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Civil War Military Recruiting

Union Army recruiting poster, 1862

You certainly can't accuse the Union Army of false advertising. This 1862 recruitment poster promises an "excursion party for the sunny South!" Northern enlistees did, of course, participate in exactly that. One suspects, however, that a warmer climate proved scant compensation for enduring the horrors of war.

The American Civil War sprung from long-standing tensions between North and South. Those tensions came to a boil during the 1860 Presidential election. When Abraham Lincoln emerged the victor, many southerners objected. Lincoln represented the then-relatively new Republican Party, which they associated with the northern anti-slavery movement. Several southern states seceded, forming the Confederate States of America. Many northerners insisted that states did not possess the right to secede. The crisis reached a head when the Confederacy began seizing federal forts within its territory. When President Lincoln assumed office, he decided to reinforce Fort Sumter, located in the Confederate state of South Carolina. On April 12, 1861, the Confederates bombarded the fort, forcing the federal troops within to surrender. The Civil War had officially begun.

On April 15, 1861, President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops. At that time, individual states recruited soldiers and organized regiments. Describing the process, Civil War historian (and Michigan native) Bruce Catton explained that, "the state governor was all-important at the was largely up to him to make certain that his state met its quota when enlistments were called for." (This quote is from Catton's book Reflections on the Civil War.)

Gen. Orlando B. Willcox and Staff, 1st. Mich. InfantryMichigan's initial quota was one regiment. Governor Austin Blair acted quickly, procuring privately donated funds while the legislature was out of session. The resultant regiment, designated the 1st Michigan Infantry, consisted of two companies from Detroit and eight additional companies from Jackson, Coldwater, Manchester, Ann Arbor, Burr Oak, Ypsilanti, Marshall and Adrian. On May 16, 1861, the 1st Michigan became the first regiment from a western state to reach Washington, D.C. Legend has it that Abraham Lincoln exclaimed "Thank God for Michigan!" upon its arrival. (The photo on the right depicts 1st Michigan Infantry General Orlando B. Wilcox and his staff. Click Wilcox and Staff - Large View to view a larger version of the image.)

In the war's early days, patriotism motivated many to enlist. As the war dragged on, however, fewer volunteers came forward. Volunteerism increased when prospective volunteers were offered a sum of money - or bounty - upon enlistment. The federal government - and many state and local governments - authorized bounties in varying amounts at various times. Bounties, however, required funds, which weren't always readily available. Finally, Congress passed the Enrolment Act of 1863, which established a draft. (For more on the federal Civil War draft, click Civil War Draft - Archives of Michigan Name Index).

Northern military recruiters faced special challenges throughout the Civil War. Ultimately, however, the Union prevailed, and Michigan unquestionably did its part. On page 1 of his book, Michigan Soldiers in the Civil War, Frederick D. Williams notes that "Besides raising a total of forty-five regiments - thirty-one infantry, eleven cavalry and one each of engineers and mechanics, artillery and sharpshooters - Michigan contributed soldiers to over fifty other military units and sent nearly six hundred men to serve in the Union Navy." Abraham Lincoln would have had good reason to exclaim, "Thank God for Michigan!"

-Bob Garrett, Archivist

The following books were consulted for this article. Clicking on the title retrieves the ANSWER library catalog records.

Reflections on the Civil War by Bruce Catton

Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State by Willis F. Dunbar and George S. May

One Million Men: The Civil War Draft in the North by Eugene C. Murdock

From Bull Run to Appomattox: Michigan's Role in the Civil War by Philip P. Mason and Paul J. Pentecost

Michigan Soldiers in the Civil War by Frederick D. Williams

Governor Jennifer Granholm's Executive Order 2007-52 gives the Michigan Historical Commission responsibility for Michigan's commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The Michigan Historical Commission's "Civil War Sesquicentennial Work Plan" can be reviewed at and is available for public comment until June 1, 2009. Public hearings on the plan will be held on April 7 (Lansing), May 6 (Grand Rapids) and May 30 (Negaunee). Click Civil War Sesquicentennial Work Plan for more information.

Digitized Michigan Civil War service records and photos can be accessed online at the Seeking Michigan Web Site. Seeking Michigan, recently announced by the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries, also includes digitized maps, architectural drawings, sheet music, 1930s WPA property inventories, oral histories and Michigan death records. Many other materials will be added over time. A "Teach" section provides resources for educators, and a "Look!" blog provides social media interaction. Check it all out at

The Archives of Michigan's Military Sources Page provides access to many valuable resources. These include name indexes to military records housed within the Archives of Michigan and links to other sites helpful to genealogists and military researchers. Click Archives of Michigan Military Sources Page to visit the page.

In 1998, Michigan History magazine published a special collector's edition spotlighting Michigan's role in the Civil War. Many other issues contain Civil War-related articles.

Click Archives of Michigan to visit the Archives of Michigan home page.

Click Image of the Month Archives to access former Image of the Month pages.

Archives of Michigan
Michigan Library and Historical Center
702 W. Kalamazoo Street
Lansing, MI 48913
Phone: (517) 373-1408

This page is the Archives Image of the Month page for April 2009.

Updated 03/30/2009

Michigan Historical Center
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