Note: This is one in a series of posts about the national draft and its impact on Maine.
The Lincoln Administration had threatened a draft to stimulate recruitment in summer 1862, but settled for nine-month regiments to get enough men into uniform for the following winter. Fewer volunteers rallied around the flag by midwinter ’63, however, and this time the draft became reality.
When Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson passionately detailed the reasons for a national draft in the U.S. Senate chamber on Monday, February 16, 1863, the proposed legislation (S. No. 511) was already 36 sections long.
Congress amended some sections before passing the bill and sending it to the White House. Section 1 defined “all able-bodied men” ages 20 to 45, both existing citizens and “persons of foreign birth who shall have declared on oath their intention to become citizens,” as constituting “the national forces.”
These men “shall be liable to perform military duty” for the U.S. “when called out by the President for that purpose,” Section 1 noted.
Section 2 defined “the following persons … hereby, exempted and exempt from the provisions of this act.” Leading off were men “rejected as physically or mentally unfit for the service,” a definition that opened a Pandora’s medical box into which many American men were only too happy to reach.
Next were the vice president (Hannibal Hamlin was already an active militiaman), federal judges, federal departmental secretaries (neatly excusing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton), “and the governors of the several States.” The last category applied only to the loyal-state governors, of course.
Exemptions also applied to specific family situations and, naturally, convicted felons.
Section 3 split draft-eligible men “into two classes.” Liable to call up at any time, the first class comprised all men ages 20 to 35 and unmarried men older than 35 and younger than 45. Not to be drafted until the first-class had been called up, everyone else went into the second class.
Section 4 stated that each congressional district comprised an enrollment district. Maine, having five congressional districts, got five enrollment districts. The state had three congressional districts in my lifetime, and given the growth in national population, Maine will one day join those under-populated states having only one congressional district.
Section 8 stipulated that each enrollment district would be overseen by a three-man “board of enrollment,” comprising “the provost-marshal, as president,” plus two Abraham Lincoln appointees. One must “be a practicing physician and surgeon.”
Section 10 stated that the draft would apply only to men “whose ages shall be” and “thereafter” between 20 and 45 on July 1, 1863. Sometimes Hollywood script writers cannot imagine historical irony; the politicians who passed the conscription law could not foresee the draft becoming effective the day that the war’s bloodiest battle began.
Section 12 established that the president would determine how many draftees each district must provide, and each board must notify enough men to equal 150 percent of that number. The board of enrollment would determine how many men each municipality (and in Maine, the unorganized territories) must provide.
Draftees must be notified within 10 days and must report for medical examination.
Other than forcing men into the Army, perhaps the most contentious issue pertaining to the draft was discussed in Section 13. To avoid conscription, a draftee could provide a qualified substitute or pay the federal government an exemption fee “not exceeding” $300.
Simultaneously, a draftee failing to report for the medical exam without providing a substitute or paying the fee would be considered a deserter, subject to provost-marshal arrest and court-martial at an Army post.
The $300 exemption fee soon affected market prices for substitutes. True-blue Yankees in the New England sense that men will walk when money talks, Mainers quickly figured that only a fool would take $200 and join the Army when he could pocket $300, the going rate set by President Lincoln himself, by golly.
Red meat thrown to existing soldiers, Section 18 announced that men due for discharge from “the service of the United States” would receive a $50 federal bounty for re-enlisting for one year or a $100 bounty for a two-year re-enlistment.
As for the anti-war crowd, which was quite strong in Maine, anyone resisting “any draft of men” or giving “counsel or aid” to anyone resisting the draft or deciding to “assault or obstruct any officer in making such draft,” etc., etc., could be arrested “by the provost-marshal.”
The punishment upon conviction was a fine “not exceeding” $500 or a jail term “not exceeding two years, or by both …”
On March 3, 1863, Congress received a message from Abraham Lincoln, sent “by Mr. [John] Nicolay, his Private Secretary,” indicating “that the President of the United States had this day approved and signed” the Enrollment Act.
And July 1 was just over the horizon.
If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–
Source: Congressional Globe, House of Representatives, 37th Congress, 3d Sessions, Library of Congress, 1863, pp. 976-977, 979, 1494
Brian Swartz can be reached at email@example.com. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.