New Recruits For The Regiment: Honest Men, “Dudes,” and Bounty Jumpers

Late winter and early spring was often the period when Civil War regiments got new recruits. As the years of war passed and units lost soldiers to illness, wounds, and death, the regiments either had to refill their ranks with new recruits or be combined with other small regiments. Bringing in new soldiers to a veteran regiment, especially a couple years into the war, could be a difficult situation for the enlisted men and a challenge for the officers.

The regimental history of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry describes this situation. (The new recruits may have arrived while the unit camped at Little Fork Episcopal Church.) It’s an interesting observation on human nature and offers some opportunity to consider one of the ways that a regiment could change over time.

An unidentified Union corporal, probably from the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry based on his hat insignia. (LOC)

During the winter of 1864 the regiment received many new recruits, and it soon developed that the very friendly and cordial feeling of comradeship which originally existed between the enlisted men and the officers was no longer a distinguishing feature. The lines drawn between the new recruits and the officers became more marked. As a rule, the old soldiers were men of higher inteligence, and promptly accepted the orders of their superiors without question. Many of the recruits were of inferior intelligence, requiring the enforcement of more rigid discipline to harden and instruct them for efficient service. 

Recruits may be divided into at least three cases:

The first class may be described as honest and straight-forward men who went into the service from patriotic motives, the same as did the old volunteers, and gracefully accepted the stern realities of a soldier’s life. They donned the blue uniform as it was issued to the, whether it was well fitting or not. They found no fault when detailed for duty and were willing and eager to learn the art of war. This class of recruits soon made friends with the old soldiers and thus avoided many of the practical jokes which were frequently practiced on the recruits by the old soldier.

The second class of recruits may be describes as “dudes,” who came to camp with brand-new uniforms, which were not only made to fit well, but were frequently of the finest material. Their caps were embellished with bright shining insignias of the various companies to which they had been assigned. They frequently wore new heavy top boots, elaborately stitched in colors with some military design, white collars and boiled shirts, or, if woolen, those of the finest quality. As long as their money lasted they had little use for the army rations that were issued to them; they would purchase their subsistence from the army sutler, if one was within reasonable distance. When detailed for duty they would invariably growl and find fault. Their dudish appearance and conduct made them the laughing stock of the old veterans, and all sorts of jokes were played upon this class of recruits.

Private Levi F. Hocker of Co. F, 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment (LOC)

The third class of recruits may be described as “bounty jumpers.” These men did not enlist from patriotic motives, but for the money they could make out of it. They accepted the high bounties that were offered by cities, towns and townships to make their quotas. After they had received their bounties they would desert the first opportunity they had, and enlist again, in some other locality, under an assumed name. Many of them were old offenders against the law — criminals, scoundrels and cowards; they were always present in camp when rations were issued, but seldom on hand when ammunition was issued. During engagements, if at all possible, they would sneak away from their companies; and, if compelled to go into battle, they had to be watched all the time. As no man can fight when surrounded by cowards, so these cowards, instead of strengthening, weakened every line of battle they were forced into. No matter how brave a solider may be, he relies on the man with whom he touches elbows and depends on him to stand by him — he wants to hear the shout of his comrade in the charge — he wants to be sure that the man by his side is true. An old veteran, speaking of these “bounty jumpers,” said: “I was always afraid to fight with any one of these bounty jumpers by my side. I knew a man who had paid one thousand dollars for enlisting. His place in line was next to me. It kept me busy to keep him from running to the rear whenever we were under fire.” 


Henry P. Moyer, History of the Seventeenth Regiment, Pa. Volunteer Cavalry, 1911.

2 Responses to New Recruits For The Regiment: Honest Men, “Dudes,” and Bounty Jumpers

  1. The day enlistee’s got paid their bounty was a day of poker cheating and men losing it all, with gangs of men going around strongarming unsuspecting enlistees. Per Frank Wilkeson’s “Turned Inside Out.” Some things never change.

  2. I had a coach who liked to say, you play well when you look good. I wonder if the “dudes” lived up to their polished attire when on the march or in the field. Did they soldier well because they looked good?

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