The Northern enlistment bounty system was notorious for corruption and graft as State agents from the North swarmed into the occupied South regions to obtain Negroes captured from plantations to fill State troop quotas. Seizing slaves in the South accomplished two goals: one, depriving the South of agricultural laborers, and two, obtaining new recruits to fill State quotas and avoid Lincoln’s conscription threat which would draft white Northern men. Predictably, much of the enlistment bonus for the new recruit remained in the agent’s hands.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
The North’s Damnable Bounty System
“Ulysses S. Grant, general in chief of the Union armies, “was down on the Massachusetts idea of buying out of the draft by filling their quota . . . from among the [Negro] contrabands in Sherman’s army.” When Forbes defended the law, Grant answered that “Sherman’s head is level on that question. He knows he can get all these Negroes that are worth having anyhow and he prefers to get them that way rather than fill up the quota of a distant State and thus diminish the fruits of the draft.
General Lorenzo Thomas, charged by the federal government with raising Negro troops in the Mississippi Valley, complained that [State] agents were inducing soldiers of several Negro regiments stationed at Vicksburg to desert and enlist with them. General Napoleon J.T. Dana, commander of the military district of Vicksburg, charged that the agents were taking “diseased men, entirely unfit for the service.”
John C. Gray, a young officer from the Bay State, expressed horror at the way in which agents from Massachusetts implemented the [quota] law and asserted that such a system of recruitment brought the State “contempt and sneers.” According to Gray, “this traffic of New England towns in the bodies of wretched Negroes, bidding against each other for these miserable beings, who are deluded, and if some of my affidavits that I have in my office are true, tortured into military service, forms too good a justification against the Yankees.”
Albert Gallatin Browne, a former aid of Governor Andrew who was a Treasury agent at Hilton Head, South Carolina, also questioned the benefit that his home State received from the [troop quota] law. According to Browne, “The whole system is damnable. I can conceive of nothing worse on the coast of Africa. These men have been hunted like wild beasts and ruthlessly dragged from their families.” He informed Andrew that the men enlisted by Massachusetts agents got only a fraction of the [bounty] money promised them, the agents pocketing the remainder.”
(Cotton and Capital, Richard H. Abbott, UMass Press, 1991, page 135)