I did not know until I read recently that the Confederacy was the first to initiate conscription. Jefferson Davis proposed the first Conscription Act on March 28, 1862 and it was passed into law the next month, according to wikipedia, a year before the federal government did the same.
The compulsory draft was view as a violation of the people’s rights, which is the very reason they went to war in the first place. What an irony! Under the Conscription Act, all white men between 18 and 35 were liable for a three year term of service. The Act also extended the terms of service for one year soldiers to three.
In September, 1862, the age limit was raised to 45, but men who worked as druggists, civil officials, railroad or river workers, telegraph operators, or teachers were exempt. Actually my Grandmother’s father, Absalom Leonidas Davis, was a teacher in North Alabama, and I read in Grandma’s book that he was exempt and did not have to fight.
In the Confederacy something called the “Twenty Negro Law” permitted one owner or overseer of any plantation to exempt themselves from military service (wikipedia again). This proved extremely unpopular with many Confederate soldiers and contribute to the oft-spoken adage of “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight”.
Although both sides resorted to the Draft, the system did not work effectively in either. The problem of desertion was aggravated by the inequitable inclinations of conscription officers and local judges.
Sometimes these officials even (gasp) accepted bribes. Attempts to effectively deal with the issue were frustrated by conflict between state and local governments on the one hand and the national government of the Confederacy on the other.
About conscription, the famous Daniel Webster in 1814 said this: “Is this, sir, consistent with the character of a free government? Is this civil liberty? Is this the real character of our Constitution? No sir, it is not…Where is it written in the Constitution …that you may take children from their parents and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war, in which the folly or wickedness of government may engage it?”