Continental Army, Draft

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Continental Army, Draft

CONTINENTAL ARMY, DRAFT. Revolutionary American military forces drafted men throughout the conflict. At the most elementary level, state militias divided their contingent into classes of from fifteen to twenty men, then called out (drafted) one or several of a county's classes for service ranging from weeks to months. Having served the allotted time, the men returned to their homes. Similarly, Continental regiments were occasionally augmented with state militia drafts, usually each county class providing a draftee, volunteer, or substitute in place of a drafted man.

In 1777 Connecticut passed a statute that set recruiting quotas for selected towns, met by "detaching" (drafting) men from the local militia to serve ten months as Continental soldiers. That October a Virginia measure called for counties to provide an allotment of one-year militia levies to augment Continental regiments. A draft lottery was to be held in February 1778, and the chosen men were to travel north by 31 March.

Congress authorized the first comprehensive Continental army draft in a February 1778 recruiting act. Covering eleven of thirteen states (excepting South Carolina and Georgia), the legislation called for the enactment of a nine-month levy, or an effective alternative, to fill recruiting quotas. Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina instituted a levy, and as a result they garnered substantial numbers of men for the 1778–1779 campaigns.

In February 1780 the Board of War reiterated General George Washington's 1778 recommendation of a long-term draft. The result was a one-time, six-month levy that produced lackluster results in all but a few states. (Massachusetts was the sole exception, garnering substantial numbers of levies each year from 1780 through 1782.) In consequence, beginning in 1779 and continuing to 1783, army strength steadily diminished. A limited draft was also instituted in Virginia and North Carolina in 1781, adding numbers of troops to those states' efforts to counter invading British forces.

American militia and Continental conscription mirrored the reality of the Civil War system (1863–1865), when volunteers and substitutes outnumbered draftees. Large numbers of serving Revolutionary militia were (paid) volunteers substituting for men whose class had been called up, and predominant numbers of men gleaned through the 1778 and 1780 Continental army drafts were in fact also volunteers or substitutes who stepped forward because of monetary inducement.


McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988.

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

Rees, John U. "'The Pleasure of Their Number': 1778, Crisis, Conscription, and Revolutionary Soldiers' Recollections." ALHFAM Bulletin 33, no. 3 (Fall 2003): 23-34; 33, no. 4 (Winter 2004): 23-34; and 34, no.1 (Spring 2004): 19-28.

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Continental Army, Draft

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