Amanuensis To Some Military Past: Francis Marion Minor and the 1863 Federal Draft

Harper's Weekly, 14 March 1863

The conscription bill enrolls all the males of the loyal States (including Indians and negroes) between the ages of 20 and 45 into a national militia, and empowers the President to call them into the service of the United States for three years or the war.

Congress has wisely empowered the Executive to receive a sum of $300 from any drafted man who prefers paying to serving.  This sum, it is believed, will always secure a substitute.  Clergymen, professional men, large merchants and manufacturers, and others who are of more use to the country while prosecuting their various peaceful avocations than they would be if forced to carry a musket, will thus be exempted, while the class of men which take their place will receive money enough to keep their families as comfortably as if they had remained at home.

Under the operation of the Act the President will be enabled to recruit our armies to the full standard when the time of the nine months’ men expires, and the hopes of the rebels–which have been re-echoed by the correspondents of disloyal journals–that our armies would melt away in the spring will be thoroughly defeated.

This week’s Civil War and Reconstruction Era reading assignment included this report on the legislative achievements of the Thirty-seventh Congress.  *ding*  A little bell rang in my head.  I rushed upstairs to my Minor Satchel, and gingerly opened it’s mouth.  Carefully I searched among its contents, and found IT: a letter, previously sorted and stored in an annotated acid-free sleeve.  AHA! I do have a personal connection to this tidbit of Yankee news.

The Letter

I John Philan of Waynesburg Greene County Pa. hereby certify that I as the agent of Francis Marion Minor of Greene Township Greene County Penna procured William H MKee of Allegheny County Pa to act a s a substitute under the Draft of last summer, for the Minor who was drafted under that Draft, as he is also under the present Draft as I am informed.  I paid the money to the said M’Kee for the said Minor, and saw him sworn into the service of the United States in the Company of Capt Cru in the 168 Regimentof Pennsylvania Militia and procured from Capt Cru a certificate of the fact which I subsequently returned to said Minor.  My recollection is that the said M’Kee represented himself to be over the age of forty five, which was my opinion from his appearance.                                                                         J. Philan

I Christian C Rushe of Greene Township Greene County Penna hereby certify that I was drafted under the Draft of last summer and served my time out in the Company Capt Cru 168 Regt Penna Militia and was regularly discharged on the 25 day of July A.D. 1863  I knew John (William is written and crossed out) H. M’Kee above named as a member of said Company, and know that he served out his time in said company and was regularly discharged at the same time I was My recollection is that the said M’Kee represented his age to be fifty five years.

These statements were sworn before the Justice of the Peace on 8 August 1863.

Company A, 168th Regiment Pennsylvania Infantry records show that the said Private John M’Kee was mustered out with the company on July 25, 1863.  There is no record of Francis Marion Minor serving at any point during the civil war.

My conclusion? Francis Minor paid a John M’Kee to substitute for him in the Federal conscription of 1862.  Further more, my great-great-grandfather Minor was one of 292,441 men living north of the Mason-Dixon line, who received  draft notices the summer of 1863, and he was one of the 52,288 whose service was commuted.  In fact, of the nearly 300,000 men called up only 9,881 actually were successfully drafted into Union service.  (Final Report of the Provost Marshal, Journal of the House of Representatives, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 1866, vol.4, House Exec. Doc. 1, pp. 175, 184, 199, 212.)

So many questions float to the surface of my mind:  When was the first conscription declared and what were its exemptions?  What did Francis Minor do during the Civil War that gave him the capital to pay agent John Philan to find  a substitute soldier?  Why wouldn’t he want to serve?  Who was this John M’Kee, who needed the money Francis Minor could afford to part with?  What sort of man was he?

I will pay close attention to the remaining, untranscribed satchel contents, hoping for further clues about the life and times of Francis Marion Minor.