Wisconsin and the Civil War: Civil War Draft in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society

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Civil War Draft in Wisconsin

Wisconsin and the Civil War

Wisconsin and the Civil War: Civil War Draft in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society
Enlarge Portrait of Edward Salomon, WHI 34242

Edward Salomon.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Portrait of Edward Salomon, on the back of which is autographed, "To Dr. C.B. Chapman in kind remembrance. Edward Salomon. View the original source document: WHI 34242

Grade level: Secondary

Duration: More than one class period

Traditionally little is said about the 1862 Civil War militia draft. The struggles, opposition, and in some cases, violence that occurred in Wisconsin provide a wonderful local addition to your current Civil War unit. The primary source-based activities in this section will engage secondary-level students in doing the work of history while fulfilling Wisconsin Model Academic Standards.

The document featured with this article is a broadside, or poster, from the 1st District of Wisconsin Office of the Provost Marshal, listing the names of the draft dodgers in Milwaukee County. The poster includes data detailing each man's place of birth, age, marital status, and occupation. The broadside, offering a reward for the arrest and delivery of these men to draft headquarters, was directed toward able-bodied citizens sympathetic to the war effort. The broadside measures 65 x 95 centimeters and can be found in the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives.


Students will:

  • Explain differing opinions on the same historical event
  • Use primary source documents to gather historical information


The Initiation of the Draft

After months of fighting and news of heavy losses, U.S. Secretary of War Edward Stanton realized that he had stopped federal recruiting too early and would need to ask the state governors for additional recruits. The grim realities of war–death, disease, and tragedy–had diminished previous enthusiasm. Doubting that the states would be able to fulfill these new quotas with a system of voluntary enlistment, in mid-July 1862 the United States Congress passed a law, that can be interpreted as the first federal draft. The act outlined procedures for states that did not yet have a draft procedure, but the actual process of implementation was left up to each state's governor.

Governor Salomon Struggles with the Draft

Wisconsin was required to supply an additional 42,557 men to the war effort. At the time Wisconsin was under the leadership of Governor Edward Salomon, a recently naturalized German-American citizen. Thrust into office when Governor Louis Harvey drowned while visiting with soldiers in Tennessee, Salomon struggled to devise an equitable draft system. Before the draft could begin, counties that had previously provided volunteers needed to be credited and an accurate list of eligible men in each county needed to be compiled.

As Salomon grappled with these tasks, another request came from Washington for an additional 5,904 men to replace the men lost to casualties and to bring the existing regiments up to full strength. Salomon tried to avoid immediate implementation of the draft by questioning the numbers required of Wisconsin, since the state had already furnished five regiments more than previously required. Salomon hoped that by postponing the draft until after the upcoming harvest, more men would volunteer, and conscription would not be necessary. Secretary of War Stanton did not oblige any requests for postponement, however, and on August 15, 1862, he ordered Salomon to execute the draft in Wisconsin.

Avoiding a federalistic battle, Governor Salomon appointed "War Democrat" Levi Vilas to administer the draft. Vilas worked with a draft commissioner and an examining physician from each county to ensure the quotas designed by Governor Salomon were filled. The lists of eligible men between the ages of 18 and 40 compiled by county sheriffs were useful as a point of departure. Yet Salomon was still concerned about the equity and fairness of the draft and put the issue of conscription before the legislature in hopes a law addressing the issue would be passed. Recognizing the potential adverse political ramifications, the legislature did not act, and the work was left solely to Governor Salomon.

Opposition to the Draft

Governor Salomon correctly surmised that, after the harvest, volunteers would fill the quotas. By the end of October all counties except several along Lake Michigan had filled their quotas with volunteer recruits. Yet even with the increasing number of recruits, opposition to the draft and fighting within Wisconsin continued. The numbers in volunteer fire companies, which were exempt from service, swelled to such an extent Salomon limited exemption to those on fire company rolls prior to the announcement of the draft. Men also sent letters and affidavits to their county surgeons, detailing medical conditions for exemption status. In some cases, the designated county surgeon issued certificates of exemption. In most cases, he did not. Salomon was perplexed that so many of his fellow immigrants would deny their intention to become U.S. citizens in order to avoid the draft. He even went so far as to suggest the idea of deportation for those immigrants not willing to serve, but this did not occur.

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)

On November 10, 1862, Governor Salomon scheduled drafting to begin town-by-town in the counties lacking volunteers. Draft notices were posted. Disorganized protest occurred in Sheboygan and West Bend, but a full-scale riot occurred in Port Washington in Ozaukee County. Eight companies of the 28th Wisconsin Volunteer Regiment were called in to restore order there. 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.

Resource Materials


  1. Analyzing the Document
    Make copies of the draft dodger broadside. Direct students to read the document and answer the guided questions. Share with your students the information found in the background section regarding the Civil War draft in Wisconsin.
  2. Creative Writing
    • Review the background section with students, focusing particular attention on Governor Salomon. Have students write several journal entries from the perspective of Governor Salomon during this time period. The following letters written by Salomon will be of assistance. Students should demonstrate an understanding of the gubernatorial actions Governor Salomon took and the conflicts he faced as a German-American.
    • Ask students to select a name from the draft poster and write a letter from this man's point of view describing why he chose not to report for duty. Students should demonstrate creativity and an understanding of the reasons men did not want to fight.
  3. Further Research
    • Ask students to research their community's reaction to the Civil War draft by reading through local newspapers of that time period. Once the research is completed, students can write an essay that compares and contrasts the various viewpoints held concerning the draft in Wisconsin. The library of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, your local library, or your local historical society can help you identify local newspapers. Another great resource is The Guide to Wisconsin Newspapers, 1833–1957, compiled by Donald E. Oehlerts. Keep in mind that the reactions presented may vary depending on the perspective of that particular newspaper, and that during the 1860s much of the state had yet to be settled.
    • Have students research the Port Washington draft riot and write an essay that details and explains the different points of view surrounding this event. The following resources would be of assistance:
      • Klement, Frank L. Wisconsin in the Civil War. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1997, pp. 29–31.
      • Current, Richard N. The History of Wisconsin Volume II. The Civil War Era, 1848–1873. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976, pp. 315–318.
      • Larsen, Lawrence H. "Draft Riot in Wisconsin, 1862," Civil War History, 7 December 1961: 421–423.
      • Milwaukee Sentinel, 13 November 1862.


Have students examine congressional records to research the reasons and strategy behind using a federal system of conscription. Discussion questions can include: Why did federal elected officials feel it was appropriate to pass a federal draft? What reasons and motives can you assume the draft dodgers held?

Do these same reasons remain applicable for both sides over time? Ask students to examine and reflect on the selective service requirement for men today. (The Selective Service System website can help provide background information.) Is it appropriate? Should all eighteen year-olds be required to register, including women? Personalize the discussion and ask students to specify and defend the kinds of situations, if any, would impel them to go to war.


Several primary source documents with suggested activities that relate to Camp Randall include:

  • "Arrival of Secession Prisoners." Wisconsin State Journal, 4/21/1862.
  • Cooke, Chauncey H. Soldier Boy's Letters to His Father and Mother, 1862-1865. Mondovi: The Mondovi Herald, c. 1919.
  • Cronk, John. Civil War letter to Charles Palmer. Madison, 1862. In the manuscript collection. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • Favill, John. Certificates indicating reasons for medical deferments. Dane County, 1862. In Civil War Draft Records. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • Letters written by doctors and acquaintances to help men called obtain exemption. Dane County, 1862. In Medical Correspondence. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • "Matters at Camp Randall." Wisconsin Weekly Patriot, 4/26/1862.
  • Pomeroy, Marcus "Brick." "Abraham Lincoln." The La Crosse Daily Democrat, 8/15/1864.
  • Pomeroy, Marcus "Brick." "Look At It." The La Crosse Daily Democrat, 8/24/1864.
  • Salomon, Edward. Letters. Madison, 1862. In Volume 5- Series 33 of Governors Correspondence General 1838-1926. State Historical Society of Wisconsin
  • United States Office of the Provost Marshal General Board of Enrollment. Broadside listing the names of draft dodgers for the First District of Wisconsin. In the Historic Pamphlet Collection. State Historical Society Library.
  • Van Slyke, N.B. Detailed Drawing of Camp Randall, 1865. In Visual Archives WHi(X3)33886. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • Vilas, Levi. Lists of men eligible for the 1862 militia draft. Dane County, 1862. In Civil War Draft Records. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • "Visits to Camp Randall Discontinued." Wisconsin State Journal, 4/29/1862.

Other sources include:

  • "Camp Randall in the Civil War." Wisconsin Electronic Reader. (1998).
  • "Camp Randall Sent 70,000 Soldiers to Fight for the North." Wisconsin Then and Now. (1972): 6-7.
  • Cooke, Chauncey H. "Letters of a Badger Boy in Blue: Life at Old Camp Randall." Wisconsin Magazine of History. 4 (1920): 75-77.
  • Current, Richard N. The History of Wisconsin Volume II. The Civil War Era, 1848- 1873. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976.
  • Heberling, James R. The Boys at Forest Hill. Madison: J.R. Beberling, 1992.
  • Historic Madison, Inc., Forest Hill Cemetery Committee. A Biographical Guide to Forest Hill Cemetery, Madison, Wisconsin: The Ordinary and the Famous Women and Men Who Shaped Madison and the World. Madison: 1996.
  • Holzhueter, John. Madison during the Civil War Era: A Portfolio of Rare Photographs. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.
  • Klement, Frank. "'Brick' Pomeroy: Copperhead and Curmudgeon," Wisconsin Magazine of History, 35 Winter 1961, 106-113, 156-157.
  • Klement, Frank L. Wisconsin in the Civil War. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1997.
  • Larsen, Lawrence H. "Draft Riot in Wisconsin, 1862," Civil War History, 7 December 1961: 421-423.
  • Malone, Bobbie. Back to the Beginnings: The Early Days of Dane County. Madison: Litho Productions, 1998.
  • Mattern, Carolyn J. Soldiers When They Go: The Story of Camp Randall, 1861-1865. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1981.
  • Mollenhoff, David. Madison: A History of the Formative Years. Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1982.
  • Nesbit, Robert. Wisconsin: A History. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.
  • Piersma, Matthew. "Confederate Prisoners Arrive at Camp Randall." The Bugle- Wisconsin Veterans Museum Foundation. 7:2, 1, 14.
  • Stevens, Michael E. and Steven B. Burg. Editing Historical Documents: A Handbook of Practice, Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 1997.
  • White, Richard Grant. Poetry of the Civil War. New York: The American News Company, 1866.


This lesson was developed by the Office of School Services for secondary-level classrooms. Please adapt to fit your students' needs.

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