Confederate Yankees

The Confederate’s Army of Northern Virginia surrendered at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. That was essentially the end of the Civil War although others continued the fight briefly afterwards. The former Confederate states all regained representation in the United States Congress within the next few years. Eventually they all formally terminated their succession by decrees or legislation. The last place to officially rescind its succession was… Town Line, New York?!?

For the benefit of 12MC readers from outside of the United States, let’s turn to a map.

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Notice the location of Town Line, NY. The nearest state that seceded from the Union was Virginia. A town just outside of Buffalo joining the Confederacy is downright confounding. It shouldn’t happen. It reminds me of Winston, Alabama, the southern town that wanted to remain with the Union, except in the opposite extreme. Town Line did not rejoin the United States formally until 1946, at least according to them. The U.S. Government would contend that they never had permission to leave so they never could have left, but that would ruin the story so I’m going to conveniently ignore that.

The best source for a bit of historical background and the story of Town-Line’s return is the Buffalo History Gazette, and I’d recommend you take a look. A corroborating source is Jamestown There’s also a bit of skepticism so feel free to make up your own mind.

As the story goes, Town Line (so named because it was founded on the line between the towns of Lancaster and Alden) was a community of German descendants and recent immigrants, in a strongly Democratic pocket surrounded by Republicans. Residents differed culturally and politically from their neighbors. They were predisposed to be upset when Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, won the presidential election of 1860. There were a couple of incidents that might be more speculation or perhaps revisionist history than factual, including treatment of prisoners of war and the actions of runaway slaves at a nearby underground railroad site. Whatever the reasons, the town voted 84 to 40 to secede during the summer of 1861. Several men also left town to join the Confederate Army.

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Things didn’t go so well for the Confederate sympathizers of Town Line as the war progressed. They were harassed and many of them fled across the nearby border into Canada. The whole secession vote had little meaning to the pro-Union residents who remained in Town Line by the end of the war and memories began to fade over ensuing decades. The hamlet’s unusual status wasn’t rediscovered for another sixty or seventy years.

Reunification effort went along in fits-and-starts. It came up occasionally and was voted down by the residents. Maybe they liked their unique status. Eventually President Truman weighed-in on the issue, somewhat tongue-in-cheek:

There are few controversies that are not susceptible to a peace time resolution if examined in an atmosphere of tranquility and calm rather than strife and turmoil. I would suggest the possibility of roast veal as a vehicle of peace. Why don’t you run down the fattest calf in Erie County, barbecue 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.

This spurred the residents of Town Line to — finally! — rejoin the union on January 26, 1946, by a vote of 90 to 23. The last stronghold of the Confederacy fell.

Confederate Fire Department

This odd legacy is commemorated even to this day on the patch of the Town Line Volunteer Fire Department, the "Last of the Rebels 1861-1946."


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