Northern villages, towns, cities, counties and State’s contributed generously to buy exemptions and substitutes for residents, with the promise of additional bounties upon mustering. State agents swarmed into the Northern-occupied South to capture and enlist black slaves, which were counted toward the State quota of troops thus relieving white citizens from military duty. In Europe, immigrants were enticed by promises of free or cheap land, and found blue uniforms awaiting them on US soil.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Drugged, Kidnapped and Dragooned Army of the James
“The Army of the James was the quintessential Yankee command. Among all Union armies, it boasted the highest percentage of units recruited in New England [and] . . . More than any other Federal army, [it] was a bastion of Republican and Union Party sentiment. While Lincoln enjoyed the support of most troops in every command, he had a special confidence in voters in [General B.F.] Butler’s force.
When the 1864 presidential contest heated up, [Secretary of War] Stanton confided to one of Butler’s staff officers that although Lincoln was not so confident about [General George G.] Meade’s army, he had no doubt as to the loyalty of the Army of the James [in delivering the soldier vote to him].
Butler went out of his way to fill his ranks with prewar office holders, editors of partisan newspapers, and political hangers-on. Of course, politics dominated every Union fighting force; each had to answer continually to political influences. Many had to spend as much time vying for power as they did fighting the Confederacy.
Another factor that sapped the fighting strength of the XVIII Corps was an abundance of soldiers who would fight only under duress, if at all. Especially among its New England regiments, unit effectiveness was compromised by the many men dragooned into service by unscrupulous agents employed by States anxious to enlist enough volunteers that they would not have to submit to federal conscription.
Many of these unfortunates were recent immigrants, “mostly speaking foreign languages,” who had been “drugged and kidnapped….then heavily ironed [shackled], confined in boxcars, and shipped like cattle” to designated regiments. [General Isaac J.] Wistar, whose district contained hundreds of unwilling recruits, noted that in one New Hampshire regiment alone, eighty men deserted during their first night in Virginia.
Other XVIII Corps outfits were found to contain an even less desirable brand of recruits. In the course of a few weeks, a couple hundred “bounty jumpers” deserted and returned north to enlist in distant cities under assumed names and collect additional money.
If many of the white troops were unreliable, the army’s contingent of black troops, untested in battle, did not inspire widespread confidence. To many of their white comrades, the blacks were am amusing novelty, a social experiment gone too far, and a source of unease and concern. Many were liberated and runaway slaves, used to lives of docility and subserviency. Could they display the martial skill, the initiative, the fidelity of whites? In the spring of 1864 most whites thought not.
The cavalry and artillery units of the Army of the James were of uneven quality . . . [a colonel] complained of “this villainous Cavalry of [Gen. August V.] Kautz’s Division which has been so blowed about and exalted to the sky by reporters” but that appeared more effective at looting than fighting. Even Butler, who defended the cavalry against all critics, privately acknowledged its low quality.
(Army of Amateurs, General Benjamin F. Butler and the Army of the James, 1863-1865, Edward G. Longacre, Stackpole Books, 1997, pp. 45-49)