A metal cylinder with a handle for turning and a hatch for selecting items from within, on a stand
Draft drum, WHS #1966.174, courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

The hollow metal cylinder sits on the rusted, triangular metal base. A latch and a small hinged door are open, exposing a small square hole where the names of potential draftees could be placed. A thin metal crank protrudes from the center of the cylinder ready to be turned at any moment. This is a Civil War era draft drum, or draft wheel, used in Wisconsin from the years 1862 to 1864 during the Civil War. It has a fascinating yet turbulent past, as the draft inspired anxiety and opposition nationwide. In Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, it even inspired violence.

Although many volunteered to serve in the Civil War, at times it was necessary to resort to a draft. The draft drum was used to select draftees. The draft was usually conducted with some ceremony, in a public place, such as a courthouse and depending on the number of soldiers needed, it could take all day. The draft wheel was set upon a table. It was filled with pieces of cardboard, each displaying a name of a person eligible for the draft. The crank was turned, and a blindfolded person, or a blind person, would select a cardboard piece from the drum and hand it to the draft commissioner, who then read aloud the names of the newly drafted men to the anxious crowd below.

Written by Jack Fain, June 2017.

Object history courtesy ofWisconsin Historical Society logo


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