|Date(s):||October 25, 1862|
|Tag(s):||Riots, Immigration, Law, Civil War|
|Course:||“Civil War and Reconstruction,” Juniata College|
On October 25, 1862, Pennsylvania governor A.G. Curtin submitted his views and worries on the recent riots that had occurred in Schuylkill County to Secretary of War, E.M. Stanton. He described several scenarios for upholding the draft in the wake of these rioting men without jailing or punishing them. He wrote in the letter, “I think you would get the men more easily than by the use of force. Men unwilling to go, and unable to pay the probable fine, will serve in the army on pay [in preference] to being shut up in prison without pay.” In this way he is tried to get men to fight in the war and meet the manpower demands, rather than waste their talents in jail.
Many men were uneasy about the idea of a draft and, when it was enacted on March 3, 1963; many riots against the draft, like the one in Schuylkill County, erupted. Notably, the Irish were among the most outraged in the face of the draft. They were opposed to helping slaves in any way, but also they were upset that as non-naturalized citizens, they should not be forced to fight if they did not have the right to vote.
Most men did not have the money to be exempted and if they did, the money could be used for different things then getting exempt from the war. For some reasons such as this, the Civil War became known as the rich man’s war. When a man wanted to be exempted from the draft the fine was $300. This is seen when Curtin wrote in his letter to the Secretary of War, “Those who are able to pay the fine will prefer using the money in procuring substitutes. The same limit of the fine will probably regulate the price of substitutes.” Adjusted for inflation, if Union Soldiers wanted to be exempt from the war, they would have to pay an equivalent of $5,454.55 in today’s economy.
In the summer of 1863 more riots broke out in Cass Township in Schuylkill County in central Pennsylvania. The township did not meet its quota for the war effort, which is why the call for the draft happened in the first place. The draft commissioner, Benjamin Bannan could only limit the revolt by crediting the names of soldiers that registered in Philadelphia to Schuylkill County.