The Enrollment Act of March 3, 1863
, was legislation passed by the United States Congress
during the American Civil War
to provide fresh manpower for the Union Army
. The controversial act required the enrollment of every male citizen and those immigrants who had filed for citizenship between ages twenty and forty-five. Federal agents established a quota of new troops due from each congressional district. In some cities, particularly New York City
, enforcement of the act sparked civil unrest
as the war dragged on.
The Provost Marshal General James Barnet Fry administered the national implementation of the Enrollment Act and answered directly to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Beneath Provost Marshal General Fry were the State Acting Assistant Provost Marshal Generals. The State Provost Marshal Generals were not authorized by the Enrollment Act, but were appointed personally by James Fry to attend to matters in each individual state. New York and Pennsylvania were the only states that had more than one State Acting Assistant Marshal general; New York had three and Pennsylvania had two. Each state was divided along district lines with each district under the jurisdiction of an enrollment board. The enrollment boards were headed by a district provost marshal and also included a surgeon and a commissioner. Each enrollment board employed clerks, deputies, and special agents as needed. The enrollment boards divided themselves into sub-districts along ward (in cities) and township (in rural areas) lines. In each sub-district a census was conducted by an enrollment officer to document every man eligible for the draft in the sub-district.
Causes of Unrest
The policies of substitution and commutation were controversial practices that allowed drafted citizens to opt out of service by either furnishing a suitable substitute to take the place of the drafted, or paying $300. Both of these provisions were created with the intention of softening the effect of the draft on pacifists and the anti-draft movement. The result however was general public resentment of both policies.
The policy of substitution was continued throughout the war. The problem with substitution was that it provided substitutes with powerful incentives to desert soon after enlisting. Career "jumpers" made a living off of enlisting as a substitute, collecting their compensation, deserting before their units were dispatched to the front, and repeating the process. This problem was well known to the military commanders who regularly saw the same recruits repeatedly. In addition, troops furnished through substitution were considered to be of an inferior quality in comparison to regulars and volunteers.
Commutation (paying $300 to escape the draft) was created in an effort to keep substitution prices low. If commutation were not instated the price of a substitute would have quickly inflated past $300. In addition to suppressing substitution prices commutation was intended to raise money for the war effort. While commutation did raise war funds it was often a criticism of the draft that it was better at raising money than troops. The rationalization for commutation was that unwilling troops were ineffective, so the government may as well extract funds from the unwilling if it couldn't get proficient service. Despite the good intentions behind commutation it was one of the most hated policies of the war.
These two practices were major points of contention among the general public and led directly to the slogan "rich man's war, poor man's fight."
Murdock, Eugene C. One Million Men: The Civil War Draft in the North
Murdock, Eugene C. Patriotism Limited 1862-1865: The Civil War Draft and the Bounty System (1967)