The Confederacy was nearly always short on manpower. By 1864, the desperate need for soldiers led to teenagers and men in their 50s being forced into military service.
Younger and older recruits, along with others who had avoided the draft, often got chances to “voluntarily” enlist to avoid the stigma of being drafted.
Bentonville Battlefield’s 149th anniversary program, “Forced to Fight,” will re-create a late-war enlistment drive. The free March 15-16 event will also focus on the hardships of conscription in Civil War North Carolina. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In 1861, North Carolina had to turn away volunteers because it did not have enough provisions to equip them. Ironically, the Conscription Act of April 1862 forced some of the same men into the Confederate military. The bloody victories and dramatic defeats suffered by the Confederates as the war progressed ultimately forced Southern states to expand their conscription ages.
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The laws became ever more unpopular across the South. Some felt that the acts favored the wealthy elite because the initial act allowed them to hire a substitute. Some did not want to fight for a cause they thought was lost; some had moral objections to the war, while still others simply did not want to die.
The acts were especially unpopular in North Carolina because the state conscripted so many. Nearly a quarter of all Confederate conscripts were North Carolinians. It is estimated that almost half of the state’s 130,000 troops were either drafted or signed up to avoid being drafted. Bentonville’s program will bring attention to soldiers given a last chance to enlist to avoid the draft.
Visitors will see men signing up for a term of service near the Harper House. Spectators, especially children, are encouraged to “fall in” and enlist with the reenactors. Later, the public will also get a chance to train from the same Civil War-era manual. Be sure to catch the artillery and infantry demonstrations in between these enlistment scenarios.
Additionally, Walter Hilderman III will speak about his book, “They Went into the Fight Cheering: Confederate Conscription in North Carolina .” Hilderman is the foremost authority on conscription in Civil War North Carolina.
The Battle of Bentonville, fought March 19-21, 1865, involved 80,000 troops and was the last Confederate offensive against Union Gen. William T. Sherman. Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site interprets the battle and the hospital, where many Confederates were left in the aftermath.
Bentonville Battlefield is located at 5466 Harper House Rd., Four Oaks. For more information, call 910-594-0789.