United States Volunteers in the Civil War
The Civil War opened with a call for 75,000 militia to serve for three months. The disaster which ensued at Bull Run practically put an end to the use of militia during the war. A great Volunteer Army of citizen soldiery was called into being which prosecuted the war as a national force. The troops in the civil war demonstrated that citizens make thorough soldiers, but the lesson of that and all other modern wars has been that civilians are not so transformed by prestidigitation.
The system of recruiting as perfected by the United States towards the close of the Rebellion was founded on conscription. It may seem a paradox, but at this period it was directly as well as indirectly by means of conscription that the Union raised the mass of the United States Volunteers. The system of recruiting elaborated during the war was an intricate system, since it was a growth evolved by the necessities of the war, and had to be carried on in such a manner as not to offend the susceptibilities of the sovereign States, both State and National authorities taking part in it.
On April 15, 1861, President Lincoln called for "75,000 militia" for three months' service. Under this call some States furnished regiments of the National Guard. Others had few or no regiments of organized militia and called for "Volunteers," who being duly enlisted, were organized into regiments, and mustered into the service of the United States. On May 3, 1861, the President made a "call into the service of the United States of 42,034 volunteers to serve for the period of three years." By act of Congress, in July 1861, this call was increased to 500,000 men. It was promptly filled. On Jnly 2, 1862, a call was made by the President for an additional 300,000 "Volunteers" for three years.
On August 4, 1862, the Secretary of War, by order of the President, issued a call for a "draft" of 300,000 "militia" for nine months. " The Secretary of War," it said, "will assign the quota to States and establish regulations for the draft." " If any State shall not by the 15th day of August furnish its quota the deficiency of Volunteers from that State, shall, also, be made up by special draft from the militia." Here we see that the President, in order to complete the number of Volunteers called for by a previous call, is obliged to invoke the authority of the Constitution, and the laws passed under it, for calling out the militia.
This "draft" was a State draft, enforced by the States, under regulations prepared by the War Department. The Governors appointed a commissioner of the draft for each county, with a deputy commissioner for each township, to make the enrollment of citizens of military age. Each township was credited with such men as had been already furnished by voluntary enlistment, and was obliged to furnish the remainder of its quota, if any. The drawing took place on stated days in each township, under the supervision of the Commissioners of the county and township. The men thus drafted were allowed to furnish substitutes, if they so desired. Some were exempted for disability; others being drafted, failed to report. The remainder on reporting for enlistment were sworn in and classed as " Volunteers." They were organized by the State into companies and regiments, the officers being appointed by the Governor.
On June 15, 1863, the President called for 100,000 "militia" for six months.
There were a number of different military land forces which the United States may make use of in time of war:
- The regular army raised by the central government by voluntary enlistment. This is in one sense of the word a volunteer force. But it is distinguished by being a permanent force, the officers holding commissions during life or good conduct.
- Regiments of the "National Guard," sometimes called "Volunteer Militia," "Active Militia," "Organized Militia." These were permanent State troops, raised by the State by means of voluntary enlistment, not for the war, but for peace duty, within the State. They were enumerated as part of the militia, in one of the first acts of Congress dealing with the military establishment. These troops before the rebellion were often called "State Volunteers." When mustered into the service of the United States, they too were included in the general designation, "United States Volunteers."
- Regiments of militia raised by the several State governments by voluntary enlistment for service in the war, and then mustered into the service of the United States. These were called "Volunteers," or "State Volunteers," to distinguish them from regular United States troops. Their officers were appointed by the States.
- Regiments of militia raised for the war by their respective States by draft or conscription from the militia enrollment, and immediately mustered into the service of the United States. These also were called "Volunteers."
- United States Volunteers were a class of volunteer troops which were made use of early in the history of the Republic, which were raised and officered by the United States central government. Under that law, these troops were therefore United States troops ; and they differed from the regular army only in that they were raised for temporary purposes. The law authorized the President to appoint the company officers of such volunteers. The United States relinquished, in great degree, its right, so that during the Mexican War and during the Rebellion the States appointed all regimental officers. On July 22, 1861, an Act of Congress conferred upon Governors the power to commission all regimental and company officers for volunteers, which power was continued until the close of the war. In consequence the raising of a regiment of Volunteers did not differ from that of a regiment of militia raised for active service in war, but there was this distinction, that while it was held that the militia cannot be called upon, under the Constitution, to go beyond the boundaries of the United States, the "United States Volunteers" were considered available for foreign service ; and that, in the volunteers, all officers other than regimental officers are appointed by the United States. It will, however, be seen that the terms " Volunteers, " Volunteer Militia," and "Militia" were of ten, in the calls for troops, used interchangeably.
- Troops raised by conscription or draft, by the general government, by means of an enrollment made by its officers in each United States District, without the aid or intermediation of the States. These troops, being incorporated in regiments of volunteers raised by voluntary enlistment, were named like them "Volunteers." They were raised under the general authority accorded by the Constitution to Congress to "raise and support armies." The constitutionality of the draft was attacked, but never carried to a decision. In the South, this question was decided by the Supreme Court in favor of the government, as it undoubtedly would be decided in the Supreme Court of the United States.
As soon as this system was in working order and the enrollment was completed, recruiting was continued with increased vigor. Calls were made October 17, 1863, for 300,000 men for three years; increased on February 1,1864, to 500,000 men ; and further increased, March 14,1864, to 700,000 men. On April 23, 1864, 113,000 militia were called for, for 100 days. On July 18, 1864, a call was made for 500,000 men, for one, two, three, and four years, and on December 19, 1864, for 300,000 men for one, two, three and four years. In all, 2,678,967 men were recruited during the war, of which number over 1,250,000 were furnished after the inauguration of the United States conscription; 168,000 were actually conscripted, the rest being raised by the bounty system.
On a call by the President, for a certain number of volunteers, the quota for each State was determined by the War Department and transmitted to the Governor of the State. The Governor then usually issued a proclamation, stating the requisition for troops, and calling on the citizens to fill it at once. Letters were sent by him, to influential citizens of every county and township, asking them to interest themselves in the work, and appealing to their State pride, that it should be done promptly. By these citizens, in turn, public meetings in the towns were brought about, at which patriotic speeches were made, urging the citizens to maintain the credit of the community and State, by a prompt and effective response to the call. A plan of procedure was thereupon agreed to and committees chosen to select recruiting officers. These latter were usually candidates for commissions ; besides being paid by the town or county for their services, they were often rewarded by a temporary commission, permanent commissions being conditional on recruiting the full organizations.
Meanwhile State camps of instruction were established, one for each Congressional district. For these camps, commandants, quartermasters, adjutants, and examining surgeons were appointed by the Governor. After the first year of the war local bounties were offered by counties and townships, to encourage recruiting; bonds were issued to raise the necessary funds. The men, on offering themselves for enlistment, were sent to the camps of rendezvous, where they were organized into companies and regiments. Recruits were allowed their choice of regiments, but they nearly all enlisted in new regiments. In an old regiment, neither commissions nor warrants could be held out as inducements to those who did the recruiting, and the chances of promotion, for a new man among old soldiers was slight. In addition, the fear that the hardest service would be given to the old regiments, had the effect of scaring1 off recruits.
The method of appointment of officers varied. In many cases, men of repute were authorized to raise companies and regiments, with the understanding that they would command them. In more cases the officers of a company were elected by the rotes of the men. The most satisfactory plan appeared to be, to call for a whole regiment from some locality, generally a Congressional district, and appoint a commandant to supervise the recruiting. No commissions were promised, the selection of officers being left open until the regiment was filled up. In this way, a better opportunity was given to select the most worthy officers, the regiment being officered by its own members. When companies had reached the requisite number of men, they were mustered into the United States service by regular army officers, detached from their regiments for that purpose.
A bounty of $100 was paid by the United States to all recruits during the first two years of the war. After 1863 a bounty of $300 was paid by the United States in installments to threeyear recruits, and of $400 to veterans on re-enlisting for three years. Local bounties were not common until after the draft commenced.
By the Act of March 3, 1863, a system of conscription, directly applied by the United States, with the aid of the States, was established. On the issuance of a call from the President, the quota from each Congressional District was determined by the Provost Marshal of the United States. The quota were assigned as follows : As the total enrollment of the United States was to the call, so was the enrollment of the district to its quota.
The quotas thus obtained were reduced by credits. Certain persons, such as officers of the government, cripples, etc., were exempt. On the day appointed for the drafting, the names of all who were liable to draft, written on separate ballots, were placed in a wheel, from which a person blindfolded drew a number of ballots equal to the quota of the sub-district. The persons whose names were drawn were then examined, and enlisted by the United States recruiting officers. Persons drafted, could at first be relieved from service, on the production of a substitute, or the payment of $300. Much dissatisfaction was expressed at this latter proviso, and in 1864, the $300 commutation was repealed, and substitutes required in all cases. While the conscription lasted, voluntary enlistments were greatly stimulated. The fear of the draft caused citizens to exert themselves to fill the quota of their township or county by voluntary recruits, and this they accomplished partly by local bounties. To pay these bounties, the counties or townships issued bonds, thus shifting the debt to children or descendants.
To make the local bounties more attractive, they were not paid in installments, as was the United States bounty, but often in a lump sum at enlistment. The local bounty system was no sooner started than an active competition was commenced between different localities. Men who were tempted by the bounty to enlist, were likely to enlist, not in their own county or township, but elsewhere, where the bounty was larger. These men were credited to the district they enlisted in, and not to their own district, and thus the districts that offered the smaller bounty would be stripped of their available men, leaving the remainder exposed to the draft. The pernicious effects of this system are too apparent. Take for example two counties, one inhabited largely by well-to-do people, the other by a laboring population. Tempted by the larger bounty offered by the rich county, the able-bodied men of the poor county (which we will suppose offered a bounty inferior in amount) enlisted and were credited to the richer county, which thus escaped the draft altogether. Yet the quota of the poorer county was not decreased. The inferior bounty offered hy the poorer county failing to attract recruits, the draft was mercilessly applied, and an unusually large proportion of the few men who remained conscripted. If any of these conscripted men had peculiar reasons for desiring exemption, they found that the larger bounties had so raised the price that substitutes were beyond their means. To make the matter worse, the richer county prided itself on its patriotism in having produced so many voluntary recruits that the "disgrace" of the draft was avoided. As a matter of fact, the men of the richer county had in reality purchased substitutes, paying for them in bonds, whose principal and interest was defrayed, not by them, but by their children, and by those who came after them.
Under this system the amount of the local bounties offered, in some cases, ran up to a thousand dollars. This dissatisfied the men who had been doing the fighting, and who bitterly compared their poor pay with the immense sums paid new recruits. The bounties increased as the war progressed, each call for soldiers being at the time thought to be the final call. The rise in bounties, and the difficulty in obtaining recruits, produced a class of men called bounty brokers, who exacted a commission on the bounties of the men they procured. These bounty brokers obtained recruits from the far West, and from Canada, for the richer communities of the East. Some were brought by force, or "shanghaied."
The States and districts having obtained permission to receive credit for sailors furnished before the draft was commenced, another class of brokers grew up called "credit brokers." These brokers hunted through the navy for men for whom the State or district had yet received no credit. Such men were as valuable to townships whose only object was to fill their quotas, as the legal number of bonafide enlistments. The declaration, true or false, of the sailors who claimed to belong to a certain township, brought the credit broker a certain sum of money, part of which went to the sailor. Some of the individual States, as the war went on, obtained permission to establish recruiting districts in the South (Massachusetts had five of these), where colored regiments were raised and credited to the State.
Numbers of criminals engaged in the business of "bounty jumping," deserting after enlisting and after having received the bounty, to again enlist, and desert again on the first favorable opportunity. This greatly increased the number of desertions reported. By allowing the bounties in many cases to be paid to the bounty brokers, who shared them with the recruits, the civil authorities increased the rapacity of the brokers, who often were in collusion with the " bounty jumpers," and who stopped at nothing to obtain recruits and have them accepted. Looking back on this bounty system and its results, we cannot but feel that they constitute one of the most disgraceful chapters in the War of the Rebellion.
The custom of raising new regiments, instead of sending the recruits to fill old ones, was continued in States where the quotas were raised without having recourse to the draft. Volunteers preferred new organizations, some because it delayed their departure to the front, others because they felt that a green hand in regiments of veterans had a slim chance of preferment. On the other hand, recruits raised by the draft were at the disposal of the United States as it saw fit.
The bounty system, then, with all the abuses engendered by the local bounties, was a direct result of the conscription or draft; but all authorities concur in the opinion that the conscription was, during the Rebellion, delayed too long; that it should have been commenced a year or more earlier. It strengthened greatly the military power of the country. It filled up the old but weak veteran regiments and increased their effectiveness. The drafted men were, as material for soldiers, often superior to those who enlisted for bounty, and only inferior to the patriotic men who volunteered in response to the first calls. The draft forced States which had not filled their quotas in response to former calls, to contribute their share in the work of fighting, and thus silenced the charges of lukewarmness and dissatisfaction made by the people of other States. In thus reducing sectional strife and animosity, it made the nation strong. Abroad it at once raised the credit of the nation, for foreigners then first saw that the people were in earnest, and that they had at last made effective provision for developing the whole power of the nation. Foreign nations no longer debated interference.
The word brevet in French signifies, when applied to offices in the army or navy, Commission. Brevet was taken by the English from the French with this meaning. As used in the United States Army, brevet was borrowed with our Articles of War from England, and in the British service it meant a commission in the army at large. The President was authorized to confer brevet rank on such officers of the Army as shall distinguish themselves by gallant actions or meritorious conduct. The Act of March 3, 1863, embodying the principles of the act of 1812, authorized the President, with the advice of the Senate, " to confer brevet rank on such commissioned officers of Volunteers and other forces in the Service of the United States, as have been or may hereafter be distinguished by gallant actions or meritorious conduct."
There is a difference of military position between an officer by brevet and an officer by regular commission. The United States recognized only the commissions it conferred and those it adopted by " muster-in." No one was mustered into United States Service during the Rebellion under a brevet from a State. But the United States conferred brevets on volunteers in its service during the Rebellion. The Volunteer officers brevetted by the President during and after the war were not considered as still in the Volunteer Service of the United States. These brevets were based on the actual rank the officers held in the U. S. Volunteer Service. The recognized rule is that a brevet appointment falls and ceases to be effective with the commission on which it is based.
One fault of the system was that, while the volunteers were strictly United States troops, the selection of their ollicers was left to the governors of the States. The result was that political influence, social influence, and in general civilian influence dictated the choice. Nepotism and favoritism flourished. A Democrat could sometimes get a field position by promising that bis adherents should run a "split ticket." The general rule was that the commissions should go to the men who could secure enlistments. Examinations were a sham, because real onus would have thrown out nearly all the applicants; my own, for instance, consisted of a few minutes of genial conversation about the chances of European interference. Every volunteer officer remembered some sad or ridiculous consequence of this hap-hazard method of appointment. They learned that even ward managers, heads of firecompanies, bosses of mining gangs, heroes of the prize-ring, professional gamblers, popular bar-keepers, and martial tailors might be cowards, as well as knaves or fools.
Such cases, however, were not the rule. Moreover, the dastards and imbeciles were rapidly weeded out by their own terrors, by the stern demands of field service, and by courts-martial. After the first year, the great mass of the volunteer officers were brave men, of honorable character, and already military in their habits and ideas.
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