Henry Clark and the Civil War draft

What we do — and don’t — know about the Clarks’ only son (part 2)

This is the second in a series of posts examining what we do — and don’t — know about Henry Clark, his life, and his possible military service. If you missed it, you might want to start with part 1: Meet the Children: Henry M. Clark

Reading, Mass. Selectmen. The union must be preserved! The citizens of Reading are hereby invited to meet at Lyceum Hall to-morrow, Thursday, at 6 o’clock. P.M., to make such arrangements as may seem necessary to raise our proportion of volunteers … Selectmen of Reading. Boston, 1862. Library of Congress Meetings such as this were held all over the North—including Wisconsin—before and after the passage of the Militia Act of 1862. Click to open larger image in a new window.

The Civil War draft was complicated

The Civil War involved an enormous number of fighting men. During the course of the war, 1861-1865, almost 2.7 million men served in Union units, a number unprecedented in U.S. history.

In July 1861, the two armies were nearly equal in strength with less than 200,000 soldiers on each side; however at the peak of troop strength in 1863, Union soldiers outnumbered Confederate soldiers by a ratio of 2 to 1. The size of Union forces in January 1863 totaled over 600,000. Two years later, that number had not changed dramatically for the Union Army but had dropped to about 200,000 for the Confederate Army.

National Park Service

The story of how the federal government responded to the growing need for soldiers is complicated and varies during the course of the war. Recruitment and draft policies had a powerful impact on the lives of men as young as the age of 18, such as Henry M. Clark, the only son of Jonathan M. and Mary (Turck) Clark. Henry Clark was eligible for service during the war, and today’s post will examine what we know about Henry and the Union army drafts held in 1862 and 1863. We will try to keep the focus on Henry; for more details on the various aspects of these drafts, and how they affected other Wisconsin men and their families, be sure to click the links.

The Militia Act of 1862

Believing that the war would be short-lived, the Union initially relied on volunteer recruits and enlisted them for short terms of service. Various cash bonuses were offered to encourage volunteers to join. But by 1862 it was clear that the supply of volunteers was inadequate and that there would need to be some sort of conscription to build and maintain the army at fighting strength. To this end, on July 17, 1862, the U.S. Congress enacted the Militia Act of 1862. It allowed the President to call up for militia service “all able-bodied males between the ages of eighteen and forty-five.” The act limited the types and number of troops the President could request and limited their terms of service to nine, or in some cases, twelve months. The act also provided for several kinds of enrollment bonus payments to encourage enlistment.

The Militia Act of 1862 was an attempt to bolster Union troop strength by encouraging voluntary enlistment while avoiding an unpopular national draft. Each state was provided with a quota of volunteers to enlist; the details of the implementation of the Act’s provisions—how to meet those quotas—were left to each state. This did not go well. In Wisconsin, for example, governor Edward Salomon faced a number of political and practical problems in meeting the enlistment quotas of the 1862 act.1

For several reasons, the counties along Lake Michigan (Milwaukee, Washington, Sheboygan, Manitowoc, and Ozaukee) had the most difficulty providing the required number of men. These counties were composed largely of German and Irish-Catholic immigrants, and very few Catholic priests were chaplains for Wisconsin’s Civil War regiments. In addition, the German Catholics avoid the draft. Clearly these immigrants did not understand the long-term controversy over slavery and did not identify with the “radical” abolitionist policies of the Republican Party and Lincoln administration. After Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, the Milwaukee German newspaper Die Seebote clearly expressed immigrant sentiment by deriding the Union’s intent to use “immigrants… as fodder for cannons in an abolitionist war.” (Die Seebote, October 25, 1862)2


Men also sought exemption from the draft for a variety of other reasons. Initially, firefighters were exempt, as were those missing their front teeth3 or suffering from any number of allegedly debilitating medical conditions. Men could also avoid service by paying for a substitute.

Henry Clark in 1862

In 1862, Henry Clark was 19 years old, old enough to qualify for conscription under the Militia Act of 1862. Was he selected in the November 19, 1862 draft in Milwaukee? The Milwaukee Sentinel published a “complete” list of draftees on November 20, and Henry’s name is not listed. Did Henry seek a medical or other exemption?4 Did he pay for a substitute? Or did Henry skip the 1862 draft by volunteering for service, as did his boyhood companions Evander Bonniwell and Watson P. Woodworth and his young uncle, Benjamin Turck? We’re not sure, but the evidence is not yet clear.5

Ultimately, the 1862 draft in Wisconsin—and elsewhere in the North—was a failure.

In the end, of the 4,537 Wisconsin men drafted, only 1,739 were mustered in. More than a third failed to report, and among those who did, most were discharged or released for various reasons. Only 6,812 Wisconsin soldiers reported to duty of the 38,495 called. The first federal draft proved to be only mildly successful in boosting the numbers of soldiers who actually served on the front.


President Lincoln would need a different method to obtain the necessary manpower to defeat the rebellion.

1863 – the first national draft

On March 3, 1863, Congress passed the Enrollment Act of 1863 establishing a uniform national conscription law. For the first time in U.S. history, all male citizens (and all immigrants who had filed papers to obtain citizenship) between the ages of 20 and 44 had to enroll for the draft, unless they met certain criteria for exemption. The Act was not universally popular, and anti-draft riots occurred in several places, most notably New York City in June, 1863.

Henry M. Clark observed his 20th birthday on February 21, 1863 and was, therefore, eligible for the 1863 national draft and required to register. 

Clark, Henry M. on Consolidated Lists of Civil War Draft Registrations, 1863-1865, NARA record group 110, via Ancestry.com. See image for more source information. Click to open larger image in new window.

The page above is taken from what are generally known as the “Consolidated Lists of Civil War Draft Registrations, 1863-1865” or “Consolidated Enrollment Lists, compiled 1863 – 1865.”6 These lists were produced by gathering the individual records of regional draft bureaus (organized by state and congressional district), sorting those by “class” (I, II or III – more on this below), and then listing the men in each class in roughly alphabetical order. This information was recorded in a series of 620 ledgers kept in Washington, DC; this page is taken from one of those volumes.

Henry Clark – Class I, 1863 draft

This record of Henry M. Clark’s 1863 draft registration is one of the only documents we have from his Milwaukee years (1861/62 to 1866). It provides us with some unique and useful information.

This form is a “Schedule I, Consolidated List of all persons of Class I, subject to do military duty in the First Congressional District, consisting of the Counties of Racine Kenosha Walworth Waukesha and Milwaukee state of Wisconsin, enumerated during the month of June 1863, under direction of Capt. James M. Tillapaugh, Provost Marshal.”7

Henry, and the other men on this page, lived in Milwaukee’s seventh ward. The seventh ward was one of the oldest parts of the city and was home to notable churches, government buildings, businesses, and fine residences. In 1863 we believe Henry lived at 474 Jefferson, in the seventh ward, with his mother Mary (Turck) Clark, his six unmarried sisters and his grandfather, Peter Turck.

Age 20 and still a student

According to this list, in June, 1863, Henry was 20 years old and unmarried. He was a white male, born in Wisconsin. His “profession, occupation or trade” was “Student.” This would have been unusual back in Mequon. There, most students—especially boys—would be done with school by the age of 12, or maybe 14. Six or eight years of schooling was considered more than enough for rural lads; their labor was needed on the farm.

Henry was still studying at the age of 20. Where was he a studying? According to the Milwaukee City Directory for 1856-57, page 457, the Milwaukee public schools accepted students between the ages of 4 and 20. Had Henry’s education been cut short by his father’s death in 1857? Was he, finally, about to finish high school at the age of 20? Or, as I suspect, was he long-done with high school and enrolled in one of Milwaukee’s non-public or post-secondary schools?

On pages 457-459 of the Milwaukee City Directory for 1856-57 there are listings for several such schools, including the University of Milwaukee, Engelman’s German and English Academy, Larigo’s English & Mercantile Academy and the Milwaukee Commercial College. Or Henry could have been studying with one of the many private tutors in the city. Perhaps he was pursuing post-secondary studies at the new University of Wisconsin in Madison, or one of the other established Wisconsin institutions such as Beloit College, Lawrence University in Appleton or Carroll College in Waukesha. What was Henry studying in 1863, and at which school? We don’t know, but we now realize that Henry was able to pursue much more schooling than was typical for most young men in early-1860s Wisconsin.

What’s next?

By June 30, 1863, Henry M. Clark had registered for the first federal draft; it would be held in late November that same year. What happened next?

Did he volunteer? Was he drafted? Did he get an exemption or pay a substitute to serve in his place? Next time we’ll have answers to—at least some of—these questions.



  1. The German immigrants’ resistance to the draft in Wisconsin peaked with Ozaukee county’s Port Washington draft riot of November 10, 1862.

  2. The Wisconsin Historical Society has an informative essay on Governor Salomon and Wisconsin’s 1862 draft and other recruiting efforts, with a timeline and links to additional source materials, here.

  3. According to one contemporary newspaper report, men were initially exempt from service if they were missing their front teeth because those teeth were needed to bite open a paper gunpowder cartridge, part of the sequence of loading and firing a Civil War-era rifle. The War Department decided that too many men were avoiding service by having their teeth pulled, and closed the exception. Henceforth, if a man didn’t have front teeth, he could serve in the artillery, instead. For source and details, see: Avoiding the draft, 1862 style

  4. For more information on draft exemptions in general, but particularly in relation to the Act of 1863, see “Civil War Draft Records: Exemptions and Enrollments” by Michael T. Meier at the National Archives website. Some of the NARA record groups cited in the article may prove useful if we want further information on Henry Clark’s 1863 draft status and possible Civil War service.

  5. We’ll spend some time in upcoming posts sorting through the various Wisconsin men named “Henry Clark” that did serve. Perhaps one of them will be our Henry. It also appears that the relevant records for the 1862 draft—including lists of men that obtained exemptions or hired substitutes—are kept at the state or county level. I think the Wisconsin Historical Society may have quite a bit of the the state’s surviving 1862 draft documents. I’d be interested to know if Henry Clark appears in the Milwaukee (or perhaps Ozaukee?) county draft files.

  6. For more on the 1863 conscription law, and the records associated with it, see this detailed post from the National Archives.

  7. As we can see at the top of the form, “Class I comprises all [male] persons subject to do military duty between the ages of twenty and thirty-five years, and all [male] unmarried persons subject to do military duty above the age of thirty-five years and under the age of forty-five.”

    Class II comprised married men, ages 36-44. Class III were volunteers.