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In Their Own Words

October 30, 1862

Civil War Soldier Expressed Unhappiness with Conscription Exemptions

A Georgia soldier wrote a letter to the Southern Confederacy of Atlanta, upset with those who were exempted from conscription into the army. This letter is an excellent example of the “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight” argument many sodiers put forth.

“…But is it just that each conscript, who happens to own ten negroes of certain age should be exempt from military duty?-Why sire, what say you to the poor white man who has ten children all dependant upon him for succor and support? Shall he be exempt? No, your answer, ‘go fight for the negroes of your neighbor, because it elevates you in society.’ You say that the negroes must work to support our army. Why sir, have you not learned that of all men left at home, the man who owns ten negroes or more is the last to help either the soldier or his family. It is but too true. I tell you that the worse enemy our young republic has is the spirit that pervades our land to an alarming extent of extorting from the poor and needy to build up the rich and powerful. Our army is composed of poor men - men who listened to that old cry, ‘We pay the taxes, we are bone and sinew of the country. Our business is too large and complicated to leave. You go; you have nothing to leave but your family and they will be taken care of.’ It is easy to be a soldier, to leave home and its endearments, on paper. But when the reality is tested it is something different. I have seen the soldier in the heat of battle and in the monotony of camp. I have seem him in pleasure and in melancholy; in prosperity and in adversity; but the source of most trouble and anxiety to his mind, is the ill treatment of his family by the very men who are, by the clause referred to, exempt from duty. The soldier can meet the enemy of his country in dreadful battle, but the thought that his family are suffering at the hands of the rich for whom he is fighting, unnerves the strongest arm and sickens the stoutest heart. …”

Reprinted from The Civil War: Primary Documents on Events from 1860-1865, Edited by Ford Risley, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 2004, pp. 228-229.