The Confederate Congress

By Wilfred Buck Yearns | Go to book overview
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BY THE WINTER OF 1863-1864 IT WAS STILL APPARENT THAT THE Confederate armies could not hold their own against the seemingly endless number of Northerners. General Lee had been begging for recruits for over a year and had advocated new laws, particularly the ending of all class exemptions, for the better use of the available manpower. William J. Hardee and twenty other Generals proposed changes which would place all men, black and white, between 15 and 60 at the complete disposition of the military.1 In his message of December 7, 1863, to the last session of the First Congress President Davis firmly stated that Congress must "add largely to our effective forces as promptly as possible." He advised it to substitute a system of executive detail for that of class exemption and to extend the draft age beyond 45, the older men to be used mainly to replace able-bodied men performing inactive duties.2 The Secretary of War added two important requests. He explained that the first draft law had required all troops then in the army to serve for a total of three years. In 1864, 315 regiments and 58 battalions were eligible for discharge and he asked that they be continued in the army for the duration. He further suggested that Congress organize groups of non-conscripts and "the least available conscripts" to hunt down deserters and assist the enrolling officers when needed.3

Both houses contained men willing to go the limit and they vigorously sought the initiative. On December 11 Senator Wigfall proposed to draft everyone between 16 and 60 and leave their service almost entirely to the President.4 Senator Albert Gallatin Brown of Mississippi, ordinarily opposed to extreme army measures, now demanded a levy en masse. He deplored the practice of frittering away the reserves by drafting a few men here and a few men there, and if his suggestion smacked of despotism he


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The Confederate Congress


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