William H. Jackson
September 2, 1862
Waging war was man’s work.
For the first year of the Civil War, enough men wanted to take part in the war that the army and navy could get by with just volunteers.
As the war became longer and deadlier and the number of men needed to fight became greater than the supply of volunteers, the federal government enacted in August, 1862, a conscription law, a draft where able-bodied men would be ordered to serve their country.
For William H. Jackson, 40, a Massachusetts businessman, the idea of men serving their country did not mean that they had to be drafted or that they had to serve in the army.
The law excluded women from military service, as well as men younger than 18 and older than 35, teachers, judges, telegraph operators, railroad engineers, a select few government employees, and some skilled munitions workers. In the exclusions, Jackson found hope for his company.
He considered his employees – more than three dozen of them – at the Oriental Powder Company on the Presumscot River, below Sebago Lake in South Windham, to be essential to the war, just by doing their jobs.
Jackson writes to his attorney and friend, Thomas Deblois, of Portland, and asks him to speak with Maine Governor Israel Washburn about exempting Oriental Powder’s employees from the draft so that they could continue what they were very skilled at doing, making gunpowder.
Lots of gunpowder.
Operating night and day in Maine and Massachusetts, Oriental Powder was the country’s third-largest supplier of gunpowder.
The men mixed ground charcoal (carbon) with sulphur and salt peter (potassium nitrate) to make thousands of tons of gunpowder to fuel the Union war effort with the explosives for rifles, hand guns, and cannon.
Jackson believed that he was fulfilling his patriotic duty – and his business responsibilities – in asking for an exemption. Governor Washburn agreed. The men of Oriental Powder were excluded from the draft.
- Why would South Windham have been a good choice for a gunpowder plant?