Civil War Draft Drum | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Civil War Draft Drum

Wisconsin Historical Museum Object – Feature Story

Civil War Draft Drum | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeCivil War draft drum

Civil War draft drum, 1863-1864

Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1966.174

EnlargePoster to volunteer

Poster urging citizens to volunteer for military service, 1862

This poster from Grant County urges citizens to volunteer for military service in order to avoid a draft in 1862. “A Willing Rally of All or a Recourse to Drafting – That Soon!" View the original source document: WHI 11475

EnlargeGovernor Edward Salomon

Governor Edward Salomon

Governor Edward Salomon presided over Wisconsin’s first draft of soldiers for the Union Army in 1862. He worked diligently to bring order to a process that had no precedent in the state. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1942.480

EnlargeCamp Randall

Camp Randall, 1838

Rioters arrested during the Port Washington draft in 1862 were held at several military camps, including Camp Randall in Madison, Wisconsin, before being released. View the original source document: WHI 1838

Military draft raffle drum used to select draftee names in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the Civil War, 1863-1864.
(Museum object #1966.174)

Disorganization and dissent marked the state and federal governments' efforts to recruit troops during the Civil War. These efforts included both voluntary recruitment calls and, when this approach fell short, several drafts held between 1862 and 1864 to fill the Union's ranks in its battle against the Confederacy. In Wisconsin, resistance to forced military service was strong enough to provoke riots. In response to this unrest, the federal government took control of military recruitment, implementing draft procedures that used raffle drums like the one featured here to select men deemed eligible for military service.

At the start of the Civil War, the United States had a relatively small standing army, supplemented by volunteer state militias, many of which existed more for social and parade purposes than as actual military units. When Confederate troops attacked Fort Sumter in April 1861, Wisconsin had more than 50 militia companies, but most were not well-organized; additional recruitment was necessary to fill President Lincoln's call for one regiment from the state. Response to this initial call was strong in most of the state and Wisconsin quickly reached its quota.

In early 1862, the government actually ceased troop recruitment, mistakenly optimistic that it would need no more men. By July, however, it was obvious that the war would not end quickly. Lincoln made two separate calls for additional men, including 44,000 from Wisconsin. Any state not able to provide its quota of men through voluntary means by August 15, 1862, would be required to draft men between the ages of 18 and 45 to make up the difference.

The federal government required Governor Edward Salomon to compile a list of draft eligible men in each Wisconsin county. Even at this early stage, resistance to forced military service was evident:

What course shall I take ... where in a township no man will serve as enrolling officer and the people refuse to give their names and abandon their houses when an officer comes to enroll them?

Salomon inquired of United States War Secretary Edward Stanton.

Despite minor reluctance, most Wisconsin counties did meet their quotas through voluntary recruitment. German Democrats in several counties near Lake Michigan, however, were unwilling to volunteer and were also strongly opposed to the draft, many having emigrated to the United States to avoid compulsory military service in their native country. Drafting began in these counties on November 10, 1862, as did resistance and outright violence.

A Port Washington newspaper described a mob's attack on the draft commissioner:

[M]any of them were armed with clubs, many had huge stones in their hands, and others had various implements. The first thing done was to demolish the draft box with a club, then they seized hold of Mr. Pors, or rather trampled upon him, the women vieing [sic] with the men in brutish assault.

Troops were sent to contain the violence and arrested approximately 150 people.

In West Bend, the draft commissioner, perhaps hoping to avert an attack, enlisted the help of an eight-year-old girl in drawing names from the draft box. On the second day of the town's draft, a mob attacked the commissioner, demanding the enrollment list and driving him out of town. Violence in Milwaukee was averted by postponing the draft a week and sending troops to the city to maintain order:

Soldiers picketed all roads leading into the city, a squad was on alert in every ward, and companies marched and countermarched through the streets. The drawing went off without a hitch.

As the war continued into 1863, the federal government sought to bring more order to the process of military recruitment. The Conscription Act of 1863 established Boards of Enrollment in each state to establish lists of eligible men between the ages of 20 and 45. In the event that more men were needed than could be obtained through voluntary recruitment, drafts would be held in each district using these lists. Authorities used draft raffle drums to select names.

One description of the draft proceedings in Wisconsin written only a few years after the events noted:

A draft being ordered, the names of those liable to draft were written on pieces of card-board, and arranged in paper parcels .... These names were placed in the wheel, as each town was called, and the wheel put in motion to intermingle the bits of card-board. A person, blindfolded, or a blind person, then drew from the wheel one of these bits of card, and presented it to the Provost Marshal .... In this way, the number of conscripts a town or sub-district was to furnish was drawn from the wheel, and entered on the list as drafted men.

Though this method brought some order to the process of military recruitment, confusion and dissent remained. In Dodge County, the officer charged with developing the county's enrollment list was shot. Drafts were held in 1863 and 1864; on both occasions, the federal government overstated Wisconsin's quota due to faulty accounting records. Another draft was to be held in April 1865, but Union victories made this final recruitment unnecessary. All told, Wisconsin's drafts were relatively ineffective in enrolling additional men for military service. For example, the 1864 drawing drafted 17,534 men; only 3,439 were actually mustered into service. More than 6,700 claimed exemption from service, and over 7,000 men simply failed to report for duty.

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[Sources: Current, Richard N. The History of Wisconsin Volume II: The Civil War Era, 1848–1873 (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976); Quiner, E. B. The Military History of Wisconsin in the War for the Union (Chicago: Clark and Company, 1866); "Resistance to the Draft in Wisconsin", November 12, 1862; Wisconsin Veterans Museum Civil War exhibit.]


Posted on November 08, 2007