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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Substitutes (Civil War)

by David A. Norris, 2006

"The Civil War in America: claiming exemption from the draught [i.e., draft] in New York." 1863; Library of Congress Summary: Summary: Men in room seeking exemption from being drafted into the military. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.  As the Civil War dragged on and enthusiasm for volunteer enlistments lagged, both sides resorted to conscription to fill their ranks. This practice became even less popular and seemed even more unfair because the draft laws allowed men of means to hire substitutes to take their places. Under the Confederate conscription law, a draftee could evade service by hiring someone who was exempt from the draft to replace him-someone under or over the mandatory conscription age, one whose trade or profession exempted him, or a foreign national. Generally, the "principal," as those supplying substitutes were called, paid a fee to the government as well as a large sum to his substitute. Prices for hiring substitutes in the South reportedly ranged as high as $3,000 in specie and even higher in Confederate currency. At such prices, only the wealthy could afford substitutes. The substitute laws reinforced the perception that the war was "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight." Many soldiers earning scanty military pay simmered with anger over serving with the richly rewarded substitutes, whom they considered little better than mercenaries. Other men served halfheartedly, hoping somehow to hire substitutes of their own.

Although many soldiers and civilians thought that it was wrong to hire substitutes, the practice was widespread. The number of substitutes in the Confederate army is difficult to determine, though some wartime estimates ranged from 50,000 to 150,000. Newspapers carried many ads from men seeking, or offering service as, substitutes. There were even "brokers" who took fees for finding substitutes. Many substitutes quickly deserted or were unfit for military service due to their age, poor health, or alcoholism. Because of such abuses, the Confederate Congress tightened the rules regarding substitution and finally abolished the practice. Men who had hired substitutes found themselves again subject to conscription when the laws changed. They were given a specified length of time to report for duty, and their substitutes still in the service were retained as well.

North Carolina became embroiled in controversy with the Confederate War Department over these changes in the draft laws. In February 1864 Chief Justice Richmond M. Pearson of the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to force men into the army if they had furnished substitutes. Eventually, however, the full state supreme court reversed Pearson's judgment, confirming the Confederate government's right to annul substitute contracts.

References:

Gordon B. McKinney, Zeb Vance: North Carolina's Civil War Governor and Gilded Age Political Leader (2004).

Memory F. Mitchell, Legal Aspects of Conscription and Exemption in North Carolina, 1861-1865 (1965).

Albert Burton Moore, Conscription and Conflict in the Confederacy (1924).

Richard E. Yates, The Confederacy and Zeb Vance (1958).

Additional Resources on Conscription and Draft Evasion in the Civil War, for both the Union and Confederate Armies:

Levine, Peter. 1981. “Draft Evasion in the North During the Civil War, 1863-1865”. The Journal of American History 67 (4). [Oxford University Press, Organization of American Historians]: 816–34. doi:10.2307/1888051. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1888051

Cline, Tyler, "Class Conflict and the Confederate Conscription Acts in North Carolina, 1862-1864" (2014). Honors College. Paper 164.http://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/honors/164

Traub, Melissa, "“$300 or Your Life”: Recruitment and the Draft in the Civil War" (2015). Honors Scholar Theses. Paper 468.http://digitalcommons.uconn.edu/srhonors_theses/468

Peterson, Carl L. 1998. Avoidance and evasion of military service: an American history, 1626-1973. San Francisco: International Scholars Publications.http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/36597799 (This link is to the record in WorldCat. WorldCat searches the holding of libraries around the world – you can search to see if a library near you has this book).

Image Credit:

"The Civil War in America: claiming exemption from the draught [i.e., draft] in New York." 1863; Library of Congress Summary: Summary: Men in room seeking exemption from being drafted into the military. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. Available from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/00652753/ (accessed May 21, 2012).

 

Comments

Comment: 

I was wondering what happened in the North when a substitute died during the war? Was the draftee then available to be drafted at the next subscription of recruits? Or was the substitute only good for one year, and then another had to be provided at the next subscription. I think this must have been the practice late in the war.

Comment: 

Dear Ron,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share your question.  

That’s a great question!  I’m unable to answer the question with a direct answer, yes or no, but I’m including a number of resources that may shed additional light on this for you.  Two of the sources are recent history theses that may speak directly to the question.  I am also including a book on draft evasion throughout U.S. history.  This could be useful as well.  And for this I’ve included a link to the publication in WorldCat.  WorldCat searches holdings of libraries around the globe and you can search for a library near you that may have the book.

Levine, Peter. 1981. “Draft Evasion in the North During the Civil War, 1863-1865”. The Journal of American History 67 (4). [Oxford University Press, Organization of American Historians]: 816–34. doi:10.2307/1888051.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/1888051

Cline, Tyler, "Class Conflict and the Confederate Conscription Acts in North Carolina, 1862-1864" (2014). Honors College. Paper 164. http://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/honors/164

Traub, Melissa, "“$300 or Your Life”: Recruitment and the Draft in the Civil War" (2015). Honors Scholar Theses. Paper 468. http://digitalcommons.uconn.edu/srhonors_theses/468

Peterson, Carl L. 1998. Avoidance and evasion of military service: an American history, 1626-1973. San Francisco: International Scholars Publications. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/36597799 (this link is to the record in WorldCat. WorldCat searches the holding of libraries around the world – you can search to see if a library near you has this book).

I hope this information helps!

Please let me know if you have any additional questions.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library

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