A couple of weeks ago, I opened a box that has been sitting on a shelf in the lower stacks for some time. Benjamin Franklin Hancock was the father of General Winfield Scott Hancock and a lawyer in Norristown. The box contained a few of the elder Hancock’s personal papers and a lot of papers from his law practice.
One set of documents that I thought was particularly interesting were those of Benjamin E. Chain, another Norristown lawyer. First I found his discharge paper from the 34th Regiment of the Pennsylvania militia.
It’s an interesting document because he seems to have only been in service for about three months. His discharge probably has something to do with this next document.
As the above indicates, the Enrollment Act of 1863 (also known as the Draft Act) allowed men to hire a substitute to serve in their place. The going rate was about $300, though it could be more. That was out of the reach of most laborers, but Chain was a lawyer who had been practicing for over a decade.
I was curious to learn a little more about the substitute, an Irish immigrant named Thomas McDevitt. I found him on a muster roll though Ancestry.
McDevitt served in the 81st Pennsylvania, and he survived the war living until 1912. Benjamin E. Chain died in 1893 at the age of 69.
While I knew that men could hire substitutes to avoid the draft during the Civil War, I didn’t know they could hire a substitute after they had already been enlisted. Perhaps some of our Civil War buffs (I know you’re out there) can tell us more about it.