April 2023 Program
Researching Pennsylvania's Civil War Draft Record
Presented by Jonathan R. Stayer, President, South Central Pennsylvania Genealogical Society
Although thousands of men from Pennsylvania served in the Civil War, many others had no military service during that conflict. Some even purposely avoided service for religious or other reasons. Nevertheless, most males between the ages of 18 and 45 living in the Commonwealth between 1862-1865 were subject to conscription at some point. The resulting draft records can provide additional documentation of an ancestor’s life during that period. From a researcher who has been immersed in these records for almost forty years, learn about the implementation of the state and federal Civil War drafts and the records they produced. This program will review the available sources and provide suggestions for accessing them to uncover hidden details about your nineteenth-century ancestors.
Retired from the Reference Section of the Pennsylvania State Archives, Jonathan Stayer is the president of the South Central Pennsylvania Genealogical Society, and he is a member of the boards of the York County History Center and of the Friends of Camp Security. A direct descendant of Civil War conscientious objector Adam Stayer of Bedford County, PA, he has been researching Pennsylvania’s Civil War conscientious objectors for almost forty years. In the spring of 2022, he received a Kreider Fellowship from the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College to study the questionable claim of the Brethren in Christ denomination that it registered as a Peace Church during the Civil War in response to the Union draft. More recently, the Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, Wesleyan Studies at Messiah University, Grantham, PA, awarded him a Sider Grant to continue his research on this topic.
The archived presentation may be watched here.
Program summary and review by Becky Anstine:
Jonathan’s presentation was based on his experiences researching the records while looking for information on his family. The Stayers were conscientious objectors during the Civil War and Jonathan was interested in finding out more about the draft, the records were that were kept, and where this information could be found. He found that the records can be complex, confusing, and contradictory.
Three books were recommended for general background and explanation of the draft system: We Need Men: The Union Draft in the Civil War by James W Geary; One Million Men: The Civil War Draft in the North by Eugene C. Murdock; and Mennonites, Amish and the American Civil War by James O. Lehman and Steven M. Nolt. For state and local history, he suggested: “Conscription in Pennsylvania During the Civil War” by William A. Itter, and “A Northern Community Goes to War: Recruiting, the Draft, and Social Response in York County, Pennsylvania, 1861-1865” by Mark A. Snell.
There were two Civil War Drafts. The first was a Militia Draft in 1862, conducted between August 1862-October 1862 for men between the ages between 18-45 years of age. There were exemptions for certain occupations (public employees), physical or mental disabilities, unnaturalized residents, and conscientious objectors.
The second draft, a Federal Draft, occurred between 1863-1865. An amendment passed in February 1864 eliminated age classes, limited commutation, and required documentation from conscientious objectors. An amendment in July 1864, limited commutation only to conscientious objectors. There were two draft classes – class 1 for men between 20-35 and single men between 36-45. Class 2 was for married men between 36-45 and were less likely to be drafted. There were exemptions for family hardship, physically or mentally unfit, providing a substitute or paying a commutation of $300.
Consisting of a Provost Marshal, a surgeon, and a local citizen, the Board of Enrollment in each draft district administered this draft.
When looking for individuals in draft records, it is necessary to have the full name of the ancestor, age, and place of residence (county and municipality). The 1860 census is helpful for locating the residency. County enrollment books for York can be found at the York County Archives and through the 8-volume publication 1862 Draft Enrollment Books by SCPGS. The LancasterHistory.org has the Enrollment of Citizens. The 1862 enrollment books for Franklin County can be found at the National Archives, and digital copies are available on its website. The Pennsylvania State Archives Record Group 19, Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs have a number of records available. The Substitute
Depositions of 1862 can be found on “PA photos and documents” section of Pennsylvania’s Power Library (powerlibrary.org/psa - then select” Military and Veterans Affairs”). Draft enrollment lists are also on ancestry.com. The National Archives at Philadelphia holds the federal draft records for Pennsylvania, including those of the Commonwealth’s draft districts and its Western and Eastern administrative divisions. These records can contain descriptive records, medical records, correspondence, and Enrollment minutes. Newspapers would also publish lists of drafted men during the Civil War. Other sources to check include historic collections held at college libraries and historical societies, church records and other published histories.