Attracting Volunteer Mercenaries
The North’s war-weariness in late 1863, despite the capture of Vicksburg and stand-off at Gettysburg, had increased after the well-publicized greed of manufacturers supplying shoddy equipment to the army, and speculators overcharging the government “for everything from spoiled food to broken-down horses . . . was everyone out to feather his own nest? Was it fair for some men to go out and put their lives on the line while others stayed home and made big profits?” Bostonian aristocrat John Murray Forbes insisted that Lincoln now frame the war as a struggle by “the People against the Aristocrats” of the South.
Attracting Volunteer Mercenaries
“In mid-October , though the election campaign was on, the Lincoln administration felt obliged to call for an additional 300,000 volunteer troops for a three-year tour of duty. This time the Massachusetts quota was set at 15,126 men. Governor [John] Andrew realized more than ever that if he was not allowed to raise the State bounty, enlistments would surely falter.
Only 6,353 volunteers enlisted and mustered between January 1 and October 17, 1863, including black regiments, according to the governor’s report to the General Court on January 8, 1864. This was a poor showing indeed, but symptomatic of the war-weariness that had crept into almost every aspect of Northern life during the fall of 1863.
Where would 15,000 more men come from? Andrew decided to call a special session of the legislature, which convened on November 11, 1863. By this time, Congress had raised the US bounty to $402 for those who had already served not less than nine months, and to $302 for new recruits. The Massachusetts legislature now offered an additional $325 for new recruits, as well as for any veteran who might reenlist for 3 years of the duration of the war.
Penalties were assessed against Massachusetts men enlisting in units sponsored by another State. Massachusetts, however, welcomed enlistees from other States. Several unsavory developments, however, came out of this increase in bounties for new enlistments. The number of bounty-jumpers increased greatly – men who would enlist, receive their bounties, and then skip town to try the same scheme in another State.
But perhaps the greatest evil was a private enlistment company, headquartered in Boston, set up to bring immigrants from Europe to serve in the Union army. It originated in the fall of 1863 when John Murray Forbes spoke with associates about encouraging foreign immigration as a way to increase the State’s manpower quota.
Several investors were attracted by the speculative possibilities in Forbes’s plan, and organized their own company. The company made contacts with European immigrants and paid for their transportation to America in return for signing an agreement to serve in a Massachusetts regiment. After paying for the emigrants passage, the Boston company would then extract a percentage from the bounty as a profit.
Some of the foreign emigrants later claimed that Massachusetts agents had either forced them into service against their will, or deceived them with false promises and misrepresentations. The colonels in the regiments to which these men were assigned were equally unhappy. Most of the new recruits could not speak English or understand orders, and many were massacred in the Wilderness campaign only a few months later.”
(Civil War Boston: Home Front and Battlefield, Thomas O’Connor, Northeastern University Press, 1997, pg. 185-187)