Canada was a source of many recruits for Lincoln’s army and his military agents used devious means with which to obtain enlistments. Illegally accepting a US Army commission and emoluments, British Col. (and Canadian Parliament member) Arthur Rankin tried to raise a regiment of Canadians by advertising for “farm laborers and stablemen” to go to Detroit with him. A violation of the Neutrality Act, he was arrested and dismissed from service. Author Adam Mayer’s book “Dixie and the Dominion is highly recommended for further reading.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Filling Lincoln’s Regiments by Whatever Means Necessary
“John Allison was a slightly built, blond-haired boy of 15, whose only mistake was to talk to a stranger. One evening in July 1864, as Allison walked home for supper in the Canadian border town of Niagara Falls, a man stopped him and asked for directions. A shadow flitted across his face, a pungent odor filled his nostrils, and, as he would later tell his rescuer, “I became insensible.”
He regained consciousness to find himself facing an involuntary three-year hitch in the U.S. Navy. The youth had fallen victim to “crimps,” agents who made a living providing recruits to the [Northern] armies and navies. Ella Lonn, who in the 1940s and 1950s published landmark works of foreigners in Confederate and Union military service, called the work of the crimps and their customers “the worst scandal of the war.”
Seven days after the kidnapping, Allison’s name appeared in the Buffalo, New York, newspaper as having been mustered into the U.S. Navy. The British consul in Buffalo, a Mr. Donohue, reported the incident to Lord Richard Lyons, British Ambassador to the United States, calling the case one of the most heartless outrages” of its kind that he had ever seen.
He eventually found the boy in Sandusky, Ohio, some 350 miles from home, swabbing the decks aboard the gunboat USS Michigan. Donohue secured Allison’s release, took custody of him, and saw that he was returned home.
“The question arises whether British youths of less than 16 are to be enticed from their homes and enlisted into the military service of the US by officers who must be well-aware of what they are doing,” Donohue wrote to Lyons after July 25, 1864. “How many of these are drugged and brought over to this side it may be impossible to say. But a regular system is now organized by which men are passed over the frontier and kept stupefied with liquor until they enlist. I have no doubt whatsoever.”
Allison was one of perhaps a thousand victims of a dangerous and illegal cross-border trade in recruits for the Union army and navy. At the time of hi kidnapping in mid-1864, the trade was reaching its peak. Organized teams of crimps were based in Detroit, and in Buffalo and other points in upper New York State. They worked the Canadian side of the border, snatching boys off streets and pulling drunks from local bars. By whatever means necessary – coercion, mugging, alcohol, or potent drugs – the crimps harvested their victims, then bundled them into carriages or waiting boats and moved them across the nearest border.”
The unlawful traffic in human beings kept US-Canadian relations tense . . . and a secret Canadian police force was formed to combat it.”
(Stolen Soldiers, Adam Mayers, Civil War Times Illustrated, May/June 1995, pp. 56-57)