Enlisting In A Civil War Army
Hardly had the "Three months men" reached the field before it was discovered that a mistake had been made in not calling out a larger number of troops, and for longer service -- it took a long time to realize what a gigantic rebellion we had on our hands. So on the 3d of May President Lincoln issued a call for United States volunteers to serve three years, unless sooner discharged. At once thousands of loyal men sprang to arms so large a number, in fact, that many regiments raised were refused until later.
The methods by which these regiments were raised were various. In 1861 a common way was for some one who had been in the regular army, or perhaps who had been prominent in the militia, to take the initiative and circulate an enlistment paper for signatures. His chances were pretty good for obtaining a commission as its captain, for his active interest, and men who had been prominent in assisting him, if they were popular, would secure the lieutenancies. On the return of the "Three mouths" troops many of the companies immediately re-enlisted in a body for three years, sometimes under their old officers. A large number of these short-term veterans, through influence at the various State capitals, secured commissions in new regiments that were organizing. In country towns too small to furnish a company, the men would post off to a neighboring town or city, and there enlist.
In 1862, men who had seen a years active service were selected to receive a part of the commissions issued to new organizations, and should in justice have received all within the bestowal of governors. But the recruiting of troops soon resolved itself into individual enlistments or this program; -- twenty, thirty, fifty or more men would go in a body to some recruiting station, and signify their readiness to enlist in a certain regiment provided a certain specified member of their number should be commissioned captain. Sometimes they would compromise, if the outlook was not promising, and take a lieutenancy, but equally often it was necessary to accept their terns, or count them out. In the rivalry for men to fill up regiments, the result often was officers who were diamonds in the rough, but liberally intermingled with veritable clod-hoppers whom a brief experience in active service soon sent to the rear.
This year the War Department was working on a more systematic basis, and when a call was made for additional troops each State was immediately assigned its quota, and with marked promptness each city and town was informed by the State authorities how many men it was to furnish under that call. The war fever was not at such a fervid heat in '62 as in the year before, and so recruiting offices were multiplied in cities and large towns. These offices were of two kinds, viz. those which were opened to secure recruits for regiments and batteries already in the field, and those which solicited enlistments in new organizations. Unquestionably, at this time the latter were more popular.
The former office was presided over by a line officer directly from the front, attended by one or two subordinates, all of whom had smelled powder. The latter office might be in charge of an experienced soldier recently commissioned, or of a man ambitious for such preferment.
The flaming advertisements with which the newspapers of the day teemed, and the posters pasted on the bill-boards or the country fence, were the decoys which brought patronage to these fishers of men. Here is a sample:--
More Massachusetts Volunteers Accepted !!!
Three Regiments to be Immediately Recruited !
GEN. WILSONS REGIMENT,
To which CAPT. FOLLETTS BATTERY is attached;
COL. JONES GALLANT SIXTH REGIMENT,
WHICH WENT "THROUGH BALTIMORE";
THE N. E. GUARDS REGIMENT, commanded by that
excellent officer, MAJOR J. T. STEVENSON
The undersigned has this day been authorized and directed to fill up the ranks of these regiments forthwith. A grand opportunity is afforded for patriotic persons to enlist in the service of their country under the command of as able officers as this country has yet furnished. Pay and rations will begin immediately on enlistment.
UNIFORMS ALSO PROVIDED!
Citizens of Massachusetts should feel pride in attaching themselves to regiments from their own State, in order to maintain the proud supremacy which the Old Bay State now enjoys in the contest for the Union and the Constitution. The people of many of the towns and cities of the Commonwealth have made ample provision for those joining the ranks of the army. If any person enlists in a Company or Regiment out of the Commonwealth, he cannot share in the bounty which has been thus liberally voted. Wherever any town or city has assumed the privilege of supporting the families of Volunteers, the Commonwealth reimburses such place to the amount of $12 per month for families of three persons.
Patriots desiring to serve the country will bear in mind that
THE GENERAL RECRUITING STATIONis at
No. 14 PITTS STREET, BOSTON!
WILLIAM W. BULLOCK,
General Recruiting Officer, Massachusetts Volunteers.
(Boston Journal of Sept. 12, 1861)
Here is a call to a war meeting held out-of-doors --
TO ARMS! TO ARMS!!
GREAT WAR MEETING
Another meeting of the citizens of Roxbury, to re-enforce their brothers in the field, will be held in
ELIOT SQUARE, ROXBURY,
THIS EVENING AT EIGHT O'CLOCK.
Paul Willard, Rev. J. 0. Means, Judge Russell,
And other eloquent advocates.
The Brigade Band will be on hand early. Come one, come all!
God and your Country Call!!
(Boston Journal of July 30, 1862)
Here are two which look quite business-like --
GENERAL POPES ARMY.
"Lynch Law for Guerillas and No Rebel
IS THE MOTTO OF THE
SECOND MASSACHUSETTS REGIMENT.
$578.50 for 21 months service.
$252.00 State aid for families of four.
$830.50 and short service.
$125.00 cash in hand.
This Regiment, although second in number, is second to none in regard to discipline and efficiency, and is in the healthiest and most delightful country.
Office at Coolidge House, Bowdoin Square.
CAPT. C. K MUDGE.
LIEUT. A. D. SAWYER.
NINE MONTHS SERVICE.
0. W. PEABODY . . . . Recruiting Officer.
Headquarters, 113 Washington Street, Boston.
(Boston Journal, Sept. 17, 1862.)
War meetings similar to the one called in Roxbury were designed to stir lagging enthusiasm. Musicians and orators blew themselves red in the face with their windy efforts. Choirs improvised for the occasion, sang "Red, White, and Blue " and "Rallied 'Round the Flag" till too hoarse for further endeavor. The old veteran soldier of 1812 was trotted out, and worked for all he was worth, and an occasional Mexican War veteran would air his nonchalance at grim-visaged war. At proper intervals the enlistment roll would be presented for signatures. There was generally. one old fellow present who upon slight provocation would yell like a hyena, and declare his readiness to shoulder his musket and go, if he wasn't so old, while his staid and half. fearful consort would pull violently at his coat-tails to repress his unseasonable effervescence ere it assumed more dangerous proportions. Then there was a patriotic maiden lady who kept a flag or a handkerchief waving with only the rarest and briefest of intervals, who " would go in a minute if she was a man." Besides these there was usually a man who would make one of fifty (or some other safe number) to enlist, when he well understood that such a number could not be obtained. And there was one more often found present who when challenged to sign would agree to, provided that A or B (men of wealth) would put down their names. I saw a man at a war meeting promise, with a bombastic flourishment, to enlist if a certain number (Which I do not now remember) of the citizens would do the same. The number was obtained; but the small-sized patriots who was willing to sacrifice his wife's relations on the altar of his country, crawled away amid the sneers of his townsmen.
Sometimes the patriotism of such a gathering would be wrought up so intensely by waving banners, martial and vocal music, and burning eloquence, that a towns quota would be filled in less than an hour. It needed only the first man to step forward, put down his name, be patted on the back, placed upon the platform, and cheered to the echo as the hero of the hour, when a second, a third, a fourth would follow, and at last a perfect stampede set in to sign the enlistment roll, and a frenzy of enthusiasm would take possession of the meeting. The complete intoxication of such excitement, like intoxication from liquor, left some of its victims on the following day, especially if the fathers of families, with the sober second thought to wrestle with but Pride, that tyrannical master, rarely let them turn back.
The next step was a medical examination to determine physical fitness for service. Each town had its physician for this work. The candidate for admission into the army must first divest himself of all clothing, and his soundness or unsoundness was then decided by causing him to jump, bend over, kick, receive sundry thumps in the chest and back, and such other laying-on of hands as was thought necessary. The teeth had also to be examined, and the eyesight tested, after which, if the candidate passed, he received a certificate to that effect.
His next move was toward a recruiting station. There he would enter, signify his errand, sign the roll of the company or regiment into which he was going, leave his description, including height, complexion, and occupation, and then accompany a guard to the examining surgeon, where he was again subjected to a critical examination as to soundness. Those men who, on deciding to "go to war," went directly to a recruiting office and enlisted, had but this simple examination to pass, the other being then unnecessary. It is interesting to note that in 1861 and '62 men were mainly examined to establish their fitness for service; in 1863 and '64 the tide had changed, and they were then only anxious to prove their unfitness.
After the citizen in question had become a soldier, be was usually sent at once to camp or the seat of war, but if he wanted a short furlough it was generally granted. If he had enlisted in a new regiment, he might remain weeks before being ordered to the front; if in an old regiment, he might find himself in a fight at short notice. Hundreds of the men who enlisted under the call issued by President Lincoln July 2, 1862, were killed or wounded before they had been in the field a week.
Any man or woman who lived in those thrilling early war days will never forget them. The spirit of patriotism was at fever-heat, and animated both sexes of all ages. Such a display of the national colors had never been seen before. Flag-raisings were the order of the day in public and private grounds. The trinity of red, white, and blue colors was to be seen in all directions. Shopkeepers decked their windows and counters with them. Men wore them in neckties, or in a rosette pinned on the breast, or tied in the button-hole. The women wore them conspicuously also. The hands played only patriotic airs, and "Yankee Doodle," "Red, White, and Blue," and the "Star-Spangled Banner" would have been worn threadbare if possible. Then other patriotic songs and marches were composed, many of which had only a short-lived existence; and the poetry of this period, some of it excellent, would fill a large volume.
Source: " Hard Tack and Coffee or The Unwritten Story of Army Life" (Chapter II, Enlisting) by John D. Billings
This Page last updated 11/30/04