor would be baffled. It is well-known that the loyalty of towns farther south, near the Mason-Dixon Line, wavered along the divide between North and South during the war. But in upstate New York a few minutes from Canada? In a town populated in the 1860s by first- and second-generation German immigrants with no kinship ties to the South?

Nobody really knows the reason why, in late 1861, the men of Town Line gathered in a schoolhouse and voted 85–40 (or by some accounts 80–45) to leave the Union and join the Confederacy. They clearly supported Abraham Lincoln in the previous election. Among other provocations, perhaps the most likely was President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 men, to which the German farming community refused to comply.

The secession was largely symbolic, as the government did not recognize it. It never sent troops in to compel the town to return to the US, the Post Office continued its business and taxes were still duly paid. That didn’t mean, though, that the entire thing was a sham. There were real rebels in the town, and a few even left to actually enlist in the Confederate army. On the other hand, some of the men also fought for the Union. By 1864, as the tide of war turned against the South, the town’s secessionists were being harassed, forcing some to flee to Canada.

Things settled back to normal at the end of the war. The secession was conveniently forgotten until 1945. In a wave of patriotism accompanying American victory in World War II, residents realized that they were technically not part of the US. Returning veterans were chagrined and infuriated that they were not American. A special committee wrote to President Harry Truman about the situation. Truman responded good-naturedly, “Why don’t you run down the fattest calf in Erie County, barbecue it and serve it with fixins, and sort out your problems.”

The matter was once again put to the vote. Incredibly, the first vote held on December 1945 still failed to secure unity. The town had by now become national news, and the next attempt at reunion was attended by celebrities like movie actor Cesar “the Joker” Romero. Finally, on January 26, 1946, Town Line officially voted to be readmitted into the Union. (Still, 23 rebels decided against the measure—truly the town’s last Confederates.) The rebel flag that had flown for 85 years was hauled down, and the residents took the oath of allegiance.

Whatever the reasons for Town Line’s secession, be it grievances against the government, or just plain stubborness and a streak of independence, the episode might just be the most curious anomaly to come out of the Brothers’ War.

Show Me The Proof

Featured photo credit: Chriskyddwr
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