Davis Calls for Confederate Conscription

March 28, 1862 – President Jefferson Davis submitted a special message to the Confederate Congress urging members to approve conscription.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com
Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

In mid-March, Davis replaced interim Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin with George W. Randolph. With many one-year army enlistees about to end their service, Randolph persuaded Davis to support a national military draft. Congress had tried avoiding a draft by passing a law offering bounties and furloughs to volunteers, but General Robert E. Lee, Davis’s military advisor, called the measure “highly disastrous.” Lee voiced support for a new law “drafting them ‘for the war.’”

In his brief message, Davis asserted that “all persons of intermediate ages not legally exempt for good cause, should pay their debt of military service to the country, that the burdens should not fall exclusively on the most ardent and patriotic.”

States’ rights supporters objected to conscription, arguing that such government infringement on individual liberty is what had prompted secession in the first place. Senator Louis T. Wigfall of Texas called on these opponents to “cease this child’s play… The enemy are in some portions of almost every State of the Confederacy… Virginia is enveloped by them. We need a large army. How are you going to get it?… No man has any individual rights, which come into conflict with the welfare of the country.”

The conscription debate continued into April. Anticipating approval of a draft, Virginia Governor John Letcher allowed the state militia to be absorbed into the Confederate army. This began a system in the Confederate military in which militiamen were assigned to preexisting regiments; this allowed green soldiers to serve alongside (and learn from) more experienced men. The system differed from the Federal military, in which new regiments were created for new recruits, often keeping the green troops separated from the veterans.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com (28 Mar 1862); McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 430; Spearman, Charles M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 613-14

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