The Union Army was bigger than the Confederate Army. The United States had three types of military service. There was a regular army, which was very small and didn’t play a major role in wars, including the Civil War.
The Union Army
Traditionally, there were three types of military service in the United States. There was the regular army, but it was not the principal fighting force in the Civil War. The second army was the militia, like in the South, because it went as far back as the colonial days rooted in the English militia system. The militia only acted at the request of the governors in some emergencies. Depending on the situation, the militia was under the command of either the president or the governor.
Just like the confederacy militia, the Northern militia did not play a significant role in the Civil War. Throughout American history, militiamen were not highly regarded by professional soldiers. That’s why the militia was not a substantial part of the U.S. army.
Like the Southern army, the volunteers made up the central part of the Northern army. The United States historically raised its army in this way, so both South and North armies were mainly made up of volunteers who went back home after the wars were over.
At the beginning of the war, Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 militiamen to serve for three months. But that turned out to be far from enough. 750,000 volunteers joined the army in 1861 as a result of actions taken by the Congress and the President.
In addition to those state regiments, there were ethnic regiments of German or Irish soldiers.
This is a transcript from the video series The American Civil War. Watch it now, Wondrium.
The Union Army Was Shrinking
The Union army had to look for ways to keep men in the military and grow its size. Many soldiers would leave the army in the late spring of 1862 because they hadn’t enlisted for three years. Moreover, recruiting was not as much as the beginning of the war.
In July 1862, Lincoln assigned a certain quota for each state to provide a total 300,000 three-year volunteers. But there were not 300,000 volunteers. There was the option of drafting, though. But Lincoln knew it was unpopular, and they would receive adverse reactions. So he tried to avoid drafting as much as he could.
On August 4, 1862, another initiative was taken by the Secretary of War, Stanton. He ordered the states to send 300,000 nine-month militiamen, which was in addition to the initial 300,000 three-year soldiers. If a state didn’t meet the quota, it would be subject to a militia draft. To meet their quota, some states had to offer $100 bounties to volunteers. Most of them managed to reach the quotas, but the bounties set the trend for the years to come, leading to larger bounties to attract soldiers.
Finally, the North couldn’t resist the national draft and had to introduce the first draft in the history of United States.
Learn more about the war in Virginia, winter and spring 1862-63.
The Solution to the Problem
As thousands of men would leave the service in the summer of 1863, the North had to replace them. So, the Enrollment Act of March 3, 1863 was introduced, which made all males between 20 and 45 eligible to be drafted.
The real goal of this legislation was to force men to volunteer under the threat of the draft. There was a draft call in July 1863 and three in March, July, and December 1864. Before the actual drafts, each congressional district had to meet a quota in 50 days.
To avoid the actual drafts and dissatisfaction among the people, the states tried very hard to provide the requisite number of soldiers. Their main encouragement was bounties, including Federal, state, and local bounties that sometimes amounted to several hundred dollars.
Learn more about the crisis at Fort Sumter.
More Problems in the Union Army
These bounties created many problems. For example, bounty brokers found volunteers to help specific regions meet their quotas. The volunteers didn’t have to be from a state to become eligible to volunteer for that particular state. So, for example, a man from Ohio could volunteer for a county in Pennsylvania.
Money also played a role here. Affluent areas could pay more bounties and meet their quotas sooner. Also, there was a group called ‘bounty jumpers’, who would enlist, take the bounty, and then leave the army. Interestingly, they could enroll in any districts they wanted, take the bounty and go to another district after deserting. The bounties eventually cost the North more than half a billion.
But bounties weren’t the only problem. Although there were no occupational exemptions, they did have substitution, which they called commutation. Drafted men could pay three hundred dollars to be excused from that draft only. To be exempted from all calls, they could buy a substitute.
Common Questions about American Civil War: Union Army Draft
Yes. During the Civil War the Union Army had to resort to drafting. There was a draft call in July 1863 and three in March, July, and December 1864.
The Union Army had to resort to conscription because the size of the army was shrinking. Thousands of men would leave the service in the summer of 1863, and the North had to replace them.
Yes. There were bounties paid to be people who volunteered in the Union Army. These bounties led to an issue called bounty jumpers. They would enlist, get the bounty, and then leave the army.
There were no exemptions from the Union Army. But there was something called commutation. Drafted men could pay three hundred dollars to be excused from that draft only. To be exempted from all calls, they could buy a substitute.