Military Procedures & Events--Recruiting and enlistment



At the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, neither the Union nor the Confederate army struggled to find recruits. Rather, both armies saw far more volunteers than their ranks and provisions could sustain. Many young men of the North and South believed that the war would end quickly and volunteered by the thousands to not miss out on the action. Other motivators for rapid enlistment included a sense of adventure, defense of slavery or the privileges of whiteness, defense of the Union, fear of ostracism in their home communities for not enlisting, or a desire to protect their homes and families.

Widespread enlistment required both the United States and Confederate governments to reshape their militaries that were otherwise unprepared to handle that many recruits. The U.S. possessed only a small standing army of 16,000 men before the war, and the Confederacy needed to build its own from scratch. Both therefore relied heavily on local recruiting to organize men into militia companies then employable in the federal service. Recruiters throughout the war published pamphlets, put up posters, and gave speeches to encourage men to fight.

As the war continued, dreams of a short war ended along with many men's desires to enlist. Both armies (the Confederacy in 1862 and the Union in 1863) resorted to conscription to fill their ranks. Free African Americans, particularly in the North, debated the utility and wisdom of fighting for the United States even after being legally allowed to do so in 1863. Many formerly enslaved African-American men yearned to fight for their own freedom, while others doubted that military service in the Civil War would accomplish their desired goals of emancipation and equality. However, prominent African Americans such as Frederick Douglass encouraged Black men to take up arms, and roughly 200,000 did so.

Ultimately, men enlisted during the Civil War for many reasons, often tied to demographic or personal causes, and, as the war progressed and varied in its popularity and aims, recruiters' tactics likewise changed to adapt to each new situation. (Encyclopedia of Arkansas)

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