Opposition to the War

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Opposition to the War


Raymond Pierre Hylton


Stephen Rockenbach


William H. Brown


Michael Kelly Beauchamp


William H. Brown

Opposition to the War: An Overview

As in all armed conflicts—and particularly in regards internal national conflicts—public opinion on both sides of the Civil War was acutely divided on how the war should be conducted and even over whether it should be waged at all. Opposition existed at all strata of society and at all levels of intensity, passive and active, and would manifest itself in a variety of ways. It may be fair to say that the actual combat was waged by a relative few and, though almost everyone would have been at least indirectly affected, the vast majority of individuals wished to avoid being in harm's way, to cope and survive, and to continue with their lives. The rationale that drove individuals or groups into opposition were varied and complex. To many, the outcome of the war was a matter of indifference; others openly or secretly sympathized with the other side, but chose not to make the trip—either north or south—to enlist. For many, it was personal. Some opposed war on principle or religious conviction; others were scared of dying or saw no compelling reason to risk themselves for emancipation, states' rights, slavery, sectional particularism, or the concept of an "indivisible" Union. The ways in which they expressed their dissent could be as divergent as their motives for opposition. Some deserted, some protested, others sympathized with the other side or expressed their opposition in the political arena.

Pockets of Resistance

Within the Confederacy there were large areas where the majority of the population was pro—Union: eastern Tennessee; western North Carolina; half of Missouri, Kentucky and Arkansas; and most of the counties of western Virginia (which branched off to form the separate Loyalist state of Kanawa and in 1863 evolved into West Virginia). In those regions plantation slavery had not established and indeed could not have established, a dominant economic profile; the quality of the agricultural land simply did not allow it. Consequently, most of the population had little or no stake in preserving the Southern way of life. Though most resisted passively, some did supply intelligence and support to occupying Union troops when the situation allowed, and a much smaller minority engaged in sporadic guerrilla raids.

Within the United States the most tender spots also lay along the border regions: eastern (Tidewater) Maryland was a hotbed for Confederate sympathizers, espionage, and smuggling. It was this network of Southern sympathy that John Wilkes Booth (1839–1865) tried to capitalize on to make his escape into Virginia after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865). New York City, whose mayor Fernando Woods (1812–1881), had tried to have it declared a neutral area, and the Midwestern border region around the Ohio River also functioned as cradles for antiwar advocacy.

The Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC), a secretive fraternal organization with trappings and rituals reminiscent of Freemasonry, had been in existence since 1854, but after 1861 its membership was widely feared as a Southern "fifth column" bent on undermining the Union war effort. Though branches were rumored to exist in every state from the Eastern Seaboard to the California coast, most of its lodges were located provocatively close to the border in southern Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana. The nature and extent of the Knights' activities remain obscure. Allegedly they were involved in sending money and supplies to the Confederacy, in stoking sentiment for peace and resistance to the draft and war taxation, and (much less substantiated) in espionage and sabotage in various parts of the country.

More substantial was the threat posed by the Copperheads, because it was through them that the antiwar threat was translated into its most effective political terms. The Democratic Party had split into pro- and anti- war factions, and the peace advocates were pejoratively labeled "Copperheads." Congressman Clement Laird Vallandigham (1820–1871) of Ohio was certainly the loudest and most visible of this group. His outspokenness led General Ambrose Burnside (1824–1881) to order his arrest on May 5, 1863, imprisonment, and subsequent exile to the Confederacy. Though the Copperhead "Heartland" at first approximated that of the Knights of the Golden Circle, primarily in the regions in which it operated, sentiment for the movement gained strength in the East, particularly in New York City and other major urban hubs. Continuing Union defeats and mounting casualty rolls fueled the tide of discontent, which came to a climax in the 1864 elections with the defeat of Copperhead-supported presidential candidate George B. McClellan (1826–1885) at the hands of Lincoln's Republican Party.

Pacifism and the Draft

Some opposers of the war were forced to assume combat roles. George Hylton, a farmer from southwestern Virginia, was a member of the pacifist Dunker faith who could not pay the necessary $500 tax required for draft exemption on religious grounds. He was compelled by a Southern press gang to join the Confederate cavalry on pain of imprisonment and dispossession of his family's house and land. Hylton was pressed into the cavalry as a teamster and on the occasions that he was caught up in combat, he simply fired his gun into the air and managed to avoid direct confrontation with Federal soldiers.

Conscription had not been in the American military tradition; it was identified with Napoleonic Europe, and with despotism rather than democracy. Yet the length, intensity, and cost in manpower of the conflict were such that both sides felt compelled to initiate conscription in the face of sometimes fierce opposition. Draft resistance in the South, though it manifested itself less often in violence, was nevertheless widespread and pervasive, and in the end the conscription laws were irregularly enforced and became ineffectual. What was seen as innate unfairness in the exemption clauses that advantaged the wealthier echelons of society contributed to a passive resistance that proved to be extremely effective simply because it was quiet and non-confrontational. In the United States, as it became more obvious that volunteer enlistments were inadequate to cope with the demands of a war that had no end in sight, the president and congress resorted, in August 1862, to a draft law that proved only minimally effective but which aroused a great deal of resentment over its exemption clauses and over the fact that draftees who had money could hire "substitutes" to serve in their stead. Corrupt manipulation of the system by doctors who provided untruthful medical certificates, draft officials who could be bribed, and by "professional substitutes" who would sell themselves as draft substitutes several times, employing fake names and deserting, only to later reenlist, were widespread.

Slavery and Emancipation

The issue of emancipation proved very divisive in the North. The Emancipation Proclamation, limited though it was to freeing only those slaves located in areas still under Confederate control as of January 1, 1863, engendered resentment. This was in part for fear of excessively alienating slave owners and slavery supporters in the border states and in regions of the Confederacy recently—and in some cases only tentatively—under Federal occupation. Northern majority sentiment certainly adhered to the idea that African Americans were inferior to whites, and many considered the conflict to be a white man's war to be waged for the primary goal of preserving the Union rather than for abolishing slavery. Racism and war opposition could combine, with disastrous results, as witnessed during the New York Draft Riots of July 13–16, 1863, when African Americans were prime targets for the insurgents.

In the Confederacy race and slavery were also issues among many lower class whites, particularly among what was termed the yeoman farmer class. Many knew, slave holding being the expensive proposition that it was, that they would never own slaves and that they would never be of the planter class that many of them thus came to despise. Though most did not oppose the institution, they saw themselves as having a limited or even no stake in a war they considered was being waged to preserve the planter interests that dominated both the state and Confederate governments.

The Civil Liberties Issue

Infringements on civil liberties were put into effect in both the United States and the Confederacy, with the governments invoking necessity and the risk of threats to the national security. In each case the right of habeas corpus was suspended, and printing presses and newspaper offices were shut down or were subject to government censorship—editors and reporters were liable to be arrested and/or indefinitely detained. The first of these incidents occurred in the initial weeks of the conflict as a result of the Baltimore Riot of April 19, 1861, and the uncertainty of the state of Maryland's adherence to the Union—which threatened to cut off the Federal capital at Washington, DC. These events motivated Lincoln's government to suspend the right of habeas corpus and to shut down the entire Maryland state legislature. In certain instances, notably in the border states of Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, there were claims that Union troops patrolled the voting precincts in order to intimidate, arrest, or turn away known dissidents. On September 24, 1862, only one day after signing the preliminary emancipation proclamation, Lincoln mandated the suspension of habeas corpus throughout all the United States and all areas under the control of the United States (Neely 1991, pp. 51–53, 56–57, 72–74). Official handling of security matters was at first placed under the jurisdiction of the State Department (this occasioned Secretary of State William Henry Seward's (1801– 1872) remark to the effect that he could arrest anyone in the nation by simply pushing the button to the bell on his desk. In February 1862 these tasks were transferred to the War Department. Although of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton (1814–1869) operated in a more restrained style, arrests, detentions, and interrogations continued. The majority of these covert activities were carried out by the National Detective Police (NDP) under Colonel Lafayette Baker, who was accountable only to Secretary Stanton.

Privation and Desertion

Some opposition to the war developed over time, fueled by hardship and privations which pushed resentment to the limit, sometimes with violent results, as in the Richmond Bread Riots of April 2, 1863. This was particularly true for the South, where the Union blockade, exactions from the Confederate government, a scarcity of younger, able-bodied men at work on the farms, and Union commanders' destructive policies had appreciably sapped the South's will to resist by late 1864. This proved decisive throughout the winter of 1864–1865. Desertion is the most pervasive form of antiwar protest, and though the consequences for being caught were severe, it remained endemic at all phases of the war in both sides' armies. After July 1863, and particularly during the declining months of the Confederacy, the specters of starvation and military defeat created such an atmosphere of despair that desertion rates soared. Communities of deserters, clustering in remote, usually mountainous regions, defied all attempts at retrieving them. During 1864–1865, with hopes fading for the Confederacy, desertion proved so horrendous in the trenches around Petersburg for the Army of Northern Virginia that it weaken General Robert E. Lee's (1807–1870) already overextended lines to such an extent that Union general Ulysses S. Grant's (1822–1885) forces were able to force the final breach on April 2, 1865.


Lesser, W. Hunter. Rebels at the Gate: Lee and McClellan on the Front Line of a Nation Divided. Naperville, IL; Sourcebooks, 2004.

Marvel, William. Mr. Lincoln Goes to War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.

Neely, Mark E., Jr. The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. New York; Oxford University Press, 1991.

Palludan, Philip. A People's Conflict. 2nd ed. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007.

Steele, Philip W., and Steve Cottrell. Civil War in the Ozarks. Gretna, LA; Pelican Publishing Co., 2003.

Raymond Pierre Hylton

Northern Copperheads

The American Civil War divided the nation, but it also split communities in the North along political lines. At the beginning of the war, some Democrats opposed the decision of President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, to go to war to preserve the Union. whereas other Democrats, who became known as War Democrats, united with Republicans to support the war, these so-called Peace Democrats criticized Lincoln's policies and the conduct of the war. Republicans reacted to the Peace Democrats' antiwar agitation by calling them Copperheads, after the poisonous snake. This name stuck, and the Peace Democrats, who preferred to be called Conservatives, eventually embraced the title—but insisted that it was a reference to the U.S. penny (also known as a copperhead), which then depicted Lady Liberty. Although Republican critics often bitterly claimed that the Copperheads were disloyal to the point of conspiring to aid the Confederacy, these Democratic political dissenters actually opposed the war itself and simply disagreed with Republican objectives. Peace Democrats gained political power as the war dragged on, even gaining influence over the Democratic Party's nomination for the 1864 presidential election. Union military successes and Republican efforts to silence the Copperheads, however, eventually ended significant political opposition.

Political Beliefs

The Copperheads' political viewpoint was based on opposition to the war and a belief that the country could be united peacefully. These peace advocates urged compromise during the secession crisis; however, their efforts were fruitless. After Lincoln called for volunteer troops to put down the rebellion, the Copperheads insisted that Lincoln had overstepped his authority by pursuing the war without allowing Congress to vote on the matter. Antiwar Democrats considered themselves strict constructionists and believed that the president's powers were limited to those actions expressly indicated in the Constitution. Peace Democrats were not pacifists; rather, they claimed that they were upholding the principles of America's third president (1801–1809), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). Jefferson favored a relatively weak central government that relied on the states for support over a strongly centralized political structure.

As conservative theorists, some Copperheads supported secession. Others, however, simply opposed the expansion of federal authority to wage a war against disunion. Copperheads considered Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, which allowed federal authorities to seize and hold citizens without a hearing, to be unconstitutional. This conviction led to the adoption of their motto, "The Constitution as it is, the Union as it was." The nature of Lincoln's exercise of presidential authority was a matter of perspective, but most avid Copperhead leaders believed that Lincoln's interpretation of the Constitution was too loose and therefore a threat to liberty.


The peace movement involved more than simply displeasure with the war. Peace Democrats believed that a small minority of abolitionists and industrialists in the East had an unfair degree of influence on national politics. Copperhead activity in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio was an outgrowth of Western sectionalism and reflected resentment of an administration that some thought too beholden to East Coast capitalists and manufacturers (Klement 1960, p. 6). Many Western Peace Democrats lived in rural areas, and some were either Southern-born or had parents who had migrated from the South. Consequently, Republicans dubbed these Western Democrats Butternuts. Although the nickname was originally used derogatorily to describe the poorer residents of the lower Northwest who used butternuts to dye their clothing a light brown color, Western Copperheads eventually embraced this term too. In Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois, some rural folk wore butternut pins to express their opposition to the war.

Politics and Race

The peace faction of the Democratic Party was popular in border regions, where citizens sympathized with, did business with, or were related to their slave-state neighbors. Border cities like Cincinnati, Ohio, were known for having significant Copperhead populations, and these Peace Democrats had considerable social and political influence. Some white working-class citizens feared that former slaves would move to their communities and compete for jobs. This tension resulted in several riots throughout the Ohio Valley during the summer of 1862, including two riots in Ohio by white workers in Toledo and Cincinnati, and another in New Albany, Indiana. A letter printed in an Ohio newspaper, The Defiance Democrat, on July 26, 1862, attributed the actions of white rioters in Toledo to "the tide and flood of Negroes poured on this city for the last six months" (Dee 2007, p. 80). The editors of the New Albany Daily Ledger published an editorial on July 22, 1862, that blamed the violence in their community on Republicans in Congress who initiated debates over issues that instilled in African Americans an "exalted idea of their own importance" (p. 2).

The fear of job competition and black migration caused a surge of support for the Peace Democrats, who declared that President Lincoln was controlled by abolitionists who wanted to use the war to end slavery and elevate the status of African Americans.

The peace faction gained further attention after Lincoln announced his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862. In a December 12, 1862, editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirer, James J. Faran, the paper's editor and a former congressman, encouraged readers to oppose President Lincoln's wartime policies. Faran claimed that abolitionists were behind the measure, and were obviously influencing a president who had previously taken a conservative stance on emancipation. Faran's editorial relied heavily on racial stereotypes and promised that "butchery and rapine upon women and children would be the fell work of the degraded and brutal African, whose instincts are even lower and more bestial than those of the Indian" (p. 2).

Arrest of Clement L. Vallandigham

Public outcry against the Emancipation Proclamation, combined with a year of military disappointments for the Union Army, caused the peace supporters within the Democratic Party to gain power via state elections in the late fall of 1862. Critics of Lincoln and the Republican Party grew bolder in their attacks on the war effort and the Lincoln administration. One of the most ardent Copperhead politicians was Clement L. Vallandigham (1825–1879), who served as an Ohio congressman from 1858 to 1862. Vallandigham made a bid for the state's governorship in 1863 but did not have the support of the Ohio War Democrats. On May 1, 1863, he gave a speech in Columbus criticizing the president and testing a previously announced order by Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, Commander of the Department of the Ohio, which allowed for the arrest of anyone who expressed sympathy for the Confederacy. Burnside's men burst into Vallandigham's home in the middle of the night on May 5 and arrested him. A military commission tried Vallandigham, who stated during the proceedings that he believed the war was "for the liberation of blacks, and for the enslavement of the whites" (Dee 2007, p. 136).

Vallandigham contended that it was his constitutional right to speak out against the war, regardless of "civil or military authority" (Dee 2007, p. 137). The military commission banished the Ohio politician to territory held by the Confederacy, but Confederate military authorities did not officially accept him. Union troops then escorted Vallandigham through the lines of the warring armies to Tennessee and left him there in February 1864. Vallandigham subsequently traveled by blockade runner to Bermuda and then to Canada.

Democrats were appalled at the use of military authority against an American citizen, and this act not only strengthened opposition to the war, it also won Vallandigham the Democratic nomination for governor of Ohio. This was a bittersweet accomplishment, because Vallandigham was in exile and unable to personally campaign for office; he conducted his campaign from a hotel in Windsor, Ontario. Although the Confederacy did not officially recognize Vallandigham, some Confederate officers did extend their hospitality to him. A British observer visiting the Confederate Army, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, noted that Confederates expressed to Vallandigham their belief that reunion was no longer possible. Yet Vallandigham responded that a "scheme of a suspension of hostilities is the only one that has any prospect of ultimate success" (Fremantle 1863, p. 207). The Copperheads' goal to end the war and reunite the states was not compatible with the Confederate goal of independence.

Union Soldiers' Reactions

Vallandigham lost the Ohio gubernatorial election to a War Democrat, John Brough, by more than 100,000 votes. Ohio soldiers were almost unanimous in their opposition to the Copperhead candidate, as they were very concerned that their fellow Buckeyes at home did not support their efforts. In a letter to his sister in Marietta, John Chase lamented, "I understand that my father is a Copperhead, a Butternut, a Traitor, a Vallan-digham Peace-Maker" (Dee 2007, p. 159).

A petition by members of the Forty-fourth Ohio Infantry summed up the political opinions of the men by stating that "no better evidence do we want of disloyalty than to hear a man speak in favor of Vallandigham" (Dee 2007, p. 152). Ohio soldiers, like many others, longed to return home and likely agreed with Chase, who declared, "I want peace as much as anyone, but I want it brought about by the rebels laying down their arms and returning to allegiance" (Dee 2007, p. 159). The character of Philip Nolan, the protagonist of Edward Everett Hale's 1863 short story, "The Man without a Country," is based on Vallandigham.

Copperhead Conspiracies

The Republican response to the expansion of Copperhead influence included accusations of disloyalty. Some Republican politicians and military officials advanced theories about widespread Copperhead support for the Confederacy. Most Peace Democrats believed in using political means to bring the war to an end and reunite the Union. The activities of a few militant Copperheads, however, added to the spread of Republican conspiracy theories. Evidence of such secret societies as the Knights of the Golden Circle and the Sons of Liberty led Union officials to suspect that there was a widespread organization planning to form a Northwest confederacy and ally with the Southern Confederacy. When Indiana authorities uncovered a plot to free and arm Confederate prisoners, military men overestimated the threat. Official Union documents reported that in Indiana the organization consisted of 75,000 to 125,000 members who were "well-armed men, constantly drilled and exercised as soldiers" (United States Army Judge Advocate General's Department 1864, p. 5). In reality, Indiana Copperheads did not have a large disciplined army; at most they could muster a few thousand draft resisters and agitators who demonstrated, sometimes violently, in their communities.

Opposition to the Draft

On a local basis, Copperheads were civilians who felt the economic burden of war and refused to support or participate in the war. The draft riot in New York City in July, 1863, was the most infamous example of violent resistance to the war effort in the North. White working-class rioters, many of them Irish, lashed out at wealthy whites who could afford to avoid military service, and at black residents, whom the rioters considered competitors for jobs. Resistance to the draft was widespread on the Union side; provost marshals in the Midwest had difficulty enforcing the draft. Enforcement led to violence, including an incident in Van Wert County, Ohio, in which protestors fired on two deputy provost marshals. The July 11, 1864, edition of the New Albany Daily Ledger reported that a man in Harrison County, Indiana, shot and killed a former lieutenant colonel of the Eighty-first Indiana Regiment after an argument among several women devolved into a frenzied shouting match. The Republican women noticed a woman wearing a butternut emblem in church and tried to take it from her. Passionate disagreements about the war were not confined to the political arena. Instead, war-weary citizens throughout the North took out their anger on one another.

Presidential Election of 1864

Copperhead political influence reached its peak during the presidential election of 1864. At the Democratic convention in Chicago, delegates agreed to nominate a former Union general, George B. McClellan, for president, but also chose George Pendleton as the vice-presidential candidate. Pendleton was a notorious Copperhead politician from Ohio who had voted against every major bill supporting the war effort. Consequently, the Democratic ticket running against Lincoln attempted to unite both Peace Democrats and War Democrats. Hard-line Copperheads resisted this compromise because they believed that War Democrats would not work for an immediate peace. Even the Copperheads who supported McClellan later regretted it. Union victories during the summer of 1864 increased public support for Lincoln and rekindled many people's hopes that the war would soon end. McClellan distanced himself from the Peace Democrats, unwilling to advocate peace when the Union appeared to be winning the war.

In October 1864, stalwart peace advocates met in Cincinnati to organize the last-minute creation of a Peace Party. Delegates from Northern states, including Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, decreed that "the Chicago Convention has distinctly repudiated Democratic principles, and nominated General McClellan, who has responded to the platform by his war record, but the Peace and State Rights Democracy scouting the whole proceedings, have no idea of surrendering their doctrines" (Peace Convention 1864, p. 2). Regardless of several staunch declarations against McClellan, the Cincinnati convention failed to produce any nominations. Peace Democrats had to settle for voting for McClellan, who lost the election to Lincoln in November 1864.

Politically, the Copperheads were unable to steer the nation toward a peaceful path to reunion. In part their inability resulted from their failure to articulate a clear plan for ending the fighting and reuniting the country. At the local level, Copperheads voiced their concern for their future livelihoods, occasionally resorting to violent protest. The career of the Northern Copperheads demonstrates that the war was fought not only on the battlefield but also within communities back home.


Bernstein, Iver. The New York Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Dee, Christine, ed. Ohio's War: The Civil War in Documents. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.

Fremantle, Arthur James Lyon, Sir. Three Months in the Southern States, April—June, 1863. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1863.

Klement, Frank L. The Copperheads in the Middle West. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.

Klement, Frank L. Dark Lanterns: Secret Political Societies, Conspiracies, and Treason Trials in the Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984.

Klement, Frank L. The Limits of Dissent: Clement L. Vallandigham and the Civil War. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1970.

Lincoln, Abraham. President Lincoln's Views: An Important Letter on the Principles Involved in the Vallandigham Case: Correspondence in Relation to the Democratic Meeting at Albany, N.Y. Philadelphia: King & Baird, 1863.

Neely, Mark E., Jr. The Divided Union: Party Conflict in the Civil War North. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Peace Convention. Cincinnati Convention, October 18, 1864: For the Organization of a Peace Party upon State-Rights, Jeffersonian, Democratic Principles and for the Promotion of Peace and Independent Nominations for President and Vice-President of the United States. Cincinnati, OH: 1864.

Rosecrans, William S. Letters from General Rosecrans: To the Democracy of Indiana: Action of the Ohio Regiments at Murfreesboro, Regarding the Copperheads. Philadelphia: King & Baird, 1863.

United States Army. Judge Advocate General's Department. Report of the Judge Advocate General on the "Order of American Knights," of Liberty:" Western Conspiracy in Aid of the Southern Rebellion. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1864.

Weber, Jennifer L. Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln's Opponents in the North. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Stephen Rockenbach

Southern Union Loyalists

The secession movement that preceded the Civil War was not completely supported by the population of the Confederacy. There remained a sizable portion of the citizenry that continued to support the "old flag," as they called the flag of the United States. On many occasions, their support went beyond just moral support, but also translated into material aid to the Union war effort. In many instances, Southern Union loyalists aided the Federal war effort by providing comfort to Union prisoners of war, giving military information to Union regiments, and disrupting Confederate authority within their communities.

Beginning of Union Loyalist Opposition

After reaching a low point during the secession crisis, the strength of Unionists began to re-emerge as the weaknesses of the Confederacy began to come to the surface in 1862. The first of several Confederate conscription acts brought the class divisions of the war effort out into the open. Unionists had been a part of the initial wave of volunteers for the state regiments; however, the reality of the costs of the war and the conscription of large numbers of the Southern yeomanry revealed the failure of the new republic. Long causality lists affected the makeup of local communities that had a large number of white males fighting in the war. Conscription efforts to bring the remaining white male population into the conflict brought the Unionists out to resist the Confederate government. In 1863, another Confederate conscription act dealt the outlying communities another blow with the introduction of the twenty-slave rule, which now exempted owners of farms that employed twenty or more slaves. This exemption further intensified the class divisions of Southern society. Unionists and other segments of Southern society now saw the war as an instrument of the rich. The Confederacy also instituted a new tax known as the tax-in-kind to generate funds for the war by taxing crop production at a rate of ten percent and taxing such other valuables as watches and slaves.

Many Unionists began to resist the Confederate government by hiding men from the conscription officers. They hid draft-age men in woods and caves and provided food for them. A number of farmers refused to turn over ten percent of their crops to the Confederacy, choosing instead to hide their harvests from local justices of the peace and Confederate commissary officers. They encouraged their family members and friends to avoid enlisting in Confederate service or to resist calls to report to the county courthouse for enrollment for conscription. They also wrote to relatives and friends to encourage them to desert by giving information about the destitute condition of their families and friends.

Unionist Secret Societies

In addition to this resistance, Unionists began forming secret societies to communicate with one another without attracting the attention of Confederate authorities. Organizations like the Heroes of America were formed in small communities to communicate information to fight against the Confederate government. The Heroes were also known as the Red Strings because the members wore red strings on their lapels to denote their membership. They conducted secret meetings in locations away from attention in their towns. Entry to the meetings was governed by secret handshakes and passwords that were very similar to Masonic rituals. Through this type of organization, the resistance of Unionists began to grow in various parts of the Confederacy.

In addition to these Unionist societies, a number of individuals began to emerge as leaders of Union loyalist activities within the Confederacy. William G. Brownlow (1805–1877), the editor of a newspaper in Knoxville, Tennessee, and later governor of the state, promoted the ideals of Unionism through his editorial columns as his son served as an officer of a loyal Tennessee regiment (Coutler 1937, pp. 262, 402–403; Evans 1996, pp. 17–18). William Woods Holden (1818–1892) led the development of the peace movement in the Old North State as editor of a Raleigh newspaper, the North Carolina Standard. Holden promoted Zebulon Vance as the anti-Confederate government candidate in the gubernatorial election of 1862. Despite threats to his editorial business, Holden became the candidate of the Peace Party in North Carolina and challenged Governor Vance in the statewide elections in 1864 (Harris 1987, pp. 12–18, 116–121, 127–155). Senator Andrew Johnson (1808–1875) remained as U.S. Senator from Tennessee despite his state's seceding from the Union, and did return as military governor of the Volunteer State in 1862. Johnson was inaugurated as Abraham Lincoln's vice president in March 1865 and succeeded to the presidency little more than a month later following Lincoln's assassination in April 1865 (Trefousse 1989, pp. 143–151, 152–175, 189, 194–195).

Armed Resistance

Early on in the war, gangs composed of draft dodgers and conscript age men armed themselves and fought against the abuses committed by conscription officers and Confederate regiments on detached service. Many communities became armed camps with men providing security and supported by their family and relatives. The increase of violence against wives and daughters of conscript age men forced the communities to react violently against the Confederacy. In the mountain regions, much of the violence followed family lines, with Unionist families fighting pro-Confederate families. Abuses were committed by both sides, with the taking of no prisoners and the abuse of women.

Helping the Union Army

Southern Unionists also took their support to the war through enlistment in the Union Army. A number of Unionist regiments were formed in the South in 1862 to help stop the rebellion. In Virginia, the First Virginia Volunteers were formed by Unionists from all parts of the state; the unit was assigned to the Army of the Potomac. Other Southern states had such Unionist regiments formed for service as the First Tennessee Volunteers, the First Alabama Cavalry, and the First and Second Texas Cavalry, United States Army. In addition, a number of Unionists traveled to areas under federal control to enlist in Union regiments. A number of Northern regiments contained a sizable contingent of Southerners within their ranks. One Federal prisoner of war noted the discovery of an Alabamian as a member of the Sixteenth Illinois Volunteers at the Confederate prison near Andersonville, Georgia. The Twenty-first Indiana Volunteers contained a number of North Carolinians and Virginians within its companies. One North Carolinian became a recruitment officer for a Michigan regiment serving in Tennessee.

Unionists began to recruit and form military units within the Confederacy for serving in the Union Army. Wilkes County, North Carolina, was a county that had voted overwhelmingly for William W. Holden for governor in 1864. Unionists began to gather men for the beginning steps of forming companies for regiments. Once enough men had volunteered to form a company, a Union officer would swear them into service, and then the men marched westward to Tennessee to receive equipment. Through this method, the majority of the Third North Carolina Mounted Infantry was formed for service in the mountains. The Thirteen Tennessee Cavalry, U.S.A., also included within its troops a large number of Unionist North Carolinians who had traveled through the Great Smokey Mountains to enlist in the Union Army.

Besides these overt methods of serving the Union, Southern Unionists also worked as spies and scouts for the "old flag." During the Carolinas Campaign of 1865, Southern Unionists served as scouts for the Union Army because they could blend in with the local communities and obtain information on Confederate movements. Loyal Southerners also provided food and clothing to Union prisoners, and if able, guided escaped prisoners back to Union lines. Unionists were also able to pass along information to advancing Federal armies through slaves or direct contact with the U.S. Army's Bureau of Military Intelligence. An example was Elizabeth Van Lew (1818–1900), who passed along information to the Federal forces surrounding Richmond through a complex network of spies (Varon 2003, pp. 77–106). Major General William T. Sherman's Union armies benefited by intelligence passed via slaves from Union spies within the defenses of Atlanta.

After the capture of Atlanta, Sherman planned to evacuate the city and issued Special Order No. 67 to remove the civilian population. A number of Unionists in the city took steps to find a way for them to remain with their homes and businesses. Several of these families approached three Union army surgeons who had been imprisoned in the city. They asked these surgeons to write General Sherman for an exception to their expulsion, due to their assistance of food and medicine to Union prisoners. Sherman granted an exception for fifty families to stay in the city based on the testimony of the former Federal prisoners, but warned the families that their homes might still be destroyed due to the building of new entrenchments. The Unionist families that actually did leave Atlanta numbered around 1,500 persons. The majority of these families traveled northward to such states as Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Some families also traveled to Washington, DC, and New York City to join a number of other exiled families from Georgia (Dyer 1999, pp. 202–212).

After the end of the war, many Southern Unionists became the base of support for the Republican Party in the South. Along with former slaves, the Unionists constituted the base of a new political party that was nearly destroyed by President Rutherford B. Hayes's abandonment of this wing of the Republican Party in 1876. Other Unionists returned home from either being exiled or serving in the Union Army. Jesse Dobbins returned home to Yadkin County, North Carolina, after serving for three years in an Indiana regiment. He was immediately arrested for murdering a conscription officer in 1863. He beat up the deputy sheriff and escaped to the woods. He contacted the closest United States Army detachment for protection, and after a lengthy court case, he was eventually acquitted of the crime (Casst-evens 1997, pp. 86–96, 107, 117–118).


Barrett, John G. The Civil War in North Carolina. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1963.

Bynum, Victoria. The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Casstevens, Frances. The Civil War and Yadkin County, North Carolina. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1997.

Crofts, Daniel W. Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

Coutler, E. Merton. William G. Brownlow: Fighting Parson of the Southern Highland. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1937.

Dyer, Thomas G. Secret Yankees: The Union Circle in Confederate Atlanta. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Evans, David. Sherman's Horsemen: Union Cavalry Operations in the Atlanta Campaign. Bloomington, IN.: Indiana University Press, 1996.

Fishel, Edwin. The Secret War for the Union: The Untold Story of Military Intelligence in the Civil War. Boston: Hougton Miffin Co., 1996.

Freehling, William A. The South vs. The South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Grimsley, Mark. The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians, 1861–1865. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Harris, William C. William Woods Holden: Firebrand of North Carolina Politics. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.

Moore, Albert L. Conscription and Conflict in the Confederacy. New York: Macmillan 1924.

Paludan, Phillip S. Victims: A True Story of the Civil War. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1981.

Ryan, David D. A Yankee Spy in Richmond: The Civil War Diary of "Crazy Bet" Van Lew. Mechanicsburg, PA.: Stackpole, 1996.

Sarris, Jonathan Dean. A Separate Civil War: Communities in Conflict in the Mountain South, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006.

Sutherland, Daniel E., ed. Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999.

Tatum, George L. Disloyalty in the Confederacy. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1934.

Trefousse, Hans Louis. Andrew Johnson: A Biography. New York: Norton, 1989.

Varon, Elizabeth. Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Wiley, Bill I. The Plain People of the Confederacy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1943.

William H. Brown

Pacifism and Conscientious Objectors

Pacifists and conscientious objectors refused to serve in the military or engage in combat during the Civil War for a variety of reasons. While pacifism was not new within America, the Civil War was the first time that the federal government had to deal actively with the issue because of the innovation of the military draft. The Confederacy first adopted conscription on April 16, 1862. This legislation required all able-bodied white men between the ages of eighteen and thirty- five to enter the Confederate Army. Later acts expanded the age range to seventeen years at the lower end and fifty at the upper. In addition, those already serving had their contracts extended for another three years. Many Southerners were angered by exceptions for those who could pay five hundred dollars or provide a substitute, as well as a series of exemptions for certain offices and professions—including an exemption for owners of plantations with twenty slaves or more.

The Union followed suit, adopting a conscription law in 1863 that called up able-bodied men between the ages of twenty and forty-five. Similar to Southern practice, exemptions were given to men in specific offices or jobs or men who were only sons. Exemption from the draft could also be purchased for three hundred dollars.

Religious Pacifists

Several small religious sects in the United States in both North and South subscribed to pacifism as part of their understanding of Christianity. The Society of Friends (Quakers) and such Anabaptist groups as the Mennonites had significant populations in some Northern states, particularly Pennsylvania and Indiana. There were also smaller groups like the Amanists (members of the Amana Society, who purchased land in Iowa and formed six communal villages in 1859), Dunkards, and Schwenk-felders, who also maintained a pacifist stance. Both the Confederacy and the Union had pacifist religious sects, though the Union had a far larger population of religious pacifists.

In October 1862 the Confederacy adopted another draft act that exempted members of pacifist sects from service but still required them to furnish a substitute or pay the five-hundred-dollar fee. Because the South was gradually worn down by the war, however, it became nearly impossible for pacifists to avoid military service, given the decline in both Southern manpower and money. The Confederacy could ill afford to take action against pacifists that could be better directed toward the war effort, however. Consequently, as the situation worsened pacifists were left to their own devices. Any action to enforce conscription against Southern pacifists was left to the discretion of local officials and the Confederate Army. Some states mandated exemptions but required pacifists to work in other fields. North Carolina, for instance, used pacifists as workers in salt mines and in hospitals. Nevertheless, pacifists living near combat areas were subject to abuse and the seizure of their property, particularly in the South.

The North, which never faced the same crisis in manpower, tended to grant better treatment to members of pacifist sects, though the Union never formally exempted them from service by a formal act of Congress. There was no clear policy within the North for dealing with those who refused to serve. Generally, pacifists who could not afford to pay the exemption fee would report for duty, express their religious opposition to war, and then request assignment to hospitals or service in logistical fields. These exemptions were generally granted by the Union and supported by Lincoln, who wished to avoid formal Congressional legislation on pacifist sects.

Most mainstream Protestant and Catholic bodies embraced the war effort, justifying both the Union and the Confederate causes with religious arguments. Indeed, the Christian churches before the war counted as members the some of the most vociferous critics and defenders of the institution of slavery. An Episcopalian priest, Noah Hunt Schenck (1825–1885), who ministered in the border state of Maryland, was one of the few church leaders who called for reason and moderation at the beginning of the conflict rather than encouraging volunteers. He counseled patience and understanding rather than describing the Civil War as a moral crusade. Schenck clearly chose to separate the kingdom of God from the kingdom of man in his arguments:

The servant of Christ has an office in an hour like this when the elements of storm have combined, as in days when the skies above him are clear and clean. He lies under special obligation as a follower of "the Prince of Peace" to avert by "the soft answer" and the life of "moderation" the threatened disasters which the madness of his brethren have invited. (Schenck 1861, p. 20)

For Schenck, despite his colleagues' bromides on the subject, war was out of line with the message of the Gospel. Regardless of the sins of the Confederacy, Schenck believed that punishment was best left to God, while political problems could be resolved through the exercise of reason and moderation.

Constitutional Objections to Conscription

In contrast to previous wars involving the United States, the Civil War depended on armies formed through conscription. To many Americans, however, the military draft violated traditional constitutional rights at the heart of the American republic, for which both Northerners and Southerners believed they were fighting. As a consequence, many who chose not to fight gave conscription as a violation of individual rights as their objection to the war effort. Southerners who had opposed secession and felt that the chances of a Confederate victory were unlikely were especially opposed to the war on these grounds. George Adams Fisher, who considered himself a Union man, was a citizen of Texas that was conscripted into the Confederate Army. Fisher thought that there was no legal basis for secession, and was particularly outraged by the Confederate government's use of force against its own troops in the cases of Southerners who chose to leave the army or who refused to have their contracts extended after the conscription act of 1862. After describing an incident in which a Confederate officer threatened his own men with grapeshot after they decided that they had fulfilled their contract and chose not to reenlist, Fisher wrote: "This is a specimen of the devotion of the Southern soldiers to the cause in which they are engaged, and of the means made use of to keep their armies together. These statements produced a wonderful excitement among the Union citizens of Texas. Many solemnly vowed they would never submit to the conscription law" (Fisher 1864, p. 61).

Josephine Clare, a woman from Natchitoches, similarly opposed secession. The Confederacy's use of conscription motivated her husband to flee with his family to the North, given the undemocratic methods used to support the Southern war effort. Clare wrote, "In the Spring of 1862, the rebel authorities conscripted every man between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. Their opinions were not consulted, but at the point of the bayonet they were compelled to obey the tyrannical orders of their oppressors" (Clare 1865, p. 3).

Conscription produced significant opposition within the Confederacy, even among Southerners who in principle supported secession. Governor Joseph E. Brown of Georgia (1821–1894) wrote in his message to the state's legislature on the subject of conscription, "Not only the rights and the sovereignty of the States have been disregarded, but the individual rights of the citizen have been trampled under foot, and we have by this policy been reduced, for a time at least, to a state bordering upon military despotism" (Brown 1862, p. 4). Conscription in both the North and South was widely viewed as unconstitutional and out of keeping with the tradition of a voluntary military in United States history that dated back to the American Revolution.

Many Northerners also objected to conscription, most spectacularly in the draft riots that took place in New York City from July 13 to July 16, 1863. The riots were a direct response to conscription on the part of Irish and German Americans, who targeted the wealthy and African Americans. Ultimately, federal troops had to be called in to end the violence. The New York City draft riots resulted in the deaths of 119 people, serious injury to another 300, and significant property damage (Paludan 1988, pp. 190–191). The riots indicated that the North too had significant opposition to conscription. Many Democrats, even some who supported the war effort, considered the draft to be unconstitutional. Border state populations and recent immigrants like the Irish and the Germans were also more likely to oppose the draft as a violation of their civil rights; these groups also objected to the war effort on these constitutional grounds.

In sum, pacifists and conscientious objectors in the North and the South opposed the Civil War for both religious and constitutional reasons. Because of the scope of the conflict and the resort to a military draft, the Confederacy and the Union had to deal with the problem that pacifists and conscientious objectors pose in a war between two mobilized societies for the first time in American history.


Brown, Joseph E. Special Message of his Excellency Joseph E. Brown, to the Legislature. Milledgeville, GA: Boughton, Nisbet & Barnes, 1862.

Clare, Josephine. Narrative of the Adventures and Experiences of Mrs. Josephine Clare. Lancaster, PA: Pearson & Geist, 1865.

Fisher, George Adams. The Yankee Conscript, or, Eighteen Months in Dixie. Philadelphia: J. W. Daughaday, 1864.

Paludan, Phillip. A People's Contest: The Union and the Civil War, 1861–1865. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1988.

Schenck, Noah Hunt. Christian Moderation, the Word in Season, to the Church and the Country, 2nd ed. Baltimore: Entz & Bash, 1861.

Michael Kelly Beauchamp

Draft Riots and Draft Resisters

Resistance to conscription acts in both the Union and the Confederacy was the strongest and most violent form of activism on the home front to the national policies of the respective combatants. Draft resistance showed the rising level of discontent with losses on the battlefields, food shortages at home, and racial tensions in local communities. In the North, draft resistance showed that federal policies were not completely supported by the country and that the President's conduct of the war was seriously questioned in some quarters. In the Confederacy, draft resistance revealed the open wounds of class divisions. In addition, the resistance forced the Confederacy to pull badly needed troops from the various theaters of war to enforce its conscription acts within its states. To enforce those acts, Confederate troops committed war crimes against the civilian population to enforce the authority of the national government.

Both sides of the conflict realized by 1862 that there would not be enough volunteers to sustain their armies in the field. As a result, both governments turned to conscription to maintain and strengthen their armies. In April 1862 the Confederacy passed the first of three conscription acts to bring more men into its armies and to prevent the massive mustering-out of twelve-month volunteers. The South concentrated on men who fell within the militia age of eighteen to thirty-five with exceptions for those in business and government jobs. As expected, battlefield losses forced the Confederacy to institute additional conscription acts in 1863 and 1864. The last act was the most severe; it called up all ablebodied men between the ages of seventeen and forty-five with only a few exemptions.

Draft Resistance in the North

By 1862, the federal government began to look for new ways to increase enlistments in the Union Army. The Militia Act of 1862 was expected to provide roughly 300,000 men for military service; however, widespread opposition prevented the federal government from fully implementing its provisions. The Northern states used a bounty system to increase recruiting to fulfill their quota of state regiments for military service. By March 1863, the Enrollment Act was signed. This act provided for the enrollment of all households within a congressional district by government agents. A lottery was held to see which men would be called up for military service. If enough men to meet the quota volunteered in a district, then the lottery was not held. Drafted men could obtain the services of a substitute to go in their place or pay $300 to exempt themselves from military service.

Northern citizens did not respond positively to President Lincoln's initial call for recruits in 1862. Local opposition to the Militia Act grew into violence in several states. In many cases, the citizens' outrage was not directed toward the state governments but rather toward the national government that had forced the issue on the states. A month after the Union victory at Sharpsburg (Antietam), Maryland, in September 1862, a massive riot occurred in Port Washington, Wisconsin, in October. A crowd marched through the streets of the town under a banner protesting the draft. They proceeded to attack the courthouse and destroyed the local enrollment papers for the county. A battalion of infantry had to be deployed to restore order in the town.

New York City Draft Riots

These disturbances were minor skirmishes compared to the major protests that occurred over the Enrollment Act of 1863. The potential conscription of poor whites who did not have the financial means to hire substitutes for the draft became a major point of contention. In addition, the anger over the conscription lottery became tied to labor issues in Northern cities. African Americans were beginning to compete with immigrants for lower-wage work, thereby destroying the labor monopoly of German and Irish workers. By the spring of 1863, violence was erupting throughout the North over the Enrollment Act. Violence occurred in places as distant from each other as Detroit, Michigan, and Rutland, Vermont. The draft lottery was disrupted in Chicago and local police were attacked when they attempted to stop the crowd.

On July 11, 1863, the first names of the lottery were drawn in New York City without incident. At the same time, nearly all of the New York State Militia had been deployed to Pennsylvania to cover portions of that state during the Gettysburg campaign. On July 13, riots broke out in response to the second drawing of lottery numbers and the opening of the draft office. A large mob burned the office and looted stores and the homes of the wealthy on Lexington Avenue. The bottom floor of the office of the New York Tribune was burned, and Brooks Brothers' store was attacked and looted by the crowd. Up to that point, the mob consisted of the poor of the city, mainly German and Irish. On the following day, the mob was primarily composed of Irish immigrants. The rioters quickly focused on those minorities who they believed were taking their jobs and were the cause of the war itself. In short order, African Americans were being targeted within the city. Soon, individual African Americans were being attacked and lynched on the street. Businesses that employed African Americans were also attacked and burned by the mob. The Colored Orphan Asylum was also burned; however, all the children except one were able to escape.

The New York City police, seriously outnumbered, attempted to control the crowds, but they were also attacked by mobs of men and women. Republicans, policemen, wealthy individuals, and African Americans were assaulted on the streets by the mobs. The crowd overran one armory and gained weapons to fight police barricades and assault additional blocks of the city. In Pennsylvania, the deployed militia regiments were ordered back to the city. U.S. Army regulars from Governor's Island were set over to clear the streets with muskets with fixed bayonets. The provost marshal even requested the U.S. Navy to station an armed steamer near the business district and send ashore a contingent of U.S. Marines to assist the police.

The arrival of the militia regiments, as well as volunteer Union regiments from Michigan and Indiana, soon spelled the end of rioting in the city. The regiments were sent into the street to clear away barricades and return law and order. As a measure to calm the crowds, the draft lottery was ordered suspended within the city. By July 17, 1863, law and order was completely restored. The next day, regiments from the Union Army of the Potomac arrived to help patrol the city. Over 1,000 fatalities occurred during the period of July 12 through July 17, 1863, along with $2 million dollars of property damage. It was later determined that the actual toll was 105 killed and 193 seriously wounded (Cook 1974, pp. 194–195). During this period, other Northern cities experienced rioting over the proposed lottery for the Enrollment Act of 1863. A Federal armory was attacked in Boston, Massachusetts, on July 14, 1863. Other disturbances erupted throughout the mid-Atlantic states, and in Ohio and Wisconsin in the Midwest.

Despite the fears over another riot, conscription officials made plans to hold another draft lottery for New York City in mid-August 1863. On August 17, the mayor and police commissioner requested that thirteen militia regiments be deployed to protect the draft locations and parts of the city. No violence occurred during this draft, and the regiments remained until mid-September 1863.

Draft Resistance in the Confederacy

Within the Confederacy, resistance to the draft grew as a response to class discrimination in the conscription acts and the growing burden imposed on the poor by the Confederate government. Initially, the First Conscription Act of 1862 was passed in order to deal with the potential mustering-out of twelve-month volunteers just before the season of active campaigning in the spring and summer of 1862. The act specified a large number of exemptions for a number of jobs and government positions. The burden fell upon the small farmers and mechanics to fulfill the manpower quotas of the act. Throughout May 1862, large numbers of men volunteered to prevent having to be conscripted by the government.

After this initial wave of volunteers, however, the enrollment of additional conscripts began to fall off in the South. Many communities had sent large numbers of their white male population off to war, and they were soon greeted with long casualty lists from the battles of late 1862, including Antietam and Stones River. To fill the ranks, Confederate conscription officers became more ruthless in ferreting out men who had not been exempted from service. Abuses were committed against families by Confederate troops looking for draft evaders and private property was destroyed. Conscription officers and their troops kicked in doors of private dwellings and ransacked houses, barns, and storage bins. Soldiers tied up women to force them to reveal the locations of their male relatives. (Barrett 1963, pp. 188–189, 193–194)

Beginning in late 1862, resistance grew into violence in a number of counties toward conscription officers and their military companies. Officers were beaten up by gangs of men or shot during roadside ambushes. Justices of the peace, who were required to compile lists of men to be drafted, were threatened by citizens in their counties of residence. By 1863 violence was regularly occurring in a number of locales in the South. Randolph County, North Carolina, home to a number of Quakers and Unionists, was considered to be in open rebellion by the governor of North Carolina. In mountain regions, the draft was seen as the tyrannical reach of a government founded by large plantation owners. Draft resisters and deployed state regiments murdered citizens on a regular basis in Southern mountain counties.

Second Conscription Act

The Confederate Congress passed the Second Conscription Act in the spring of 1863. This act was notable for the inclusion of the so-called twenty-slave rule. According to this provision, masters of twenty slaves or more were now exempted from military service. This exemption drove an even greater division between the rich and poor in Southern society. Many saw this exemption as a way to ensure that poor Southerners would fight the war while the rich would be unaffected. In addition, the number of exemptions was increased for those individuals working in government and higher levels of businesses.

Not surprisingly, draft resistance grew in the South. The desertion rate rose in frontline regiments, and deserters from those regiments joined up with draft resisters to form gangs to fight against Confederate troops. In Yadkin County, North Carolina, a number of local men fought a pitched battle and succeeded in driving off a conscription officer and his detachment. Men also avoided military service by hiding in the woods and the mountains, which forced the Confederacy to send troops needed at the front to search for these men in the backwoods.

Women related to the draft resisters often left food for them at certain locations. Consequently, conscription officers began to target and follow the women as they traveled through the countryside to locate groups of deserters. State governors were pleading with the national government in Richmond to send regular troops to deal with the growing threat within the mountain counties.

Increasingly, the Confederate government was forced to deploy regiments and brigades to bring these regions back under central authority. General Robert E. Lee had to send regiments back to their native states to assist in reestablishing Confederate authority in a number of counties. In several cases, battle-weary and numerically reduced regiments were sent back to assist conscription officers and to recruit additional soldiers to bring their units back up to full strength. These troops would bring a local area under control and bring in conscripts to send to camps of instruction. As soon as the regiment was sent back to its parent army, the local population would rise back up again to fight the conscription officers and their detachments. In several cases, men of conscript age and deserters formed improvised groups to protect their communities from the intrusion of Confederate soldiers. Toward the end of the conflict, many local communities were not under Confederate control, and only the arrival of Union soldiers ensured the return of law and order.

In summary, attempts to raise recruits for both the Union and Confederate Armies were met with violence and social unrest. In Northern states, mob violence affected the entire system of using a lottery to pick men for military service. The increase of bounties offered by the states and the timely deployment of military troops enabled the system to function despite the lowered quality of men being brought into the armies. In the Confederacy, draft resistance played a major role in the breakdown of the government's influence in outlying communities. In addition, the nature of conscription itself divided the Confederacy along class lines, and damaged the nation internally. This breakdown in authority coupled with losses on the battlefield served to doom the Confederacy in short order.


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Coakley, Robert W. The Role of Federal Military Forces in Domestic Disorders, 1789–1878. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 1988.

Cook, Adrian. The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1974.

Gallman, J. Matthew. The North Fights the Civil War: The Home Front. Chicago: I.R. Doe, 1994.

Geary, James W. We Need Men: The Union Draft in the Civil War. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1991.

Leach, Jack. Conscription in the United States: Historical Background. Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1952.

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Murdock, Eugene C. One Million Men: The Civil War Draft in the North. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1971.

Paludan, Phillip S. Victims: A True Story of the Civil War. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1981.

William H. Brown