THE CIVIL WAR DRAFT IN PLOVER AND STEVENS POINT:
A STUDY IN EFFORTS, ATTITUDES, FRUSTRATIONS, AND RESULTS
David Ellison (UWSP)
The Civil War brought the first real concerted effort on the part of the federal government to draft men into the armed forces. Both the North and South used the draft, or more accurately, the threat of the draft, to “muster men” into the service. The draft was at times applauded, hated, scorned, but mostly feared. The draft also clearly served its intended purpose - to raise an adequate amount of men to fight in the Union army, mostly through volunteerism. This being the case, I have chosen Plover Wisconsin as the town to discuss in terms of the effects of conscription during the Civil War. Plover is interesting due to the fact that it was a hotbed of patriotism and donated heavily in terms of men to the Union cause. Plover's population in 1860 was 898, while the total population of Portage County was 7,502. Yet, the area suffered more casualties during the Civil War than it did during World War II when the population was four times larger. This area, like so many others across the nation, would never again see the majority of the men they sent to the front.
Perhaps the major problem in conducting research on Plover is the
non-existence of the Plover Times, or rather the Stanton Times and
as it was called during the war years. Only scattered issues survive from
1861-1865. Consequently, I have relied on the
Stevens Point papers for first hand accounts and feelings toward the draft.
So, in a way Stevens Point is integrated into the study and complements the
focus on Plover. Besides, gaining a feeling for the times from the surrounding
area can only benefit and broaden this study. As an aside, the absence of the
Stanton Times might not have been a total loss. The Wisconsin Pinery
was at no loss for words when it commented: “The Stanton Weekly Times says it
has the largest circulation of any paper published in the county. He is a liar.
The Pinery has over double the circulation of that mean, low lived, half
supported sheet.... “ With all due respects aside, the purpose of this paper
will be to investigate the background of the draft, as well as analyzing the
public feeling and reaction as it pertained to bounty raising, substitution,
warfare, and the tangible effects of the draft in general.
(editors note: for info on newspapers)
Before entering into the effects of the draft on Plover and Stevens Point, I would like to set the direction of this study in its correct historical setting by briefly discussing the impact of the war and draft on the state of Wisconsin. Wisconsin provided over 91,000 men (1200 over its entire quota) to the war effort. Over 11,000 of the men died in either battle, of wounds, disease, or from events after discharge. In addition, over $12,000,000 was spent by the state and its citizens in support of the Union. Such an effort was basically in response to the presidential call for troops. There were four such calls carrying with them the threat of the draft. The first call and ensuing draft took place in the summer of 1863. Additional drafts were conducted in the spring, 1864, the fall, 1864, and the spring, 1865. The Enrollment Act of 1863 which legalized the draft also stipulated that all districts would be notified of their quotas and urged to fill them before the deadline. Predating the Enrollment Act of 1863 was the 1862 presidential call for 300,000 troops. This was basically a state draft where the Secretary of War would instruct a governor of a quota that had to be met. Governor Soloman was notified that if Wisconsin's quota of 11,904 men was not met by August 15, the deficiency would be made up through the draft. The governor proceeded to issue orders for the enrollment of all able-bodied men aged 18 to 45. The state draft of 1862 was confined only to those counties which did not meet their quota. These were usually counties with heavy immigrant populations whose distaste for war stemmed from their European experiences. Only 4,537 men were drafted, of these 19 deserted and 1,622 simply did not report.
The 1863 draft brought direct federal involvement in the draft. In Wisconsin two classes of men were enrolled totaling 121,202. The first class included all men liable to military service between the ages 20 and 35. The second class included all unmarried men fit for duty above the age of 35 but below 45. Concerning Portage County, the summer call for troops and the November draft resulted in, 27 names being drawn from Stevens Point and 1 from the town, 4 from Sharon, 4 from Eau Pleine, 5 from Hull, and 4 from Plover. Vigorous attempts were made to avoid the draft in which volunteering was seen as the most honorable route. Veterans for re-enlistment received $402, recruits $302, and in most towns $100 was added to those amounts. The 1863 draft was not very successful. Of the 14,955 men drafted state-wide, 628 actually served, 252 hired substitutes, 6,285 were discharged for physical reasons, 5,081 paid the $300 commutation fee, and 2,689 never reported. While the preparations for this draft were taking place, Lincoln ordered on October 17, 1863 another call for 300,000 men. Wisconsin's quota would be set at 10,281 with 74,976 men of the first class enrolled for possible military service through the country. The penalty for not filling the quota would be as Adjutant General Agustus Gaylord stated on November 23,1863: “If the quota above given is not filled by voluntary enlistment, a draft is ordered by the General Government on the 5th of January 1864, to supply the deficiency then existing. The January draft did not take place for on February 1, 1864, Lincoln issued a call for 500,000 men which was assumed to include the 300,000 from the October 17 call. March 14, 1864 brought an additional call for 200,000 men. The system of extra bounties by the towns was enough to raise enough men to negate the draft for the two calls. Additional credits from the 1863 draft did much to further alleviate the pressure. Try as it may, the state finally succumbed to the 500,000 call of July 18, 1864. A draft therefore took place on September 19, 1864 resulting in 17,534 draftees. Again, efforts to secure these men proved to be futile. Only 2,494 were conscripted, 954 hired substitutes, 6,724 were discharged, 7,367 failed to report, and 4 men paid the $300 commutation fee. The North's last draft was ordered to take place on March 27, 1865 for districts that did not meet their quota. This was enough of a threat to the bounty weary people, and the quota was narrowly achieved. On a statewide scale the draft was not all that successful in securing men into the service. But overall, call after call, the people of Wisconsin were able to achieve their quotas a majority of the time. As we shall see in Plover and Stevens Point, there was much commotion concerning the whole affair.
Before entering into the local reaction to the draft, the political atmosphere and convictions of Plover, Portage County, and Wisconsin as a whole must be analyzed. The 1860 and 1864 presidential elections reveal that all three sections were firmly Republican. In the 1860 election Wisconsin gave Lincoln 56% of the vote (86,110 votes), Douglass 43% (65,021 votes), Breckenridge .5% (889 votes), and Bell .009% (151 votes). Portage County gave Lincoln 64% of the vote (994 votes), Douglass 32% (471 votes), and Breckenridge 4% (58 votes). Plover followed suit and awarded Lincoln 76% of its vote (152 votes), while Douglass was only able to muster 24% of the vote (47 votes). The 1864 election was just as decisive in Wisconsin for Lincoln as the 1860 election was. Despite significant financial and personal sacrifice, the state announced its dedication to the Union. In 1864 Lincoln drew 50% of Wisconsin's vote (82,736 votes), McClellan 39% (65,598 votes), and the Union Majority Party 10% (17,138 votes). Portage County gave Lincoln 69% of its vote (704 votes), and McClellan 30% (311 votes). Plover found itself 87% in favor of another term for Lincoln (138 votes), while only giving McClellan 13% of the vote (20 votes). One must keep these figures in mind when reading the comment and opinion of the area. While the constant call for men was indeed acutely irritating to the populace, the area's dedication to the war and its goals were never compromised.
Owing to the size of Plover, the town's involvement in supplying men to the Union war effort was immense and significant. As noted, Plover's 1860 population was 898. Out of that number nearly 150 men served under the Union flag. Twenty-one were commissioned officers, of which Colonel James S. Alban is the most remembered. The fiery Unionist was to fall at the battle of Pittsburgh Landing in 1862. Nevertheless, Plover has the honor of being the “banner town” in the state for furnishing more soldiers than any other town of its size. The Stevens Point Daily Journal noted that, “Few communities had a record comparable to Steven’s Point’s neighbor to the south, Plover. The village was a hot-bed of patriotism, and one of its leading citizens, Col. James S. Alban, was the most prominent Portage County resident to die in the war.” Alban was the main reason for Plover's burning patriotism. From 1856-1861, Alban, along with Jervis W. Carter published the Plover Herald. Their impassioned stands against the slave states undoubtedly was the main cause for Plover's high enlistment rate.’ Stevens Point was quite envious of Plover's early positive action. On April 19, 1861 (only a week after the shelling of Fort Sumter) Plover held a meeting to raise men for a company. The Wisconsin State Rights exclaimed, “If the people here, have not life enough to hold a meeting, let us go to Plover!” In the same issue the newspaper reported that the Plover military meeting ‘Resolved, that this meeting is in favor of sustaining the President of the United States in vigorous measures in putting down the so called southern rebellion, and that as citizens of the United States, we will use all proper means to do so.” Of course, J. S. Alban served as chairman of the meeting. Stevens Point, however, had a hard time generating men to volunteer for the service. The States Rights moaned on July 31, 1861 that while Plover had supplied twenty-five men to date, Stevens Point with the largest population in the area had only supplied two men with little hope of getting any more.
While Stevens Point was having a difficult time in getting men to volunteer, in June 1861 the city did manage to form the Home Guard of Stevens Point with Sammuel Stevens as captain. In addition, the Pinery Rifles, under the command of Captain James O. Raymond of Plover, left on July 7, 1861 to join the Seventh Regiment but were later incorporated into another regiment. In addition to the Rifles, such other companies as the Evergreens and Lyon's Pinery Battery were quickly organized. The area's logging industry was clearly advertised in the names of these companies. Yet not all attempts at the formation of companies met with success. A very early effort at the formation of a company in Plover in May 1861 had to be disbanded because all the members from Grand Rapids pulled out. Clearly then, war fever hit Plover very early. War fever or not, the town was soon to come to a different emotion with the onset of quotas and drafts. This is what we must now turn our attention to.
Plover and Stevens Point were both sub districts included in Wisconsin's Congressional Sixth District. Consequently, all quotas for the Sixth District had to be filled by the respective sub districts. One issue of the Stanton Times and Republican that has survived, makes much of the claim that up to its latest printing July 4, 1863) the heavily Republican Second, Third, and Sixth Districts had large excesses in volunteers while the slightly Democratic Fifth District showed a small excess, and the heavily Democratic First and Fourth Districts suffered from heavy deficiencies. Still, according to the Adjutant General's report of 1864, the Sixth District in the 1863 draft saw 1,643 of its men drafted of which only 126 were actually inducted into the service. The rest either failed to report, were discharged, hired substitutes, or paid the commutation fee which totaled $182,000. In the 1864 draft Plover had a combined quota of 54 out of which 37 recruits were submitted, 6 veterans re-enlisted, and only 4 men were drafted. Prior to the October 17, 1863 call for troops, Plover had an excess of 8 men who were included in the quota for 1864. Out of the 54 man quota, Plover submitted 55, leaving a credit of one man to be put towards the next draft. Portage County as a whole received a quota of 554. The 1864 draft still did not go over well. Evidence of gross evasion from the draft was still present. Of the 3,764 men drafted from the Sixth District, only 722 men were actually inducted into the army. A clear disillusionment with the draft was present among the enrollment age men. Mixed feelings were conveyed through the media. As we shall see, disguised emotions of trepidation color these mixed feelings.
In the strictest interpretation of the draft, it must be acknowledged that the draft allowed the Union to survive. Congress did anticipate public indignation against the draft and left many opportunities of evasion open to the draft aged man. The draftee could obtain a substitute, or even pay the $300 commutation fee. Yet, the underlying purpose of the Civil War draft was to act as a threat and spur volunteering rather than functioning as an end in itself. Every community had the opportunity to raise its quota and thus entirely avoid the draft. Indeed, Plover and Stevens Point were able to avoid a number of the drafts. Only when the quota was not met was the draft imposed. Consequently, as Eugene Murdock notes, “Hence the Civil War draft, an unwelcome innovation in American life, was only a semi-draft, a device to raise a one million man army by encouraging volunteering.” Instructions for conducting the drawing of names for the draft were contained in the Provost Marshall’s Regulations and were followed fairly uniformly by all enrollment boards. Portage County's enrollment board was located at district six headquarters in La Crosse. Names of the enrolled men were often dropped into a wheel. A blindfolded or blind individual would then draw the names out of the draft wheel and hand them to the commissioner who would read the names aloud while a clerk recorded them in a book. The drawing would continue until the quota had been met. The remaining names would then be sealed in an envelope and stored until the next draft. Neither the Enrollment Act nor the Regulations stated the amount of time a draftee should be entitled to before arriving for his examination. The standard was generally accepted as ten days. While the ten days were explained as giving the man time to settle his affairs, many took the opportunity to flee north to Canada.
The reaction in Stevens Point (again the absence of the Stanton Times frustrates research) toward the draft was that of initial satisfaction, mid-course jitters, and final condemnation. On August 2, 1862 the Wisconsin Pinery noted that of the 300,000 men that Lincoln originally called for, only 2,000 men were actually raised in a thirty day period. The Pinery asked “what then is to be done?” Its answer, “We must become a military people. Let drafting be resorted to at once. Three hundred thousand men can thus be raised in thirty days. Lincoln, only tow days later, called for a draft of 300,000 men to take place. The Pinery was also quick to reassure its readers that the news of the draft was being well received among the area's population. On August 16, 1862 the Pinery noted:
The call for 300,000 men by drafting is, so far as we can judge, favorably received by the people at large. Some whose hearts are not right, are disposed to find fault, from the fear that they may be caught in the draft; but they form merely exceptional cases. The draft is welcomed by patriotic men as being the best and surest mode of raising a full army, and as the only method of compelling disaffected citizens to do their share towards extricating the nation from its difficulties.
Yet, while the Pinery extolled the patriotic virtues of abiding with and whole-heartedly accepting the reality of the draft, the newspaper nonetheless expressed latent fears about the draft actually being imposed upon the area. The Pinery in November 1863 urged the people of Stevens Point to copy other local areas (Plover? in raising their quotas, “or else we shall have the draft upon us with all its hardships....” Furthermore, apathy would only lash the draft upon the city “with all its obnoxious accomplishments. Let us avoid it while there is yet time.” The Wisconsin Lumberman on December 21,1863 reported a town meeting at the offices of Messrs: Eaton and Alban in order to raise a bounty for volunteers. The paper reminded the people of the $700 that had already been raised and that $200 more was expected in order to raise the needed volunteers, so that “our quota will be full, and our city saved from the draft.” Stevens Point during the Civil War seemed to be in a similar quandary as we are in the twentieth century concerning taxes. We either call for or against increased taxes with the belief that the results will improve our lifestyles. Nevertheless, we often bemoan the strain on our pockets when taxes are raised and complain of the lack of services when taxes are cut. This seemed to be the same mentality that prevailed in this area 120 years ago. The newspapers continuously called for and supported the draft as a needed measure for the safety of the Union. Yet, at the same time they feared and resented its effects on the community. There is further proof of this mentality. After the Pinery had denounced the “obnoxious” effect of the draft in 1863, it nonetheless on January 6, 1865 commented: “Let Congress at once urge upon the president the necessity of a further draft V of 800,000 men, and we will be able to put into the field before the dawn of spring, trustworthy, reliable, soldiers and with a series of decisive victories will assuredly trample the rebellion to the dust.” It is interesting to note to what extremes the papers reported efforts to recruit men during lulls on their reporting on the draft. The Lumberman reported that Captain W. Van Myers (a long time recruiter in the area) even went so far as to promising that he could enlist some “stalwart Indians” if the need for men became desperate enough. The Lumberman of course extended the best of luck to the good captain. Finally, when victory was assured and tensions eased, the area news media found its golden opportunity to severely thrash the draft. On April 7, 1865 the Pinery, which as recently as January 6, 1865 had called for another draft of 800,000 men, unleashed this attack:
The experience of this war ought never to be lost to us, as we may drift into another of equal dimensions. The almost absolute failure of the provost marshal's method of conscription, apart from its inequality and unpopularity, shows us that such a system of recruitment is both unwise, costly, and unreliable.
True, the draft was by no means a well executed concept. Yet, the Pinery ignored one important fact: the draft and the fear it created, stimulated the people of the North to reach their quotas (most of the time) and field armies that ultimately proved victorious. Relying on a purely volunteer army during a time of war, especially in a state such as Wisconsin where the physical threat of the war was remote, would have proved futile.
The draft was an all too real possibility for the residents of Plover and Stevens Point. At this point I would like to take a look at what measures the two towns took to forestall the effects of the draft upon their communities. In the early years of little gain militarily for the North, many saw the need to enlarge the Union's war effort. The draft of course was the obvious solution. Malcolm Rosholt notes that Stevens Point and the surrounding communities held many special town meetings in order to raise bounties for volunteers. This indeed was the fact. Yet he goes on to say that the bounty money rarely motivated men to take up the offer because many of the offers were later withdrawn due to the confusion over draft quotas. He blames the fault not on the town boards but rather on the chaotic draft system. Another aspect of the difficulties in raising bounties was that at times it was almost impossible to collect from the pledgers. In addition, as the war progressed weariness resulting from the continual call for troops depressed the people. Naturally, with each successive call for troops the effort to raise the needed bounties became grudgingly more difficult. This was particularly the case with Plover as we shall see.
The bounty was simply a sum of money offered to any eligible man for volunteering. Bounties existed on the federal, state and more importantly, local levels. The bounty usually took the form of $50, $200, $300, $1000 cash amounts that would only be paid to the man after he volunteered. As Eugene Murdock notes, “It had the expected results, men volunteered, and it became the standard method of obtaining troops. Even discharged veterans who had enlisted for ‘love of country’ in 1861 caught the fever and re-enlisted for ‘love of money’ in 1864.” The first recorded special town meeting held in Plover in order to raise bounty money was held March 24, 1864. The town records state that “A Special Town Meeting was held at the Court House in Plover for the purpose of voting on the proposal of raising a tax of $1200 to be used in paying Bounties to volunteers who shall enlist in the United States Services and hereafter be credited to Plover.” The vote turned out 103 votes in favor of the tax and only 10 against. The tax carried. An entry in Simon Sherman’s diary for March 24, 1864 notes “Goes and votes on soldiers bounty tax.” It seems Sherman was an active participant in the various bounty tax efforts in Plover. More importantly, his diary entries confirm and back up much recorded information. The second bounty tax meeting was announced on August 1, 1864 and held on August 8. This time around the tax was levied at $1000 and participating voters fell from the March 1864 level of 113 to only 82. Nonetheless, the tax passed 54 to 28, with only a 65% passage rate as opposed to the 90% passage rate in March. Simon Sherman proved to be quite active after the bounty tax passage. On August 12 he served on a committee to locate volunteers. August 13 found him soliciting subscriptions for the soldiers. Again, on August 14 he accompanied a man named Dumbard in the collection of subscriptions. Finally, on August 15 he attended another solders meeting and paid his $40.00 subscription fee to the bounty fund.
Plover was in for one more bounty tax meeting and the event took place on February 11, 1865. At this meeting $3000 was proposed to be raised as a bounty and to be collected “at the usual time of collecting taxes in 1865”. The total number of votes cast was up this time to 111 of which 65 votes were for the tax and 46 votes against it. Again, the passage rate at 60% was down from the previous two votes. Sherman notes that on February 11 he attended the town meeting that was to pass the $3000 bounty tax and that on February 16 while attending a war meeting he received a bill from the legislature legalizing A. O. Warner and his official act in South District Number 4, Plover. I could not discover what this act entailed. As in 1864, Sherman paid his $40.00 bounty fee and $1.00 fee for expenses on March 6, 1865 (most likely tax time). We know from Sherman’s accounts that bounty taxes were paid (at least in part) during the August 1864 and February 1865 subscription efforts. For the March 1864 bounty tax one can only guess. In my opinion the taxes were most likely paid in full. Out of the three bounty tax efforts only one, the August 1864 quota, was not met. A further interesting trend in the bounty tax voting in Plover was the successive weakening of the “yea” vote in the passage of the bounty taxes. In each vote the percentage of passage diminished. Surely the people were getting weary of the taxes, but the prevailing feeling must have been that it was more honorable to pay the bounty than to submit to the disgraceful draft. The records do reveal that Plover did have a few men drafted. Assuredly, such occurrences did not go over very well.
As in Plover, Stevens Point was equally as active in raising bounty money. The city papers abound with notices for bounty meetings, advertisements urging young men to enlist, and steady reminders to the citizens of how much money had been raised. One must keep in mind that fewer than 50,000 men were actually drafted into the service during the Civil War. Yet, as we have seen, the purpose of the Enrollment Act was to stimulate volunteers through the threat of the draft. The threat of conscription was not enough, and in Stevens Point, Plover, and thousands of other communities across the North monetary inducements had to be offered. During an August 4, 1864 town meeting the Stevens Point town board decided to take an innovative measure to raise needed bounty money. The board drew up a list of all eligible men for the draft and held them accountable to pay a $50 bounty tax each. The rationale was as follows: “It especially commends itself to the notice of those amongst us, liable to the draft, and who are not able to hire a substitute. A man who is able to employ a substitute, taking all the risks of scanty and advance in prices, need not fear for the draft. except as it touches his pocket.” So, the poorer men who could not pay the high price for a substitute had only to pay the $50 (smaller amounts were accepted). Even if only half of the men paid the $50 enough money would have been raised to induce volunteers and meet the quota. The result of the August 4 bounty meeting was to enable Captain Van Myers to enlist 65 to 70 men and give Stevens Point a 10 man credit. The town was so pleased with the results that it decided to “give a Grand Dance to the boys who had enlisted with Captain Van Myers on next Friday evening, at Curtis’ Hall.” As a further jab at those men who did not pay their $50, The Lumberman listed their names and labeled them as “sneaks”.
The last great effort in Stevens Point to raise a bounty was conducted between February 3 and March 3, 1865. By February 3 the city had raised $500 in cash. There were high hopes of raising a few thousand dollars more so as to guarantee each volunteer a $300 cash bounty. There is also a reference to a Lieutenant MeGran having already enlisted around 45 men and there seems to have been a need to add to that number in order to avoid the draft. Interest in raising the bounties was reflected at the February 3 meeting in a large turnout and the many “spicy speeches” that were given. By March 3 an impressive $6,400 was raised in the city. Evidently the bounty money had to be taken to Madison where it would be distributed to the volunteers. The financial account of the trio to Madison to deliver the money to Captain MeGran (recently promoted) records that: $5,700 was paid to the 19 men who enlisted; MeGran received $500 for his three years service to the area; and the rest ($200) was used as traveling expenses for the committee to and from Madison.
Substitution also played a significant role in the execution of the draft. Substitution was a perfectly legal evasion of the draft and was listed under section 13 of the Enrollment Act of 1863. An individual would simply hire and pay someone to serve in his place. If a man could afford a substitute and had a hard time locating one he could contact a substitute broker who would locate one for him. Yet as long as commutation (paying the federal government not to serve in the army) stayed in effect. Substitutes could usually be acquired for $300. Only after commutation was canceled in 1864 did substitute prices soar. With the high prices demanded for substitutes, one can see the practicality of Stevens Point's efforts to get its men to pay $50 towards volunteers rather than paying $300 for a substitute. Family men often took the opportunity to hire substitutes because they did not want to leave their families behind. Those who did enlist placed the town board responsible for their families’ welfare. Consequently on November 23, 1861, the County Board agreed to give $2 per month for each child under 14 whose father had joined the services as of November 1, 186l. Sherman offers some insight into local substitution practices. On August 21, 1864 he notes that “E. D. Brown and G. Anderson come and they get their substitutes for about $400.00 dollars for one year." The reason why the two men paid more than the usual $300 for a substitute was that in July 1864 commutation was abolished due to public pressure. Many people viewed commutation as merely a way for the rich to avoid serving in the army while the poor fought and died in battle. The result was that with the end of commutation substitutes could now raise their Prices. The Pinery also announced on December 24, 1864 that substitution would be ended in the next draft. The paper explained why and also found time to chastise its readers:
It is now asserted that the lack of full ranks is to be attributed to the wholesale desertion of bounty jumpers and others who go as substitutes. Consequently in the coming draft. the provision of substitution will be withdrawn and personal service of the conscript required as the only method of filling up the ranks... .We have none to blame but ourselves for men in many localities, instead of equalizing the chances of the draft, by aiding in the enrollment and thereby augmenting the number to be drawn, have done everything in their power to encumber the enrolling officer and to aid in the desertion of those declared for service.
The Pinery also suggested a solution to the problem by taking action against the broker who had proven that he was aware of the desertion of the men that he had provided as substitutes. The plan called for “Instead of sending the swindlers to orison, place them in the front.” Perhaps the plan to withdraw substitution was later canceled or simply ignored, for on March 25. 1865 Simon Sherman recorded that he hired Hugh Jones as a substitute and paid him $300. The other major way of avoiding the draft, besides fleeing to Canada was physical mutilation. In my research I came across only one entry pertaining to this practice. The Pinery noted on August 23, 1862 that “a woman, not many miles from this village, fearing that her husband was to be drafted, took occasion to deliver him of two of his five digits.” Owing to the lack of these reports, one can conclude that physical mutilation was probably not practiced that often except on occasion to fail the draft induction physical examination. There were too many other ways of avoiding the draft than cutting oneself to pieces.
With so many avenues open to the evasion of military service, it should not be a surprise that after the initial rush to enlist in 1861 and 1862, volunteering drastically fell off. The war took on the reputation of lasting forever with mounting casualties catching everyone's eye. This very breakdown in volunteerism led to the initiation of the draft along with publicly appeasing evasion clauses in 1863. During the first two years of the war there was a clear apathy among the men of Stevens Point to enlist in the army. The papers did much to try to end this complacency. The Pinery in 1862 urged the youth of the town to enlist and wrote: "There are many young men in our town and vicinity idle; a good opportunity is now offered them to serve their country and at the same time fill their empty purses (the federal enlistment bonus).” Again, only a month later the Pinery was still urging its men to join the company that Captain Yates of the U.S. Army was forming. The term of service would be three years at $586 a year with all expenses paid. Pay was also guaranteed every two months. The Pinery stated: “It certainly seems to us better to have steady work at good paying rates, than to work two months at high prices and be obliged to be idle until every cent is spent before another job can be had.” Not only does this passage reflect the need for more men to enlist, but it also sheds some light on the economic situation of the area during the early Civil War years. There hardly seemed to be adequate full time employment. Nonetheless, with the passage of the Enrollment Act, there was plenty of money to be had. With the creation of the draft all three levels of government paid bounties, and there were also donations from private individuals and groups at quota-raising rallies. A recruit could conceivably receive money from all three levels of government. He was guaranteed the federal bounty, local bounties varied in size, and most states (Wisconsin included) provided an additional bounty. A substitute could not receive the federal bounty at any time during the war. The growth in the amount of bounties increased as the war progressed. On November 15, 1862, months after the initial call for the draft, the Pinery advertised, “$100 Bounty is offered those who volunteer... .Let it not be said, hereafter. That your name was among those who were drafted.... “ By 1865, the local bounty was to climb to $300.
Before ending this study I would briefly like to share the limited information that I discovered on the arrival of the Board of Enrollment officers to Stevens Point and the reaction to their visit. Exemption due to personal or physical problems was the final method of evading the draft. Keep in mind that during the 1863 draft 695 of the 1,643 drafted men from district six were discharged after being drafted. Likewise, in the 1864 draft in district six. 1,548 of the 3,764 men drafted were subsequently discharged. In both cases, discharge after the draft was the most popular form of evasion. The officers were in Stevens Point January 12-14. 1865 for the examination of men from Portage and Marathon counties. The officers were well received in Stevens Point. The Lumberman expressed the feelings of those involved by noting:
All well and said, yet this passage hardly reflects the true feelings of the area toward the draft. Below the feelings of good will and the “save the Union” mentality, there was a sense of direct contempt for the draft which was one of the very measures to save the Union. One can clearly detect a feeling of alienation toward a system which many perceived as being a less than honorable way to conduct a military operation.
In the social circle, a better or jollier set of fellows never drank your health, or joined the laugh or the song. They left a pleasant impression upon the minds of our community, and our good wishes shall follow them where ever they go, even if they should “draft us into the army.”
My original intention for this project was to focus exclusively on the draft and its effects on Plover. As is evident, Stevens Point has been unavoidably drawn into the study for the sole reason that the only surviving newspapers from the Civil War years are from Stevens Point. I believe the integration of the information from both towns work with and complement each other and thus produce a more comprehensive investigation of what really happened in this area during the Civil War years. Through-out my research, I was impressed with both towns’ tenacity in attempting to provide men for the war effort. Likewise, the inability and at times refusal of some people to contribute toward the bounty, and the efforts to frustrate the enlistment of men cannot be ignored. As in most cases there is more than just one side to any issue. I believe it is important to note again that the purpose of the draft was to stimulate volunteerism through the threat of conscription. As a concession to public opinion, Congress did allow numerous avenues of legal evasion. Again, only 50,000 men were drafted during the Civil War. The people of Plover and Stevens Point were well aware of their obligation to the federal government and did all they could to raise the needed bounties and therefore the volunteers to fill their quotas. Yet, beneath all the calls for patriotism and further drafts. There was a deep-seated resentment toward the draft. Then, even more than now, the draft was viewed as dishonorable. I hope that my efforts have helped to illuminate not only the tangible results of the draft on the area (in terms of bounty meetings, volunteers enlisted, and money raised) but more importantly the intangible results found in such areas as feelings and attitudes. Involvement and participation, and the mixed emotions and frustrations that were exhibited. Whereas I did not find any references to draft riots or blatant Protests against the draft, there was definitely an underlying. subliminal if you may, anti-draft message in most of the newspaper articles pertaining to the draft. Indeed, many of our present attitudes and resentments toward the draft can trace their beginnings to the numerous Civil War drafts. Attitudes and convictions are clearly slow to change.(Return to top)