In the United States, men aged 18-25 are required to register for a possible military draft. The original argument was that the country would need large numbers of troops in a hurry, and (back then) there were otherwise no databases to locate eligible men.

In practice, troops don't magically appear on the combat field the day after a draft is declared. It takes time to notify possible recruits, confirm their eligibility, induct them, provide basic training, identify their aptitudes and skills, organize them into units, perform additional training specialized for their role, and transport them to a combat zone. Regular and reserve forces do the combat until conscripts are ready.

So, what was the shortest amount of time between when a military draft was announced, and when the first conscripts were deployed to a combat zone?


Clarification: I am principally interested in the answer applied to the United States / CSA; however, I can appreciate those respondents who may want to reach a wider audience. I have therefore removed the [united-states] tag, but ask that answers identify the applicable country.


Clarification #2: The question is specific to conscripts who have received zero training prior to recruitment. In other words, this excludes regular troops, reserves, and peacetime mandatory military service (e.g. the Israeli model).

  • A common argument for mandatory military service is that a lot of that overhead has already been done and only needs a freshening up, it would probably be interesting to see a comparison of both systems, if at all possible. – PlasmaHH Sep 20 at 11:18
  • ust to clarify - are you specifically interested in "selective service" or military mobilization in general"? – Pieter Geerkens Sep 20 at 11:18
  • 1
    @PlasmaHH: World War One is the classic example. All the involved European powers increased their "in uniform" military, fully trained, by ten to 15 times in 6 weeks - except Russia that required nearly 6 months due to its vast size and poor rail network, and Britain that had to assemble Commonwealth forces from around the world over nearly 12 months. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 20 at 11:21
  • @PlasmaHH: Typical pattern is: After a two year mandatory service upon turning 18 (22 for exceptional students) everyone is required to perform 4 weeks refresher training each summer for 10 years, and 2 weeks refresher training each summer for another 10-15 yeas after that. Some countries required an additional 10 years of militia service after that (so until 55) with one weekend a month commitment, as an additional home defence service. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 20 at 11:25
  • @PieterGeerkens: I don't know for other countries, but in germany I highly doubt that the amount of vacation you get is in any way related. Besides that even when it was still active, for decades beyond your basic service (18 months in the 60s, down to 9 months in the 21st century) you had only voluntary reserve services and trainings, all the time you serve in the army does not count as work time, thus you don't need to take vacation days, most consider it even as illegal to do voluntary training during your vacation. – PlasmaHH Sep 20 at 13:25
up vote 20 down vote accepted

In Thunder on the Danube, John H. Gill notes on page 95:

.... Many of the conscripts called up by the September 1808 decrees only reached their depots in November and December. When they joined their regiments in Germany and Italy [in March 1809], therefore, they had only been in uniform for three or four months.

Two pages later (page 97) Gill then contrasts the state of the French Army with that in 1813, just four years later:

..., it must be stressed that this was fundamentally a sound force. If overall quality had declined somewhat ..., in aggregate the army of 1809 remained far superior to the the courageous but raw conscript masses who marched into the 1813 campaign in Saxony.

These conscripts would see combat beginning in mid-April following the Austrian invasion of Bavaria on April 10. In Oudinot's Corps the conscripts would comprise about 70% of total manpower, while in Davout's III Corps they only comprised about 30% of total manpower. (Both figures according to Gill.) The cream of the 1809 class comprised the entirety of the newly created Young Guard, though with experienced officers and NCO's.

This timeline of about 14-18 weeks between arrival at depot and first combat was likely greater than in 1813 and 1814, but I have no quality resources for the latter two campaigns.


For the U.S.A. in particular, conscription has only been legislated six times; but the first five are all special cases that essentially rule out suitability as an answer here:

  • Revolutionary War - legislated but not enacted

  • War of 1812 - again legislated but not enacted

  • Civil War - legislated and enacted, but only a trivial number of conscripts were ever drafted: 2% plus 6% of paid substitute conscripts. All units throughout the war were predominantly filled with volunteers. There were never enough conscripts, used or required, to warrant any plan to train them.

  • World War One - The standing army was so tiny that Pershing, rightly, planned on training the trainers before training the soldiers. Pershing was also determined that U.S. troops (except for Black units that saw action under French command) would see action only as complete divisions under U.S. command.

    This resulted in basic training in the U.S. followed by an additional 6 months training /organizing in France before any units saw action. At no time was the actual training time for troops the limiting factor in speed of deployment; rather it was the training of the officer corps in large-scale unit maneuvers, with a planned completion in spring 1918, that was cut short slightly by the exigencies of the German Spring Offensive.

  • World War Two - Recognizing Pershing's dilemma from WW1, conscription was enacted in September 1940, in anticipation of an imminent need. Consequently by January 1942 a cadre of trained troops was already extant; it wouldn't be until late that summer, however, that other conditions were in place to support the offensives at Guadalcanal and North Africa.

    From the U.S. entry to the war until Operation Dragoon, the limiting factor for U.S. (and often Allied as well) troop deployment was constantly the limited availability of landing craft.

That only leaves Vietnam where conscription was the limiting factor for the initial deployment of conscripts. In 1966 the USMC reduced the length of boot camp from 11 weeks to 8 weeks, as well as increasing the size of the depot battalions, in order to meet troop demand.

Question: So, what was the shortest amount of time between when a military draft was announced, and when the first conscripts were deployed to a combat zone?

Short Answer:

9 days. August 4th 1863, a few Weeks after Gettysburg, Lincoln calls for the second Union draft of the civil war. Lincoln calls for 300,000 men for 9 months of service with quotas from each state remaining in the Union. Lincoln gives the states 11 days to fulfill their quota. Within 9 days on August 13th the first new regiments begins to march for Washington D.C.

Northern Draft of 1862
Aug. 13, 1863 the 110th N.Y. infantry departed for the capital Washington D.C (a front area).

Just 9 days after President Lincoln called for his second draft of the Civil War on August 4th 1863. Two days before the deadline of August 15th Lincoln associated with that draft.

Lincoln tried two call ups in 1863. The first in July failed, the second in August worked after Lincoln shortened the call up duration from 3 years to 9 months, agreed to pay a portion of the Federal bounty for volunteers up front (40$, then 25$ of the 100$ federal bounty, states and local counties also awarded these bounties which were compounded with conscripted men's funds and state and local governmental bounties, could total up to $1000 per man. Finally Lincoln threatened to fill the ranks with conscripted men from each state which failed to make the second quota. Both call ups, July and August, were called "drafts". see text of General Order No. 94 given below.

Some confusion about this draft may spring from the fact that both the entire call-up of 300,000 militia, and the subsequent filling of the deficiency in that call-up by conscription, are called a "draft."

1863, US Civil War saw Union troops regularly going into combat 3 weeks after getting called up. I found the above reference though to a regiment raised and deployed within 9 days, just weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg(July 1-3, 1863).

Detailed Answer:

The first wartime draft in American history where the draftee's actually saw combat was during the Civil War. The Enrollment Act, also known as the Civil War Military Draft Act, passed by congress in March 3, 1863, went into effect in July of that year and required all men 20-45 to register and be subject to the draft until the quota was met.

In the American Civil war there wasn't much training given to newly formed regiments. Many regiments went into combat only three weeks after being organized. They learned how to march and maneuver, some basic tactics and were thrown into battle.

Civil War Leadership: Discipline & Training of Soldiers
Rather than learning in training camp, Civil War regiments had to learn to fight on the battlefield. The training of regiments was lacking and consisted mainly of the manual of arms, little target practice, company and regimental drills in basic maneuvers and brigade drill and skirmishing tactics. Division drill or mock combat was a rare occurrence. Many regiments went into combat only three weeks after being organized.

Brigades were not combined into divisions until July 1861 or later, nor divisions into corps until the spring and summer of 1862. This means that no one, not even the officers had any experience fighting in such large numbers.


Pietr Geerkens
Civil War - legislated and enacted, but only a trivial number of conscripts were ever drafted: 2% plus 6% of paid substitute conscripts. All units throughout the war were predominantly filled with volunteers. There were never enough conscripts, used or required, to warrant any plan to train them.

.

It's irrelevant that only a small number of the Union Army were technically conscripted. The question makes no restriction on the percentage of draftees vs volunteers, just the duration between the draft being announced and how quickly they were placed in the field.. Secondly that only a small amount of soldiers were drafted by Vietnam/modern standards isn't the same as saying the draft only accounted for a small number of soldiers. The Draft was designed to create more volunteers and the legislation was very successful in raising hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

We Need Men: The Union Draft in the Civil War. By James W. Geary.
After Congress passed the Enrollment Act in March 1863, all men aged twenty to forty-five became eligible for the draft. This act, Geary emphasizes, was an attempt at reigniting volunteer enlistments. Although all men between twenty and forty-five were eligible, only congressional districts that did not meet the quota for volunteers would then implement a draft lottery. Then, if drafted, the men would receive a medical and hardship examination. If he passed the draftee would have ten days to hire a substitute, to pay a three-hundred-dollar commutation fee, or to join the army. Geary shows that the ability to hire substitutes and the three-hundred-dollar commutation fee allowed the majority of all men drafted to stay home.

Draft bounties were paid by individual soldiers federal, state and local governments. They were all compounded.

. Cincinnati Civil War Round Table From the Draft Act of 1863 to the end of the war, there was a total of almost $600,000,000.00 paid out in enlistment bonuses and allowances. This included $286,000,000.00 from state funds and $300,000,000.00 from the federal government.

If you volunteered you could receive a bounty as high as $1000 for your service. If you didn't volunteer you ran the risk of being drafted and getting nothing. This was a carrot and stick measure designed to get people to volunteer and it was quite effective. Hundreds of thousands of union "volunteers" collected bounties for their service which was directly enabled by the Enrollment Act.

Here is the timeline.....

  • March 3rd 1863, The Enrollment Act is passed by Congress, empowering the President to draft citizens into the Army.
  • July 2, 1863, Lincoln calls for the first Union Draft of the war, 300,000 men for 3 years, giving each state in the union a quota. The states ask for volunteers but get none. The call up fails.
  • August 4th, 1863, Lincoln has received almost none of his troops with the states claiming they had no regiments to provide. So Lincoln responds calling for new round of 300,000 men, but this time both cutting the time of service from 3 years to 9months, and further saying if his second call up is not provided by August 15th, 1863 (10 days) Lincoln will start drafting citizens from each state which has not met its quota. (both call ups were referred to as drafts, even though the effect was to inspire volunteers).

On Aug. 4, 1863 Lincoln called up 300,000 men for nine months service, on top of the 300,000 he had already requested in July for three years. The militia call-up was General Order No. 94:

Ordered:
I. That a draft of 300,000 militia be immediately called into the service of the United States, to serve for nine months unless sooner discharged. The Secretary of War will assign the quotas to the States and establish regulations for the draft.
.
II. That if any state shall not by the 15th of August furnish its quota of the additional 300,000 volunteers authorized by law, the deficiency of volunteers in that State will also be made up by special draft from the militia. The Secretary of War will establish regulations for this purpose.

.
Northern Draft of 1862

"It became quickly apparent that the draft was not intended as the primary source of man power," wrote a historian of the Union army. "Rather it was merely a whip to encourage volunteers."

.

"Thousands of our people are now offering themselves under the last call, and are demanding they shall not be drafted," Adjt.-Gen. Allen C. Fuller of Illinois wrote to Stanton on Aug. 7. Finnell, the military governor of Kentucky, was delighted. "Enlistments are greatly facilitated by the draft," he wrote to the War Department on Aug. 7.
.
The imminent threat of the draft swelled the recruiting, and the fresh blue-clad ranks began to flow toward the front: the 110th N.Y. infantry departed for the capital on Aug. 13, (9 days after Lincoln made his second call up).... the 122nd and 129th Pennsylvania arrived in Washington on Aug. 16; the 18th Connecticut rode through New York City on Aug. 23; the 11th N.J. regiment departed the state Aug. 25; the 36th Massachusetts left Worcester on Sept. 3, and so on.

Occurring weeks after Lincoln announced the second draft on August 4th 1863, went into effect the first wave of men were marching through Washington.... Washington in August 1863 a month after the Battle of Gettysburg, was a front staging area of the Civil War.

Sources:

  • 3
    The problem with the American Civil War, especially on the Union side, is that a negligible percentage of the recruits were conscripts - actual conscripts comprised only 2% of recruits, plus another 6% of paid substitutes. All units throughout the war were predominantly filled with volunteers. There were never enough conscripts, used or required, to warrant any plan to train them. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 19 at 12:33
  • @Pietr Geerkens Or rather conscripts sent to a new unit would be trained the same way and for the same length or time as the majority of volunteers in the unit, while conscripts sent as replacements to an existing unit would be trained the same way and the same amount as volunteer replacements sent to that unit. – MAGolding Sep 19 at 18:34
  • @PietrGeerkens, it is true that volunteers or paid substitutes made up the bulk of all Union forces during the Civil War. If you felt you might be drafted why not volunteer and receive the bounty of several hundred dollars rather than wait around and be drafted with no bounty, so the argument went. But as MAGolding stated, enlisted soldiers didn't receive more training than draftees. The Union Army scaled up from 20,000 to 300,000+ during the civil war and most of the soldiers received little training. – JMS Sep 19 at 21:32
  • @JMS: Original post seems very clear that it is requesting information on the draft of recruits rather than a mobilization of forces. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 20 at 9:22
  • @PieterGeerkens, 9 days was the period between when Lincoln announced the second "draft" of the civil war, August 4th, 1863 and the first new regiments began marching for Washington DC on August 13, 1863. Lincoln had put a 15 day time limit for the states to meet the quota's for the entire 300,000 man draft. – JMS Oct 9 at 18:07

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.