Friday, March 21, 2014

Divining Motivation: William Baumgarten's Decision to Enlist, March 1864

Last week I wrote about a recent discovery that I am related to William Baumgarten of the 102nd Pennsylvania. The universe of what I know about William is rather limited. Sure, I was able to pull together a general biography and the details of his service record. But can I ever really know him?

The date of William's enlistment -- March 31, 1864 -- immediately grabbed my attention. Men who joined the Union ranks so late in the game earned a bad reputation among the old veterans of the Army of the Potomac. Many of these newcomers enlisted to collect large bounties being offered at the federal, state, and local level. Add to this mix draftees or the substitutes hired by them, and the soldiers arriving at the front in early 1864 looked somewhat different from the men who had rushed to the colors in the early days of the war.

On February 1, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 500,000 men. Those who had enlisted under the previous October's call for 300,000 volunteers, as well as draftees raised in 1863, were credited against this number. In Pittsburgh, William's hometown, the draft was set for March 1. The rush to find recruits was on. Local authorities often sought to avoid a backlash against the draft by filling the ranks with as many recruits as possible prior to the drawing of names. Pittsburgh was no different. Individuals could earn between fifteen to twenty-five dollars for getting someone to enlist. In certain wards of Pittsburgh and Allegheny City, block committees knocked on doors in search of willing recruits. By the end of February, the activity had reached a fever pitch. The date of the next draft slipped to April 1.

Notice about federal bounties published in the Pittsburgh Daily Gazette & Advertiser a few days before William enlisted (courtesy of Penn State University's Pennsylvania Era Civil War Newspaper Collection).

On March 1, Lincoln called for an additional 200,000 men. The draft was ordered to take place as soon as possible after April 15 in order to fill any deficiencies. By the end of March, local bounties climbed from $250 to $265, in addition to the federal bounty of $300.

Troops from the 102nd Pennsylvania arrived in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, March 29. As the Pittsbugh Daily Gazette & Advertiser reported a couple of days later, the presence of the regiment "has given an impetus to recruiting." (Mar. 31, 1864.) The paper observed:
Several wards of this city are endeavoring to fill their quotas from this regiment, and the private bounties now range from $260 to $300. New recruits have been receiving $280 since Tuesday. (Mar. 31, 1864.)*
On March 31, William joined the rush and enlisted in Company K of the 102nd Pennsylvania.

The draft was finally set for June 2 in Allegheny City and June 13 for Pittsburgh. The recruiting drive was by and large a success -- at the time of the draft, a deficiency of only 479 existed out of the two cities' entire quota of 2,373. (Amer. Hist. Soc. 233.)

The historical record raises obvious questions about William's motivations for volunteering. This young son of German immigrants entered the ranks during the height of recruiting frenzy in Pittsburgh. It is easy to conclude that the large bounties then being offered had a lot to do with his decision to enlist, particularly in light of all the anecdotal accounts of 1864 recruits. But should we be so quick to jump to conclusions about William or others who volunteered, without knowing more? Perhaps feelings of patriotism or a sense of duty nagged at William, and the money may or may not have made the final difference in his decision to join the Union Army. William may have wanted to enlist when he turned eighteen the previous year, but only with the passage of time or monetary inducements, or both, did his parents drop their objections. Regardless of his reasons for enlisting, William remained with Company K and fought in some of the most brutal battles of the Eastern Theater. Wounded three times in the Valley, he was finally sent to recover in a military hospital behind the lines. Even if we never discover William's reasons for going to fight, we do know that he, like countless others, volunteered to put his life at risk in service to our country at its most critical hour.


*The use of the term "private bounties" seems to indicate that private donors also furnished bounties, in addition to federal and local bounties previously discussed.


American Historical Society, Inc., History of Pittsburgh and Environs, Part II (1922); Bruce Catton, A Stillness at Appomattox (1953); A. Lincoln, Executive Order, Feb. 1, 1864; A. Lincoln, Executive Order, March 14, 1864; James B. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (1998); PBS, "Kids in the Civil War," American Experience: Ulysses S. Grant; Pittsburgh Daily Gazette & Advertiser, Mar. 29, 30, 31, 1864; U.S. Provost Marshal General's Bureau, Second Report of the Provost Marshall General to the Secretary of War on the Operations of the Selective Service System to December 20, 1918 (1919); U.S. War Dept., Annual Report of the Secretary of War (1865); Erasmus Wilson & Weston Arthur Goodspeed, Standard History of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania (1898);


Anonymous said...

As someone who researches Civil War recruitment, it's very interesting to read about one man's experiences and community background. Thank you for writing this.
Will Hickox

Ron Baumgarten said...

Will--You are quite welcome. I really enjoyed this foray into Civil War recruiting. I haven't researched this topic much, but I can see how you could want to focus on it! I also would like to explore the German-American/immigrant angle in Pittsburgh a bit more.

Anonymous said...

One of the first Civil War primary sources that sparked my interest as a kid is "The Civil War Notebook of Daniel Chisholm." It's a collection of letters and diaries from 3 soldiers of the 116th Pennsylvania from the area outside Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, as I recall there isn't much about conditions in the region or motives for enlisting, although the reader gets a sense that the three men joined up from a combination of bounties, thirst for adventure, and feeling ashamed at not joining their neighbors at the front.

Ron Baumgarten said...


I had not heard of this book. I will have to check it out! Thanks for the info.