the War Department. I endeavored, soon after the creation of my office, to obtain a statement, showing the account of each sub- district, from the officers who had charge of the records, but without success. The difficulties arising from the radical change effected by the enrollment act in the mode of raising troops, through the transfer of the labor and responsibility connected therewith from the State to the U. S. authorities, were increased by the absence of this information.
Public recognition of the necessity of a general conscription.
During the latter part of 1862 the necessity for a radical change in the method of raising troops in order to prosecute the war to a successful issue became more and more apparent. The demand for re-enforcements from the various armies in the field steadily and largely exceeded the current supply of men. The old agencies for filling the ranks proved more and more ineffective. It was evident that the efforts of the Government for the suppression of the rebellion would fail without resort to the unpopular, but nevertheless truly republican, measure of conscription. The national authorities, no less than the purest and wisest minds in Congress, a and intelligent and patriotic citizens throughout the country, perceived that, besides a more reliable, regular, and abundant supply of men, other substantial benefits would be derived from the adoption and enforcement of the principle that every citizen, not incapacitated by physical or mental disability, owes military service to the country in the hour of extremity. It would effectually do away with the unjust and burdensome disproportion in the number of men furnished by different States and localities.
But it was not easy to convince the public mind at once of the justice and wisdom of conscription. It was a novelty, contrary to the traditional military policy of the Nation. The people had become more accustomed to the enjoyment of privileges than to the fulfillment of duties under the General Government, and hence beheld the prospect of compulsory service in the Army with an unreasonable dread. Among the laboring classes especially it produced great uneasiness. Fortunately, the loyal political leaders and press early realized the urgency of conscription, and by judicious agitation gradually reconciled the public to it. When the enrollment act was introduced in Congress in the following winter the patriotic people of the North were willing to see it become a law.
The passage of the enrollment act.
After a protracted, searching, and animated discussion, extending through nearly the whole of the short session of the Thirty- seventh Congress, the enrollment act was passed, and become a law on the 3rd of March, 1863.b It was the first law enacted by Congress by which the Government of the United States appealed directly to the Nation to create large armies without the intervention of the authorities of the several States.
The main objects of the law were, in general terms: First, to enroll and hold liable to military duty all citizens capable of bearing arms not exempted therefrom by its provisions; second, to call forth the
a See Appendix, Doc. 30.
b See Appendix, Doc. 35.