Appendix B: Conscription - Fordham Scholarship Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Confederate PhoenixRebel Children and Their Families in South Carolina$

Edmund L. Drago

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780823229376

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: March 2011

DOI: 10.5422/fso/9780823229376.001.0001

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(p.140) Appendix B: Conscription

(p.140) Appendix B: Conscription

Confederate Phoenix
Fordham University Press

By late 1861, the reorganization of the Confederate armies was imperative. The enlistment of men who had volunteered for twelve months was about to expire. One hundred forty-eight regiments were affected. On April 16, 1862, Congress declared that all able-bodied males between eighteen and thirty-five years old were eligible for conscription. Those within this age group, already in the army, would have to remain in service for three years or reenlist for the duration of the war. Men underage or overage would have to remain ninety days or until their places could be filled. Youths under eighteen needed the approval of their parents or guardian to volunteer. In February 1864 Congress modified the Conscription Act to include men between the ages of seventeen and fifty liable for military service. Those between seventeen and eighteen and between forty-five and fifty were required to become part of a reserve for state defense and detail duty. (See the Pursley cameo in Chapter 2 to get insight into the hardships this caused families.) At the end of 1864, South Carolina nullified Confederate conscription.

Substitution was allowed under the initial Conscription Act, but the practice elicited a firestorm of criticism, especially after unscrupulous third parties speculated in substitutes, or the “selling” of “white men.” Many substitutes were ineligible: aliens, and males under or over the draft age. Congress was forced to make substitutes between the ages of thirty-five and forty subject to the draft. In addition, it required those who had hired them to serve. But this legislation was challenged in state courts. As late as August 1863, South Carolina boys between the ages of sixteen and eighteen were offered “liberal” inducements for their services. Substitution was not abolished until December 1863. Probably no more than a thousand South Carolina males became substitutes.

The multitude of changes to the initial Conscription Act of April 11, 1862, especially regarding exemption, reflected not only the military demands of a debilitating war but also the conflicting interests and maneuverings between the executive and legislative branches of the Confederate government. Members of Congress had to deal with the discontent and needs of their constituencies. The president sought unsuccessfully the power to pursue the war as he saw fit. But Congress jealously guarded its prerogatives with regard to encroachments by the executive. It even revoked the power of the president and the secretary of (p.141) war to detail men. Engaged in an ongoing kabuki dance, the legislature and the executive tried to balance the need for foodstuffs and manpower by the military on one hand and communities on the other, as well as the demand of slaveowners that the government provide security and the hostility of public opinion toward any concessions to planters with large holdings.

As early as April 21, 1862, and October 11, 1862, the Conscription Act was amended to include exemptions for a long list of men who fell in such “classes” as state officers, ministers, physicians, teachers, postmasters, editors, railroad officials, blacksmiths, shoemakers, tanners, engineers, millwrights, and wagon makers. Men engaged in teaching for two years were exempted. This class also included those teaching twenty or more students. Physicians had to be in practice for five years. On February 17, 1864, the Confederacy raised this number to seven. It excluded doctors under the age of thirty. From April 16, 1862, to February 1865, some 5,839 males (or 39.3 percent) were exempt out of 14,959 South Carolinian conscripts. Many of them suffered from physical disabilities.

Until April 1862, the South Carolina government maintained its right to exempt overseers in the state. Congress subsequently allowed the exemption of overseers on plantations with twenty or more field hands, and an additional male for every twenty slaves on two plantations within five miles of one another. This caused a furor among ordinary white South Carolinians, who labeled it the “twenty-nigger law.” In May 1863 Congress amended this class to cover “only the plantations of dependents, minors, imbeciles, femmes soles, and men in the field.” The owner or agent would pay five hundred dollars. This amendment included the exemption of a white male to supervise twenty slaves on two plantations that were within five miles of one another when women, children, and the elderly would otherwise be left abandoned. In addition, the president could exempt persons in districts “deprived of white or slave labor indispensable to the production of grain or provisions necessary for the support of the population remaining at home, and also on account of justice, equity, and necessity.” On February 17, 1864, Congress changed the $500 compensation to a bond by which the owner or his agent was required to furnish the government for each able-bodied slave one hundred pounds of bacon or one hundred pounds of pork and beef at prices set by government agents. Any surplus was to go to the government or to families of the soldiers at prices set by commissioners. As late as March 1865, a seventy-two-year-old Abbeville District planter petitioned the secretary of war to get his son returned home as an overseer.1 (p.142)


(1.) Appendix A and Appendix B are based on Cauthen, South Carolina Goes to War, 166–172; Charleston Daily Courier, June 25, 1862; Edgar, South Carolina, 372; Harris, Piedmont Farmer, 542–543 n. 49; Krug, “The Folks Back Home,” xi–xii, 426–462; Moore, Conscription and Conflict, 6, 13–14, 53, 56, 67–68, 73–74, 83–84, 107–109, 117, 302–304, 308–310, 341; OR, ser. 4, vol. 1 [125]: 1081, 1095–1097, vol. 2 [126]: 161–168, 408–409, 553–554, vol. 3 [127]: 178–183, 1100–1102; Moore, Southern Homefront, 114–120; Index to Letters Received by the Confederate Secretary of War, 1861–1865, Record Group 109, Microcopy No. 409, NA; CSW, Reel No. 147, C-85–1865. (p.170)