Prepare for the Draft

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Prepare for the Draft


Image of the Commissioner's Notice: Prepare for the Draft! for Kent County by James Waterhouse, Commissioner.

As the war dragged on with no end in sight, the government looked to expand the manpower pool and, after March of 1862, began to consider conscription. Although enlistments, not the draft, continued to fill the ranks of the Union Army, the Enrollment Act passed by Congress gave the War Department the power to implement a draft in any state which did not fill its assigned number of men. Many northern governors found it increasingly hard to fill their state's quotas. In Rhode Island, volunteer enlistments were going badly by the summer of 1863. Owing to tensions generated by the prospect of a draft as well as small bounty money offered at the time, few men had stepped forward to fill the ranks of three proposed regiments of "six-months" men. With the Conscription Act passed by congress in June 1863, With the state faced with a prospect of a draft the formation of the state’s first regiment comprised of men of Native American & African decent in the summer of 1863 coincides with federal conscription and the state's need to fill its enlistment quota. While making every effort to fill the president's call for men, it appears that quota demands exceeded the number of volunteer recruits. The fact that the last regiment organized in Rhode Island was a comprised men of native American & African decent suggests that its timing more than just a coincidence. Race, however, should not be construed as the only element to be considered with respect to the state's drafted men. Of the 610 Rhode Island men identified on regimental descriptive rolls as drafted, only 14.5% were black. Of those 26.9% are noted as Rhode Island residents. Black draftees from Rhode Island, such as Albert Boardley, a married, 23 year old blacksmith from Newport & George Lippett, a married, 25 year old farmer from North Kingstown, seam to have been in the minority. So, too, were the sixty-three Connecticut blacks drafted into the Fourteenth Regiment. After federal conscription became a reality, New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut had been designated as major draft rendezvous for the northeast. Although Connecticut eventually put into service two African-American regiments (the 29th and 31st Connecticut Infantries), this would not take place until the Spring of 1864. For the 521 white conscripts, it appears that ethnicity and place of origin were the major factors which determined if a man were drafted in Rhode Island during the Summer of 1863. Typical of the state's draftees were foreign-born men such as Rudolph Reinhardt, a twenty-seven year old musician from Denmark, Constantine Volner, a twenty-six year old carpenter from Germany, and Patrick Dolan, a twenty-one year old boatman from Ireland. Regimental descriptive rolls reveal that 90% of the drafted men were foreign-born, with most coming from Ireland. Rhode Island natives made up only 7.1% of whites who were drafted.

The numbers suggest that the state's foreign born played a significant role in lessening the effects of federal conscription on native Rhode Islanders, black or white. However, the conscripts were far less committed to the causes of the war, and as a result, of the 610 drafted, 175 (28.6%) deserted soon after their enlistment. However, one cannot diminish the significance of the Fourteenth Regiment and its impact on the state's manpower needs. Although only one-in-seven of Rhode Island's drafted men were black, the recruitment of almost 1,900 African-Americans into the Fourteenth Regiment reduced the need for white recruits. After the Fourteenth Regiment was organized, Rhode Islanders did not suffer from any subsequent drafts. One can see that in terms of its timing, the Fourteenth Regiment was probably one of the most important regiments raised in the state of Rhode Island during the war.

See also:

Rhode Island State Archives Resources

A Battle Hard Fought - Rhode Island and the Civil War: A Sesquicentennial Observance

Civil War – Commission to Preserve the Military Records of the State

Military Records - Civil War

Civil War Recruitment Book (1861)

Board of Military Enrollment

Adjutant General - Orders Received, Executive Department (1857 - 1858;1861; 1863)

Civil War - Record Book, Orders received, First Detached Militia / Tenth Rhode Island Volunteers (1861 - 1862)

Rhode Island Militia - Enrolled Men, Town Returns (1843 - 1898)

Additional Resources

National Archives Civil War Photographs

National Archives Civil War Records

National Archives The Civil War as Photographed by Mathew Brady

Library of Congress US Civil War: Selected Resources


1862 August 29


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"Prepare for the Draft," in Virtual Exhibits, Item #695, (accessed August 22, 2019).