The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

The Military Draft

What was the first conscription—forced military service—in the United States?

Throughout its seventy-five-year history, the United States had relied on volunteers. This had its drawbacks, but very few nations had done so well with so little as had America till the Civil War began. The enormous demand for manpower made things more difficult, however, and in March 1862 the Confederacy enacted the first draft.

The Confederate conscription made all men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five liable for service, with very few exemptions permitted. One important exception to the rule, and one that caused no end of headaches for the Confederacy as a whole, was the one man per twenty slaves rule. Any farm or plantation that had twenty slaves could have one man exempted from military service. While one can appreciate that the Confederacy did not want its slaves to escape, the exemptions seemed—to the average Southerner—to turn it into a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”


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