by Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
May 11, 2021
Rheumatism. Hemorrhoids. Pulmonary trouble. Loss of teeth. Joint stiffness. General debility. While the conditions attributed to the 134 men whose Civil War medical exemptions are held in MCHS’s archives read like those of geriatrics far past their prime, all were of draft age between 18 and 42. Many were farmers, laborers, miners, and other highly physical occupations, but ones unlikely to afford the $300 (roughly $7,800 today) needed to pay for an exemption. Aside from somehow furnishing a substitute to serve in their stead (also unlikely), their only option was an exemption on medical grounds.
In July 1862, President Lincoln put out a call for 300,000 additional volunteers and each state was assigned a quota. On August 19, General Order No. 4 was issued by the New Jersey Office of the Adjutant General requiring 10,478 men for service of nine months. Morris County, then with a population of approximately 35,000, had a quota of 850. The exemptions began a week later.
Each of the exemptions in MCHS’s archives was numbered and signed by the same man: George A. Quinby, MD. From the numbers, we can determine that Dr. Quinby saw at least 900 men from Pequannock, Chester, Morris Township, Randolph, and Rockaway in the span of 7 days from August 25, 1862 to September 2, 1862 (he skipped Sunday). At that rate, he would have had to examine a man every 5-6 minutes for 12 hours every day without stopping to see them all. Even in the best of circumstances, that doesn’t leave much time for examination and completion of their exemption form. He even surpassed the number of official forms on hand. Around number 896, the exemptions changed from a standard form to a slip of paper.
Many individuals no doubt had true medical concerns that precluded their service. Others eventually did serve, but for one week in 1862 there were a surprising number of 19-year-olds with hemorrhoids and 26-year-olds with pulmonary trouble.