Black Gotham Stories

Civil War Breaks Out

Abraham Lincoln standing above crouched slave wearing manacles

Emancipation statue of Abraham Lincoln

On April 15th, 1861, President Lincoln declared war on the South and called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion. As the war progressed, the Union Army became desperate for more soldiers and decided to enact a draft law. In March 1863, Congress passed the National Conscription Act decreeing that all male citizens (by definition white) between the ages of 20 and 35 were to be enrolled in the military, and then a lottery conducted to determine who would actually serve. The Act granted federal officials considerable authority to intrude on the daily life of citizens, for example, to conduct house-to-house visits for enrollment purposes and to arrest those who resisted. It also included a provision exempting from service those who could offer an acceptable substitute or pay $300. It was the poor, not the rich, who were to fight Lincoln’s war.