Mercenaries for the Abolition War
The “War for Abolition” did not find many adherents in the Northern States unless the pay was sufficient and bounty money generous. Northern leaders like Governor John Andrew of Massachusetts struck gold when he convinced Lincoln of substituting captured slaves on abandoned Southern plantations and counting them against his State’s troop quota. Andrew feared Lincoln’s draft as his constituents would throw him out of office; creating fictitious “Massachusetts” regiments of foreign mercenaries proved to be the answer and kept white New Englanders safe in the mills and factories while others fought for “the Union.”
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Mercenaries for the Abolition War:
“In the first three weeks of the occupation, [black] enlistments reached a peak of two hundred in one day, the young men yielding “to the persuasion of Negro soldiers by a show of bounty-money, allowances, rations, soldier-clothes, and chevrons.” On March 29, after a particularly impressive celebration, three hundred men joined the ranks. Although Sherman’s march…had a large military significance, it offered freedom to comparatively few Negroes in the path of his advance.
Indeed…evidence indicates that Sherman’s troops…typically seized the possessions of Negroes as well as whites, lured from their masters only the most productive slaves, and used these badly and for selfish ends. Emma Holmes, a spinsterish, twenty-six year old daughter of the “aristocracy,” recorded in her diary that the Negro population of Camden was “terrified” by Sherman’s coming. “The Negroes all share the same fate as ourselves,” she wrote after the army had passed, “everything ransacked and whatever was wanted stolen, though the Yankees told them they had come to free them and called them “sis,” talking most familiarly.”
A letter allegedly written by one of Sherman’s officers and found…in Camden after the army’s departure presumed to outline the Negro policy of the Sherman force. “The damned niggers,” it asserted, “as a general rule preferred to stay at home—particularly after they found out that we wanted the able-bodied men (and to tell you the truth, the youngest and best-looking women).”Occasionally, it added, an “influential secessionist” was repaid by having all his Negroes removed. “But the useless part of these we manage to lose. Sometimes in crossing rivers, sometimes in other ways.” The authenticity of the letter is at least suspect; yet, available evidence suggests that it contained much truth.
After Slavery, The Negro in South Carolina During Reconstruction, Joel Williamson, 1965, UNC Press, pp. 23-24