Civil War – Enlisting


President Abraham Lincoln saw early in the war that the three months originally asked of Union soldiers wasn’t long enough and put out a call for three-year volunteers on May 3, 1861. Thousands responded.

The War Department assigned a quota for additional troops to each state in 1862. The states then informed cities and towns how many men each must furnish to meet the quota.

Towns held outdoor war meetings where orators encouraged men to enlist. Musicians performed. Choirs sang “Red, White, and Blue” and “Rallied ’Round the Flag.” Veteran soldiers who fought in 1812 fired up the crowds by saying they’d enlist again if not so old. A woman, waving a handkerchief, said she’d fight if she was a man.

Some man usually offered to enlist if a certain (higher than expected) number of others signed up. John Billings, Union soldier, witnessed one man issuing such a challenge who, when the number was met, crept away without signing as townspeople jeered.

american-flag-1911633_960_720Flags waved. Choirs continued to sing. The patriotic fever-pitch prompted many to sign. Once the first hero signed his name and was led to a platform in front of a cheering crowd, a second man stepped forward. Soon there was a line in front of the enlistment roll.

After signing the roll, recruits submitted to a medical examination to determine fitness to serve. The men, naked, were examined with thumps to the chest and back. They jumped, bent over, and kicked to determine soundness. Teeth and eyesight were checked. A certificate was given when passing the test.

Then he went to the recruiting station to sign the company or regimental roll that he was entering. With his signature, the recruit included his height, complexion, and occupation.

After this, a guard accompanied him to an examining surgeon to determine his soundness to serve.

These soldiers trained in camps for several weeks for new regiments. If they joined an existing regiment, they were usually fighting much sooner.

Before leaving the state, soldiers were mustered into service. Here is the oath of muster:

“I, (name), do solemnly swear that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies and opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me according to the rules and articles for the government of the armies of the United States.”

-Sandra Merville Hart


Billings, John D. Hardtack & Coffee, University of Nebraska Press, 1993.