1861 Avoiding Military Service

A TIMELINE OF CONFEDERATE CONSCRIPTION AND EXEMPTION LAWS FOR MILITARY SERVICE [PROPOSED BY THE PRESIDENT AND ENACTED BY THE CONGRESS OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA [CSA], that determined who served and who did not in North Carolina during the Civil War, 1861 – 1865]

posted by: oldnorthstateskeptic

27 June 1861. The 1861 North Carolina Secession Convention, acting as an independent, autonomous decision-making body, transferred North Carolina troops to the complete authority and control of the Confederate States of America in Richmond, VA. Subsequently, this placed the State of North Carolina government in Raleigh in the awkward and ineffectual position of having to beg the Confederate government in Richmond for some of these North Carolina troops for coastal defense of the state against Union naval and other military attacks. The issue came to crisis with the loss of Roanoke Island [7 Feb 1862] when the Richmond government’s refusal to allow North Carolina use of their own troops place the state government in the difficult position of attempting to raise, train, arm and mobilize troops for their own use in the state. Subsequently, Union forces captured Ft. Macon, on the eastern tip of Bogue Banks, near Morehead City and Beaufort, on 26 April 1862. Union naval forces could sit out of range of the smaller cannons used in both fortifications and bomb them into submission.

30 September 1861. By that date, North Carolina has mustered twenty six regiments into the service of the Confederate States of America, some 10,000 to 15,000 men, with approximately eight hundred men per regiment [Douglas, page 13]

28 March 1862. President Jefferson Davis of the Confederate States of America [CSA] proposes a conscription law to the Confederate Congress. [Douglas, page 5]  The primary sources of pressure for passing such a law came from the increase in the number of men serving in the Union armed forces and the decrease in number of volunteers for military service in the Confederacy as an awareness, in the men of fighting age, of the scale for the fighting as well as the increased in the number of deaths and serious injuiries. Also, the realities of fighting cooled “war fever” in the South and the Union. The level of desertion increases as a problem, on both sides, as the scale of the fighting and slaughter expands.

16 April 1862. the Confederate Congress enacted a conscription law to be enforced in all the Confederate states including North Carolina. The law required military service for three years of all white men ages 18 to 35, who were not legally exempted (from THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE LAWS OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES, 1862 – 1864: pages 29 – 32). [Douglas, page 5]; this conscription law produced 81,993 men to fight for the Confederacy, of which 21,348 were from North Carolina or 7000 more men than produced by any other Southern state in the Confederacy [Douglas, page 34]

21 April 1862. The Confederate Congress enacted an exemption law. The following men were exempted for military service in the Confederate Armed Services:
1. the physically and mentally unfit;
2. all judicial and executive officers; members of both the Confederate Houses of Congress as well as the men serving the legislatures of the Confederate States of America; as well as clerks in the offices of the various states and the Confederate government;
3. mail carriers, ferrymen on post routes; pilots and mariners, employees of common carriers and telegraph operators;
4. ministers of religion; college and academy faculties and teachers having as many as twenty students; and
5. journeymen printers; workers in iron mines; furnace foundaries; superintendents and operaters in woolen and cotton factories.
(from: THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE LAWS OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES, 1862 – 1864: pages 51 – 52). [Douglas, page 6]

The passage of this exemption law increased dramatically the public pressure on the Confederate Congress to extend exemptions from military service to other groups who viewed themselves equally deserving of such special treatment and finally resulted, on 11 October 1862, in a law extending and expanding exemptions from such service.

8 September 1862. Zebulon Vance, of Buncombe County, inaugurated as the Governor of North Carolina.

27 September 1862. the Confederate Congress extends the age limit to 45 years old, not enforced until after Vicksburg and Gettysburg (from THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE LAWS OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES, 1862 – 1864, pages 61 – 62). [Douglas, page 5]

11 October 1862. the Confederate Congress, under heavy pressure from a multiplicity of groups, increased the number of exemptions from military service to include:
1. postmasters and their assistants and clerks;
2. one editor of each newspaper and certain employees;
3. Quakers, Associations of Dunkards, Nazarenes and Mennonish provided that they furnish substitutes or pay a tax of $500 each to the public treasury of the Confederacy;
4. physicians;
5. skilled workers in vocations (farmers were not exempted);
6. persons engaged exclusively in the raising of stock, being allowed one exemption for every 500 head of cattle, one exemption for every 250 head of horses or mules and one exemption for every 500 head of sheep;
7. an exemption for all owners or overseers on plantations of over 20 Negroes, on which there was no white male adult not liable to military service (this exemption provokes a large and persistent class based protest against its unfairness, making it difficult for a planter to exercise the option, it became more of an overseer’s option and was abused ultimately requiring another law to correct them by the Confederate Congress on 1 May 1863; planters did not need to use the unpopular and controversial 20 slave exemption option, they could afford to pay substitutes). (from: PUBLIC AND PRIVATE LAWS OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES, 1862 – 1864, pages 77 – 79). [Douglas, page 7] Other wealthy men [i.e., lawyers, merchants, etc.] could afford to pay substitutes until the option was repealed, because of the extensive abuse of the privilege, on 1 May 1863.

1 May 1863. Abuse of the 11 October 1862 exemption law, especially the section exempting overseers on plantation, results in another law by the Confederate Congress repeal the section on overseers; required a plantation owner to make an affidavit that it was impossible to secure a substitute overseer and the owner had to pay $500 annually into the Confederate public treasury; additionally, it allowed the governors of the several Confederate states to exempt all state employees that were essential to administer their governments. [Douglas, page 8]

August – September 1863. The horrific casualities absorbed by both sides at Gettysburg (over 50,000 in three days) and surrender at Vicksburgs, seems to have been a final straw for many people in North Carolina and triggered a spontaneous outbreak of peace demonstrations (over 100 demonstrations in several counties) throughout the state including ones in Nash and Wayne Counties; in Wayne County the demonstration is by women who accuse President Davis, the Confederate Congress and the government of North Carolina of devastating their homes and getting everyone killed with their ineffective policies. They demanded that all governments become more active in brokering and concluding peace initiatives with the Union. The Confederate government sticks with its declaration of never surrendering, the slaveholding Confederate leaders became more committed to never surrender after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation becomes law on 1 January 1863. Working cooperatively with Richmond, the Vance government in Raleigh engineers sending military forces to silence the peace demonstrations in North Carolina in late 1864. The Confederate leadership’s sought to silencee discontented elements in North Carolina, especially those individuals and groups who were pressuring for a peace between the combatants. The North Carolina opposition to the policies in Richmond and Raleigh was continuous from mid 1863 until the end of the war. Cooler heads in the state could sense the hopelessness of further slaughter when the criticism, of both governments, in the press and by organized political opponents combines with a military debilitating increase in desertion. By late 1863, once Union forces capture and control a geographic area; Confederate forces have no prospect of recapturing it. Also, the pattern of victory and defeat turns against the Confederacy as well. Maybe a few modern historians believe that victory was possibile, however, in North Carolina and most of the Confederacy, from August, 1863 until the end in May, 1865, the general population and a growing number of the fighting men believe that all is lost and their worries shift to the safety of families back home. The brutal shock of losing a war achieves full meaning when fighting men can not protect their own families at home and hearth. I try not to think about the anguish experienced in my own family! [peace movement information is from William K. Boyd, “W. W. Holden: Secession and Peace Movement,” TRINITY COLLEGE HISTORICAL PAPERS [Durham, NC: Historical Society of Trinity College, 1899]: 71.

December 1863. North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance, in a letter to President Jefferson Davis, recommends the following on how the government should respond to peace agitators: “After a careful consideration of all sources of discontent in North Carolina, I have concluded that it will be impossible to remove it, except by making some effort at negotiation with the enemy. . . .In doing so we could keep conspicuously before the world a disclaimer of our responsibility for the great slaughter of our race, and convince the humblest of our citizens – who sometimes forget the actual situation – that the Government is tender of their lives and happiness, and would not prolong their sufferings unnecessarily one moment. Though statemen might regard this as useless, the people will not, and I think our cause will be strengthened thereby. I have not suggested the method of these negotiations or their terms. The effort to obtain peace is the principle.” [from Boyd, 1899, pages 74 – 76].

Professor Boyd concludes that while William W. Holden and Governor Vance were not satisfied with the Confederacy, “Vance, (like President Davis), favored waging war to its bitter end.” [p. 76]. As William W. Holden is quoted saying, “I think it more than likely that these meetings were safety valves for the Confederacy; for the people at home, having expressed their views and opinions and finding that nothing could be done to arrest the war, relapsed into their condition of suffering endurance, and ‘waded deeper,’ as Major Moore says, ‘into the crimson flood.’ ” [as cited in W. K. Boyd, 1899, page 77, full citation above]

20 December 1863.  As the war progressed the allowance of substitutes proved to be an annoying and troubling practice, for thousands of them escaped without serving; thus, the Confederate Congress enacted a law not allowing persons liable to military service the option of furnishing a substitute to serve for them; however, the status of people who were already serving as substitutes did not change. (PUBLIC AND PRIVATE LAWS OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES, 1862 – 1864, page 117). [Douglas, page 8]

Early, 1864. The Confederate government suspended the writ of habeas corpus in certain cases; denies people living in the Confederate States of America, who were imprisoned by Confederate authorities from having a due process of law guarantee if they wished to challenge their incarceration.

17 February 1864. Confederate Congress passed a law that declared that all exempted overseers should furnish 100 lbs. of bacon to the central government for each slave.

from: Clarence D. Douglas, “Conscription and the Writ of Habeas Corpus in North Carolina during the Civil War,” TRINTY COLLEGE HISTORICAL PAPERS. Series XIV [Durham, NC: Trinty College Historical Society, 1922]: 5 – 34.

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