How John D. Rockefeller Avoided Civil War Combat

John D. Rockefeller is one of the most well-known industrialists of the late 19th century who founded a dynasty that has made its mark on American culture and capitalism. Rockefeller made his name in the oil business and was known for his extensive philanthropy and donations, leading many buildings and landmarks to be adorned with his name. Although he was a staunch abolitionist, Rockefeller decided against serving for the Union in the Civil War, citing concerns about his fledgling shipping company and status as the sole family breadwinner, yet although he wasn't yet the oil kingpin we know him for today, he was still able to buy his way out of the war for a hefty sum.

According to History, though Rockefeller was publicly and staunchly abolitionist, he found ways of side-stepping his duty to the Union when the Civil War broke out in 1861. He had his reasons, with his younger brother already wounded, leaving John Rockefeller as the chief supporter for his family. This was common grounds for exception, which Rockefeller would later claim was necessary. He had not yet gotten into the oil business where he would make his true fortune but he was still able to hire "substitute" soldiers to go and fight in his place. This was possible due to the Enrollment Act of 1863, which said that an eligible draftee could pay $300 — nearly $5,000 in 2021 — to avoid service (via Slate).

Rockefeller's father put him in a tricky position

John D. Rockefeller's fate as the sole breadwinner for his family was thanks to his father, who left his sons and wife with little funds to live on (via History). Though he was just in his early 20s, Rockefeller's newly opened shipping business bore the weight of supporting the whole family, and no one else was prepared or capable to run it (via American History USA). Still, he was able to afford to shell out the equivalent of nearly five grand to avoid combat, an investment that certainly paid off for the Rockefellers.

Because of the war, trade had to be rerouted and much of it went through Cleveland, where Rockefeller's shipping business was located. This meant that his company saw considerable profits throughout the war, quadrupling their profits before the war's end. It was a key moment in forming the Rockefeller empire, as the extra profits were invested in oil and the Rockefellers' lives would change forever — along with those of many Americans. Rockefeller certainly had his reasons for dodging combat service in the Civil War, but the records of those hired to fight in his stead have mostly vanished from history. It's hard to imagine they'd be too pleased to learn that the man who couldn't fight for financial reasons ended up profiting hugely from the very war he avoided.