Tuesday, April 10, 2007

CWL --- A Poor Man's Fight in 1863? Not So! But Maybe?

Which Poor Man's Fight? Immigrants and The Federal Conscription of 1863
Tyler Anbinder, Civil War History, 52:4, 344-372, 2006.

George Washington University professor of history, author of 'Five Points: The 19th Century Neighborhood . . .,' and contributor to the History Channel regarding the film 'Gangs of New York,' Tyler Anbinder breaks a myth of the 1863 Northern draft and NYC riots of July 1863.
Myth: The rioters' fear that they would be disporportionately affected by the draft caused the civil disturbance. The fear was well founded.

Anbinder has discovered in the National Archives the Provost Marshall reports of that year. Parsing and perusing the reports, he concludes that the rioters' fear was unfounded, that the military draft did not disportionately pull the immigrants into the army and navy. Indeed, the Provost Marshall's reports show that the number of impoverished immigrants forced into the military was below the national average. "Immigrants were not disproportionately forced into the army as a result of the draft. (346)

"If one considers all those forced to contribute to the war effort as a result of the draft, by combining those forced to serve with those who hired substitutes or paid the communtation fee, then immigrants lag even further behind natives in their contributions." Native-born rural laborers are those, as a group, do appear to "have been disproportionately forced into service as a result of the draft." (347)

The commutation fee of $300 was not placed into the 1863 draft law in order to allow the wealthy to escape military service. Lincoln and others in both houses of Congress understood that if a 'cap' of $300 was not in place then the wealthy would bid up the price of a substitute to a point were middle income individuals could not afford one. In the three drafts of 1864, the second and third ones had no commutation fee and the cost of a substitute rose from the 1863 price of $250-$275 to over $500 in the summer of 1864. The inflation in the cost of a substitute did indeed make the last two drafts during 1864 more of a poor man's fight than did the 1863 draft. (354)

The majority of draftees in 1863 avoided service by claiming any of the following exemptions:
17 years of age or younger, 45 years of age or older and single, 35 years of age or older and married, only son of a widow or infirm parents, father of a motherless child, two or more brothers in the federal armed services before March 3, 1863, and a variety of physical ailments.
Those included sensitive feet, crooked toes, hernia, excessive stammering, inflamed testicles, and imbecility among others. Of all those who reported for the draft 40% were exempted for medical reasons.

The 60% who reported for the draft and had no physical excuse had three choices: serve in the military, hire a substitute, pay the commutation fee of $300. This fee was applicable until the next draft. At that time another commuation fee would have to be paid if a substitute was not purchased and the draftee, the second time around, did not want to serve.

'Immigrants, it turns out, had far more agency in controlling their draft fate than most observers--both then and now--have imagined." They could claim exemption by not supplying court documents regarding their application for citizenship. Immigrants that were in the process of receiving citizenship were eligible for the draft. Very few immigrants were forced into the military during the 1863 draft; but, about half the soldiers who entered the armed forces as a result of the 1863 draft were immigrants. Primarily, these immigrants enlisted as substitutes.
'They chose to join the army, gambling that the benefits of subsitition fees and enlistment bonuses were worth the risk of disease, injury, or death . . . ." (373)

So were the immigrants forced into military service? In most cases, no, not in 1863.

So did the immigrants choose to join the military service due to monetary incentives? In most cases, yes, in 1863.

So which nationality were these immigrants who choose to join the military service for money?
In most cases, Irish, in 1863.

So were the immigrants, who choose military service because of economic incentives, poor.
In most cases, probably, I think. I've read Anbinder's 'Five Points: . . . " and if the immigrant was living in NYC and was Irish, than more times than not, that immigrant was economically disadvantaged.

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