Copyright notice

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.

Is anything in this article factually incorrect? Please submit a comment.

Printer-friendly page

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.


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.

Cline, Tyler, "Class Conflict and the Confederate Conscription Acts in North Carolina, 1862-1864" (2014). Honors College. Paper 164.

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

Peterson, Carl L. 1998. Avoidance and evasion of military service: an American history, 1626-1973. San Francisco: International Scholars Publications. (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 (accessed May 21, 2012).




I have a record of a Union Captain in the "Com. Subs. Volunteers". Can you tell me what the abbreviations stand for? Many thanks!


On the roster of CO F 88th PA Infantry it says "substitute" by my ancestors name. Does that mean he had someone substitute for him or did he substitute for someone else?



I suggest searching for a service record, such as on ghe site Aslo, here is an article fromthe National Archives, were those records are kept

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library 


Do you know of any occurrence in the Civil War where a dying soldier asked a comrade to assume his surname for posterity sake. I was told this happened to my gt gt grandfather who was an immigrant from France. I know that immigrants sometimes assumed names of the dead from tombstones in order to Americanize their name.


Can you recommend any books, novels or non-fiction, about the practice of substitution during the Civil War?

Thank you



I recommend taking a look at the "references" & "additional resources" sections at the end of the article for more information.

Francesca Evans, Government & Heritage Library


It is believed that my great great grandfather from Nova Scotia was paid as a substitute for a solider in Massachusetts. And he was killed in Petersburg. My great great grandmother received a pension, which is how we made the connection. However we are not able to find any information on my great great grandfather service. Was this common


Dear Madelyn,

Thank you for your question. Have you tried checking a database such as Fold3 to see if there is a pension application for your soldier? If there is an application, there might be some information about his service.

I hope this helps.


Elizabeth Hayden, Government & Heritage Library


How did people find substitutes in both the Confederacy and Union? Did you have to approach someone? Did you put an advertisement in the local paper? Was a payment made to the draft office and once payment was received a pool of ready and willing substitutes were selected? I haven't had much luck in finding specifics on this ... thank you for your assistance


Is there any way of identifying who (the name) of the person for whom a confederate soldier was substituting ? My Great-great grandfather was a substitute for (Unknown) and was killed at Pickets Charge at Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia provides the comments feature as a way for viewers to engage with the resources. Comments are not published until reviewed by NCpedia editors at the State Library of NC, and the editors reserve the right to not publish any comment submitted that is considered inappropriate for this resource. NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, note that some email servers, such as public school accounts, are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at