Based on this question and an answer, it appears that although almost all southern white men of draft age were in the military during the Civil War, only about half of northerners were. For those in the north who didn't serve, I wonder what was the most common reason that they weren't drafted.

Both north and south allowed people to pay for substitutes, although the south ended up drafting those people anyway when it got desperate. It seems unlikely that paying for replacements would account for a very large number of men, since it cost a lot of money. Substitutes seem to have been an emotional issue in the New York City draft riots, but it's hard to believe that it was numerically very common.

Were there exemptions for various reasons in the north, but not in the south? The north had more immigrants. Were non-citizen immigrants not drafted?

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    According to Civil War Draft Records: Exemptions and Enrollments, "The Enrollment Act, enacted by ... Congress in response to the need to swell the ranks of the Union army, subjected all males between the ages of twenty and forty-five to the draft. Men who were mentally or physically impaired, the only son of a widow, the son of infirm parents, or a widower with dependent children were exempt. The act divided the United States into enrollment districts along the lines of congressional districts."
    – CGCampbell
    Jan 1, 2015 at 1:17
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    Googling shows that there was a federal lottery. WP en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscription_in_the_United_States says that only 2% of the Union army were draftees, and 6% were substitutes. However, I assume that many men volunteered because they expected to be drafted. Maybe the situation was that there were quotas that were supposed to be filled, and if the quotas weren't reached, they used the lottery...?
    – user2848
    Jan 1, 2015 at 15:19
  • the fact that only 2% of the army was drafties leads me to believe they didn't actually call up many groups, hence why they weren't conscripted, unlike the vietnam war, were there were few voluntiers and tons of drafties.
    – Himarm
    Jan 5, 2015 at 16:07
  • The South allowed exemptions for white men who had to manage large numbers of slaves, so they had exceptions to their conscription too.
    – Oldcat
    Jan 5, 2016 at 19:06

3 Answers 3


There were two main draft exemptions for men in the North. The first was that a man could hire or designate a substitute (e.g. a brother or cousin). The second was that a man could pay $300 (somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000 in today's money) to "opt out." In essence, one could buy one's way out of the draft.

There was also a partial "exemption" for married men; they had a lower draft priority than single men.


Your premise is wrong. The statement, "Based on this question and an answer, it appears that although almost all southern white men of draft age were in the military during the Civil War." is untrue. The relevant "evidence" from the question is:

"In my geneology research, I can assume with some certainty that if a white southern family had sons born between 1835 and 1846 there is a pretty good chance that all of them will have served in the Confederate armed forces."

This is not reliable evidence, some offhand comment about "geneology research". In fact, the supposed genealogist, does not even know how to spell genealogy.

Secondly, the purported factoid, that "all" southern white males between the ages of 14 and 30 fought in the Civil War defies logic. For reasons of logistics, geography and finance alone, such a thing is impossible. Also, from an economic standpoint, to even fight a war you need to be growing food, weaving cloth, blacksmithing and doing many other economic activities to support the soldiers. Not to mention, many men will be infirm, have disabilities, or for other reasons be unsuitable or unwilling to fight.

Just as one example, the members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) living in the south refused to fight in the war, and they were just one of many such refusers.

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    This doesn't answer the question. It only addresses a side issue.
    – user2848
    Jan 2, 2015 at 23:53
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    Personally I think its legit to use an answer to explain flaws in the question (assuming that thereby resolves the confusion that caused there to be a question). However, if you are going to criticize another post for not properly backing up its assertions, it would probably be good form to include some backing material yourself.
    – T.E.D.
    May 1, 2015 at 9:13

The main reason was that North have four times more white men than South (plus, almost 200 African-american soldiers served in northern army).

With rate of volunteers about 50% (theoretical figure), northern army would be four times bigger than southern.

So it is why South eventually needed 100% conscription, after the first year of war, to get Southern army at least half the size of northern.

North could afford wait for two years, and have predominantly volunteer army till the end of the war, with draft provided only in the states not meeting their recruitment quote.

Total share of drafted and substitutes in Northern army was 6-8%. For Southern, share of conscripts or compelled to be recruited by conscription law, estimated at least 30%. In fact, almost nobody who joined Southern army after passing conscription law (spring 1862) could be considered as volunteer.

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