Substitute conscripts during the American Civil War

During the American Civil War (1861–1865), an exceedingly low number (2%) of those who fought had actually been conscripted by the federal (Union) government. This was primarily due to three reasons: substitution, the hiring of someone else to go and fight in one's stead; commutation, paying a fee in order to avoid fighting; and the paying of enlistment bounties to "volunteers," who made up the majority (92%) of the Union Army. On page 100ff of Against the Day, Foley Walker tells the story of how he and Scarsdale Vibe became acquaintances: Walker was hired to be Vibe's substitute conscript, and he later sought out Vibe because he felt that - as someone who had technically saved Vibe's life - he was responsible for Vibes, as per the Indian tradition.

According to Perri,

One could furnish a substitute and avoid service for three years in all four drafts. In the first draft, one could pay a $300 commutation fee and be excused from service for three years. In the second draft, commutation bought one out of service only for that draft. In July 1864, Lincoln signed a bill eliminating commutation except for conscientious objectors. Effectively commutation ended after the second draft (see Table One). Until February 24, 1864, a substitute could come from those who were enrolled; after this date, a substitute could only come from those exempt from military service. Thus, for the last three drafts, substitutes consisted of those under age 20, honorably discharged veterans with two or more years of service, alien residents, and (later) black citizens.


Timothy J. Perri, Professor of Economics, Appalachian State University, Boone The Economics of US Civil War Conscription

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