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1863 September 12: No Allowance for Surplus Enlistments

September 17, 2013

From the September 12, 1863, issue of The Prescott Journal.

The Draft.

We publish an article in another column, in which the Provost Marshal General says it will be impossible to give credit for excess of volunteers.  If we mistake not, this announcement will call forth such an expression, that it will be impossible to refuse to give credit for them.

(From the [Madison, Wis.] State Journal).

The Draft—No Credit for Surplus Enlistments.

A letter is published from Provost Marshal General Fry [James B. Fry], to Hon. Freeman Clark, of New York, stating that it is found that to adjust the draft to different localities so that each will receive credit for the excess of volunteers upon former calls, involves so much labor and delay that the Department has decided to abandon it.  The letter concludes :

“While I thus frankly admit my inability to do what I contemplated, and give my reasons for it, I can at least ask and hope for acquiescence in a decision which has become unavoidable.  The previous action of towns and counties in excess show that they possess a patriotic sense of the necessity, the absolute necessity of pressing to a victorious conclusion the war upon which we stand or fall as a nation, and of providing men and means for the purpose.  I therefore rely upon their patriotism and their interest in a return of peace and prosperity to abate a little these chains for previous generosity, and, if drafted, to assume the honor which awaits them of being the winners of the last victory.

“No one appreciates more than I do the propriety of making, and, even, insisting upon having his credit allowed for the services already rendered and the sacrifices already endured, but in attempting this, it would not do to yield the great point of providing means of making a speedy termination of the war—and a thousand men may now save the necessity of calling for ten thousand in the future.

“It is proper for me to inform you, also, that the Secretary of the War has decided that he has no authority under the Laws of Congress to deduct the overplus of volunteers which may have been furnished by towns from the quota now ordered by draft from these towns.”

This decision of the War Department involves an injustice which we do not believe the President will permit to be perpetrated, if his attraction is properly directed to it.

It would obviously be absurd for the War Department to attempt to hear and determine upon the case of each town and corporation.  Yet Provost Marshal Fry [unreadable, due to crease in newspaper] that such an effort was demanded.  Upon that supposition no one will condemn his decision.  But is it not easy to avoid all difficulty, and to obviate the injustice of drafting in the same proportion in those towns which have already contributed largely beyond their proportion of men as in those that have raised none at all?  At least if in justice is done, the War Department may relive itself from the responsibility.—When the enrollment is made, it is easy to determine the quota of the State.—The State authorities can readily determine when localities have raised an excess on previous calls, and what ones are in arrears.  It is not fair that those towns and counties which have contributed more than their proportion in the past, should now be called on to respond to the draft in the same proportion as those localities which have raised no men at all.

Drafting is the fairest method of raising an army, because it falls upon all parts of the country alike.  The selfish, the unpatriotic, the cowardly have to respond as well as the generous and brave.  It does not drain a land of its best and most patriotic citizens, leaving the inert and the treasonable behind to organize for a “fire in the rear.”  But for two years the Government pursued the system of raising troops by volunteering.—The result has been that those whose patriotic impulses were liveliest, whose attachment to the Government was most vivid, have volunteered largely in excess of other classes.  Now, when drafting is resorted to, it should first be made in such a manner as to do substantial justices to localities, giving credit for what has been done in the past, and making up for shortcomings.

A prompt and earnest appeal ought to be made, by the Executives of the several States interested, to the President, and a reversal of the decision of the War Department accrued.

1.  Freeman Clarke (1809-1887) was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York.
2.  The first portion of the letter, which neither Journal published, follows:

“SIR: The proposition contained in my letter to Gov. ANDREW [Massachusetts Governor John Albion Andrew] was made to relieve a case of local hardship, and without any intention of making it general, or supposing that it would be so considered. The numerous applications made by various towns and other small organizations, soon satisfied me that it would be difficult, it not impossible, to find any principle of adjustment which would apply to all or even any great number of cases. I was under the impression that the scheme devised and suggested to Gov. SEYMOUR [New York Governor Horatio Seymour], and others would be of some practical effect, which was to ascertain the names of men claimed to have been furnished, and compare them with the muster-in rolls on file in the War Department.

“In one or two instances, where this has been attempted, it is found to be a very extensive labor, and no adequate results have been arrived at, and the time which would be taken up with the claims of all who chose to make them would cause so much delay as to defeat the object in view, and also interfere seriously with other important business.

“An earnest and faithful effort has been made to carry out the plan, but the very effort has brought out so many difficulties and complications which I did not foresee, and developed so many obstacles which cannot be overcome, that I am at last compelled to abandon the idea. I wrote to Gov. ANDREW under the impression that the matter was one affecting only a limited section, and could be quickly attended to, but it has so much increased that now, even if the claims of towns would all be adjusted and granted, it would almost neutralize the effect of the draft, and to raise men enough from the towns which admit a deficiency would be impossible.”

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