The Confederacy passes the Conscription

Events in the eastern United States unfolded more slowly. In Richmond, President Davis spent the first months of 1862 battling with the Confederate Congress over the best way to increase the size of the Confederate Army. At the outset of the war, the South had enlisted its troops for one-year terms. This meant that by the spring of 1862, when the South

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needed additional troops, many of its existing soldiers would soon be ready to leave the military. Davis and some Confederate lawmakers wanted to pass a conscription act to address this looming problem. This act would require Southern white males between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five to enlist in the Confederate military for three-year terms.

This proposal angered many other Southerners, though. Some people objected to it because it allowed rich whites to hire substitutes to serve in their place. They also protested a later rule that allowed white men who owned twenty or more slaves to take an exemption from the military draft (not be forced to join). These provisions made many people think that poor folks would end up shouldering most of the burden for the war. Other Southerners, meanwhile, criticized the proposed law because it made it seem as if Davis was building a powerful national government that did not pay enough attention to the rights of individual Southern states. Since the South had long insisted that it had seceded from the United States over the issue of states' rights, this argument carried weight with many Southern lawmakers and citizens.

Supporters of the Conscription Act dismissed these complaints. Davis pointed out that the Confederate Constitution gave the national government significant powers "to provide for the common defence" of their new nation. His allies declared that failure to pass the Conscription Act would doom the Confederacy. "Cease this child's play," warned Texas senator Louis Wigfall (1816-1874). "The enemy are in some portions of almost every state in the Confederacy. . . . We need a large army. How [else] are you going to get it?" Faced with this grim reality, the Confederate Congress passed the bill. Davis signed the act into law on April 16, thus instituting the first military draft in American history. Boosted by the act, the total number of men in the Confederate Army increased from 325,000 at the beginning of 1862 to 450,000 at the end of the year.

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