Thursday, June 7, 2012

Substitute Swindling - A "Nefarious Trade"

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

On April 16, 1862, the Confederacy enacted the first American military draft. The Confederate Conscription Act allowed for those with means to hire a substitute, and thereby avoid military service (much to the chagrin of those less fortunate). One could pay an individual who was exempt from the draft because of trade or profession as stipulated by the act, someone outside of the mandatory conscription age, or a foreign national.

Well it did not take long for the less scrupulous among the Confederate citizenry to figure out how to profit from the substitute business. Below is a June 24th  article from the Richmond Daily Dispatch exposing the scoundrels and outlining some of their trickery.

A few days ago we alluded to the immense frauds and villainy being carried on in this city in buying and selling substitutes by men who make a regular business of the nefarious trade. Although frequently spoken of and condemned by this paper and others, the evil still continues, and, if anything, is rather on the increase. It should be put a stop to by the authorities, and some of the swindlers, both the men who furnish them, and the substitutes themselves, who sell their service with the deliberate intention of deserting as soon as the purchase money is safely in their pockets, summarily punished. Too strong terms cannot be used in condemnation of this pernicious practice. It has a bad influence upon the army, for it these rascals can elude the service, and desert when they please without being punished, why cannot other do the same? Another case has come to our knowledge. A few days ago a man by the name of Levasseur went to the 3d Alabama regiment and bargained to furnish a substitute for a man then in service. The price fixed upon was $00 the dealer in substitutes receiving $300 for his services. The man's name was Byrnes who came with a certificate from the British Consul and recommendations from others; but as soon as the bargain was concluded, the substitute absconded, returning, probably, to the person who originally brought him to be sold over to other parties. With in the last three weeks seven men from this one regiment alone have been purchased, all of whom have since deserted. Such conduct is no more or less than stealing, and it is time due check should be put upon such operations by the police. The morale of such conduct is bad, and, if allowed to go on, our army will be reduced very materially.

Now this is not to suggest that Confederates had a monopoly on shady activities - this kind of thing went on north of the Potomac as well. Substitute swindling, bounty jumping, and other kinds of fraud weakened the fighting strength of both armies.




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