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Interpreting the Evidence

The Civil War Draft: 1863 List of Substitute Deserters, Oswego

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Civil War and Reconstruction (1850 - 1877)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Civil War

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    Central New York
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Descriptive List of Substitute Deserters, Civil War, 1863 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Descriptive list of Civil War substitute deserters enlisted at Oswego, NY, October 1, 1863. The list contains names of soldiers who were hired to enlist in the Union Army as substitutes for men who had been drafted. Some substitutes never showed up for duty even though they had been paid beforehand.

Historical Background:
The Confederate States imposed the first military draft in American history on April 16, 1862. Barely one year later, the Union passed its own conscription laws. Both sides raised more animosity for their respective causes than troops.
The draft had exceptions. If you paid $300, you were excused from duty. Or you could hire a substitute to serve in your place. Many people bribed medical doctors to diagnose them as unfit for duty due to physical impairments. These exceptions, which were used in both the Federal and Confederate Armies, favored the rich. Accusations of class discrimination were abundant and obviously correct. In 1863, there were even riots in New York protecting the draft. Since substitution was completely legal, although not necessarily just, some famous people in American history survived the war by paying substitutes. Grover Cleveland, John D. Rockefeller, and George Templeton Strong all avoided combat.
The Federal Army considered men between the ages of twenty and forty-five eligible for service. The Confederate Army expected men ages seventeen through fifty to report for duty. In the end, the draft caused much discontent among civilians and military men. In the Federal Army, of the 249,259 men drafted, less than 6% (under 15,000) served.

Essential Question: How does war impact individuals?