Editor's note: The following is a letter submitted by Ozaukee County Administrator Thomas Meaux.
Saturday, November 10 2012 we commemorated the 150 year anniversary of the 1862 Civil War Draft Riot that occurred in Port Washington, WI. What a fascinating story within the context of the political turmoil and tumultuous culture of the time. Many of those involved were immigrants, unable to understand why the government was making them fight, in many cases having fled from conscription in Eastern Europe. Consider language and other cultural barriers, along with the ability of some fellow Ozaukee citizens to “buy” their way out of the draft for $300; it is a bit easier to understand the eruption.
Thank you to hundreds of Ozaukee folks that came to share and learn about the importance of the historical event locally with resonance throughout our Nation. Our guests were informed of the perspective and mind set of our local citizens, yet in awe of the ultimate sacrifices made by the soldiers and local families who fought the Confederate army. Many visitors stayed for hours reviewing the Civil War display and connecting with their ancestors from generations ago. Others got into the spirit in full regalia, dressed in Union blues and matching the ambiance with the wonderful Civil War Singers of Manitowoc who performed throughout the program and entertained afterwards in the Halls of the Court House.
I wanted to express special appreciation to the Planning Committee, Allen Buchholz, Shamey Cramer, Kathie Gordon, Kathy Tank, Michele Weiland and Kevin Wester. The group was tireless in their efforts to report the historic events yet respected and acknowledged the sacrifices of service made by so many. Allen Buchholz did an unbelievable job in getting all of the historic memorabilia together so that we get the whole picture of the sacrifices made by the soldiers of Ozaukee County. Shamey Cramer’s original presentation on that fateful day and background of the times was masterful. I have subsequently received numerous requests to take to our local schools for the kids to connect with our history. Michele Weiland developed a stunning self guided tour guide of the many significant event sites and generated many compliments and expressions of gratitude. Kevin Wester provided the inspiration to do something special to acknowledge the significance of the historical event.
Thanks to Ozaukee Under-Sheriff James Johnson who shared his personal connection with his great, great, great grandfather’s service in the Civil War and arranged for the Sheriff and Port Washington Honor Guard to properly salute the veterans from Ozaukee County with a 15 shot rifle salute and posting of the Colors. Our national anthem was beautifully sung by Brett Gordon son of Kathie and Todd Gordon of Grafton, what a proud moment for Mom and Dad listening to Brett’s stunning rendition. The program closed with former County Supervisor Joe Sopko playing TAPS in honor of our many veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. There were many misty eyes in the crowd.
Thank you to Jim & Christine Kassens-Asplin for your donation to cover the costs of the permanent historic marker at s/e corner of Main and Wisconsin, site of Ozaukee County’s first and current Court House. Thank you to our other sponsors including Cedarburg Lion’s Club, Luxembourg American Cultural Society, Ozaukee County Tourism Council, Ozaukee Historical Society, Port Washington Historical Society, Port Washington-Saukville Rotary, and Port Washington Tourism Council and other event volunteers Kelly Riedell and Masuma Zulfaker, from Port Washington High School.
With an unbelievable display of Ozaukee community support, we are holding open our free Civil War Exhibit in our Historic Court House through all of November, Mon-Friday, 10-5pm. Our historic Court House is a special place and our Ozaukee Civil War display is worth the trip. I would invite all of our citizens to come learn more of our rich history and wonderful legacy of local sacrifice for our Country.
Thomas W. Meaux