How did the Confederacy Enlist Soldiers During the Civil War?


By Gary W. Gallagher, Ph.D., University of Virginia

The American Civil War did not seem to be ending soon, and the two sides were worried about the number of their men. Each side had to keep their armies growing in size to get the better of the other side. The Confederacy was the first of the two to find not-so-satisfactory solutions.

The photo shows a painting of the Battle of the Wilderness, May 10, 1864.
From the beginning of the war, the Confederacy army mainly consisted of volunteers. (Image: Everett Collection/Shutterstock)

Different Parts of the Confederacy Army

The Confederacy’s army primarily consisted of volunteers from the beginning of the war as they had no regular army. Apart from the majority of volunteers, there were a few enlisted men and regular officers who had resigned from the United States Army. Most of the volunteers had no intention of staying in the army after the war was over.

In addition to these volunteers, every state of the Confederacy had organizations called state militias. They were draft-age white men who were drafted at the request of the governor. But they didn’t have a significant role in the war because volunteers had a central role in the battles and campaigns.

At the beginning of the war, during the first few months, the number of soldiers was not a problem. Thousands of volunteers flooded the recruiting stations, with a total of 100,000 men in the army. They were so overwhelmingly large in numbers that the governments couldn’t arm, equip, and train them properly.

The number of soldiers grew to 500,000 with the drafting of 400,000 men as a result of two laws passed in May 1861. Half of these soldiers had volunteered for 12 months, which meant by May 1862, the confederate army would be cut in half. This prospect was disquieting for the army leaders.

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Problems with New Enlistments Start

By the fall of 1861, the enlistments dropped considerably. Even those volunteers, who did not expect the war to last, were becoming increasingly worried as the winter approached. They were looking for ways to go back home.

These problems led Jefferson Davis and his advisors to think of strategies to get ready for the upcoming spring. In a failed attempt, the confederate congress offered a $50 bounty, a month’s leave, and the opportunity to join new regiments. But those inducements didn’t lead to many reenlistments.  

Learn more about confusions about Jefferson and Hamilton.

The Confederacy’s Solution to the Problem of Manpower

In April 1862, in an unprecedented measure in American history, a national conscription law was passed in the Confederate Congress. The president and his advisors thought it would be the only solution to the problem.

According to this nationwide draft, all white men between the ages of 18 to 35 had to do a three-year service. Also, all soldiers who had enlisted for one year of service in 1861 had to remain in the army. Most of the soldiers who were hoping to go home after one year were disheartened as they felt they were cheated by the government, leading to increased desertion.

The law also exempted several classes of men based on their occupations, including those who worked in war production jobs, civil servants, militia officers, clergymen, and teachers with 20 students or more.

The picture shows the reenactment of the Civil War .
Some occupations were exempted from the nationwide draft that was passed in April 1862. (Image: Diamond Bitzer/Shutterstock)

The last part of this law allowed draftees to hire a substitute. So, it meant that if a person was drafted, he could pay money to another man to fill his place in the army.

Learn more about the causes of the Civil War.

Changes in the Confederate Draft

In 1862, more classes of trades were exempted, including blacksmiths, salt workers, and tanners. The reason for excusing these workers was their vital roles in society and behind the lines. Also, white men who had more than 20 slaves on their plantations were exempted. It created a great deal of anger among poorer whites who weren’t rich enough to pay for a substitute or to have at least 20 slaves. The Confederate Congress abolished the substitution law in December 1863 because of the widespread opposition to it.

There were more amendments to the Confederate draft. In September 1862, the age range became 18 to 45, and in 1864 it changed to 17 to 50. In February 1864, no one was allowed to leave the army until the end of the war, unless wounded or invalided for other reasons.

These measures helped the Confederacy stay in the war as long as it did. Otherwise, the war would have ended much earlier.

Common Questions about how did the Confederacy Enlist Soldiers During the Civil War?

Q: How many soldiers were drafted by the Confederacy?

A total of 400,000 soldiers were drafted in the form of conscription by the Confederacy. At first, there were 100,000 volunteers. But it was not enough. So Jefferson Davis and his advisors passed the law of conscription.

Q: Who all did the Confederacy exempt from the Confederate draft?

The Confederacy exempted those who worked in war production jobs, civil servants, militia officers, clergymen, and teachers with 20 students or more were exempted. Then, in 1862 more classes of trades were exempted, including blacksmiths, salt workers, and tanners. Also, white men with more than 20 slaves on their plantations were exempted.

Q: Why did the Confederacy pass the conscription acts?

The Confederacy passed the conscription acts because the number of soldiers was dropping, and the war did not show any signs of stopping. Moreover, soldiers who had initially volunteered were set to leave the army after one year, which led to an even greater shortage of soldiers.

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