The Conscription Act that passed Congress on March 3, 1863, is often cited as "the first draft in the North" or words to that effect. Drafting in the North, under this act, began more than a year after the Confederate conscription act, which was approved April 16, 1862. This has been cited as evidence of different abilities or enthusiasm on the two sides in the Civil War. But this ignores the fact that the drive to draft in the North began less than three months after the Confederate conscription act, that in at least five states in the North an extensive draft took place in the fall of 1862, and that all the Northern volunteers in that season signed up under threat of being drafted.
The mistake by non-historians is easy to understand when popular reference books on the war contain misleading or mistaken passages like this one, from "The Civil War Dictionary" [N.Y., 1959, reprint 1988]:
"DRAFT RIOTS - On Aug. '62 the President called on the states for 300,000 militia to serve nine months and ordered the governors to draft from the militia if the quota could not be filled by volunteers. This precipitated riots in Wis., Ind., and threats of riots in Pa. Stanton then postponed the draft."
Or this one, from "Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War" :
"DRAFT RIOTS - Draft riots broke out in response to the Union's first national conscription act, passed 3 Mar. 1863. Prior to that law the North had obtained its troops from volunteers and state militia called into Federal service."
The Northern 1862 draft was an attempt to let the states handle their own conscriptions, based on the antiquated militia system. It taught the federal government much about drafting American men into the army, and it was in some ways a dress rehearsal for the large-scale draft of the following year, complete with organized resistance, lucrative bounties, and hired "substitutes" who were the bane of enlistment officers. Most importantly at the time, it was a spur to volunteerism in crucial months when enthusiasm in the North was at an ebb. And for tens of thousands of men who were drafted, and for their families, it was a life-changing event.
The Northern government entered 1862 with a foolish expectation of impending victory. In December 1861, then-Secretary of War Simon Cameron had instructed the Northern governors not to send any more regiments unless they were called for. His successor, Edwin Stanton, sent out a telegraph on April 3, 1862, ordering the federal recruiting offices closed [General Order 33]. Historians have puzzled over the motive for this, sometimes crediting it to a desire to save money. Others feel it was only intended as a temporary measure, but the communication does not support this reading. It ordered recruiting officers to sell off their furniture and return to their regiments. The troops in the undermanned regiments in the field grumbled and newspapers criticized the confusion.
It seems that Stanton, like many in Lincoln's government, thought the war was about to be won, and the North would require only a few more men to finish it. On May 1, Stanton directed the army commanders to requisition troops through the states; and on May 19 he asked the governors to begin raising a few new infantry regiments. On May 27, after some vacillation, he directed that only three-year men would be accepted, but indicated they would probably serve less time than that because the war would be over within a year.
In the late spring of 1862, however, the leadership in Washington began to understand the gravity of the army's situation in Virginia. The closing of the recruiting offices was formally rescinded on June 6, and on June 18, Adjutant-Gen. Lorenzo Thomas wired all the state governors in the North: "We are in pressing need of troops. How many can you forward immediately?"
The answer can't have been encouraging. New Hampshire's Gov. Nathaniel S. Berry replied June 19 that "our Ninth Regiment is now recruiting. The field, staff, and a portion of the line officers are appointed. Every exertion is made and inducement offered to forward enlistments; still, owing to the season of the year, recruiting progresses much slower than heretofore." Berry thought it would be another 30 or 40 days till this regiment could be sent.
Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew Curtin wired back on June 18: "In view of the approaching harvest and the consequent difficulty attending the recruiting service, it has been considered better to confine our efforts to filling up the old than to attempt to recruit new regiments." Vermont said it was recruiting one regiment, but it wasn't yet ready. Iowa said it had one in process, but would require another 40 days at least. Illinois replied it had a regiment on the way and might manage another one, in three months or so. Ohio's governor thought he could have three regiments ready by Aug. 1, and two more by Sept. 1. Connecticut said it could round up 2,000 or 3,000 men for three months. New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Missouri said they had no troops available.
Gov. O.P. Morton of Indiana wired the War Department an extensive reply on June 25: "The five regiments called for from this State for service during the war are progressing very slowly. I have just issued a special proclamation with reference to them and hope to succeed in getting them up during the summer, but the difficulties from the causes mentioned are greatly increased." Those "causes mentioned" included "newspapers of extremely doubtful loyalty" and "a secret political organization in Indiana, estimated and claimed to be 10,000 strong," which had as a leading objective, "to embarrass all efforts to recruit men for the military service of the United States."
Lincoln and his cabinet had realized they would need more volunteers -- many more volunteers. The trick was to call them up and yet avoid the appearance of acknowledging defeat outside Richmond. Secretary of State William Seward provided the answer. He went home to New York, drew up an appeal to the President to call up fresh troops to finish the war, and sent it by telegraph to all the Northern governors, asking their permission to attach their names to it as petitioners.
Most of them replied, more or less approving of the sentiments in the appeal, and Seward promptly attached their names to the appeal, back-dated it from June 30 to June 28, and presented it to the President. "The recent victories (real or fancied) were mentioned, and the men were asked for, not to retrieve disaster but to hasten to a speedy conclusion a victory already in immediate prospect."
The next day, Lincoln wrote to the governors, "Fully concurring in the wisdom of the views expressed to me in so patriotic a manner by you in the communication of the 28th day of June, I have decided to call into the service an additional force of 300,000 men. I suggest and recommend that the troops should be chiefly of infantry. The quota of your State would be ______." The formal call for fresh troops was made July 2.
The quotas were sent out July 7. They can be seen, broken down by states, here. But the call to arms in the North was greeted with nothing like the enthusiasm of 1861. The governors, into whose laps this recruiting drive had fallen, knew they faced a steep road in getting men into the ranks for three years now that the public knew the realities of war. They urged Lincoln to call up troops for shorter terms, in keeping with Washington's "victory is imminent" tone.
"Recruiting for three years is terribly hard," Gov. Israel Washburn of Maine telegraphed the White House in the wake of this announcement. "Shall be obliged to resort to drafting unless I can be authorized to take volunteers for three or six months." Gov. Samuel Kirkwood of Iowa, like all the loyal governors, thundered mightily in public to whip up enthusiasm and urge recruiting down to the last man: "Our old men and our boys, unfit for war, if need be, our women must help to gather harvests," and so forth. But privately he wrote to Lincoln and suggested three-month enlistments would be better; Gov. Curtin of Pennsylvania argued in favor of six months, while Adj.-Gen. John W. Finnell of Kentucky requested that he be allowed to raise a portion of his men for 12 months.
The administration made one important concession to the governors, though it had to be strong-armed into it. On June 30, Seward wired Stanton from New York, "Will you authorize me to promise an advance to recruits of $25 of the $100 bounty? It is thought here and in Massachusetts that without such payment recruiting will be very difficult, and with it probably entirely successful."
Massachusetts was the arm-twister in this case. In late May 1862, Gov. John Andrew had begun an effort to force a change in federal policy by allowing advance payment of bounties. Stanton rejected him, so Andrew turned to Henry Wilson, his junior senator, who was chair of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs and the Militia in the 37th and 38th Congresses. On June 21, Wilson secured congressional approval of the practice of advance payment of bounties. Andrew held out from the governors' call for troops until he got Stanton to approve what Congress had authorized: advance payment of $25 of the $100 federal bounty.
This was the cause of Seward's frantic telegram. Stanton replied that this was a "judicious" plan, and that he would see to it that the necessary legal changes were made to allow this, which was done, and the advance was ordered on July 1. Andrew was responsible for other changes in government policy; on July 21, Stanton answered a request from Andrew, "you are authorized to say that new recruits for old regiments will be mustered [out] with the regiment." In other words, the "three year" volunteers might only end up serving two years. The offer was soon extended to the other states.
Massachusetts, wealthy and well-organized, could affort to play the quota game. Other states could not. Morton, the Indiana governor, in a "confidential" July 9 letter to Lincoln (also signed by Indiana's state officers), strongly suggested the administration consider a draft. "The undersigned would urge upon you the vital importance of procuring the passage of a law by Congress by which men can be drafted into the Army. If Congress shall adjourn without doing this you will doubtless have to call them together for the purpose. We send you this as the result of our conclusions from what we know of the condition of the Northwest."
On July 14, Gov. E.D. Morgan of New York also wrote to the administration, expressing the same sentiment. "Congress should not adjourn without providing by law, if it has the power to do it, for filling up the volunteer regiments in the field and those now organizing by a draft."
"It was now recognized that the previous year's enlistment of 700,000 represented the full, hard core of patriotic citizenry," one historian has written. This was recognized in the camp tents, as well as in the White House. The volunteers of '61 were jaded to army life and resentful of the incompetence of their generals. By the end of July, they could add to their list of gripes bitter feelings toward those still at home.
Maj. Octavius Bull in the 53rd Pa. Infantry Regiment wrote home to his brother on Aug. 1, 1862. The letter is more eloquent and witty than most, but the sentiment is that of hundreds of letters and diaries from the Army of the Potomac in those months:
"What has become of the much vaunted bravery and stubborn will of the 'Northern Freemen' which we were wont to hear during every political campaign? How is it that, beside the bounty of $100 given by the U.S., the state must add half as much more? And then how very rapidly recruiting progresses -- truly 'Northern Freemen' do love their country! Yes, so much that no inducement except positive force can get them over state lines! Oh, what patriotism. Ain't you proud of your birthright?
"We can never conquer the South in this way, don't you begin to realize it? How now about the war being over in three months? But I'm sick of this subject. We've been here, begging for reinforcements from a population of twenty millions, and have received two brigades, the aggregate of which is probably three thousand men, not more."
Those close to the Northern war effort had awakened to reality by the start of summer. On July 8, Seward wrote privately that he feared a draft would be necessary, but he cautioned that "we ... first prove that it is so, by trying the old way." 
Federal Militia Act of 1862
A draft of men into the military ran counter to the deeply held conviction that conscription was tyrannical and that volunteer armies were the only defense needed by a democracy. Individual colonies had drafted men during the Revolution, and a national draft had been seriously considered in the last year of the War of 1812, but the suggestion had been attacked as "Napoleonic" and despotic, and the plan was dropped. At the beginning of the Civil War, the Unionist governor of Missouri had threatened on Aug. 24, 1861, to draft men to put down insurrection in his state, but this, too had proved unnecessary.
This left the Confederate government to enact America's first large-scale draft. President Jefferson Davis approved its conscription law on April 16, 1862, making all healthy white men between 18 and 35 liable for three years of military service. The significance of this new development began to sink in in the North about the same time as the losses on the peninsula hit home.
When the second session of the 37th Congress met, it quickly took up the issue of conscription in a bid to match what the Confederacy had done. The legislation was the work of Wilson, the Massachusetts senator. His law served Seward's purpose of "trying the old way." Wilson had been active in the Massachusetts militia, and he probably had a natural inclination to believe in the volunteer system. But he also worked under pressure from his governor.
Unlike most other governors (especially those in the Midwest), Andrew of Massachusetts wanted to keep control of the recruiting system on the state level. His was the most industrialized state in the Union, which meant both that it had business interests to protect (in the form of making sure of an available pool of labor) and ample capital for bounties. Andrew had already endorsed schemes to send agents to other states to recruit men to fight for Massachusetts (which paid better), and even to Europe. The Bay State's reputation for patriotism had taken a serious hit, but Massachusetts had exceeded its enlistment quotas so far.
On July 8, 1862, Wilson reported Senate Bill 384, which set up a procedure for a national draft. The bill was revised and discussed for three days, and he came back with a new version, S 394, that incorporated many of the changes that had been approved. After two more days of intense debate and further modification, it passed on July 15 and was sent to the House of Representatives, which approved it with little difficulty the next day. This was the Federal Militia Act of 1862 (officially, the Senate bill was titled "An Act to Amend the Act Calling Forth the Militia to Execute the Laws of the Union, Suppress Insurrections, and Repel Invasions, Approved February 28, 1795, and the Acts Amendatory Thereof").
The bill was signed by Lincoln on July 17. It defined militias according to the traditional usage -- all able-bodied men between 18 and 45 -- and it authorized the call-ups to be apportioned among the states, with quotas proportional to population. The principal change was that it authorized the President to call up state militias into national service for no more than nine months, which was three times the previous limit. Presidents had had this power, in certain circumstances, since the original 1792 Militia Act. (Originally, Wilson's act had granted the president power to make indefinite call-ups; he restricted it to nine months when he rewrote the bill, out of deference to some conservative Republicans.)
It also gave the federal government authority to directly intervene in the process. A provision of the act reads, "If by reason of defects in existing laws, or in the execution of them in the several States, or any of them, it shall be found necessary to provide for enrolling the militia and otherwise putting this act into execution, the President is authorized in such cases to make all necessary rules and regulations." This clause, with its broad wording, opened the door and perhaps gave the federal government direct authority to order to draft men without regard for the states.
These "state militias" existed in theory, but in reality there was no such thing in most places. The mandatory musters to drill were an 18th century relic, and they had been allowed to die out in many states. Delaware began repealing fines for failure to drill in 1816. Massachusetts abolished all compulsory service in 1840, and in the next decade six other Northern states followed suit. Indiana had made no head-count of its militia since 1832.
Lincoln would have known this. In a speech in Springfield in 1852, he recalled how the Illinois militia trainings had been "laughed to death." At the head of the annual muster, "on horseback, figured our old friend Gordon Abrams, with a pine wood sword, about nine feet long, and a paste-board cocked hat, from front to rear about the length of an ox yoke, and very much the shape of one turned bottom-upwards; and with spurs having rowels as large as the bottom of a teacup, and shanks a foot and a half long." Among the rules and regulations adopted by Lincoln's militia were: "no man is to wear more than five pounds of cod-fish for epaulets, or more than thirty yards of bologna sausages for a sash; and no two men are to dress alike, and if any two should dress alike the one that dresses most alike is to be fined."
Very little of the Senate debate dealt with the militia or the draft. Wilson was a radical, and much of the Militia Act deals with steps toward emancipation that had already been included in the Second Confiscation Act. But Lincoln was threatening to veto that act, so to protect the key provisions the radicals folded them into a conscription bill they knew Lincoln would have to approve. The bill breezed through the House in part because the Senate conservatives had already done their best to water down the emancipation aspects, and their House colleagues evidently felt no further effort was warranted.
The first order for a draft seems to have gone out on July 26, when Stanton wired Gov. Kirkwood of Iowa:
SIR: By order of the President of the United States you are authorized and directed to make a draft of militia of the state of Iowa to fill up the quota of volunteers called for by the President, or as much thereof as by reason of the deficiency of the volunteers or other cause you may deem proper.
On Aug. 2, Kirkwood replied, "In the absence of State law, is there any law of Congress regulating drafting? If so, send instructions. We have no sufficient law for drafting in this State. Am satisfied a draft must be made to fill up the old regiments." This one-state order seems to have been swallowed up into what followed.
The government put the militia draft to use in short order. It is possible that the impetus for its use came from Pennsylvania's Gov. Curtin, who of his own accord solved the difficulty of getting men to enlist under the July 2 call by offering to take some regiments for less than three years. The government never said he could do this, but it had never said he couldn't. Illinois then also began raising nine-month troops. Indiana's Morton complained to the War Department [July 25] that this was making recruiting in Indiana still more difficult, "as it is now said enlistments should be alike." Stanton wrote him back [July 26] that, "Governor Curtin's call for nine and twelve months' men was not authorized by the Department, and is sanctioned only from the necessity occasioned by his premature action, and efforts are being made to correct it in Pennsylvania, which, I think, will succeed."
It is possible that the solution hit upon was a general call-up of more men, under the new militia law. On Aug. 4, Lincoln called up 300,000 men for nine months service, on top of the 300,000 he had already requested in July for three years. The militia call-up was General Order No. 94:
I. That a draft of 300,000 militia be immediately called into the service of the United States, to serve for nine months unless sooner discharged. The Secretary of War will assign the quotas to the States and establish regulations for the draft.
II. That if any state shall not by the 15th of August furnish its quota of the additional 300,000 volunteers authorized by law, the deficiency of volunteers in that State will also be made up by special draft from the militia. The Secretary of War will establish regulations for this purpose.
Some confusion about this draft may spring from the fact that both the entire call-up of 300,000 militia, and the subsequent filling of the deficiency in that call-up by conscription, are called a "draft." This was not something that had been done in the lifetime of any of the men in the government, and their terminology was not always clear. Yet Lincoln unambiguously writes of "drafting," in reference to the filling of the quotas by conscription, in many places [e.g. letter to George P. Fisher, Sept. 16, 1862; telegram to McClellan, Oct. 27, 1862, etc.]
Like the earlier call, this one was apportioned among the states relative to their populations. But this time, the government said it would draft men into service from any state that did not meet its quota. Specifying that the call-up would be for nine months, and calling the troops "militia," gave it the power to do so.
The War Department order gave each state until Aug. 15 -- a mere two weeks -- to meet its quota or face a draft. Indiana's quota was about 21,000; little Rhode Island's was less than 3,000. New York's quota of almost 60,000 men was the highest. Wisconsin's was just under 12,000. The governor there pleaded for more time, since it was an agricultural state and the fall harvest was approaching, but the War Department only gave him another week, until Aug. 22.
On Aug. 9, the Secretary of War issued General Order 99, detailing how the conscription should be handled. It directed the governors to enroll all able-bodied men age 18 to 45, and the wheels of the draft began to turn. The process passed down the line, from federal government to states to counties to the smallest unit of local municipality. The legwork was done by the county assessors, the men who usually collected tax data. They copied the names of each eligible man into record books, noting those already in service, and any obvious physical disabilities. The Pennsylvania enrollment officer in one township evidently hadn't appreciated the random nature of the draft, or else couldn't resist adding editorial comments on some of the men he registered -- "Ran and hid, refused to give age;" "Ought to be taken. Bad influence at home or he would volunteer," "Not healthy ('So they say')," "claims weak eyes," "Saucy & loafing about at home," "Make a first-rate soldier, not worth much for anything else," and so forth.
The assessors filed their reports with the county sheriff, and the governor then appointed a commissioner and a surgeon for each county; the first to superintend the draft, the second to rule on claims of exemption for physical or mental disability. Exemptions also were allowed for men already serving in the military, telegraph operators, railroad engineers, judges, government employees, school directors and ferrymen on post roads.
A day before, on Aug. 8, the War Department had ordered the arrest of anyone liable for draft who fled his county or state, and suspended habeas corpus in such cases. The act was put into effect that day in Baltimore, where several men were arrested trying to escape the city. This rule remained in effect until Sept. 8, when the War Department wrote, "The quota of volunteers and enrolment of militia having been completed in the several States, the necessity for stringent enforcement of the orders of the War Department in respect to volunteering and drafting no longer exists." Arrests were thereafter to be made only by express warrant, and the travel restriction was lifted.
Several cases of self-mutilation -- cutting off fingers or knocking out teeth -- to avoid the draft were reported Aug. 16 by the examining surgeon for the 11th senatorial district, in Danbury, Ct. Meanwhile, on Aug. 9, in spite of the travel restrictions, the Detroit "Free Press" reported an "exodus" through the city, of hundreds of men from the region fleeing to Canada "like cravens to escape the draft." On Aug. 7, Gov. Richard Yates of Ill. wrote to Stanton, "Since the order for drafting[,] large numbers of citizens are leaving this city [Chicago] to escape the draft, and it is strongly urged upon me to ask you for authority to declare martial law again." On Aug. 8, the acting military commandant in Rochester, N.Y., reported to the War Department that "many men are leaving for Canada," and asked if he had authority to arrest them.
The enrollments met organized resistance, especially among the foreign-born populations of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. The assessors were threatened and in some cases attacked (a woman in the Irish ghetto in Phoenixville, Pa., dumped scalding water on one who came to enroll her sons). The resistance was widespread, and the administration used it as a pretext for a crack-down on civil liberties.
On Sept. 24, Lincoln issued his proclamation suspending the writ of habeas corpus nationwide. The resistance to draft enrollments were the direct cause of it, cited in the preamble: "Whereas, it has become necessary to call into service not only volunteers but also portions of the militias of the States by draft in order to suppress the insurrection existing in the United States, and disloyal persons are not adequately restrained by the ordinary processes of law from hindering this measure and from giving aid and comfort in various ways to the insurrection ...." The proclamation also made "resisting militia drafts" a crime subject to court martial.
Under this order, some 13,535 citizens would ultimately be arrested and confined in military prisons, not counting those imprisoned under authority of the State and Navy departments, and under state and local authorities. Yet it likely had little practical effect for the North's war effort, and it generated a high level of bitterness that was exploited by the opponents of the administration.
The real purpose
"It became quickly apparent that the draft was not intended as the primary source of man power," wrote a historian of the Union army. "Rather it was merely a whip to encourage volunteers."
That this had been the plan all along is suggested by Lincoln's July 22 letter to Stanton, in which he gave the Secretary of War the green light to set the process in motion:
I think it will be better to do nothing now which can be construed into a demand for troops in addition to the three hundred thousand for which we have recently called. We do not need more, nor, indeed, so many, if we could have the smaller number very soon. It is an important consideration, too, that one recruited into an old regiment is nearly or quite equal in value to two in a new one. We can scarcely afford to forego any plan within our power which may facilitate the filling of the old regiments with recruits. If, on consideration, you are of the opinion that this object can be advanced by causing the militia of the several States to be enrolled, and by drafts therefrom, you are at liberty to take the proper steps to do so, provided that any number of recruits so obtained from any state within the next three months shall, if practicable, be an abatement of the quota of volunteers from such State under the recent call.
The imminent threat of the draft swelled the recruiting, and the fresh blue-clad ranks began to flow toward the front: the 110th N.Y. infantry departed for the capital on Aug. 13, the 122nd and 129th Pennsylvania arrived in Washington on Aug. 16; the 18th Connecticut rode through New York City on Aug. 23; the 11th N.J. regiment departed the state Aug. 25; the 36th Massachusetts left Worcester on Sept. 3, and so on.
"Thousands of our people are now offering themselves under the last call, and are demanding they shall not be drafted," Adjt.-Gen. Allen C. Fuller of Illinois wrote to Stanton on Aug. 7. Finnell, the military governor of Kentucky, was delighted. "Enlistments are greatly facilitated by the draft," he wrote to the War Department on Aug. 7. The next day he wrote, "The draft was what was wanted here. The Legislature will endorse it next week. It will drive the scoundrels to fight, pay their money, or leave the State." Later the same day he wrote another letter to the War Department, boasting of the draft that, "The mere announcement of its coming has had a most happy influence upon our rebel rascals. They no longer stand in the way of recruiting, but are becoming my most anxious, active, and useful aids. At all events, let there be no whisper that Kentucky will be excluded from the draft until I have had a chance to fill the quota of Kentucky."
In Chester County, Pennsylvania, in the month between the President's July 2 call and the draft alert in August, about 90 men had enlisted in three-year regiments, barely one-twentieth the number that answered the call in a few days in the spring of 1861. Significantly, about a third of them had crossed state lines to join the 4th Delaware Infantry, which was seen as likely to be a home-guard regiment. After the draft threat came, some 715 men quickly enlisted in nine-month companies. "Come in out of the draft" the banners blared over the recruiting offices. Another 171 joined new or existing regiments. Exact dates are difficult to pin down, but it is likely that most of the men who mustered in under Lincoln's July 2 call for three-year men did so with the draft looming.
They also did so under a suddenly lucrative system of state and local government bounties that paid an average of $100 to coax men into new volunteer companies. On Aug. 19, the Board of Supervisors of Rensselaer County, N.Y., appropriated $75,000 for bounties. It was one of hundreds of counties across the North to do so in those months, to fend off the draft in their precincts. As of Aug. 19, Philadelphia city council had voted $500,000 plus another $400,000 had been raised in the city by voluntary subscription. In the hinterland, Lancaster County had voted $50,000 for bonuses; Berks, Northampton, and Chester counties $30,000 each; and Bucks and Montgomery counties $25,000 each. Bounties often were raised by local taxation, or by bonds that would have to be paid in future years from tax revenue. The Pennsylvania Railroad, a labor-intensive operation that stood to lose many workers to a draft, donated $50,000 to the state for bonuses.
The draft made full deference to local feelings and gave control to the states. With no coercive force in the draft act, the states having the greatest difficulty meeting their quotas dragged their feet as much as possible. And the Secretary of War generally granted the governors' special requests, such as Edwin D. Morgan of New York's desire that volunteers into the old regiments be counted against the draft of militiamen.
Albany, N.Y., shipped off a regiment in August (113rd N.Y., the "Albany Regiment"), but some pockets of the county still hadn't fulfilled their quotas, and the efforts shifted to filling up old regiments such as the 44th N.Y. ("Ellsworth Regiment"). Now it was each ward for itself, trying to boost its number of volunteers above that magic figure and avoid "the ignominy of a draft," as the Albany "Journal" termed it. The Ninth Ward recruited for the 61st N.Y., the Fifth, Sixth and Tenth Wards raised troops for the 43rd N.Y., while the Eighth Ward, a local newspaper reported, was recruiting a company for "some old regiment."
Another Albany newspaper reported that, "Capt. E.B. Knox is recruiting for the Gallant Forty-fourth (Ellsworth) Regiment, in which all our citizens feel so deep an interest. He has three stations -- No. 2 Green street, No. 65 State street and at the Steamboat Square. At all of these places the recruit will receive a bounty of TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS, in addition to the General and State Governmental Bounties. More liberal inducements will not be offered."
The "Journal," reporting under the headline "RECRUITING IS NOT LIVELY," put this question to young men: "will you volunteer and receive all the bounties, or wait to be drafted and receive nothing?" At the end of August, recruiting offices there took the unusual step of remaining open on Sundays, and the city's clergy left their pulpits to deliver "patriotic addresses" among the recruiters' tents on State Street.
Across the North, exemptions were informally extended to powder mill workers and railroad workers, and explicit orders from the government later exempted physicians and even clergymen. Since the states controlled the process, they granted further exemptions. Men who were the only sons of widows, the sons of aged and infirm parents, or widowers with dependent children were exempt in Pennsylvania. New York and Pennsylvania allowed conscientious objector status for certain religious groups (Quakers, Shakers, Mennonites). So did Ohio, but only in exchange for a fee of $200 per man, which brought the state $50,000 in October. New York also exempted "idiots, lunatics, infamous criminals, habitual drunkards, and paupers."
[The Confederate draft law had much broader exemptions than the Northern one, including railroad and river workers, civil officials, telegraph operators, miners, druggists and teachers.]
The War Department had originally set the draft for Sept. 3, to be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or until the quotas were filled (no quotas were set for California and Oregon). The War Department gave up all chance of a speedy conscription when it allowed the governors to take responsibility for the drafts in their states. They used their authority to postpone the dreaded day two and three times. In Ohio, the governor postponed the draft to Oct. 1. On Sept. 29, the governor of Maryland postponed the draft there until Oct. 15. Massachusetts put off its draft until Dec. 8, and Iowa put it off until January 1863. Minnesota postponed its draft to deal with a serious Sioux uprising. Lincoln wired the governor his approval on Sept. 27: "Attend to the Indians. If the draft cannot proceed, of course it will not proceed."
As if the governors didn't have enough to do, the South's first major invasion of the North got underway in the midst of the draft enrollment. After battering the Army of the Potomac in the Second Bull Run battle, Lee's troops crossed into western Maryland and headed north. A second Rebel army launched an offensive into Kentucky, headed toward Ohio.
The panic hit Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's capital, on Sept. 7, with rumors that women, children and state archives were about to be sent out of the city for safety. It was fueled by the arrival of the Hagerstown train, which brought news of the Rebel occupation of Frederick, Md. The alarm spread to surrounding counties in the next day or two. The "Valley Spirit" newspaper of Sept. 10, 1862, tried to turn the invasion into an enlistment appeal in an article headlined "To the Rescue--Freemen of Franklin County."
"The darkest hour of our Country's history is upon us. Gen. Pope's army in Virginia, after the most terrific fighting, has fallen back to the fortifications around Washington, and the Nation's Capital is again threatened by an insolent foe. The invading hosts of the enemy have pressed the soil of Maryland, and our own beautiful valley may at any hour become the victim of a similar invasion. Citizens of Franklin county, the enemy is at the very threshold of your homes, your altars and your firesides. Will you not instantly respond to the call of your Government in this the day of your country's peril? Let not the wisest, the best, and most glorious Government ever devised by the wisdom of man, be despoiled and overthrown by armed traitors, when you have the power to prevent it. Let it not be said that the Government failed to enforce its authority and punish rebellion by inaction on our part. Come one, come all, who are able to bear arms, and enrol [sic] your names in some one or other of the companies that are now forming in different parts of the county, and thus show that the patriotism of Franklin county is equal to any emergency. The draft has been postponed until the 20th, which affords another opportunity for Franklin county, to fill her quota of men by voluntary enlis[t]ments."
However, in spite of this and similar appeals, the invasion probably slowed enlistments in the state. On Sept. 11, Gov. Curtin had called for 50,000 "emergency militia" men to defend Pennsylvania. He got a swift response: 25 regiments and four unattached companies of infantry, 14 companies of cavalry, and four battalions of artillery. The invasion had been turned back at Antietam by the time they gathered, however, and he dismissed these men on Sept. 24.
These "emergency militias" were state units, recruited to defend the state, never mustered into federal service and never meant to be. The prompt filling of this many outfits probably suggests the reservoir of "state line" feeling in Pennsylvania, where a great many were willing to defend the commonwealth, or even the North, but not to cross into the South to wage war. In a similar situation during the Gettysburg crisis the next year, when some regiments of Pennsylvania emergency militia were ordered to take up position just across the border in Maryland a number refused to do so. They were discharged and sent home.
Curtin then delayed the draft in Pennsylvania yet again, to allow the emergency men time to register for exemptions, since they had been away from their homes -- in military service -- during the week when men were supposed to be pleading why they were unfit for military service.
A draft at last
The county sheriffs were in charge of the actual drafting. The procedure was the same one used for picking jurors in that county; with names of each eligible man written on a folded slip of paper, and the necessary number picked from a box or a rotating drum called a "jury wheel." This was to be done by a man in a blindfold who had been named in advance by the county's draft commissioner.
Several states began drafting in mid-September. The Ohio draft was underway by Oct. 5, when Gov. David Tod wrote to Stanton informing him of its progress. Indiana drafted on Oct. 6, and violence erupted immediately in Blackford County, especially the Trenton area, which was a notorious Copperhead haven. The rioters there destroyed the enrollment lists and the draft ballot box. It required 300 infantry to quell the disturbance.
On Oct. 15, in Maryland, 40 men were chosen to fill Baltimore's quota. The draft commenced Oct. 15 in Boston, but two days later the Common Council of Boston voted to raise the volunteer bounty to $200, so drafting there ceased for the time being. Massachusetts delayed until December.
On Oct. 16, the draft began in every county in Pennsylvania except Philadelphia. The nation's most serious resistance to conscription broke out Oct. 17, in Berkley, Luzerne County, where the military fired on a mob of rioters and killed 4 or 5 of them. Resistance also flared in Carbondale, Scranton, and other regions in the coal country, mostly among the Irish.
Gov. Curtin wrote to Secretary of War Stanton on Oct. 22: "The draft is being resisted in several counties of the State. In Schuylkill County I am just informed that 1,000 armed men are assembled, and will not suffer the train to move with the drafted men to this place. I wish ample authority to use my troops in the State, and particularly the regulars and Anderson Cavalry at Carlisle, to crush this effort instantly. We will thus enforce the law, and effectually, if successful, prevent the like occurring in other parts of the State."
Stanton wrote back, authorizing Curtin to use "the regular force, the Anderson Cavalry, and any other military force in your State to enforce the militia draft, and also to call upon Major-General Wool, the commanding general of the Middle Department, for aid, if you desire it."
"Notwithstanding the usual exaggerations, I think the organization to resist the draft in Schuylkill, Luzerne, and Carbon Counties is very formidable," Curtin telegraphed Stanton the next day. "There are several thousands in arms, and the people who will not join have been driven from the county. They will not permit the drafted men, who are willing, to leave, and yesterday forced them to get out of the cars. I wish to crush the resistance so effectually that the like will not occur again." He asked for a regiment of regular troops, but Stanton replied that none was available.
In the end, feeble enforcement of the draft laws cooled the riots. Lincoln informed the state authorities by confidential messenger, "I am very desirous to have the laws fully executed, but it might be well, in an extreme emergency, to be content with the appearance of executing the laws."
On Oct. 25, Curtin telegraphed Stanton that "[t]he riots in Schuylkill County have ceased for the present." He also expressed a note of frustration that the state had been left to deal with the entire set of problems created by the draft, without a force or authority sufficient to do so:
I beg to observe that this enrollment and draft have been made under the authority of and directly by the United States. I originally suggested, therefore, that they should be conducted by officers of the United States, but that suggestion not being adopted, I have acted for the United States in superintending the enrollment and the drawing of names for the quota. The next step contemplated by the regulations is the appointment of provost-marshals to enforce the attendance of the drafted men. I have not nominated persons to fill this office, because I do not perceive that officers of that kind are necessary.
By the act of 29th of June, 1861, penalties are provided for drafted men who shall not obey the orders of the President, but there is no act authorizing them to be forcibly impressed.
I would advise that a regulation be made directing that the courts-martial shall be immediately held on all recusants. These courts must be ordered by the President.
In this mode I think you would get the men more easily than by the use of force. Men unwilling to go, and unable to pay the probable fine, will serve in the army on pay [in preference] to being shut up in prison without pay. Those who are able to pay the fine will prefer using the money in procuring substitutes. The same limit of the fine will probably regulate the price of substitutes. I respectfully submit these matters for your consideration.
Curtin was correct in pointing out the lack of coercive force to get drafted men into the rendezvous camps. The adjutant general of Pennsylvania wrote to the War Department on Nov. 3, "Of the draft in this state about one-fourth have not been delivered, and the State is powerless to deliver them. An energetic provost-martial will be necessary to seize them."
There was another problem, the adjutant general added: "Of those delivered a very large number were not examined by a medical officer for the want, as it is alleged, of time before the date set for the delivery; consequently very many are totally unfit for the service. To prevent such men being sent to join regiments, I request that three medical officers of the Army be directed to report to me to inspect the men at Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh ...."
In Maryland, where resentment of the Union cause still ran deep, the quota had at first been set at 8,532. On Aug. 26, it was reduced to 6,000. On Nov. 24, Maryland Gov. A.W. Bruford informed the War Department that "The number drafted for nine months will be 6,000 in the State, but all the counties have not yet drafted; nor all the drafted men reported from their counties that have." In the end Maryland claims to have furnished 3,586 men, volunteers and draftees, but the process there appears to have been very unruly.
Wisconsin was the last state to begin drafting. Only on Oct. 22 did the governor set the county quotas, and he ordered drafting to get underway Nov. 10. The draft would hit hardest in the counties around Milwaukee, which were heavily populated by recent immigrants from central Europe, who had come to America in many cases to save their sons from compulsory military service in their homelands.
There were mutterings about irregularities in the enrollment process, with the men in charge said to be skipping over either their fellow Republicans or their Masonic lodge brothers. On Nov. 11, at Port Washington, on the Lake Michigan shore, a mob attacked the draft as it was in process. Rioters -- armed with pitchforks, a small cannon used to celebrate the Fourth of July, and "the town's only cannonball" -- ransacked the house of the draft commissioner, threw him down the stairs, and defied authorities until troops of the 28th Wisc. were sent to quell the disturbance. Some 130 draft resisters were arrested. Most spent a year in prison, without trial, and were released. The same problems complained of by the Pennsylvania adjutant general applied in Wisconsin. Of the 4,500 men ultimately drafted in Wisconsin, only about 958 came in and were fit for duty.
How Many Men?
Of the total of 600,000 men requested from the North in the two call-ups of July and August 1862, about 508,000 eventually volunteered. Most of these (421,465) were three-year enlistees, some of them originally drafted, and the remaining 86,360 or (by another official count) 87,588 were 9-month militia, drafted or otherwise.
There was mass confusion over quotas in 1862, with two separate calls for men partially intertwined. Governors wrote privately to one another, confessing they had no idea how to calculate how many men were due from their states. The federal government eventually decided to count one three-year man as the equivalent of four nine-months men. Some historians have given figures between 60,000 and 70,000 for the number of men drafted into the Northern army in 1862. Others have used the 86,000 or 87,000 figure as if it were a count of drafted men, but this seems to be a total of the nine-month enlistments, volunteer as well as draft. (The low returns reported for New York and other states probably reflect the shift of much of their quotas to re-filling old regiments). Fry's abridged Final Report [OR Ser. iii, 5:636-39, 730-39] has caused much confusion among historians. It lists 46,347 drafted in one place and 52,067 in another.
Another reason the number of draftees is difficult to count is that drafted men were given the option of then joining three-year regiments (where they were counted as "volunteers") and collecting the bounties and pensions.
On a state-by-state accounting, Wisconsin drafted 4,500 men. Ohio drafted 12,200, of which (as of Dec. 13) 2,900 had been discharged "for various causes," 4,800 had subsequently enlisted themselves in existing three-year regiments or found substitutes for them, 1,900 had failed to respond and 2,400 been sent to the field.
Indiana drafted 3,003 men; the adjutant general of the state reported that 396 were discharged for disability or other causes and 424 failed to show up at the rendezvous and were marked as deserters. Of the 2,183 who reported for duty, 1,441 volunteered in existing three-year regiments or 12-month ones then in the process of recruiting, and 742 were assigned to existing regiments as follows:
One company to the 57th Indiana infantry regiment, 1 company to the 83rd Indiana infantry, 2 companies to the 1st Indiana cavalry, and 39 men to the 99th Indiana infantry.
Pennsylvania formed the bulk of its drafted men into entire regiments and sent them into government service. All in all, Pennsylvania drafted 20,500 men, according to a communique from Thomas to Stanton. Of these, 15,100 were sent into U.S. service in 1862. A history of the state written in 1880 claims that, "By liberal offer of bounties the draft was rendered unnecessary in nearly all parts of the state, each county quota being in most part filled up by the nine month's men." In fact, men were drafted from every county. The result were 14 regiments listed in Bates' "History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers" as "Drafted Militia":
165th Pa. mostly Adams County
166th Pa. York County
167th Pa. Berks County
168th Pa. Pittsburgh area (Westmoreland, Fayette, Green, Beaver, Allegheny counties), with a contingent from Erie County
169th Pa. northwestern part of the state, Crawford, Mercer, Erie, Clarion, and Butler counties
170th Pa. failed to organize, men dispersed to other regiments
171st Pa. north-central part of the state, Bradford, Juniata, Lycoming, Somerset, and Tioga counties
172nd Pa. Snyder, Northumberland counties
173rd Pa. central part of the state, Schuylkill, Lebanon, Perry, and Dauphin counties
174th Pa. mostly Bucks County, with a contingent from Northampton County
175th Pa. mostly Chester County, with two companies from Montgomery County
176th Pa. mostly Lehigh County, with a contingent from Monroe County
177th Pa. Lycoming, Susquehanna, Dauphin, Luzerne, Perry, and Indiana counties
178th Pa. mostly Lancaster County, with companies from Columbia, Montour, and Luzerne counties
179th Pa. Berks, Lancaster, Montgomery, Pike, Wayne, and Philadelphia counties.
The army shipped most of these regiments to the occupied part of the North Carolina coast, and kept them far from action. Their military contribution was slight, their reputations dubious. Yet they freed up more battle-worthy outfits for duty elsewhere in the war.
Local newspapers of the day followed the progress of the draft with intense interest, and printed full lists of the names pulled. In Pennsylvania, the "Gettysburg Compiler" listed 890 Adams County men drafted on Oct. 16, 1862. The Lancaster "Examiner" listed 2,677 names that were pulled in Lancaster County. In Chester County, the two postponements and a bounty drive whittled down the number of draftees from 1,200 to 663, whose names are listed in the four enrollment books in the county archives.
Effect of the draft
The draft overall had a demoralizing effect on the army. It pointed up the lack of enthusiasm in many communities, and the the commodification of soldiery represented by the bounties and the $300 fee to avoid service, which was built into the draft law (and quickly became the base pay for "substitutes") melted whatever was left of the gold-plating of the volunteer spirit of '61.
Yet most soldiers already in service were glad to see unwilling men forced into uniform, even if it did little good. "Report has it that there has been drafting in Wisconsin and great resultant scandal," Cpl. Adam Muenzenberger, of the 26th Wisc., wrote home to his wife on Nov. 19. "We have had a great laugh at the simpletons who laughed at us because we volunteered. Please let me know who was drafted if you can find out so that I can laugh at their lot the way they laughed at mine." On Oct. 29, Nathan Pennypacker, a lieutenant in the 4th Pa. Reserve regiment, wrote to his mother: "What do you think of Uncle Joe Fitzwater being drafted? It pays up for some sentiments expressed last year by you know who." James H. Maclay, in Battery B, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery -- also part of the Pa. Reserve Division -- wrote Oct. 29, 1862, to his sister Jennie, "So Hugh Fraser is drafted. Good for him. No man but a coward would permit him self to be driven into the service but such men. I think such men ought to be in the Rebel Army where all the conscripts are." And, on Nov. 10, he wrote, "So Ditzler says he is not hired to Uncle Sam. I think he has done worse for Conscripts are Uncle Sam Slaves. The old Reserves don't like the idea of filling up thare Regt. with drafted men. Thay say thay want men that will fight & not these Baby Conscripts."
The 1862 state and congressional elections began within a month of the Sept. 24 habeas corpus suspension announcement, and in many cases the voting was done in the shadow of the draft itself -- Pennsylvania's election was two days before the drafting began there. After the results were tallied in October and November, Republicans had lost governorships of New York and New Jersey; lost legislative majorities in New Jersey, Illinois, and Indiana; and lost a total of thirty-four congressional seats.
The Republicans' 1862 losses are usually seen as a repudiations of the Emancipation Proclamation (the preliminary version of which was made public on Sept. 22). Indeed, the Democrats' slogan that year was, "The Constitution as it is; the Union as it was; the Negroes where they are" (Republicans countered by calling the Democrats the party of "Dixie, Davis and the Devil").
But many voters seem to have been stirred, as they usually were, by local issues. And in many cases the draft, and the civil liberties threats surrounding it, would have played a big part, especially in Illinois. Democrats perceived the habeas corpus suspension as partisan intimidation, and the administration ordered a few vocal Democratic editors and reporters arrested, along with Copperhead politicians. In Delaware and other places, polls on election day were policed by U.S. provost marshals.
The 1862 draft taught the Lincoln administration that masses of men could be forced into service, and most would go, and do their jobs indifferently well. It proved that threats of conscription could be a serious incentive to volunteering. Every Northern soldier who enlisted after the first week of August 1862 did so with the possibility of being drafted as a factor in his decision. As a provost marshal observed, "... without an impending draft, no local bounties would have been raised, and without local bounties no volunteers could have been obtained."
It also gave the federal government and the states a lesson in the form of organized resistance and the class from which it could be expected -- German and Irish. There had been violent resistance to the draft in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin. None of this was really surprising. That some resistance was expected among the Irish is suggested by the sense of great relief, in the pro-administration newspapers, that accompanied the news that on Aug. 17, Archbishop Hughes of New York preached a sermon in support of the draft in St. Patrick's cathedral.
James W. Geary, who has written in depth on the Northern conscriptions, wrote, "Bell Wiley, one of the most astute and respected students of the Confederacy, believes that the South experienced its first serious morale crisis that season, and that 'the turning point in the struggle [for the South] probably came in the spring of 1862 rather than in July 1863.' A turning point had also occurred for Northerners that season because it marked the last time for the duration of the war that they could virtually forget about military needs and quotas. Henceforth, they would be faced with continuous demands for more and more men. Communities still had the option of trying to meet these requirements through the timeworn methods of recruiting frives and volunteering; but, unlike the past, two new elements of drafting and a runaway competitive bounty system would be injected into the process."
At the end of it all, someone wrote on the back leaf of one of the four Chester County, Pa., militia enrollment books: "The operations of the draft in this book belong now to history. No body cares a dam for it -- the draft I mean, not the history."
"Official Records," 1891, Series III, vol. 2 and 3
Bates, Samuel P., History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, Harrisburg: B. Singerly, state printer, 1869-1871.
Geary, James W., We Need Men: The Union Draft in the Civil War, Northern Illinois University Press, 1991.
Hay, John, and John G. Nicolay, Letters and State Papers of Abraham Lincoln, 1894.
Murdock, Eugene C., Patriotism Limited 1862-1865: The Civil War Draft & Bounty System, Kent State U. Press, 1967.
---------------------, ed., One Million Men: The Civil War Draft in the North, Champaign: University of Illinois, 1971.
Shannon, Fred Albert, The Organization and Administration of the Union Army, 1861-65, Cleveland: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1928.
Terrell, W.H.H., Indiana in the War of the Rebellion, official report of the state adjutant general, Indianapolis, 1869.
3. O.R., Ser. 3, 2:2-3, 29, 44, 109.
4. This was an ongoing struggle throughout the recruiting and drafting in the North in those months: many in the Army and the government wanted to see the old regiments replenished. They argued that veterans could show new recruits the ropes more quickly, and McClellan estimated one recruit into an old regiment was worth two in a new one. The old established regiments also had valiant reputations that would be a spur to volunteers. But new regiments meant new commissions, new officers, and there was much political pressure in that direction.
5. Shannon, p.270.
6. Murdock, "Patriotism Limited."
7. Chester County (Pa.) Historical Society archives.
8. letter to Thurlow Weed, in Frederick W. Seward, "William Henry Seward," N.Y., Derby & Miller, 1891, 3:115.
9. Shannon, p.283.
10. "Letters and State Papers of Abraham Lincoln," vol. II, p.212.
11. Terrell, p.44.
12. Geary, p.11.