The Federal Bounty System of 1864
With the war now in its third year and hundreds of thousands of federal soldiers serving in the field, the Confederate resistance placed a strenuous demand on the Lincoln government to continue feeding manpower to the front lines in an effort to destroy the South's will to fight. The election year of 1864 presented no less pleasant a picture to the American Public than to know there was no immediate end in sight after three hard fought bleeding years.
Those having practiced war from Bull Run to the Mine Run Campaign, Pea Ridge to Chattanooga, were determined to see the thing through; their spirit of patriotism unmoved. The public on the other hand, wondering if the thing would ever end entertained thoughts on whether sewing for peace was the better part of valor. The recruiting offices hardly able to maintain quotas forced the government's hand in offering an incentive to those who would join the colors and help end the country's nightmare.
The veteran soldier, three years in the army under some of the most miserable conditions were being offered the new incentive of bounties for re-enlistment, the numbers in their regiment's increasingly becoming smaller, do to battle wounds and disease. The federal government continued to feed newly formed regiments into the field with a new style of soldier. Many joined for the money offered them, yet managed to dodge wearing the uniform since the conflict began.
War Department Circular No. 25 dated March 18, 1864 offered four hundred dollars to every veteran soldier, one months advance pay of thirteen dollars with a first installment of sixty dollars in cash or check as he desires upon reporting to the general rendezvous point prior to rejoining his regiment. The new recruit, having not served prior to this offer was given a bounty of three hundred dollars, one month's advance pay along with the sixty dollar first installment.
The installments themselves were to be paid to both upon their first two months in service, six, one year, two year and three year anniversaries. Should the soldier not be required for the duration of the schedule, the balance would be paid in full upon mustering out. It was a reward for good service to the veteran and yet it opened a door for problems with the new recruit, when money became a problem with jumping one enlistment for another under assumed names. The patriotic Americans of 1861, 62 and 63 were smaller in number, while those taking advantage of the system increased to fill holes in the ranks. Deputized Provost Marshals would handle the return of bounty jumpers at a price of thirty dollars a head.
The campaign season of 1864 would proved to be one born out of attrition. The manpower that was being lost by the Southern Armies could no longer be replaced, yet the endless abundance of sheer numbers marching south in columns of blue became too overwhelming. No expense was being spared to save the country. Winning the war had come down to a control of purse strings after all. Right or wrong, good soldier for bad, the bounty was the gamble played in America's most deadly game of numbers.
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