Northern incursions into coastal areas would either carry away slaves to cripple Southern agricultural production, or impress male slaves into Northern military service. Massachusetts led the North in counting slave recruits against their troop quotas, thus leaving many white citizens free to remain home during the war.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Drafting Able-Bodies Slaves
“When [General] David Hunter returned to [South Carolina’s Sea] islands on January 20, 1863 . . . he brought with him James Montgomery, the man who would become the colonel of the Second [Union] South Carolina Regiment. Montgomery had gone to Kansas with John Brown and afterward became one of the most prominent leaders among the Jayhawkers. Like Brown, he sought to use the slaves to free slaves; and again, like Brown, his preferred tactic was the Kansas-style raid — swift, terrifying, and devastating, taking all that could be carried, and burning all that was left behind. Perfected in practice, the raid became the professional trademark of “Mon’gomery’s boys” and, to some extent that of the Negro soldier in South Carolina.
On March 10, he landed in Jacksonville [Florida] along with [Col. Thomas W.] Higginson’s command and led a foray seventy-five miles inland, returning laden with booty and a large number of potential soldiers — lately slaves. In May and June, raids up the Ashepoo and Combahee rivers in South Carolina and an attack on the village of Darien, Georgia supplied more recruits. Meanwhile, Hunter issued an order drafting all able-bodied Negro men remaining on the plantations. Others were seized in the night by squads of Negro soldiers. On one plantation on St. Helena, Betsey’s husband was thus taken, leaving her with ten children and a “heart most broke.”
Those who attempted to evade the draft were roughly treated. Josh, who had fled to the marshes, was tracked to his hiding place and when he again tried to elude his pursuers was shot down and captured. Negro civilians suffered under the draft and resented the manner of its enforcement . . . ”the draft is either taking or frightening off most of the men,” lamented one of the [Northern missionary] superintendents at the end of March, 1863.
During [the] early history [of Negro impressments] the new regiments were plagued by desertions which were freely excused on the ground of ignorance . . . Private William Span, having been recaptured on his eighth or ninth defection, was brought before the colonel in his tent. Montgomery asked Span if he wished to offer and excuse. Span said no. “Then,” declared the colonel, “you will be shot at half-past nine this morning.”
(After Slavery, The Negro in South Carolina During Reconstruction, Joel Williamson, UNC Press, 1965, pp. 17- 20)