Ink on ecru paper.
This is the draft letter of Alex Joyce of Yonkers issued by the Provost Marshal’s Office of the 10th District, State of New York, on May 9, 1864.
After the initial patriotic fervor of the Civil War ran its course, the number of volunteers fell off. In response, conscription in the North started in 1863; in the South, it began a year earlier. There was no general military draft in America until the Civil War. The Confederacy passed its first of three conscription acts April 16, 1862, and scarcely a year later the Union began conscripting men. The Union Conscription Act of March 3, 1863, provided that all able-bodied males between the ages of 20 and 45 were liable to military service, but a drafted man who furnished an acceptable substitute or paid the government $300 was excused. The exemption of landowners led to cries of class discrimination leveled at both the Confederate and Union draft laws. Exemption and commutation clauses allowed propertied men to avoid service, thus laying the burden on immigrants and men with few resources. Under the Union draft act men faced the possibility of conscription in July 1863 and again in March, July, and December of 1864. In New York City, this defective legislation was enforced amid great unpopularity. For four days, July 13–16, 1863, there were large-scale, bloody riots that came to be known as the Draft Riots. Of the 249,259 18-to-35-year-old men whose names were drawn in the conscription, only about 6 percent served in the Union army. The rest paid commutation or hired a substitute.
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