Thursday, April 9, 2020


When most people are asked to think about the various motivations that prompted men (and some women) to enlist in the Union and Confederate armies, the common answers are, for adventure and due to a sense of duty to one’s country and its cause. Both answers are correct. However, many soldiers had practical reasons for enlisting, too. And while some soldiers were indeed conscripted (i.e. drafted) into service, many more saw certain economic advantages to signing up.

After the initial rush of volunteers in 1861, the war’s continuation and its level of destruction curbed the number of enthusiastic enlistees in 1862. However, to avoid the stigma conscription, another flood of men entered the Confederate army in the wake of it instituting the draft in April 1862, and the same for the Union the following year. As an additional measure of encouragement, and in effort to increase and thus fulfill enlistment quotas, some locales offered monetary bounties to help persuade men to muster into the service.

Bounty amounts and their accompanying payment stipulations varied depending on what state, county, or town in which one chose to enlist. When one considers that the private Union soldier received $13.00 per month in pay, and his Confederate counterpart received $11.00, a national bounty (if offered), plus state and local bounties usually added up to a significant economic incentive to enlist.

Of course, as with any program involving money, fraud sometimes entered the picture. Some soldiers soon began practicing “bounty jumping.” To do so a soldier enlisted under an alias, collected the bounty payment offered up front and promptly deserted. He then completed the process over under a new name and likely in a distant location. Some men became adept at bounty jumping, doing so multiple times. However, more often than not, severe consequences resulted from bounty jumping. Unlike more benign desertion offences, such as being absent without leave, which often resulted in a courts martial and some form of corporal punishment and or imprisonment, flagrant bounty jumpers frequently received capital punishment convictions.   

Due largely to abuses during the Civil War, the bounty system eventually fell out of favor and was outlawed by the Selective Service Act of 1917.

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