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U.S. Draft Categories

Although most people think of the draft – conscription – as a twentieth century phenomenon in American history, it actually has its roots in colonial times, when virtually all of the colonies had provisions for mandatory militia service, and could even draft men from the militia for more permanent duty with provincial forces and later with the Continental Army.  This form of the draft continued under the early Republic, especially whenever volunteerism did not yield enough troops.  A federal draft was first enacted during the War of 1812, but that ended before anyone was actually conscripted.  The Confederacy instituted a “confederal” draft in 1862, followed by the Union in 1863, in both cases with often acrimonious, and sometimes bloody objections.  But these were temporary measures.

It was in the twentieth century that federal conscription became something of a commonplace.  After much acrimony, the draft was implemented in mid-1917 and continued until just days after the Armistice of November 11, 1918.  A rudimentary draft organization continued to exist during the years of peace, and plans for a resumption of conscription were developed.  In September of 1940, with the country still at peace but with war raging in Europe and Asia, the draft was reinstituted, and, with modifications, continued until the end of 1946.  The onset of the Cold War, however, led to a resumption of the draft in March of 1947, and continued until draft calls were ended in December of 1972.  Since then the draft has been on “stand-by” status.

When a man registered for the draft he was given a series of tests to determine his eligibility, and placed into one of 13 categories, which have changed somewhat over the years.

Class Explanation
I-A   Fit for military service
I-B   Fit for limited military service
I-C   Already in the armed forces
I-D   Student, fit for military service, temporarily deferred    
I-E   Student, fit for limited military service, temporarily deferred
II-A  Deferred, essential war worker
III-A Deferred due to dependents, usually fathers of families
IV-A  Already served in the armed forces
IV-B  Deferred by law; government officials and some others
IV-C  Alien disqualified from service (usually an Axis national)
IV-D  Clergyman
IV-E  Conscientious objector (several categories)
IV-F  Unfit for military service due to physical (including ‘extreme ugliness’), mental, or moral (i.e., criminal record) condition

A man’s draft status could change. Many men classified IV-F due to physical shortcomings worked to overcome their problems and requested reclassification. In addition, as time went on, and casualty lists grew longer, physical, mental, and moral standards were modified.  For example, men missing their teeth were often classified as IV-F early in the war, but were later accepted for service, receiving false teeth as a gift from Uncle Sam.  Many men with minor felony convictions also frequently found their status changed as the war lengthened.  Similarly, increasing manpower demands in 1943 led to most men classified as III-A to be reclassified, usually to I-A.

Although draft registration is still mandatory, men are not subject to physical examinations and other processing, and are thus not classified.

 

Improbable Wars: The Pastry War (1837-1838)

The city-states (poleis)

In 1828 the newly elected, but not yet inaugurated, President of Mexico, Manuel Gomez Pedraza, a moderate liberal, used the army to eject the governor of the State of Mexico, Lorenzo de Zavala.  Not a man to take such high-handed and illegal treatment lightly, in December, supported by General de division Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, a hero of Mexico’s War for Independence, Zavala rallied most of the garrison of Mexico City to his side. There followed four days of bloody fighting.  Zavala's men won the fight, and installed another supposed liberal, Vicente Guerrero, as President.

Now, during the fighting there was considerable looting on the part of the city's underclass, aided and abetted by soldiers and even officers.  When the property owners sought redress, they were ignored.  For those among the victims who were Mexicans there was no further recourse.  However, some of those who had lost property were French citizens, and they promptly took their cases to their consul.  But they found that that the consul was only mildly interested in the matter, doing little more than sending occasional notes to the Mexican government.  So the matter died. 

But in 1838 one of the French claimants, a pastry cook known as Monsieur Remontel managed to get the ear of someone higher up the food chain in the French government.  He claimed that his shop in the Tacubaya district of Mexico City had been looted by Mexican officers during the four days of fighting back in 1828, and he wanted compensation.  This time, word went up the chain-of-command, and King Louis-Philippe decided to champion his subject’s claims.  Soon, the French Minister presented a demand that Mexico pay some 600,000 pesos in compensation, an enormous sum for the times, since a common Mexican workman's daily pay was only about one peso.

Now for some years Mexico had been in a state of considerable disorder.  Domestic affairs had never been orderly, with the presidency changing hands repeatedly by coups and counter-coups over the previous decade, and secessionist movements had threatened to separate various states from the central government, with Texas actually achieving independence in early 1836.  And in any case, of course, the country was broke. 

So President Anastasio Bustamante rejected the demand.  And on March 21, 1838, a French naval expedition showed up off Vera Cruz and presented an ultimatum; pay up or suffer the consequences.  Bustamante tried negotiations, while making efforts to bolster the country’s coast defenses, but on April 16th, the French imposed a blockade of the Mexican Gulf coast and bombarded the island fortress of San Juan de Ulua, which guarded the harbor of Vera Cruz, and quickly seized it, thus controlling maritime access to the country.

This marked the beginning of desultory hostilities that came to be known as "The Pastry War" in both France and Mexico.  There was little fighting, though the French made occasional raids into the interior to "sting” the Mexicans into cooperating.  On November 27th, the French commenced a heavy bombardment of Vera Cruz proper, which was followed by some listless negotiations, and then on December 5th, the French took the city by a coup de main.  They remained for most of the day, hauling off considerable loot, including most of the Mexican fleet.

The disaster at Vera Cruz, coming on top of the increasing impact of the blockade, was the final blow for Mexico.  Negotiations resumed, and the Bustamante government promised payment in full.  On March 9, 1839, the French politely sailed for home

The Pastry War had complex historical consequences.  The loss of the Mexican fleet proved an immense handicap in Mexican efforts to curb a secessionist movement in Yucatan, as well as recover Texas.  In addition, the war led to the return of the amazingly corrupt, yet remarkably adept Antonio Lopez de Santa to the scene. 

Ousted from political life in 1836, after bungling the suppression of the Texas War for Independence, Santa Anna had retired to his hacienda at Jalapa, in the mountains west of Vera Cruz.  When the French invested Vera Cruz, Santa Anna rode down from the mountains, quite illegally took command of the defending forces, and helped prolong the resistance.  Actually in the city when the French stormed in on December 5th, legend has it that when the final French assault began, he was in the arms of his mistress and had to flee through the night wearing only a towel.  Santa Anna redeemed himself, however, after a fashion, later that same day when, as the French pulled out of Vera Cruz, he led some troops in pursuit through the streets of the city.  As his men tangled with the French rear guard, the general’s left was leg mangled by some grapeshot, necessitating an amputation that left him in considerable pain for the rest of his life.  Santa Anna had the severed limb preserved in a richly decorated casket, like a saint’s relic, and would parade it on special occasions to remind everyone of his devotion to the patria, which he otherwise served so poorly.

CIC-Note: The able, if amazingly slippery Santa Anna and his sometimes improbable adventures have graced these “pages” several times since the very first CIC, with “Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna,” as well as  “Santa Anna's American Children” and “The Leg I Left Behind Me”, among others.

BookNote: The most interesting recent biography of Santa Anna is Will Fowler’s 2009 Santa Anna of Mexico


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