July 20, 1863: Dispatch admonishes everyone to enlist

Jefferson Davis

The Richmond Daily Dispatch comments on Jefferson Davis’ proclamation, in which he orders “all [male white] persons between the ages of 18 and 45” to report for duty. The editor reminds potential evaders that they can be shot for desertion if they don’t show up, and that those who enlist before being conscripted get to choose their duty.


The President’s proclamation.

We invite the serious attention of all persons between the ages of 18 and 45; who may not have yet enrolled themselves, to that clause of the proclamation which prescribes the penalty for failing to repair to the conscript camp after enrollment. It reads as follows: “I do hereby order and direct that all persons subject to this call and not now in the military service, do, upon being enrolled, forthwith repair to the conscript camps of the respective States of which they may be the residents, under pain of being held and punished as deserters in the event of their failure to obey this call.”

Now, a deserter, in time of war, is punished by death, and that is the penalty which hangs over the head of every man who fails to report himself, as the law requires. Let not any man fancy that he sees the door open to evasion and escape, through the leniency of the judges, or the mercy of the Executive. It is determined to enforce the law with the most unsparing rigor, for courts martial and Executive have alike come to the conclusion that mercy to the deserter is cruelty to the country, and they will not exercise it save in cases wherein it is impossible to avoid it. Let conscripts, therefore, take warning in time. They cannot escape the operation of the law by any possible trick, subterfuge or evasion. They cannot elude the vigilance of the enrolling officers. They are all upon the alert, and will not omit, or pass over, a single name in the schedule. Once enrolled, the conscript runs a most fearful risk if he attempt to battle the claims of the law. By avoiding the bullets of the enemy he exposes himself to those of his own countrymen. The former he might escape, as the large majority always do, or if he falls he will fill an honorable grave. But the latter he cannot elude. They will be fired on him at a few paces, while he stands a blind folded felon, to receive them, and to be buried after wards in a felon’s grave. It is far better to meet death in the field of battle than to stumble upon it on the parade.

Let us hope, however, that there will be no necessity for this reminder. Let us hope that every man will cheerfully come forward and enroll himself for the defence of his country, his home, his friends, his family his fireside. All that man holds dear is at stake. The most malignant enemy that ever persecuted an innocent people is seeking to subjugate us. The man of sound health, and of age capable of enduring the fatigues of camp, who will not voluntarily take up arms to avert such a fate for himself and those he holds most dear, deserves to die the death of a dog, as he most assuredly will if he attempt to evade the law.

We recollect that on other occasions, when calls were made, there were innumerable cases of exemption made under the most frivolous and disgraceful pretexts. Attempts will be made to evade the call in the same way now; but without success. The enrolling officers have become sharp by practice, and they are always under the eye of the powers that be. Applications for exemption will be scrutinized with the utmost strictness, and will not be allowed without overwhelming proofs of the justice of each particular case. Men who profess inability to do service in the field, can easily be assigned to duties in the camp which they can fulfill. They can cook, or wash, or bring wood, or keep the camp supplied in water. There are a thousand things which they can do, and which, if they do them not, must be done by persons able to do duty in the field. They can thus disengage a large fighting mass, whose services are always wanted.

Let the conscript recollect that, by volunteering, he can join any company in any department of the service — infantry, artillery, and cavalry. This is a most important advantage, and one which it would be unwise in the conscript to overlook.
The country wants all its available force.–We do not regard the state of our affairs as by any means such as to justify despondency; but, to be saved, we must employ every means. We must turn out every available man, and the sooner the better.

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2 Responses to July 20, 1863: Dispatch admonishes everyone to enlist

  1. Jim H says:

    And this was happening at the same time as the draft riots in NY?

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