New York Supplies Troops For Lincoln’s War


When reading of the North’s corrupt bounty system, immigrants enlisted at Ellis Island and captured slaves impressed into blue uniforms, it is in sharp contrast that we see how total the war effort was on the part of the South, and amazing to comprehend the odds the South fought against. Lee and his generals were normally outnumbered 3 or 4 to one, and usually prevailed on the field of battle. In Grant, Lincoln had not found a great general, but one who would throw wave after wave of well-equipped and well-paid expendable mercenaries against poorly fed and clothed Americans who were fighting for their homes and families.

Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402

New York Supplies Troops for Lincoln’s War

New York State provided the equivalent of 400,000 three-year enlistments during the War Between the States, and lost about 40,000 of those soldiers. It is important to know that the enlistees credited to the State were not all native Americans, and many came from elsewhere but credited to the State’s quota. Over 30% of New York enlistees were foreign-born: 40,000 came from Ireland, 41,000 from Germany, over 12,000 from England, 12,000 were Canadian, 3600 from France, 2000 from Wales, and 2000 from Switzerland. On top of this, 5000 Negroes were in New York regiments.

In the conscription activity of 1863, the Republican-organ Oswego Times emphasized the material benefits which would accrue to those possessing the "lucky draft numbers." A US Bounty of $102, State Bounty of $100, City Bounty of $300 (if offered as the Mayor suggested); Total of $502.00 Then one year at $13. per month, one years service totaling $156, a total of $658 or almost $2. per day! Soldiering will be the best business for the future!

The August 1864 draft was instituted due to the lag in enlistments for the unpopular war, and groping for a solution, city leaders of Oswego, New York sent two recruiting agents, E.B. Burt and A.B. Getty to Newport News, Virginia for the purpose of procuring substitutes among the captured slaves. They expected the ex-slaves could be hired cheaply, but reported that the place was filled with bounty-jumpers, and that General Butler had prohibited the removal of freedmen from the area. Nonetheless, they would enlist as many freedmen as possible under the Oswego quota, provided the citizens would pay the bounties required, and hide them from the authorities until word came from the city. The City Council quickly voted bounties up to $300, including the agents fees.

When enlistments lagged, bounties served as a stimulant to replenish the Northern ranks. As early as July 1862, New York was offering $50 and the County an additional $50. By January 1864 with Lincoln desperate for troops, the sum was increased to $300 for one year enlistments, $500 for two years, and $700 for three years. Meanwhile, the federal government had increased its offer to $300. Thus a volunteer might pick up $1000 if he had patience to wait for the installments; this, when laborers wages were about one dollar per day!

New York State in the Civil War, Robert J. Rayback, New York State Historical Association, 1961 Oswego Counties Response to the Civil War, Charles M. Snyder, New York State Historical Association, 1961