The Fifteen Hand Law at UVa
    by Trevor Hazelwood

E. W. Morris, concerned with his son’s admission to UVa., intended to pay for his son to attend UVa with provisions under the "Fifteen Hand Law" should he be accepted. Part of the exemption in this law was that a portion of the food grown would be given to the state. The excess food shows that Morris likely complied with this segment of the law as he indicates he was willing to pay for his son’s attendance in “Flour, Bacon & other provisions”.[1] Morris wants his son to attend the University of Virginia under ‘the charge’ of John B. Minor, however, he remarked on the dark times facing Virginia and as a result the Confederacy. 


E. W. Morris, a soldier in the Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War, in a letter to John B. Minor references the "Fifteen Hand Law". This law designed to allow farmers who owned fifteen or more slaves with no male heir to maintain his farm to be exempt from military service impacted Confederate civilians, especially wealthy plantation owners, significantly.[2] The "Fifteen Hand Law", one of several acts relating to conscription in the Confederacy during the Civil War was a revision of the original law the “Twenty Negro Law”, which followed the same structure as the “Fifteen Hand Law” with the exception of the number of slaves and growing food for the state.[3] The “Fifteen Hand Law” led to a decrease in the number of slaves and resulted in tensions and food shortages in the Confederacy. The “Fifteen Hand Law” relates to UVa in the fact that it was a factor in the attendance of some students. Morris also reflects on the current state of Virginia, “I suppose your noble institution is drooping as everything else seems to be in our beloved Virginia.”[4] Here Morris gives insight into the current state of the Confederacy. In December of 1864 the Confederacy began to show signs of losing the War. The remarks Morris makes here confirm that observation. 


The state of Virginia appears to be a major concern of Morris as with many other Virginians at this time. Many people, like Morris, hoped the War would be going in their favor and not the Union’s.[5] The shortage of supplies and troops, however, made victory seem almost a fantasy, which concerns Morris as well as John B. Minor. 



[1] E.W. Morris to John B. Minor December 12th, 1864 p. 1

[2] Blair, William Alan. Virginia’s Private War: Feeding Body and Soul in the Confederacy, 1861-1865. p. 5

[3] Blair, William Alan. Virginia’s Private War. p. 104

[4] E. W. Morris to John B. Minor p. 3

[5] Blair, William Alan. Virginia’s Private War. p. 104





Blair, William Alan. Virginia’s Private War: Feeding Body and Soul in the Confederacy, 1861-1865. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Letter from E. W. Morris, to John B. Minor. December 12th, 1864. (transcript)