On September 22, 1864, the Illinois State Register reported “A new feature . . . We noted the sale of three likely able-bodied men yesterday – color not stated, as it is immaterial to Uncle Abe – at $400, $450 and $600 respectively . . . They were bought to fill a Woodford County order.” Only three days later the paper wrote “the demand for substitutes seems to be on the increase. Yesterday their par value averaged $700 to $900. About a dozen, most of them Negroes, were picked up and are already in the service of Father Abraham.”
Milton S. Littlefield was a prewar Republican organizer in Illinois, and was later sent by Lincoln to fervent abolitionist Gen. David Hunter in South Carolina as “an agent and symbol of altering Presidential idea about the Negro and the war.” Littlefield was notorious for shaving enlistment bounties into his own pocket, and in the postwar was renowned for his railroad bond frauds in North Carolina.
“The Massachusetts Idea”
“[Lincoln secretary] John Hay called the procedure “the Massachusetts idea” in a talk about it with Sherman and Grant, neither of whom liked it. Sherman, indeed had defied an act of Congress, passed on July 4, 1864, authorizing Northern governors to send agents into the South to recruit Negroes “who shall be credited to the State which may procure the enlistment.”
When some such agents had asked Sherman where they might begin to receive their colored men, he had named eight cities all in Confederate territory far from any Union troops. The idea was not limited to Massachusetts though it had been part of that State’s motivation . . . [and] had been a part of the Massachusetts purpose in forming the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, which the doomed young Shaw led off to war to the applause of abolitionists and poets in Boston, and the 55th which furnished the man hanged in Jacksonville [for rape].
President Lincoln, in the message in which he announced and Amnesty and Reconstruction Proclamation which preceded the ill-fated expedition to Olustee, mentioned as one of the advantages of enlisting Negro soldiers that of “supplying the places which otherwise must be filled with so many white men.”
Nothing could be more clear than Littlefield’s statement in his appeal for enlistments on the Florida expedition calling attention to the Federal bounty each recruit would receive and another bounty “from the State to which he will be accredited.” (There was a gap between the $300 he promised and the $700 Jefferson County [New York] paid.)
Perhaps as the officer “charged with the payment of all bounties to colored recruits” in the Department of the South, he was partial to Jefferson County. Also it is possible that some of the bounty money stuck to his hands or those of his cousin, friends and associates there.
The process in which he took part, however, was not a rare deal but a plan publicly blessed by local taxpayers and high public officials. During the war the Northern States paid nearly $300,000,000 in bounties for recruits.”
(Prince of Carpetbaggers, Jonathan Daniels, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1958, excerpts pp. 103-104)