View Full Version : injury to avoid the draft - U.S. Civil War

03-16-2013, 05:02 PM
I am looking for a way for one of my MCs to avoid conscription without serious disability. This will be difficult - it happens in 1864 and he is in the South so they are of course desperate for men, draft age range was 17 to 50 (!) at that point. The character is a fairly healthy 38-year-old man, roughly middle class and opposed to slavery due to his relationship with my heroine. So of course his number comes up....

I was thinking of having him have a mishap with an ax while chopping firewood. The injury isn't intentional, but he's angry over a lover's quarrel and possibly drunk, so being careless. How badly would he need to slice up his foot or leg in order to be rejected for military service? Would that just be a temporary deferment with them calling him up after it heals, if it isn't bad enough?

The story takes place in Virginia, Blue Ridge foothills (Charlottesville area) if that is relevant. I assume this would all be happening in early spring (so about a year before "present action" in my novel), so I need to figure out how much the accident would still be affecting him a year or so out as well.

03-16-2013, 05:28 PM
He wouldn't have to be injured. If he were in an occupation considered vital, or could get a falsified exemption, he wouldn't have to injure himself. He could also be exempted if he owned 20 slaves, but that doesn't appear likely in your scenario. It's also possibly he could have paid for a substitute if he was drafted before that provision was removed (I believe in 1863).



An amputation of a couple toes would probably be serious enough to get him exempted, and still allow him to function without too much problem. However, if his anti-slavery views were known, it's just as possible he would be denied an exemption unless he was totally disabled (as in missing both legs).

03-16-2013, 06:30 PM
A missing thumb or trigger finger might do the trick.....but then again, he could end up in the artillery. Late in the war, the Confederate government used press gangs for lack of a better word to enforce the draft.

Conscription in the Confederacy isn't as well studied as its Northern counterpart. There wasn't a movie called Gangs of Richmond!

You might consider having him in an exempt class (telegraph operator, railroad worker, civil official, etc). I have a large Civil War book collection, as that is my passion in life....other than redheads.....and I'll poke around and see if I can turn up anything else for you.

03-16-2013, 07:36 PM
You had to have at least two opposable teeth to tear open the rifle cartridges.

No teeth, no shooting.

03-16-2013, 11:07 PM
Depending on your character's financial situation, lots of (mostly wealthy) men hired substitutes to fight for them. So if you were a plantation owner, your number got called up, and you couldn't get out based on your occupation, you just pay someone else to go in your place.

03-16-2013, 11:38 PM
If not mistaken, you could pay the sum of $100, gold, to get out...

03-17-2013, 12:23 AM
It varied by year. I've heard 300 quoted.

03-17-2013, 08:57 AM
It varied by year. I've heard 300 quoted.
I would imagine it would also vary by how desperate the men he asks think he is.

03-17-2013, 05:25 PM
That's not the rate for hiring a replacement. That is the official exemption rate.

03-17-2013, 08:26 PM
The option to pay a substitute or for an exemption was taken away after 1863. His nephew enlisted at age 16 at that time (lying about his age and possibly his identity) so may have been involved in this as the sub. If that happened, would my character have his name come up again the next year?

They could almost do a Gangs of Richmond - there were bread riots more than draft riots though. Plus there was a horrible explosion at a munitions plant that killed scores of civilian workers, many of them Irish-immigrant adolescent girls.

It is interesting re: exempted occupations - one of the real people who comes up in the book was exempted due to being a pharmacist in Richmond who supplied Chimborazo and other major hospitals. This fellow (who was a German immigrant with a Northern-born wife) then was immediately granted amnesty after the war as a non-combatant.

My character, however, is a photographer, and to some extent remains neutral for business reasons. He ends up following the Union army at the end of the war and probably working for Alexander Gardner's organization.

Anyway thanks to everyone for the info! I am sure I will work something out....