When the Civil War erupted in April 1861, many on both sides of the conflict had expected it to be a short-lived war. But nearly two years later, after several big battles and horrific numbers of casualties, President Abraham Lincoln was compelled to sign the Enrollment Act – instituting the first wartime draft in American history on March 3, 1863.
The move 150 years ago during the Civil War was a controversial step. Lincoln needed more manpower for the fight, much as the Confederacy did in resorting to a draft months earlier. The act required enrollment of every male citizen ages 20 to 45, with certain exemptions, and male immigrants of that age who had signed intent of becoming U.S. citizens.
Nonetheless, exemptions from the draft could be bought for $300 each draft period, or by finding a substitute draftee.
Those exemptions would lead to violent riots for days in July 1863 in New York City, when the first inductees were called. Fueling the draft riots was widespread outrage that such exemptions could be afforded only by the wealthy, making the conflict a poor man’s fight.
Months later, the $300 commutation fee would be repealed by Congress.