Conscripting Confederates

Private Powell’s enthusiasm for battle notwithstanding, the Confederacy faced a serious manpower shortage in the spring of 1862. Confederate defeats in Tennessee and the soon to expire enlistments of the original volunteers, who signed up in April 1861 for a year’s service, convinced the Confederate government that a draft was needed.

On April 16, 1862, the Confederate Congress passed the Conscription Act, the first national draft in U.S. history. The Conscription Act called for a three-year term of enlistment for all able-bodied men (white males) of military service age, which was originally men between the ages of 18 and 35 but later extended to men age 45; eventually men up to age 50 and teens aged 17 were included. Not all qualified men were required to serve, however. A large number of professions were excluded from the draft, including mail carriers, railroad workers, telegraph operators and other positions deemed essential for the functioning of a nation at war.

In the wake of the passage of the Conscript Act, as it became known throughout the South, Governor Milton asked Florida Attorney General John B. Galbraith to provide an opinion on which positions were exempt from the draft.

John B. Galbraith to John Milton, April 28, 1862

(Series 632, Florida Attorney General Opinions, 1859-1913, 1941-1948, 1992-1998)

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John B. Galbraith to John Milton, April 28, 1862

Attorney Generals Office
Tallahassee April 28, 1862

His Excellency
John Milton Governor

Sir:
I am in receipt of your communication of the 21st Inst. As follows:

“The Congress of the Confederate States having passed an act providing for a conscription of all citizens between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five years for military service except such as are exempted by the law, you will please give me your opinion as to who are exempt in this State by law from such military service as it is desirable that this Department should be advised in this respect.”

In reply I would advise that the general officers of the Executive and Judicial Departments of the State and the members of the Legislative Department while they remain so are exempt from such military service. I would further advise that the officers of the county organizations to wit, the Judges of Probate, the Clerks of the Circuit Courts, the Sheriffs and the Tax Collectors are likewise exempt from such military service. Although these last mentioned officers have not been created expressly by the Constitution, as the former, yet they have duties imposed upon them by the Constitution and the laws the performance of these duties being entirely incompatible and impossible in connection with military service, they are therefore necessarily exempt, by operation of the law from the same. Any other principle would render possible the entire subversion or disorganization of the state Government, which it is not to be presumed was at all contemplated by Congress

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being entirely beyond the Constitutional power, and as the preservation and efficiency of the civil Government of the State is second in importance to nothing that Congress could have in contemplation; and still further as these exemptions although of great importance to the Government of the State are but a trifle to the Confederate Government being so few as to make no perceptible difference.

By the Militia law of the State clergymen and ferrymen and millers and such persons as are exempt by the Laws of the Confederate States are exempt from Militia duty and are therefore exempt from military service under the provisions of the said act. Foreign residents, who have not become citizens of the Confederate States and who have not exercised any of the rights of citizenship are exempt by international law. Of course persons physically incapable of such service are exempt.

Very Respectfully
Jno B. Galbraith

Only two months after the passage of the Conscript Act, it was clear that conscription was going to be difficult in Florida. The state had already mobilized most of the white males of military age. Confederate conscription officers found that many of the remaining men were either dodging the draft or too infirm to serve.

Captain Theodore Washington Brevard Jr. served in the Second Florida Infantry as captain of Company D (Leon Rifles) before the passage of the Conscript Act. When he was not re-elected captain in the spring of 1862—the Conscript Act allowed soldiers already serving to vote whether to keep their company officers—he returned to Tallahassee to organize his own unit of Partisan Rangers (units that usually served within the state of their creation).

Brevard found it difficult to recruit men. Writing to his mother, Caroline Elizabeth Brevard, he explains that Florida has already sent a greater proportion of its service age men to war than any other Confederate state. Many of the men that Brevard had served with in Virginia were willing to join his unit, but the Confederate army refused to allow them to transfer from the active front in Virginia to the relative quiet of Florida.

He was eventually able to form his unit, however. It served in Florida until ordered to join the Eleventh Florida Infantry Regiment, which joined the fighting as part of the Florida Brigade in Virginia during May 1864. President Jefferson Davis appointed Brevard commander of the Florida Brigade in March 1865. With only a few weeks of fighting left, Brevard turned out to be the last Confederate brigadier general appointed during the war.

W. B. to My Dear Mother, June 22, 1862

(M92-1, Call and Brevard Family Papers)

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W. B. to My Dear Mother, June 22, 1862

Tallahassee June 22nd 1862

My Dear Mother

I arrived at home in due time after parting with Ephraim Brevard and find were things in a more natural and cheerful condition than they are in the States further north and nearer the theatre of the war. There is of course great depression in the money market etc but there is no scarcity of the necessaries of Life and there are no war prices for provisions—if you will except coffee tea flour and a few other articles. There will be more corn and meat raised here than have ever been before and unless the Yankees actually occupy the country the people can at least live.

Mary and the children are very well and I am very happy to be with them again. If I could see you and them together I would but little more to ask. Carrie being older is of course more interesting than the boy who is very bright and in the most perfect health. Carrie is beginning to talk very severely. But it has not been so long since you saw them, that I need attempt

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to tell you much about them. Carrie has just given me a kiss to send you.

Tell E. Brevard that I think I will succeed in raising my Batallion, though there may be delay and difficulty attending it. There has been great activity of enlistment in this State and the men are really hard to find. I believe however that all will go well in the end. I have met with a great many already in service who desired joining me and they were very much surprised and disappointed when I told them that the Adjutant General had prohibited transfers from the line into Partizan Corps. Samuel Mayo, Pickens Bird, Lucian Duval and several others are endeavoring to raise companies. General Finnegan has indicated a disposition to encourage me so far as he can and the only trouble now is the great scarcity of men. Florida having already sent from the returns in the Adjt Genls office about 12000 (twelve thousand) men to field which is a greater proportionate number than has gone from any other State. It is probable that for the present (providing I am successful) our service will be in the State

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though it is my intention to ask a transfer to a more active field.

There are of course in Tallahassee as everywhere else all manner of rumors Connected with the war. It has been our misfortune to listen with open ears to all kinds of improbable stories—particularly those of an encouraging nature. The latest is a report of our recognition abroad. I do not rely upon a word of that or any future report of like sort. When re intervention comes it will be as likely to be against as for us. It is not improbable that European Governments will eventually interfere, but when they do so they will I think submit terms of arbitration as a basis of settlement to these _____ Belligerents and we must submit or have another row. While therefore the war may be one day closed by intervention, we must fight our way to the only satisfactory end.

Mays is not so well as he has been. He had a little fever with astheme yesterday brought on by cold but is much better and I hope will soon be entirely well.

Give love to all. Remember me to Uncle Robert and my cousins and believe me to be

Affectionately
Yr Son, W. B.