Leonard Destin was the founder of a small fishing village that would eventually carry his name. His fishing village was part of Washington County, Florida, at the time the War Between the States broke out. On Jan. 10, 1861, the state of Florida seceded from the Union by a vote of 62 to 7. Leonard Destin never served in the Civil War. Our History Mystery this month explores conscription, or what we call the Military Draft System today, to determine exactly why Leonard Destin never served in the Civil War and if he was even eligible to serve.

There was no general military draft in America until the Civil War. On April 16, 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis signed a bill into law requiring all able-bodied white men between the ages of 18 and 35 to serve at least three years in the Confederate military.

This was the first national draft in American history. Men could also pay a $500 commutation fee to evade the draft. This clause applied to pacifists such as Quakers and Mennonites; it also aimed to enable skilled laborers and the wealthy to continue serving the Confederacy in non-military capacities.

Leonard Destin was born on Aug. 31, 1813, and was 48 years old when the first conscription law was passed.

Leonard Destin’s age made him ineligible for the original conscription law.

The original Confederate Conscription Act offered no exemptions from the draft other than commutation or substitution. Realizing that this could deplete the southern workforce, the Congress of the Confederacy enacted an amendment five days later. That amendment included exemptions for many classes and professions, including government workers, war industry laborers (i.e., those working in textiles, mines, foundries, etc.), river ferrymen and pilots, telegraph operators, hospital employees, apothecaries, printers, clergymen, and educators.

Leonard Destin was not in any protected occupation.

A revision, approved Sept. 27, 1862, increased the maximum age to 45 (between the ages of 18 to 45).

Leonard Destin was 49 years old when the conscription law was changed. His age continued to make him ineligible for conscription.

The third and final Confederate Conscription Act of Feb. 17, 1864, called all men between the ages 17 and 50 to serve until the end of the war.

Leonard Destin was already 50 years old when the conscription law was changed for the third and final time. Leonard Destin’s age continued to make him ineligible for conscription.

Leonard Destin never served in the Civil War. Having been born in New London, Connecticut, would have made him a Yankee. His wife, Martha, was born in South Carolina, the state where the Civil War began with the Confederates firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Many southerners served in the Union Army, while there were also northerners who served in the Confederate Army.

Leonard Destin’s neighbors at East Pass, the Lewis brothers (Calvin Lewis and Alfred Lewis), married Leonard’s wife’s sisters (Nancy and Harriet McCullom). Both brothers served in the Walton Guards, which were camped for more than a year at what is today Fort Walton Beach at the eastern mouth of Santa Rosa Sound. The Walton Guards had skirmishes at East Pass with the Union Army a number of times. Leonard Destin’s brothers-in-law, Calvin Lewis and Alfred Lewis went on to serve in the 1st Florida Infantry.

Although Leonard Destin was born in the north and was technically a Yankee, his wife and his relatives living at East Pass were southerners, having been born in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. His neighbors and in-laws (Calvin and Alfred Lewis) being younger did serve in the Confederate Army. It would have been interesting, had Leonard Destin been just one year younger and been required to serve in the military, on which side he would have chosen to serve.

H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian, author, and speaker. He visits often and lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published two Destin history books - DESTIN’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin and DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940. Both can be obtained from Amazon.com, The Destin History & Fishing Museum in Destin, The Indian Temple Mound in Fort Walton Beach, Magnolia House Gifts at Grand Boulevard, and Sundog Books in Seaside. Klein can be contacted directly at klein@aristotle.net.