The first general American military draft was enacted by the Confederate government on April 16, 1862, more than a year before the federal government did the same. The Confederacy took this step because it had to; its territory was being assailed on every front by overwhelming numbers, and the defending armies needed men to fill the ranks. The compulsory-service law was very unpopular in the South because it was viewed as a usurpation of the rights of individuals by the central government, one of the reasons the South went to war in the first place
Under the Conscription Act, all healthy white men between the ages of 18 and 35 were liable for a three year term of service. The act also extended the terms of enlistment for all one-year soldiers to three years. A September 1862 amendment raised the age limit to 45, and February 1864, the limits were extended to range between 17 and 50. Exempted from the draft were men employed in certain occupations considered to be most valuable for the home front, such as railroad and river workers, civil officials, telegraph operators, miners, druggists and teachers.
On October 11, the Confederate Congress amended the draft law to exempt anyone who owned 20 or more slaves. Further, until the practice was abolished in December 1863, a rich drafted man could hire a substitute to take his place in the ranks, an unfair practice that brought on charges of class discrimination and gave birth to the common expression, "We're poor boys fighting the rich man's war!"
Many Southerners, including the governors of Georgia and North Carolina, were vehemently opposed to the draft and worked to thwart its effect in their states. Thousands of men were exempted by the sham addition of their names to the civil servant rolls or by their enlistment in the state militias. Ninety-two percent of all exemptions for state service came from Georgia and North Carolina.