Consequences Of The Conscription

A significant milestone for Unionist guerrillas came with the Confederate Conscription Act of April 16,1862, which made military service compulsory for men aged 18 to 35. This had the same effect as the militia act in Missouri - it forced civilians to choose sides, and as a consequence Union guerrillas sprang up in western North and South Carolina, northern Georgia, Alabama's northern hill country, parts of Mississippi, and the swamps of Louisiana and Florida. Secret societies such as the Heroes of America and the Peace Society operated across the South. Texas Unionists had been passive until the conscription law,

Guerrillas discovered that trains made easy targets; robbing them denied supplies to the enemy and could earn the guerrillas a handsome profit. Union commanders soon recognized the need to provide armor plating for locomotives, and to attach armored artillery cars front and rear; sometimes these were supplemented with rifle-cars - boxcars roughly protected by inner walls of railroad ties, loopholed for infantry escorts. Cars such as this were proof against small-arms fire but not against artillery, and the locomotive boiler and cab were always vulnerable. [Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper)

but now hundreds fled to the North or formed guerrilla bands. In the summer of 1862 they made a "Peace Plot" to separate north Texas from the rest of the state, but the Confederate government suppressed it, hanging 65 "renegados" in Gainesville on a single day. Another Unionist rebellion in the spring of 1863 was suppressed by a partisan band of Texan Indian-fighters who, according to a local newspaper, "never took prisoners but did take scalps."

An unpopular clause in the Conscription Act exempted men owning 20 or more slaves, leading to the widespread impression that it was a "rich man's war and a poor man's fight." In the western Carolinas draft-dodgers or deserters roamed in bands of 50 to 500, building forts, occupying towns, and being helped


On that date, "Bloody Bill" Anderson raided the little town of Centralia, Missouri, with 30 men before rendezvousing with the remainder of his approximately 250-strong force and moving southeast. At 4pm, Union Major A.V.E. Johnston led 158 mounted riflemen of the 39th Missouri Infantry into Centralia; he had been hunting the guerrillas since the previous day, and now he unwisely divided his force, leaving one group to restore order in the village while he led 120 men in pursuit.

1: A mile outside of Centralia he spotted ten riders galloping away, but this was a ruse - Dave Poole's men were the bait to draw Johnston Into an ambush.

2: The Union soldiers followed Poole's riders over a low rise , and saw a tine of about 90 of Anderson's guerrillas at the bottom of the slope; each Rebel stood by his horse, one foot in the stirrup.

3: Johnston's men carried single-shot Enfield rifle-muskets that were difficult to reload on horseback, so he ordered them to dismount and forma line. A quarter of his men acted as horse-holders, each leading his own and three other horses to the rear ('xxx'}. Poole's riders had reached the bottom of the meadow and took position behind Anderson's line; meanwhile, other parties led by Thrailkill, T. and G. Todd and Gordon - perhaps 70 men on each flank - remained concealed in the edge of the woods.

4: On Anderson's order, the Bushwhackers swung into the saddle, drew their revolvers, and charged. Johnston's men got off one volley but it went high - a common mistake for inexperienced men firing downhill - and killed only three guerrillas. Within moments, Anderson's men had ridden over the Union line, slaughtering them with repeated shots from their six-shooter revolvers as the soldiers tried to reload or fix bayonets. Major Johnston traded shots with Jesse James before James killed him. The other guerrillas now came out of the woods and followed Anderson's charge. 5: Union horse-holders galloped away, but the Bushwhackers, riding much better horses than the mounted infantrymen's nags, caught them easily and gunned them down. The guerrillas then galloped back to Centralia and finished off the rest of Johnston's command. The 39th Missouri lost two officers and 114 enlisted men killed, two wounded, and six missing; the low number of wounded was due to Anderson's "no quarter" policy - some of the dead were scalped and a few beheaded.

Missouri Guerillas Partisan RangersSouth Carolina Conscription

A Union foraging party returns to camp. While the artist has depicted a rich plunder of produce and animals, in reality forage became increasingly scarce as the war dragged on and the civilian population in contested areas were looted into destitution by both sides. (Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper)

by a mostly sympathetic populace. In such gangs they ambushed patrols, robbed plantations and mails, and prevented the collection of taxes. Along the coasts they aided Union blockaders and raiders, and rustled cattle to feed Union troops and Unionist refugees, causing a shortage for the Confederate army. By 1864 the Confederate governor of Florida was afraid to leave the capital at Tallahassee for fear of capture. The Florida militia was unequal to the problem, so in April 1864 a Confederate regiment set out to destroy these bands; they only managed to burn the homes of various Tories, causing an angry group of "500 Union men, deserters, and negroes" to attack the area around Gainesville.

In Louisiana, guerrilla warfare began after the fall of New Orleans on May 1,1862. On May 28 a boat from Adrn David Farragut's flagship USS Hartford came ashore at Baton Rouge to do some laundry; 40 guerrillas hiding on the landing opened up with buckshot, wounding one officer and two sailors. An irate Farragut shelled the town, killing one woman and wounding two more and destroying several public buildings. This incident was repeated at Donaldsville several months later. The Confederate governor of Louisiana called a halt to the firing on boats, and public complaints about irregular forces being as bad as the Federals caused the government to disband the partisans and put them into regular service. The guerrillas, however, continued to thrive. When they tried to stop freed blacks from harvesting cotton to sell to New England and Britain, the blacks fought back by raiding white settlements; in May 1863 Confederates hanged 50 of them for raiding in St Mary's Parish.

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  • eduardo
    When did confederate conscription of September 27, 1862 take effect?
    8 years ago

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