The first military draft law to be enacted in North America was passed by the Confederate Congress in the Spring of 1862. White men between 18 and 35 years of age were determined by the government to belong to the Confederate Army for a period of three years, and all men then enlisted in the Army were extended, regardless of the terms of their enlistment, to a period of three years. The draft law specified that draftees would serve in regiments from their home state, and that draftees could purchase substitutes to serve in their stead. By September the law was extended to include all white men up to the age of 45. Draftees were called up based on the state’s ability to equip and pay them.
By 1863 the system of substitution was abolished and by 1864 men up to the age of 50 – and beginning at age 17 – were subject to the draft. Exemptions for men in specific occupations such as critical war related industries were allowed. Another form of exemption was the Twenty Negro Law. The law allowed those who owned 20 or more black slaves to be exempt as they were needed to oversee them at their work.
Conscription in the Confederacy was problematic from the beginning and grew worse as the war dragged on. Besides being fraught with fraud and deceptive practices, the practice of each state operating its own system was unreliable. Casualty lists from the front and a high rate of desertion – particularly from those under 18 and over 50 – made the demand for more men never ending.
This weakened the war effort as it took away men needed to meet the Confederacy’s demand for the goods necessary to conduct the war. Shortages among the troops of all the necessities of war grew in part because the means of distributing them were simply not there. Still Confederate leaders in the field, particularly Robert E. Lee, demanded more and more men for their armies.
Conscription in the South proved to be a major failing of the Confederacy. By the spring of 1865, as Lee was entrenched at Petersburg, all exemptions had been abolished and veterans who had lost one leg or one arm in battle were being retained in the ranks, albeit in mostly support assignments.