Confederate States of America--War Department. Bureau of Conscription



In April 1862, the Confederate government passed its First Conscription Act which made all white men between the ages of 18 and 35 subject to compulsory military service for up to three years. Subsequent acts, passed in September 1862 and February 1864, expanded the individuals liable to conscription and length of service. To oversee conscription activities within the Confederacy, the government established the Bureau of Conscription under the Adjutant and Inspector General’s Department in December 1862. The office operated only east of the Mississippi River (conscription activities west of the river were handled by other officials who reported directly to the commanding general of the Trans-Mississippi Department). The bureau faced opposition from some military commanders, including Brigadier General Gideon J. Pillow who took on military authority over conscription efforts in January 1863 in General Joseph E. Johnston’s military department over Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. The dispute between civil and military conscription authorities, both claiming hegemony over conscription duties and acting independently from each other, aggravated many southerners already opposed to the prospect of compulsory military service. Additionally, Pillow’s conscription agents used the threat of conscription as a shaming device to generate volunteer enlistments, further tarnishing public attitudes toward the draft. By the time Pillow’s conscription authorities were removed in December 1863 and the Bureau of Conscription resumed full control over the draft in that region, opposition to conscription had reached new heights.

Beyond drawing men from civilian life into military service, the Bureau of Conscription engaged in arresting deserters and returning them to military service. These activities required a large administrative structure, and by early 1864, more than 2,800 people worked for the bureau. By February 1865, bureau officials reported that the organization had drafted nearly 82,000 men into Confederate service. Additionally, officials claimed to have returned more than 33,000 deserters to service. The accounting report also listed several other matters tracked or managed by the bureau. For instance, 76,000 men had joined the Confederacy without being drafted, more than 66,000 men had been exempted from conscription, and around 20,000 had been detailed for agricultural or specialized work projects.

The Confederate government abolished the Bureau of Conscription in March 1865. Conscription and enlistment duties for the Confederacy fell onto the shoulders of generals commanding the reserves in the various southern states. (William L. Shaw, “The Confederate Conscription and Exemption Acts,” The American Journal of Legal History, 385–389; Wikipedia)

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