The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

The Military Draft

When was the first conscription in the North?

The Enrollment Act passed Congress in March 1863. All men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five were liable for service, but a number of possible “outs” made their way into the final legislation. Flat feet—considered bad for marching—were one thing, but the idea that a person could hire a substitute (if he could find one) or pay a $300 commutation fee was entirely different. To make the act more palatable, Congress allowed that each state was to furnish a certain number of men and provided incentives to help the states do so. Only when a state fell short of its allotted number would the draft be employed. Lincoln and Congress made no bones about their power, however; provost marshals were assigned the duty of entering American homes to determine the number of men in the household. And then, there was the awful thing of the draft wheel itself.


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