By Gary Farrow, Danville Historical Society
Even a turn in the Union’s military fortunes could not reignite the will of men, in the likes of Danville and Cabot, to fight. Their sentiments were shared by many across the North and were manifested by abysmal fulfillment of draft quotas, not so subtle pushback by states against the first Federal conscription law, and outright riot in one of the nation’s biggest cities.
August 1, 1863 North Star
Our Victories and Peace
All honor to the heroes of Gettysburg and Vicksburg…The result of operations of Meade [at Gettysburg] is deliverance of the North from the last invasion; for, though the enemy may with his splendid cavalry, venture upon a sudden dash and raid into some loyal States, he cannot hope to begin another invasion with anything like the chances which he had at the commencement of the late one. His retreat, however, can only be the beginning of the end of the last invasion; for every consideration points to a pursuit and a scattering of the rebel armies which are the centre of the rebellion.
The result of the operations of Vicksburg…. reopens the Mississippi, divides the Confederacy, and delivers the states of Mississippi and Alabama into the hands of the Union…there is no power in this region capable of resisting our armies.
…But heavy and triumphant as is the hand of our national power, let us reflect that rebellion is by no means crushed. Now would seem to be the time to rise above mere partisan schemes on a plane of honor, magnanimity and statesmanship worthy of republican institutions… now would seem to strengthen the Union element in the Southern States by reassuring it of a recognition of protection under the Constitution….
Indeed has it not become all important to the North that the Administration should purge itself of all connection with radical vagaries? There is not the first sign that the North will ever unite on these schemes, for they are death and destruction…The strange, wild, crazy spiritual set who have the conceit to think they can improvise a better Union than Washington and the fathers grew into, must have the nonsense shaken out of them.
Lincoln did not exactly share the public’s celebratory mood over the victory of Gettysburg. He penned this bitter letter to General Meade. “Again, my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape—He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war—As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. …Your golden opportunity is gone and I am distressed immeasurably because of it. -” Unlike perhaps most of us, Lincoln regained his balance, filed the letter in his desk drawer and never sent it.
The draft for this country, and in fact for this District still remains suspended…It is presumed to take place sometime. We learn that nearly every drafted man in Cabot paid in $300 commutation money… In Marshfield, (if we are correctly informed) quite a number concluded to serve rather than pay the exemption money.
War and General News Items
The State of Michigan has ordered that no more new regiments be raised within the state… that all recruiting in the State shall until further orders, be for the men for regiments and batteries now in the field, and all men enlisting therefore will have choice of regiments and will be entitled to the usual government and State bounties.
August 8, 1863 North Star
No Draft in New Jersey
It seems that the War Department has assented to the proposition to raise the quota of troops in New Jersey by volunteering, provided it can be done in thirty days. The quota is 8783 men; and Governor Parker has issued a stirring and patriotic proclamation to the people to come forward and volunteer, and aid volunteering by payments of additional bounties … This action of the democratic Governor of New Jersey is creditable to him as a public servant, and we should think would silence the croakings of political opponents, who accuse him of disloyalty.
Meanwhile, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, one of the first black Afro-American units in the Union, made a dramatic assault in South Carolina.
The Assault at Fort Wagner
…Soon after four o’clock the firing from Fort Wagner ceased… [This] led to the supposition that the enemy had evacuated the work, and it was determined to attempt its occupation…
This was at dusk…the colored regiment which for some reason was given the post of extreme honor and danger in advance, and was drawn up in line of battle exposing its full front to the enemy…
It was now quite dark… the 54th Massachusetts led by Col Shaw was within 200 yards of the works, when the men gave a fierce yell and pushed up to the glacia [ditch]…
The enemy hitherto silent as the grave, while our men were swarming over the glacia, opened up on them… The gallant negroes, however plunged on regardless of this murderous reception and many of them crossed the ditch, although it contained four feet of water, gaining the parapet. They were dislodged, however, in a few minutes with hand grenades, leaving more than one-half their number, including their brave colonel, dead upon the field.
Colonel Shaw would be buried in a mass grave with his men. The exploits of the 54th would later be dramatized in the academy award winning film, Glory.
August 15, 1863 North Star
…We trust the good name of Vermont will not suffer, when the number of soldiers procured by the draft comes to be counted, but we confess, thus far, to a severe disappointment in this respect. We fear that one fourth of our quota will be raised by this conscription. Many of the nine months men will reenlist in the veterans regiments which are soon to be raised, but unless the draft brings into the field more Vermonters than it promises to now, the three veteran regiments will not fill the deficiency in the draft.
Curiously, the anti-abolitionist North Star had not previously reported on the draft riots that occurred in New York City July 13 through 16, which was by some accounts the most violent act of civil disobedience the country had ever seen. The riots were provoked by the Federal Provost Marshall’s attempt to enforce the Federal conscription act. The city’s Irish Catholic immigrants were enraged at the idea of being forced into military service to free blacks that Lincoln, citing his war powers, had ordered by executive fiat [Emancipation Proclamation] back in January. Baited by New York’s business elites, who hated Abolitionism because it compromised the business loans they had made to the South, and their inability to come up with the $300 commutation to buy their way out of the draft, the Irish poor’s three-day rampage resulted in the destruction of public buildings and the loss of 100 black lives. The US military could not get into the city until the end of the first day of rioting. Volunteer and militia regiments had to be diverted from following up on the success of Gettysburg and sent in to restore order. What follows is some of the political aftermath to those events.
The Draft in New York City
Washington Aug 8 – Governor Seymour under the date of Aug 2d writes to the President with respect to the draft in New York and Brooklyn condemning the course of the [Federal] Provost Marshal in commencing the draft without consultation with the City or State officers at the time….while there were not even soldiers enough in New York to man the fortifications in the harbor. The Governor complains of unfairness in the enrollment, and thinks that this lottery in human life, as he terms it, there should be strict impartiality. In the rural districts the draft has been executed with justice, and conscripts have accepted their fate. In the district of New York, however, with a population less, the number is in some cases double that of the former [rural districts]. The attack upon the enrolling officers, which subsequently grew into the most destructive riot known in the history of the country, he pronounces unjustifiable. …
The President in reply, under date of Aug 7, says he cannot suspend the draft in New York because time is too important…[In the future] he would direct the draft to proceed only on the average quota of all the districts….The President would not object to abide the decision of the Supreme courts; he would be willing to facilitate it, but could not consent to lose time.
War and General News Items
…Of the drafted men in this state, not one in ten will be available to the government. The Rutland Courier says every one drafted that can beg, borrow or steal $300, is getting exempt, and the balance that do not get off some other way are skeddling to parts unknown.
The commutation money paid by drafted men will amount, it is supposed, to some forty or fifty millions of dollars throughout the country.
The Provost Marshal of Pittsburg had a deserter flogged at the whipping post, the other day, and was immediately in danger of being lynched.
August 22, 1863 North Star
…History furnishes no case in which a national evil which has taken a century to strengthen and locate itself… the work of ten generations is not to be undone in a day, without a shock to innocent interests and unwholesome convulsions to society.
War and General News Items
The Canada papers notice the arrivals of large numbers of young men from the United States who have fled to the Province to avoid the conscription.
The Danville drafted men have most of them been to Woodstock, for examination. Quite a number, though not quite half, were exempted, and those inspected in most of them paid the commutation money. We know of none who furnished substitutes.