Filling the Ranks

As was noted in my post Gettysburg – After the Smoke Cleared, the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry marched away from Gettysburg with about 100 men fit for duty. The regiment was no longer an effective fighting force. Some regiments similarly depleted were disbanded and their surviving members were transferred to other regiments from the same state. The Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry would need fill its ranks with new men or cease to exist.

From the start of the Civil War in April, 1861, the armed forces of the United States were comprised entirely of volunteers. Shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg, this began to change when the draft went into effect. A man could now enter military service in one of three ways: as a volunteer, as a conscript, or as a paid substitute.

The Volunteer– Federal, state, and local bounties were increased to attract new volunteers, in some communities totaling $500 or more. While the high bounties did attract many new recruits, it also led to the bounty-jumping. A man might enlist in one state and receive full or partial payment of the bounty. On his way to the front, he would desert, enlist in another state, and do it all over again. If caught, the bounty-jumper could face execution.

The Conscript – President Lincoln signed The Enrollment Act of Conscription on March 3, 1863. Every male citizen between ages twenty and forty-five was required to enroll for the draft. On July 11, in New York City, the names of the city’s first conscripts were drawn and published the following day. Three days of rioting followed, which left as many as 100 people dead. The riots were finally quelled by detachments from the Army of the Potomac. In all, about 150,000 men were added to the ranks of the Union army through the draft.

The Substitute – The most controversial provision of the Enrollment Act was the allowance for paid substitutes. Any drafted man with $300 could pay another to take his place in the army. This system spawned corruption from the start. The rich man could easily pay a poor man to take his place. Unscrupulous agents prowled city streets, tempting destitute men with the promise of quick riches. Some men became “professional” substitutes. They would pocket the $300, and either not report for duty or desert at the first opportunity. They would then do the swindle all over again.

The system was deeply flawed. Paid substitutes would be outlawed in July, 1864. But many good men were brought into the ranks of the Union army, both through the draft and through the enticement of higher bounties. The roster of the Fourteenth Connecticut began to fill, and the regiment would once again take its place in the front for the Second Corps’ next fight.

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