We have quite a number of old documents, papers, letters and various other items that once belonged to my great-great-grandfather, Louis Breuninger (1819-1890). Most of the items had been stored away for years in the crude wooden trunk that held his possessions when he came to this country in about 1839.
There are enough of his papers and items that I like to refer to the whole group as the “Breuninger Collection”. Fortunately, most of the items are still in pretty good condition.
I have already blogged about a couple of documents from the Breuninger Collection: a letter from his brother (“A Letter to Louis Breuninger, 1840”, 24 February 2012 blog) and a copy of Louis’ baptism record dated 1837 (“For Whom the Bell Tolls”, 10 February 2012 blog). The 1837 paper is one of the oldest papers Louis brought with him from Germany. I have many letters written in the mid-1800 from his father in Germany. Unfortunately, most have not been translated.
Below is another Breuninger document, Louis’ Certificate of Non-Liability from the Board of Enrollment. The document was issued in 1865, during the Civil War. My transcription of the document follows the image below and I have typed the handwritten items and the signatures in UPPER CASE.
Certificate of Non-Liability, To Be Given by the Board of Enrollment.
We, the subscribers, composing the Board of Enrollment of the FIFTH District of the State of WISCONSIN provided for in section 8, Act of Congress “for enrolling and calling out the national forces,” approved March 3, 1863, hereby certify that LOUIS BREUNINGER of PREBLE, of BROWN county, State of WISCONSIN, having given satisfactory evidence that he is not properly subject to do military duty, as required by said act, and the act approved Feb’y 24, 1864, by reason of OVER AGE, is exempt from all liability to military duty for the term of THE PRESENT.
Name: LOUIS BREUNINGER
Height: 5’ 4 ½“
When: DEC 28/64
Where, Town & State: GREEN BAY, WIS
By Whom: CR MERRILL, CAPT, PROV. MAR 5TH DIS. WIS.
Period: 1 YEAR
Signed, C. R. MERRILL, Provost Marshall and President of Board of Enrollment.
Signed, W. A. BUGH, Member of Board of Enrollemnt.
Signed, H. O. CRANE, Surgeon of Board of Enrollment.
Dated at GREEN BAY WIS., this 7TH day of JANUARY, 1865.
Note.—This certificate is to be given in all cases where it is applicable, according to the acts of Congress referred to above. [end of document]
What did this document mean? A little history will help to explain it.
The Civil War was the first time the United States used conscription to raise armies. Conscription is also referred to as compulsory military service, or the draft. The Union and the Confederacy both used this process.
Under the Union Draft Act men faced the possibility of conscription in July 1863 and in March, July, and December 1864. Louis was drafted 28 December 1964.
An amendment to the original enrollment was passed in February 1864 and stated that persons between the ages of 20-45 were subject to military duty. Louis was 45 years old.
A certificate of non-liability was issued to men who were not available for conscription for a specified number of years. The document could have been issued for a variety of reasons.
In some cases the person provided a replacement, also called a substitute, to take their place. A person could avoid service by paying commutation money. In this case Louis was just too old to be drafted.
According to Wikipedia, there were about 2,100,000 Union soldiers and of that number about 2% were draftees and another 6% were substitutes.
Conscription was not popular with the general public or with many of the volunteer soldiers. Problems included substitutions, desertions, enforcement and loopholes in the laws.
What other information can I get from the document? It gives me a nice description of Louis that I would not otherwise have. It also tells me where Louis was living in 1865.
This would have been the document Louis brought home with him proving that he was exempt from military service. I wonder how many similar documents have survived.
Sources of information and further reading about Civil War conscription:
Home of the American Civil War, Conscription (Military Draft) In The Civil War.
Civil War.com, Series III, Volume V, Pages 618-19, Union Letters, Orders, Reports.
Conscription in the United States, Wikipedia.