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Mercenaries for Massachusetts

The former slave State of Massachusetts had great difficulty finding citizens to fight a war they did much to foment, and many fled to neighboring States to avoid service. Hence the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts comprised of black men not from that State, and men from California forming a Massachusetts cavalry regiment, and all counting toward the quota set by Lincoln.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Mercenaries for Massachusetts

“Both [abolitionists John Murray] Forbes and [Amos] Lawrence devoted a great deal of time to raising troops. At the end of 1862 Forbes wrote a friend that “I eat, drink and sleep recruits.” He added, “no slave-trader is more posted on the price of men.” By early January 1863, Forbes was complaining that “volunteering with and without bounties is nearly played out” and that without the California men he would not have been able to fill the [Massachusetts] cavalry regiment.

In the fall of 1863, Forbes, back in Boston, returned once more to the idea of encouraging foreign immigration to Massachusetts . . . to provide men for the State’s quotas . . . [of troops for Lincoln]. They would advertise on the Continent for prospective immigrants, holding out to them prospects of homesteads, high wages, or sizable bounties if they enlisted in the army.

Some [Bostonians] organized their own companies to put up some funds. They hoped to use the large [enlistment] bounties offered by the State and local governments to purchase “voluntary immigrants” from the Continent; they would give them less than the full bounty and, even after paying their passage, expected to obtain a profit. A Massachusetts man in Hamburg told the investors that he could obtain some 2000 men there who had been gathered for a war in a neighboring German state; they were not wanted there after all and were ready to come to Massachusetts.

Eventually, 907 Germans were brought to Massachusetts in 1864. The State adjutant general later admitted that they were transported there by a Boston firm “partly from patriotic motives, and partly for speculative purposes.”  Upon arrival in Massachusetts, most did enlist in the State’s regiments. Some of them later claimed that Massachusetts agents had either forced them into service against their will or deceived them through false representations.

The colonels of the regiments in which these men served were . . . unhappy . . . most of the recruits could not speak English or understand orders, and many were subsequently massacred in the Wilderness Campaign that summer. At the end of the war the Massachusetts adjutant general confessed that the whole affair was of questionable propriety and reflected poorly on the patriotism of the people of his State.

The eagerness with which Massachusetts leaders sought to fill their State quotas by finding men in neighboring States, in Canada, or in Europe reflected the atmosphere of desperation in which these steps were taken. The same reasoning affected their decision to recruit black troops for the Union armies. Clearly, Massachusetts would benefit from such efforts. Raising black troops would enable the State to meet its draft quotas more easily, would keep white workers at their jobs, and might also be less costly than paying high premiums [bounties] to whites. [Forbes argued] that “we ought to be pushing our Negro and German resources” in order to avoid “going much into the population now at home . . .”

In the summer of 1862, calls on Massachusetts for troops were increasingly difficult to meet, and Forbes predicted that “we must either draft men or resort . . . to slaves.” He was sure that the citizens of Massachusetts would rather see blacks enlisted to fight “than see our people violently drafted, or brought in with enormous bounties.”

(Cotton and Capital, Boston Businessmen and Anti-Slavery Reform, Richard H. Abbott, UMass Press, 1991, pp. 114-118)

 

Grand Army Rights as Conquerors

North Carolinian Nathanial Macon opposed the granting of pensions to War of 1812 veterans since the freedom they fought for and retained seemed suffient compensation for military service.  He was aware of the predictable political constituency enabled by a large army, true then as it is today.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Grand Army Rights as Conquerors

“The assumption behind the original pension law of 1862 had been that the Federal government . . . was liable only for injuries . . . sustained while in [service]. Mere service as a Union veteran did not entitle a man to any special consideration, even if he happened to be sick, jobless or destitute. By far the most common rebuttal [to pension reform] involved the declaration of a new principle: that the Union veteran had a prior claim on the nation’s treasury, not as a compensation for illness, not as a gratuity, but as an absolute right.

The Service Pension Association’s Frank Farnham, calling the GAR “the representatives of those who saved the country, by the greatest of sacrifices,” argued that “any reasonable demand” of the veterans should receive the public’s “unqualified support.”

Opposition to the Grand Army, he said, came mostly from the ex-Confederates, ex-Copperheads and Mugwumps. New York supporters of the $8 service pension bill were even more blunt. “The GAR,” they proclaimed in 1886, “own this country by the rights of a conqueror.”

[“Nation” editor Edwin] Godkin . . . found service pensions appalling in principle. As Congress was considering a proposal to pension all veterans over the age of sixty, he wrote:

“A large proportion of the half-million people who are added to the pension roll are persons who have no possible claim to consideration. Some of them were worthless as soldiers during the war; others are now “hard up” simply because they have grown shiftless and dissipated since the war; others are well-to-do and in no possible need of any increase to their income. The simple fact about the matter is that any old “bummer” who can establish the fact that he was connected with the Union Army in any way for ninety days, even if he got no further than the recruiting camp, may now have his name placed on the pension roll and draw $8 a month for the rest of his life.”

(Glorious Contentment The Grand Army of the Republic, Scott McConnell, UNC Press, 1992)

Hoke Smith and the Grand Army Pensions

The first Democrat president after the War, Grover Cleveland went to work immediately on the “Billion Dollar Congress” which notoriously had handed out extravagant war pensions to the Grand Army of the Republic’s (GAR) veterans. In Cleveland’s second term, 1893 to 1897, his Secretary of the Interior, Hoke Smith of Georgia revealed the depth of pension frauds amid the Republican party’s loyal electorate.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Hoke Smith and the Grand Army Pensions

“By 1893 there were almost a million pensioners, receiving over $156 billion annually, or almost a third of the entire expense of operating the government. That inveterate reformer Carl Schurz called the pension system “a biting satire on democratic government. Never has there been anything like it in point of extravagance and barefaced dishonesty.”

The pressure exerted by the GAR and the political dynamite in the pension question had continually precipitated more generous pension legislation. Furthermore, the lax administration of the pension laws allowed applicants with the weakest possible claims, as well as some who were guilty of “wholesale and gigantic frauds,” to be admitted to the rolls.

In May 1893, [Hoke] Smith . . . revoked the notorious “Order No. 164″ [of] 1890 . . . an interpretation [by Republican Commissioner of Pensions Raum] which proved highly advantageous to persons with minor disabilities not of service origin. During the second Cleveland administration, the spiraling cost of the Federal pensions was checked . . . [but] it was in Congress that fundamental pension policy was determined and the Congressmen were in a liberal mood as far as the [Civil War] veterans were concerned.”

(Hoke Smith and the Politics of the New South, Dewey Grantham, Jr., LSU Press, 1958)

Fighting to Avoid Union Chains

Many in England saw the War Between the States as a bid for freedom against Northern oppression and comparisons were drawn with earlier independence movements in Greece, Poland and Italy. It was also asserted that the independence of the South would benefit blacks with eventual emancipation, “and outdo the hypocritical North by introducing full integration.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Fighting to Avoid Union Chains

“Intervention had in both regions [of Manchester and Liverpool] only the most cursory appeal [but only] . . . Liverpool tended to hanker after not only intervention but more active participation in the Southern fight for freedom, and the city found its own ways of bypassing official sanctions for such support.

The constant breaking of the blockade and the provisioning of warships for the Confederacy were so effective as tools of war that the United States felt justified in suing Britain for heavy compensation.

The failure of the Union and Emancipation Society [in England] is demonstrated by the prevalence elsewhere of the belief that the South was fighting for a freedom which would ultimately encompass Negroes while the North wanted to clap that freedom into Union chains.

Lincoln was generally seen as a sad instance of a man whose native honesty had disintegrated into the hypocrisy of the Emancipation Proclamation. He totally lacked charisma in Lancashire eyes. Defeat [of the South] was acknowledged as imminent but it was seen as the defeat of a noble and worthy cause . . . [and many saw] a sad destruction of freedom by the arrogant use of force.

Agents were sent to Lancashire by the Federal government and private Northern companies to popularize the idea of emigration and help fill the acute labor shortage. Enthusiasm for the idea of a new life in a civilized land . . . was marred by the widespread and sometimes justified fear that jobs and fares were bait for luring men into the depleted ranks of the Union army.”

(Support for Secession, Lancashire and the American Civil War, Mary Ellison, University of Chicago Press, 1972, pp. 191-193)

European Mercenaries for Lincoln

Lincoln’s endless levies for troops and dwindling enlistments forced him to scour Europe for mercenaries, sending agents with cash and promises of government land to attract military age immigrants. The editor of the Ulster Observer cited below pointed out that the Southern army was full of Irishmen and “asked on what principle the Irish people could leave their homeland to steep their hands in the blood of those who were their kith and kin.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

European Mercenaries for Lincoln

“[T]here had begun to be opposition to the departure of Irishmen from the country by the thousand, a migration greatly aggravated by the economic distress of the island. As early as January, 1862, the Liverpool Reporter observed that for several months young men loaded with gold watches and large bounties had been leaving Ireland, ostensibly to emigrate to America, but actually to serve in the Federal army, for which they were engaged by Northern agents.

An extract from the Ulster Observer of Belfast is typical of the comments appearing in the opposition press:

“We have more respect for our country and our countrymen than to see them wearing the livery of a foreign state in a cause which involves no principle with which they can be identified . . . [but America] cannot, and should not, expect our countrymen to be her mercenaries in the present fratricidal struggle. Already the battlefields are white with the bones of their brethren.  Thousand of Irishmen have, thanklessly, it would appear, laid down their lives for the North . . . and if President Lincoln still stands in need of human hecatombs, he should look elsewhere than to the decimated home of Ireland for the victims.”

In general, it can be stated that the public journals were loud in denouncing “Federal agents” and clamorous for their prosecution and punishment.

” . . . One might say that [Secretary of State] Seward did everything he could to encourage . . . [foreign enlistments] . . . the Homestead Act of May, 1862, which provided free farms to all aliens who had filed declarations of intention to become citizens of the United States. It further provided that foreign-born residents might become full citizens after one years’ residence on condition of honorable service in the army.

By an act approved July 4th, 1864, the Office of Commissioner of Immigration was created under the Secretary of State; the duties imposed upon him were to gather information as to soil, climate, minerals, agricultural products, wages, transportation, and employment needs. This information was to be disseminated throughout the countries of Europe.”

(Foreigners in the Union Army and Navy, Ella Lonn, LSU Press, 1951, pp. 412-418)

 

 

Drugged, Kidnapped and Dragooned Army of the James

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)

Drafts and Bounty-Enriched Patriots

Dwindling enlistments by mid-1862 and Lincoln’s insatiable requests for troops resulted in threats of conscription which in reality was a whip to force volunteering and usually accompanied by generous bounty monies. Trainloads of Northern dead coming home from Sharpsburg and Fredericksburg virtually ended enlistments; black men captured from Southern plantations provided a new source of enlistments and conscripts.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Drafts and Bounty-Enriched Patriots

“The declining power of the States received further illustration as the [Northern] governors faced the necessity of drafting their men into the State militia. Lincoln’s call of July 2 [1862] for 300,000 men for three years had been based on a spurious “request” extracted from the governors . . . on August 4, the President, without warning, called on them to furnish an additional 300,000 militiamen for a period of nine months.

None of the [Northern] governors wanted to draft their constituents – though a number of them, seeing the 1862 elections approaching, wished they could find a way to draft Democrats. The next best thing to drafting Democrats was to use the threat of the draft to discourage political opponents. Each governor sought and obtained permission to postpone the draft until after the elections, but in the meantime the enrollment for the draft went on.

Citizens who obstructed enrollment officers were arrested and held without benefit of habeas corpus until after election day. In some places enrollment officers went to the polls to write down the names of the voters. Democrats were sure that these fraudulent activities were designed to suppress popular liberties.

To avoid a draft, the governors tried hard to raise their quotas by volunteering. States, cities, counties, and townships offered bounties for enlistment, while every form of social pressure induced men to enter the ranks.

[Massachusetts Governor John] Andrew faced the necessity of raising 4,000 men by a draft. Expecting a riot in Boston, he held troops in readiness and asked Secretary Stanton to institute courts martial for dissatisfied citizens. In Ohio, the State’s provost marshal used troops to break up one encampment of a thousand men who had assembled to resist the enrollment officers. Still, Governor Todd found that the draft went off harmoniously and that by offering bounties to the militia draftees he could get four-fifths of them to enlist in the three-year regiments. He avoided further trouble by permitting conscientious objectors to pay $300 commutation, and with the $50,000 he collected from them he hired substitutes and provided care for the sick and wounded.

In Schuykill County, Pennsylvania, the enrollment officers met such resistance that Governor Curtin begged Stanton to call off the draft. The Governor feared the Molly Maguires, a secret Irish miners’ society, which was well-organized and strongly opposed conscription. Enrollment officers had attempted to get lists of workers from the mine-owners, but the employers, fearing retaliation from the workers, refused to cooperate. [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton . . . had no sympathy with Curtin’s difficulties . . . and he sent two regiments to aid the work.”

(Lincoln and the War Governors, William B. Hesseltine, Alfred A. Knopf, 1955, pp. 277-280)

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