27 April 1862: “Fear of conscription threatens great injury here unless immediately allayed and I therefore urge prompt and earnest attention to the subject.”

Item Description: Letter of 27 April 1862 from David Swain to Charles Manly.  In this letter, President David Swain writes to Governor Manly concerning recent conscription legislation and the negative impact that the law will have on the University of North Carolina.

President  Swain’s handwriting is notoriously difficult to read and the transcription that follows is partial and undoubtedly includes errors.  Please feel free to submit suggestions via our comment feature.

[Partial Transcription available below images.]


Item Citation: University of North Carolina Papers #40005, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Partial Item Transcription:

Chapel Hill, 27 April 1862

My dear Sir,

Fear of conscription threatens great injury here unless immediately allayed and I therefore urge prompt and earnest attention to the subject.  Presently, Professors of colleges and instructors of schools, having 20 scholars are exempted.  The object of the law therefore is to favour colleges and schools, as far as practicable.

I understand that the quota of this state is 38000, that we have 52 regiments in service, and many volunteers tendering their services.  From a portion of these 52 regiments, persons under 18 and over 35 we claim or discharged some 90 days hence.  But after — shall have —, more than 38 probably 45000 will remain in service.  If I am right in this supposition, there seems to be no necessity for calling conscripts to the field until casualties shall reduce our numbers to 38000, or our additional —shall be ordered.

Do me the favour to confer with the governor immediately on this subject and advise me of the result.  I feel so much concern about it, that if I — — so, I would go down to Raleigh forthwith.  The Senior examination however begins tomorrow, Senior speaking on Wednesday, and on Saturday morning the report is to be read out.  In addition to this some of our boys are as anxious to volunteer, as their parents and I am to keep them here until they attain the muscles and grisle   — to efficient military service, and would be but too ready if I were to leave but for a single day …

I suppose the effect of the conscription will be simply this, the whole military force of the state, viz. able bodied men between 18 & 45 will be arranged in two —Them between 18 & 35 (about two thirds of the whole) will be conscripts, for the service of the Confederacy, them between 35 and 45 — the remaining third will be state —, under the command of the Governor and reserved for the defence of the State.  It seems to me that in emergency will be under — — to call out the conscripts en masse, and that at present nothing more need be done than enroll them so that portions may be called out from time to time and that — we have more than the proportion allotted to this state already in the field, no call need be — —, at present for any portion of this regular force.

Whether it may be necessary to summon the Ex. Com.  or  call a special meeting of the Board — — their counsel and — at this crisis.  Your — will afford the means of forming a more — opinion than I can at this … The presence of the Convention will enable you to —an unusually full and able Board, at very short notice.

It is a very unusual thing for me to write — — communication on the Sabbath, but I have no compunction or even misgiving with respect to the propriety of this.

                                                                                                                     Yours very sincerely,

D.L. Swain

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One Response to 27 April 1862: “Fear of conscription threatens great injury here unless immediately allayed and I therefore urge prompt and earnest attention to the subject.”

  1. Todd Kesselring says:

    This letter from President Swan and a previous one from the Charleston fire chief make clear the shortage of military age men in the Confederate states. This created severe difficulty in civic life throughout the south. In Charleston they feared they would not have enough manpower to fight another large fire like they had experienced in late 1861. From this and other material I have read recently it seems amazing the war didn’t end in 1862. Federal forces held a toe hold in every state except Texas, as far as I can tell. In Virginia, General Joseph Johnston was forced to use a variety of ruses to convince an all too receptive George MacClellen that he had more forces than he really did. Grant is able to sweep territory in the west from under manned Confederates. New Orleans taken by David Farragut at least in part because of a lack of troops to defend it.