John Andrew of Massachusetts and other Northern governors feared for their political life when Lincoln threatened to draft their constituents. The creative Andrew hit on a brilliant scheme to enlist those black slaves who fell into Northern hands as plantations were overrun and destroyed—he lobbied Lincoln to have them count towards his State’s quota of troops. Lincoln agreed, and bounty-money laden State agents went Southward to fight over “freedmen” as the army of liberation advanced.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Wilmington, North Carolina
“Ulysses S. Grant, general in chief of the Union armies, “was down on the Massachusetts idea of buying out of the draft by filling their quota…from among the contrabands in Sherman’s army.” When [John Murray] Forbes defended the law, Grant answered that “Sherman’s head is level on that question. He knows he can get all these Negroes that are worth having anyhow and he prefers to get them that way rather than fill up the quota of a distant State and thus diminish the fruits of the draft. General Lorenzo Thomas, charged by the Federal government with raising Negro troops in the Mississippi Valley, complained that [State] agents were inducing soldiers of several Negro regiments stationed at Vicksburg to desert and enlist with them. General Napoleon J.T. Dana, commander of the military district of Vicksburg, charged that the agents were taking “diseased men, entirely unfit for the service.”
John C. Gray, a young officer from the Bay State, expressed horror at the way in which agents from Massachusetts implemented the [quota] law and asserted that such a system of recruitment brought the State “contempt and sneers.” According to Gray, “this traffic of New England towns in the bodies of wretched Negroes, bidding against each other for these miserable beings, who are deluded, and if some of my affidavits that I have in my office are true, tortured into military service, forms too good a justification against the Yankees.”
Albert Gallatin Browne, a former aid of Governor Andrew who was a Treasury agent at Hilton Head, South Carolina, also questioned the benefit that his home State received from the [quota] law. According to Browne, “The whole system is damnable. I can conceive of nothing worse on the coast of Africa. These men have been hunted like wild beasts and ruthlessly dragged from their families.” He informed Andrew that the men enlisted by Massachusetts agents got only a fraction of the [bounty] money promised them, the agents pocketing the remainder.”
(Cotton and Capital, Richard H. Abbott, UMass Press, 1991, page 135)