Academic journal article Civil War History

The Loyal Draft Dodger? A Reexamination of Confederate Substitution

Academic journal article Civil War History

The Loyal Draft Dodger? A Reexamination of Confederate Substitution

Article excerpt

When John M. Locke, who worked in the Confederate enrolling office in Rockingham County, Virginia, received Circular #7 in January 1864, he was ready to enact its provisions. The circular altered Confederate conscription policies yet again, declaring both that the army would no longer accept substitutes and that all principals--drafted men who had provided substitutes to serve in their place while they remained home--should be swiftly enrolled into Confederate service. About a week later, the national conscription office prodded enrolling officers by reminding them, "Persons who have furnished substitutes must be enrolled at once" Confederate leaders need not have worried about the ability of Rockingham County's enrolling office to follow these orders, for Locke had kept detailed records listing the status of the 1,132 men who had crossed his path. (1)

In his two volumes, Locke carefully recorded the age, height, complexion, eye color, and occupation of each man who passed through his office. More importantly, he detailed the disposition of each case. While his volumes indicate that the enrolling office sent 310 Rockingham men (27.4 percent) forward to the army, surprisingly, a slightly greater number (326, or 28.8 percent) supplied substitutes in their place. Substitutes represented the highest number of exemptions in his enrolling books, with other significant categories including 240 men exempted on religious grounds, 156 with medical exemptions, 45 shoemakers, 46 blacksmiths, and 37 millers. Not only did Locke catalog the principals, but he also noted the name of the substitutes as well. In keeping a detailed record matching principals and substitutes, he may have been more diligent than men serving in other enrolling offices. Alternatively, his books might just be some of the very few Confederate conscription records that have survived, for today his list represents one of a very small number accessible to researchers. (2)

Thus, the information in Locke's enrolling books, in conjunction with other material relating to Rockingham County, offers an invaluable source to assess historians' conclusions regarding substitution. In contrast to most other Civil War subjects, Confederate substitution remains relatively understudied. This lack of attention is undoubtedly related to a lack of detailed evidence. Even the total number of substitutes remains unknown with estimates varying dramatically from 50,000 to 150,000. Even the lower figure indicates that 100,000 southerners (50,000 principals and 50,000 substitutes) directly participated in the process. Yet, almost all of the lists of substitutes, especially those that match principals with their substitutes, have disappeared. (3)

This article will employ Rockingham's enrolling books, census data, and other evidence to discover contemporary attitudes toward substitution and its relationship to Confederate loyalty. Too often, Civil War scholars studying substitution posit loyalty in dichotomous terms. Either southerners served in the Confederate States Army (classified as loyal) or they did not (disloyal), and in this overly simplistic view, principals who did not serve fit into the disloyal category. My examination of Rockingham County reveals major flaws in our understanding of substitution and its relationship to patriotism. Substitution must be considered among a range of alternatives available to conscripts--from enrollment in the army to outright resistance. Contrary to the image of principals as disloyal men who shirked their Confederate duty by providing untrustworthy mercenaries in their place, Rockingham County's principals followed the law and often provided services to the community and the Confederacy. Rather than simply flaunting their wealth, principals in Rockingham remained home because of their religious scruples or to provide food or other services for their community. This community, in turn, did not automatically resent them or label them as traitors, but instead judged them based on their actions on the home front. …

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