The Need for Students to Fight in the Army of the Potomac | Pennsylvania Civil War 150
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Pennsylvania Civil War 150

Pennsylvania Civil War 150


The Need for Students to Fight in the Army of the Potomac

The Issue

After Fort Sumter was fired upon, President Lincoln on April 15, 1861 issued a call for State militias to join the United States Army in fighting the Southern states that had succeeded from the United States. Those who came to fight could be expected to serve for three months at the most.

Patriotism spurred many Pennsylvania white men to volunteer to fight in the Union Army, even more than had been requested. Within a year, however, fewer men in Pennsylvania and other states were eager to enlist. As the War dragged on, it was clear that many more men were needed than just those who enlisted.

On January 1, 1863, the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation allowed African-American men to join the United States Army and Navy for the first time. Recruitment was aided by people like Frederick Douglas who were convinced that military service would lead to a more equal citizenship for blacks.

On March 3, 1863, the federal government passed the first wartime draft or conscription act for white solders. If a man’s name was called, he was to serve for three years. The act also allowed for a man’s whose name was called to pay a commutation, a fee of $300, to avoid serving or to find a substitute to fight for him. A similar act was also passed in 1864.

A Research Question

How might different Pennsylvanians during the Civil War have interpreted the passage of Conscription Acts?

Learn what various federal acts said. (Competency 1 and 2)

  • Then analyze the other primary sources. How do they relate to the Acts? What new questions do they raise?
  • Read secondary sources to gather background information and learn about how particular individuals were involved in this issue.

Now consider the research question from the points-of-views of people who: (Competency 1 and 3)

  • lived in rural areas or in cities
  • volunteered to fight or were drafted
  • were African-American or white
  • did not believe in fighting war

Present the various points-of view help by different groups in written, oral, or graphic form. (Competency 5)

  • Which people may have supported the Conscription Acts?
  • An individual student or small group may represent one person’s point-of-view and the class as a whole might stage a debate among these views.


Federal Acts

Call for Volunteers

The Conscription Acts

The Emancipation Proclamation

Other Primary Sources

Recruiting materials

Draft Materials

Conscientious objectors

Secondary Sources

Recruitment in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Resisters

Black Recruitment

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