Henry Clark – Civil War draftee

What we do — and don’t — know about the Clarks’ only son (part 3)

This is the third 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 them, you may want to look at:
• Part 1: Meet the Children: Henry M. Clark
• Part 2: Henry Clark and the Civil War draft
• and a related tidbit: Avoiding the draft, 1862 style

Henry Clark and the 1863 draft

[Civil War induction officer with lottery box.] United States, ca. 1863. Photograph. Library of Congress. Click to open larger image in new window. The draft officials in Milwaukee used a similar box or wheel to draw names in the 1863 draft. (The Wisconsin Historical Society has a wheel-shaped draft drum, circa 1863-1865, in its collections. It’s possible that the WHS lottery wheel may be the exact wheel used during Henry Clark’s November, 1863, draft event. Click here for a photo and accompanying information.)

Our previous post included an image of Henry Clark’s June, 1863, registration for the upcoming military draft. The Milwaukee draft of November, 1863, lasted for several days. The names of draftees from each Milwaukee city ward or county town were written on paper slips and placed in a round wooden “wheel.” The container was spun about to mix the names, and then the draft official would reach in, pull out one slip of paper, read the name aloud, and the clerk (and the press) would record the names as drawn. Once each ward, town, or village reached its quota of draftees, the box would be emptied and a new set of names from another location would be placed in the drum, and the process repeated.

Henry’s draft – November 10, 1863

The 1863 draft was big news, and the local papers covered the event in detail. Page one of the Saturday, November 14, 1863, issue of Milwaukee’s Semi-Weekly Wisconsin covered the draft for Henry’s seventh ward and began with a few useful details:


The number to be drawn is 249, and the number enrolled in the first class is 927.—Wm. H. Arnold was blindfolded to draw out the names, and the draft commenced.

Henry Clark was “enrolled in the first class” of the seventh ward; he was one of 927 men that were eligible to be drafted at this November, 1863, event. From the ward’s 927 enrolled men, 249 names would be drawn for Civil War service. The Semi-Weekly Wisconsin’s coverage continued with a list of the names as drawn by Mr. Arnold. In addition to publishing a more-or-less complete list of names as called, some of the names were accompanied by short annotations, such as:

O Alexander (applause)
Goe [sic, Geo?] G Bellows (great applause)
Joseph H Adler (“Bully for me!” from the crowd)
C P Fester (The well known Doctor)
E D Cole (“How are you, Cole?” from the crowd)

And so on. After enumerating about 200 men from the seventh ward, the Semi-Weekly Wisconsin list of names drawn continues with “Henry M. Clark,” followed by another two dozen or so names. The end of the list of seventh ward draftees is followed by this cheerful paragraph:

This concludes the 7th Ward, and everything passed off in the best of humor. The 8th Ward comes off next. The room was full as the 7th Ward was drawn, and as one and another who was generally known was drawn out, applause was given or some joke cracked at the expense of the conscript.

More details from the Sentinel

The Milwaukee Daily Sentinel of November 11, 1863, devoted almost three full columns on page 1 to the November 10th event and the list of names drawn:

The draft yesterday morning commenced with the Third Ward, which, together with the Fourth, was completed by noon, when the board adjourned for dinner. In the afternoon, the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Wards were drawn. We give below the names of the drafted.

During the whole of the day’s proceedings the utmost good nature and good order prevailed. There was a ready acquiescence on the part of the people, and as the successive drawings were completed, it was the signal for a cheer on the part of those who had escaped the fortunes of the wheel, and they would give place in the room for the citizens of the Ward about to pass through the wheel.

It will be observed in looking over the lists that there are many prominent names in them, the owners of which will make first rate soldiers if they conclude to served in the ranks.—There were a number of persons drafted twice, and the usual number of soldiers in the field and men in their graves.

There were some touching scenes in the room yesterday afternoon. When the name of Chas. Anderson, of the Fifth Ward, was pronounced, a woman burst into an uncontrollable flood of tears, and could not be comforted. We did not learn what relation the drafted man bore to the woman.

The drafting for the Eighth and Ninth Wards commences at 9 o’clock this morning [i.e., November 11th]

Henry Clark’s seventh ward was the last ward to be drafted on November 10th. According to the Sentinel’s published list, one of the last names called that evening was “Clark Henry M.”

What’s next ?

Henry Clark was drafted on November 10, 1863. Within ten days—by November 20th—he and his seventh ward compatriots would receive official, written notification of their draft status. This official letter would require them “to appear at a designated rendezvous to report for duty.”1

Once arrived at the assigned location, the typical draftee would be “carefully inspected by the surgeon of the board, who shall truly report” his physical condition to the board. At the same exam, “[…] all persons drafted and claiming exemption from military duty on account of disability, or any other cause, shall present their claims to be exempted to the board, whose decision shall be final.” If a draftee thought he deserved a medical exemption from military service, this exam would be the deciding moment.

If the examining doctor found him fit for the army, a draftee could still avoid service. If he chose to do so, he could either hire a substitute, or he could pay a $300 commutation fee to the War Department.

Any draftee that failed to report for service without obtaining an official medical exemption, or hiring a substitute, or paying a $300 commutation fee, would be deemed a deserter, and would be arrested by the provost-marshal and sent to the nearest military post for trial by court-martial.

Those were the procedures for most draftees. Henry, however, may have qualified for one other exemption. According to section two of the statute, Henry would be probably be exempt from the draft and military service as “the only son liable to military duty of a widow dependent upon his labor for support.”2

Did Henry serve?

Henry M. Clark probably did not need to serve in the Civil War. As the only son of a widowed mother, he was likely exempt from the 1863 and subsequent drafts. It’s also possible that he wanted to serve, but could not due to poor health; that theory needs further investigation. And we have at least one document that unequivocally states that he did serve, and gives a few tantalizing details of his service.

So did Henry M. Clark serve in the Union army? If so where, and with which unit(s)? And what happened to Henry that caused his premature death in 1866?

Next time

We’ll discuss the facts of Henry’s demise in our next post. Then I plan on a short break from the Civil War as we answer an entirely different question: “how did they get here?” Over the course of several posts we will take a look at the types of transportation used by our early Mequon settlers as they traveled from points east to the frontier of the emerging Wisconsin Territory, circa 1830-1850.



  1. The specifics of draftee notification, medical examination, substitution and commutation in this and following paragraphs are taken from the text of the Enrollment Act of 1863, US 12 Stat. 731. You can find the complete text of the act online, at the Library of Congress.

  2. Interesting question about this Sec. 2 exemption and whether Henry qualified for it: in most secondary sources, this exemption is explained as the exemption for “the only son of a widow.” If that was the case, then Henry certainly qualified. However, the text of the act is more specific, exempting “the only son liable to military duty of a widow dependent upon his labor for support.”

    Was Mary Clark dependent on Henry for support in 1863? Henry’s 1863 draft enrollment lists his occupation as “student,” and Mary’s 1870 and 1880 federal censuses—along with other probate and guardianship documents from the later 1860s through the early 1880s—show that Mary appears to have been financially stable, living off her savings, investments, rental properties and occasionally borrowing funds from her children.

    So would Henry automatically qualify for the “only son liable to military duty of a widow dependent upon his labor for support” exemption? I’m not sure.

UPDATED, June 28, 2021, to add additional information to the photo caption and to make a few minor revisions for style and clarity.