August 12, 1862: The draft and the chicken-hearted

The Draft
Cartoon from Harper’s Magazine, 1862. I don’t know why the balloon says “Leonidas” on it.

In July the Union had instituted a draft — here the New York Times editor gives a little ironic advice to those hoping to duck it, referring to them as chickens.


— We do not wish to tantalize the unhappy part of our male population who have been prevented by Secretary STANTON’s order, from evading the operation of the forthcoming draft. If they were about to run away, they were about to do a very silly thing; but as the public did not know their purpose, they may easily make a virtue of necessity. They may safely and loudly pronounce every man a poltroon who is not willing to do his part in defending the Government that our Revolutionary Fathers founded. We advise them to take this course. They will feel better after having made up their minds to it, for patriotism is a virtue quite susceptible of cultivation.

Then, again, remember, timid conscripts, that you may stand the draft manfully, and get off with a blank. The chances are about three to one in favor of escape. If you face the draft bravely, and are not called into the field, you save your reputation and “your bacon.”

But suppose you are drafted — do not, we beg you, whine or cry about it. Do not make arrangements for your funeral, nor fret yourself about whom your wife or sweetheart will marry when you are gone. If you must needs go to war, it is only for nine months; and it by no means follows that you will be shot, or even shot at, during the whole campaign. Perhaps you may be detailed to guard baggage trains in the rear, or to tend sick soldiers in the hospitals, or to cook the food of those who have a good stomach for fight — who knows. Even if you should by any chance be involved in a battle, the result will not necessarily be fatal, for it will be a very sanguinary fight, indeed, if one in ten gets hit by musket ball or shell. There is hope for you.

There are more chances for other ills than that of a bullet hole in the skin. Some of you are, no doubt, pining now for a rheumatism, a tubercle, or a typhus fever. You would give cheerfully a good round sum for a serious bodily disability. Be of good courage, noble souls. Be drafted, go into camp — live carelessly, as soldiers too often do, and you may have your most ardent wishes gratified in both the number and severity of your diseases, and never be liable to another draft as long as you live! If these considerations do not comfort the fugitive soldier, we do not know what will.

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