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Southern Heritage <br>News and Views: THE CONFEDERATES’ MILITARY DRAFT

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


By Joan Hough

After the actual passing of the Confederate Military Draft, arguments against it were presented by some Southerners. President Davis refuted these arguments then and later in his own words on pages 433-443 in Vol. I of JEFFERSON DAVIS: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CONFEDERATE GOVERNMENT (Foreword by James M. McPherson):

During the first year of the war the authority granted to the President to call for volunteers in the army for a short period was sufficient to secure all the military force, which we could fit out, and use advantageously. As it became evident that the contest wouldbe long and severe, better measures of preparation were enacted. I was authorized to call out and place in military service for three years, unless the war should sooner end, all white men residents of the Confederate States between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five years, and to continue those already in the field until three years from the date of their enlistment. But those under eighteen years and over thirty-five were required to remain ninety days. The existing organization of companies, regiments, etc. was preserved, but the former were filled up to the number of one hundred twenty-0five men. This was the first step toward placing the army in a permanent and efficient condition. The term of service being lengthened, the changes by discharges and by receiving recruits were diminished, so that while additions were made to the forces already in the field, the discipline was greatly improved. At the same time, on March 13, 1862 General Robert E. Lee was “charged with the conduct of the military operations of the armies of the Confederacy” under my direction. Nevertheless, the law upon which our success so greatly depended was assailed with unexpectedcriticism in various quarters. A constitutional question of high importance was raised, which tended to involve the harmony of cooperation, so essential in this crisis, between the general and the state governments. It was advanced principally by the governor of Georgia, Hon. Joseph E. Brown . . . .

In a message to Governor Brown from the EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT, RICHMOND MAY 29, 1862 Davis presented extensive proof that the Confederate Constitution allowed the draft. He proved Brown in error in the governor’s conclusion that the militia was what the Confederacy had called up and that the men of the militia were controlled only by their individual state and not by the Confederate government—therefore no “national draft” could be legally authorized by the Confederate government. Davis successfully refuted all of the governor’s arguments concerning a state’s control of the soldiers and sailors in the army.

Because of the desire of some Southerners to use slaves as soldiers, Davis included in this chapter on the military a lengthy discourse concerning the “person” of the slave, which Davis declared must be considered along with the role of property. He expressed concern that the use of slaves as soldiers would be unfair to the slaves because while whites have been trained since childhood to assume the duties of soldiers, slaves had not. Despite this view, a bill, supported by General Lee, eventually passed Congress, authorizing the enlistment (the drafting) of not more than twenty-five percent of able-bodied male slaves (p. 443).

Had this bill passed earlier, some Southerners—especially those with long experience with black freemen in Louisiana-- believed that with suitable rewards of freedom, training, and land for able slaves, the flood of European foreigners into Lincoln’s Republican Army might have been countered.


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