Among the historical markers erected this year along the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail is one entitled “Enlisted Soldiers and the Draft” during the Civil War.
This marker includes the photo of a Shippensburg resident identified as Alex Almstead, also known as Alex Olmstead in the files of Cumberland County Historical Society, which provided this photo. (Above)
The marker says Almstead/Olmstead lived in a Chambersburg orphanage as a boy when Johnson Allen “took him out to live with the Allen family in Shippensburg. When Allen was conscripted to serve in the Union Army, he paid the standard $300 fee so that someone else, in this case Alex Almstead, could serve in his place. Almstead returned to Shippensburg to resume living with the Allen family after the war.”
The marker explains that Congress passed the “Enrollment Act” in March 1863, leading to the first federal military draft in U.S. history.
“Northern men aged 20 to 45 registered for service, and different classes faced possible conscription by lottery depending on congressional district quotas (though few were actually drafted),” the marker reads. “Potential draftees could purchase commutation or substitution, and many were exempted for physical or family reasons.”
The marker adds Congress did not authorize the use of African-American troops until July 1862, more than a year after the war’s beginning, and it wasn’t until the next year that training began for them in earnest.
“In the spring of 1863, with the need to bolster the Union forces becoming ever more dire, the War Department created the United States Colored Troops (USCT) in which African-Americans -- mostly volunteers -- served under white officers in segregated combat regiments,” the marker reads.
“More than 200,000 African-Americans -- including more than 100 African-American men from Cumberland County -- served the Union’s cause during the Civil War. By the end of the war nearly one in 10 Union soldiers was of African-American descent.”
The marker also includes a copy of the draft notice issued to Jesse O’Hara of West Pennsboro Township. The notice instructed him to report for duty in Carlisle and told him to present the notice to the Cumberland Valley Railroad representative at Alterton Station, which was between Newville and Carlisle at what is now Kerrsville Road, for free passage to Carlisle.
Cumberland Valley Rail Trail follows the CVRR rail bed from Shippensburg to Newville. Rail-trail organizers are working to extend the trail to Carlisle -- past what was once Alterton Station.