Civil War Draft Records: Exemptions and Enrollments
Winter 1994, Vol. 26, No. 4 | Genealogy Notes
By Michael T. Meier
Grover Cleveland, urbane, sometimes wise, and a future President of the United States, never served in the military during the Civil War. He was healthy, of the appropriate age, and educated. His Buffalo, New York, law practice provided him a comfortable living.
George Templeton Strong, urbane, sometimes wise, and always opinionated, never served in the Union army. He, too, was healthy, of the appropriate age, and educated. His New York City law practice provided him a comfortable income.
John D. Rockefeller, a Cleveland, Ohio, merchant, was also healthy and eligible to serve in the armed forces of the United States. He did not experience the Civil War in uniform.
These men, and many others, avoided military service by simply taking advantage of that section of the Enrollment Act of 1863 allowing draftees to pay $300 to a substitute who served for them. 1 This amount, presumably a healthy sum in 1863, did not long remain the norm, for George Templeton Strong, pluckier than many of his contemporaries, paid a "big 'Dutch' boy of about twenty" $1,100 to be his "alter ego" in 1864. 2
The Enrollment Act, enacted by the Thirty-seventh 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. Col. James Barnet Fry, the new provost marshal general, 3 had the vexing and troublesome duty to enforce this unpopular law until the war's end in 1865, when his bureau went out of business. 4
Records of the Provost Marshal General's Bureau, 1863–1865, Record Group 110, are the principal records that relate to the 1863 draft. Cleveland, Strong, Rockefeller, and all other eligible males were enrolled and grouped into one of two classes. Class one grouped men between the ages of twenty and thirty-five years and unmarried men between thirty-five and forty-five. Class two included "all other persons subject to do military duty." 5 Enrollees had their names placed on consolidated lists where their name, place of residence, age as of July 1, 1863, race, occupation, marital status, place of birth, and, perhaps, remarks were recorded. The lists do not include information about the men's families. Many consolidated lists are not complete, a fact some researchers find frustrating because a draft enrollment is one of the few places an individual may be located if he does not have a service record.
Before using the consolidated lists, researchers should know the congressional district in which the individual lived. If the person lived in a major urban area, a city directory of the period is an effective way of discovering the person's place of residence. A map of the city, usually used in conjunction with census files, will help determine the congressional district as well as the subdistrict encountered in urban demography. In addition, it helps to know when the person was enrolled. George Templeton Strong, for example, lived in the Eighth Congressional District of New York, and from his Diary it is known that he was enrolled in August 1864 and that he paid for a substitute. 6 Grover Cleveland resided in the third subdistrict of the Thirtieth Congressional District of New York and was drafted in August 1863. 7 John D. Rockefeller resided in Ohio's Eighteenth District of Cleveland's Fourth Ward.
The consolidated lists show these men as having been enrolled but give no clue as to why they did not serve. Answers to such questions should reside with the records of the various districts. Virtually all of the enrollment districts generated registers of enrolled men, lists of substitutes, and records relating to exemptions. Presumably, the answer as to why Strong, Cleveland, and Rockefeller did not serve resides in one of the series created by the district.
After searching several registers and records relating to exempted men, George Templeton Strong's name was discovered in a list of substitutes accepted and enlisted in districts. There close to the bottom of the page stands "G.T. Strong," whose "Dutch Boy" was substitute Herman Henderman, a young man of twenty-two years. 8 Though the War Department recognized him as German rather than Dutch, Hendermann entered the Seventh New York Volunteer Infantry and survived the war. 9
Grover Cleveland, twenty-six at the time of his enrollment in June 1863, paid George Beniski, 10 a thirty-two-year-old Polish immigrant, to serve in his place as a private in the Seventy-sixth New York Infantry. He, too, survived the war. 11
John D. Rockefeller proved more problematic. Though enrollment officers were diligent in their efforts, they did make errors. In this case, John D. Rockefeller is identified as "John W. Rockefeller." 12 This error was recorded not only in the consolidated list of Ohio's Eighteenth District but also in lists of men enrolled in the subdistricts. When errors were made, efforts to correct then were recorded on "corrections to enrollment" forms and resubmitted. Corrections to enrollment, like the consolidated lists themselves, are not complete, and those for Rockefeller's district are no longer extant.
With some cross-referencing, a bit of good luck, and some deductive reasoning, researchers can be reasonably certain that John W. Rockefeller is the Rockefeller in whom they are interested. As the surname is not a common one, few of them appear on the list. In the Eighteenth District, for example, there were three, one of whom was John's younger brother, William. 13 The enrollment list states that John W. Rockefeller was twenty-three years of age, a commercial merchant, and was born in New York. This parallels the events of John D. Rockefeller's life, for he was twenty-three at the time, having been born on July 8, 1839, in New York State. 14 The enrollment took place in June 1863. He was also a partner in the merchandising firm of Clark and Rockefeller, making him a "commercial merchant." 15 Though a sense of uncertainty remains, the evidence is strong that this is John D. Rockefeller and that he purchased the services of a substitute whose name was not located among the district records.
Researchers should take certain steps before attempting to find answers about any individual in the records of the provost marshal. Consulting the service records and pension files should be the first step. If the individual is located in these files, there is no need to check the draft records, for there will be no additional information. If, on the other hand, the individual has neither a service record nor a pension file, and the researcher knows his age and place of residence, then a look at the records of the provost marshal may pay off. Researchers should keep in mind, though, that consolidated lists, corrections to enrollment, and other more arcane records are not complete and are fragile.
The inventory to Record Group 110 describes records generated by provost marshal headquarters in Washington and the congressional districts of the Northern states. Each state has records that take researchers beyond the consolidated lists. For the three examples discussed in this article, the question begging to be answered was, How did Strong, Cleveland, and Rockefeller avoid military service? The answers lie in certain series of records generated by provost marshals in the districts in which they lived. For example, Grover Cleveland's name was located in a descriptive list of drafted men as well as of those exempted. The series title and description make no mention of substitutes. The list, though, gives Cleveland's age, color of eyes and hair, and a statement as to his complexion and birthplace. It also provides the date his substitute entered the army. Had Cleveland been rejected because of a medical reason, then, presumably, his name and disability would have been listed in a medical register of enrolled men. George Templeton Strong proved equally as illusive, for there was no mention of him in several series of district records. He finally appeared in an unlikely series on a list of substitutes accepted and enlisted in the districts of New York City. The description of the series in the inventory makes no mention of those purchasing the services of substitutes. To determine John D. Rockefeller's status, it was necessary to seek information in biographies not part of Record Group 110.
When approaching records in this record group, researchers should be advised that the files are uneven, and their quality differs from district to district. Many records have long since been lost. If, on the other hand, a researcher chooses the correct series, there is a good chance some answers will be in the offing.
Researchers may inquire about provost marshal records from the Old Military and Civil Branch (NWCTB), National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC 20408. Researchers should provide the place of residence of the person in whom they are interested and, if known, the congressional district. The records are in large, fragile volumes; therefore, photocopies cannot be made. Researchers can request either a transcription or a microfilmed copy.
Michael T. Meier is an archivist in the Old Military and Civil Branch of the National Archives. He received his Ph.D. degree in history from Memphis State University.
1 12 Stat. L. 733. Two books that discuss the Civil War draft in the North are: Eugene C. Murdock, Patriotism Limited, 1862–1865: The Civil War Draft and the Bounty System (1967); and Eugene C. Murdock, One Million Men: The Civil War Draft in the North (1971).
2 George Templeton Strong, The Diary of George Templeton Strong, ed. Allen Nevins and Milton Halsey Thomas (1952), p. 479.
3 12 Stat. L. 731–732.
4 Murdock, One Million Men, p. 5.
5 12 Slat. L. 732–733. By June 8, 1863, the provost marshal decided to add a third class of enrollees to consist of persons who had previous military service. See The War of Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, series 3, Vol. 3 (1899), p. 259. The classification system ended in 1864; see 13 Stat. L. 6.
6 Strong, Diary, p. 479.
7 Descriptive list of drafted men, showing exemptions (entry 2291), New York, Thirtieth District, Records of the Provost Marshal General's Bureau, Record Group 110, National Archives, Washington, DC (hereinafter, records in the National Archives will be cited as RG __, NA).
8 New York, Southern Division (entry 1482), RG 110, NA.
9 Compiled military service records, Seventh New York Volunteer Infantry, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's–1917, RG 94, NA.
10 Descriptive list of drafted men, showing exemptions (entry 2291), New York, Thirtieth District, p. 17, RG 110, NA.
11 Compiled military service records, Seventy-sixth New York Volunteer Infantry, RG 94, NA.
12 Consolidated list of all persons of class I, Eighteenth Congressional District of Ohio, June 1863, sheet 469, RG 110, NA.
14 Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. 11, Supplement II (1958), pp. 568–576.
15 Ibid., p. 568.