Features

March 3, 2013

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, March 3

Lincoln signs Enrollment Act to draft new troops

When the Civil War erupted in April 1861, many on both sides of the conflict had expected it to be a short-lived war. But nearly two years later, after several big battles and horrific numbers of casualties, President Abraham Lincoln was compelled to sign the first Enrollment Act — instituting the first wartime draft in American history on March 3, 1863. The move 150 years ago during the Civil War was a controversial step. But the conflict was dragging on far longer than any had expected and the Union wasn’t raising enough troops for combat by other means. Thus, Lincoln needed more manpower for the fight, much as the Confederacy did in resorting to a draft months earlier. The act required enrollment of every male citizen ages 20-45, with certain exemptions, and male immigrants of that age who had signed intent of becoming U.S. citizens. Nonetheless, exemptions from the draft could be bought for $300 each draft period, or by finding a substitute draftee. Those exemptions would lead to violent riots for days in July 1863 in New York City, when the first inductees were called. Fueling the draft riots was widespread outrage that such exemptions could only be afforded by the wealthy, making the conflict a “poor man’s fight.” Months later, the $300 “commutation fee” would be repealed by Congress. The Associated Press reports more fighting, near Franklin, Tenn., as 2,000 rebels are repelled by Union forces and compelled to retreat. AP reporters 70 prisoners have been seized by Union forces in Tennessee and some were being kept under heavy guard in shackles on suspicion of “murder” in the death of Union soldiers elsewhere.

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