Desertions and Draft Riots
Desertion was a major problem for both sides. The daily hardships of war, forced marches, thirst, suffocating heat, disease, delay in pay, solicitude for family, impatience at the monotony and futility of inactive service, panic on the eve of battle, the sense of war weariness, the lack of confidence in commanders, and the discouragement of defeat (especially early on for the Union Army), all tended to lower the morale of the Union Army and to increase desertion.
In 1861 and 1862, the war was going badly for the Union Army and there were, by some counts, 180,000 desertions. In 1863 and 1864, the bitterest two years of the war, the Union Army suffered over 200 desertions every day, for a total of 150,000 desertions during those two years. This puts the total number of desertions from the Union Army during the four years of the war at nearly 350,000. Using these numbers, 15% of Union soldiers deserted during the war. Official numbers put the number of deserters from the Union Army at 200,000 for the entire war, or about 8% of Union Army soldiers. It is estimated that 1 out of 3 deserters returned to their regiments, either voluntarily or after being arrested and being sent back. Many of the desertions were by "professional" bounty men, men who would enlist to collect the often large cash bonuses and then desert at the earliest opportunity to do the same elsewhere. If not caught, it could prove a very lucrative criminal enterprise.
The Irish were also the main participants in the famous "New York Draft Riots" of 1863 (as dramatized in the film Gangs of New York). The Irish had shown the strongest support for Southern aims prior to the start of the war and had long had an enmity with black populations in several Northern cities dating back to nativist attacks on Irish immigrants in the 1840s, when it was observed that blacks, who rivaled the Irish at the bottom of the economic ladder, were frequently reported encouraging on nativist mobs.
With the view that the war was an upper class abolitionist war led in large part by former nativists to free a large black population, which might move north and compete for jobs and housing, the poorer classes did not welcome a draft, especially one from which a richer man could buy an exemption. As a result of the Enrollment Act, rioting began in several Northern cities, the most heavily hit being New York City. A mob reported as consisting principally of Irish immigrants rioted in the summer of 1863, with the worst violence occurring in July during the Battle of Gettysburg. The mob set fire to everything from African American churches and an orphanage for "colored children" as well as the homes of certain prominent Protestant abolitionists. A mob was reportedly repulsed from the offices of the staunchly pro-Union New York Tribune by workers wielding and firing two Gatling guns. The principal victims of the rioting were African Americans and activists in the anti-slavery movement. Not until victory was achieved at Gettysburg could the Union Army be sent in; some units had to open fire to quell the violence and stop the rioters. By the time the rioting was over, perhaps up to 1,000 people had been killed or wounded (estimates varied widely, now and then).
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Famous quotes containing the word draft:
“Why not draft executive and management brains to prepare and produce the equipment the $21-a-month draftee must use and forget this dollar-a-year tommyrot? Would we send an army into the field under a dollar-a-year General who had to be home Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays?”
—Lyndon Baines Johnson (19081973)