The Draft (August 21, 1863)

A depiction of the New York draft riots from the harpers Pictorial History of the Civil War. The worst atrocities were committed against blacks (Library of Congress).

A depiction of the New York draft riots from the Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War. The worst atrocities were committed against blacks (Library of Congress).

The draft was a touchy subject for the North, especially after the ugliness of the draft riots that took place in New York shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg. Meade even had to send men from the Army of the Potomac north to help subdue the disturbances there. But as he said over and over again in his letters home, Meade felt it was absolutely essential that the government reinforce the army, and that required a successful draft.

The Meades had been living in Detroit when war broke out. In the excitement following the attack on Fort Sumter, Detroit citizens organized a rally and asked the army officers there to publicly take an oath of loyalty to the United States. Meade and his other officers, save one, refused to do this on principle, although Meade said he would be happy to take the oath if the War Department requested it. Meade’s stubborn, if principled, stand displeased Sen. Zachariah Chandler of Michigan. He did not forget the incident.

The draft, so far as the drawing of the names, appears to have passed off quietly in New York, but the tug will be when they attempt to secure the men. As, however, the Councils have appropriated money enough to buy off all the quota from the city, I should think the difficulty might be avoided.

I had a visit to-day from Mason Norvell, whom you may remember in Detroit. He was just from Detroit, and brought me many messages from my friends there, and said I could not realize how much they thought of me in Detroit.

I don’t think you need fear my becoming a politician, and I believe such persons will let me alone so long as I am successful, or do not meet with any disaster; and if I am unlucky, it will not make much difference what my sentiments are; I shall have to go by the board.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p.144. Available via Google Books.

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