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Belgian Civil War soldiers


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Civil War Draft Registrations Records, 1863-1865


By 1863 it became necessary for the federal government to enroll and draft men into the Army. The Conscription Act declared that men between the ages of 20 and 45 were eligible for duty. Aliens who had filed their declaration of intention to become citizens were also eligible. The draft act resulted in four different enrollments: July, 1863; March, 1864; July, 1864; and December, 1864. These drafts resulted in a total of 249,259 men being held to service.

Of this total, some 86,724 paid commutation to be relieved of service, which brought in $26,366,316.78. Commutation (paying $300 to escape the draft) was created in an effort to keep substitution prices low. If commutation were not instated, the price of a substitute would have quickly soared past $300. In addition to suppressing substitution prices, commutation was intended to raise money for the war effort.

While commutation did raise war funds, it was often a criticism of the draft that it was better at raising money than troops. The rationalization for commutation was that unwilling troops were ineffective, so the government may as well extract funds from the unwilling if it couldn't get proficient service. Despite the good intentions behind commutation, it was one of the most hated policies of the war. There were actually 162,535 men raised by the draft. Of this total only 46,347 men were held to personal service; 116,188 furnished substitutes by simply taking advantage of the section of the Enrollment Act allowing draftees to pay $300 to a substitute who served for them. This amount, a healthy sum in 1863, did not long remain the norm and rapidly went to about $1,000 and more in 1864.

Thus the draft provided only about 6 per cent of the total Federal enlistments in the Army. Nevertheless the drafts main effect seems to have been to stimulate enlistments of volunteers who made up the great bulk of the manpower. Those who were exempt from service included men who were mentally or physically impaired, the only son of a widow, the son of infirm parents, or a widower with dependent children. . Physical disabilities that would exempt a man included imperfect vision in the right eye, lack of front teeth and molars, and loss of more than one finger of the right hand or more than two fingers of the left hand. But compulsory service embittered the public, who considered it an infringement on individual free will and personal liberty. Draft riots ensued, notably in New York in 1863.

The actual drafting of the men was the responsibility of the states, which usually used a lottery system. When the government issued a call for more troops, each state would be given a quota to fill based on its population. The number of volunteers would be subtracted from the quota and the difference would be drafted. If a draftee, volunteered before the final muster, he avoided the stigma of compulsory service and was eligible to collect a bounty of $100 from the federal government plus additional bounties from the state and local communities. In total, the bounties could exceed $500, which was about the average yearly wage in those days. States considered it a matter of pride to fill their quotas without having to resort to the draft.

The records include 631 volumes of registries and are basically lists of individuals who registered for the draft. The records are split into two different classes, Class I are those aged 20-35 as well as those 36-45 and unmarried. Class II is everyone else that registered. The lists are arranged by state, then by congressional district, and then alphabetically by the first letter of the surname. The lists give name; place of residence; age as of 1 July 1863; occupation; marital status; state, territory, or country of birth; and military service (if any). .. 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.

Those records are now available at Ancestry and from more than 3,000,000 men, about 1,450 Belgians are listed. Some are listed more than one time or recorded twice* so the actual number is more about one thousand. I listed them by State and in alphabetical order within the States giving their residence, age, occupation, if they were married or single and in italic the “remarks” added for some of them. For big town like New York, St Louis or New Orleans, the street were those men lived is also given. The actual draft registration records are available in NARA regional archives and sometimes contain more information than the consolidated lists.







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