Civil War Posters
The words seem to jump from the faded paper: “100 Colored Men Wanted for Substitutes!” “Come in and Prevent the ‘Draft’!” “Enlist Now and Get Your $100 Bounty! Don’t Wait to Be Drafted and Lose Your Bounty!” “The Draft is Inevitable! It Can’t Be Shirked!” These are examples of phrases from Civil War recruitment posters, fascinating examples of advertising that also offer a window into the history of military recruitment and enrollment during the Civil War period.
Recruitment and enrollment posters were the primary means of advertisement for enlistment officers during the Civil War era. In the cities and towns of the North, in particular, posters were used to entice men to enlist – usually offering cash bonuses (or bounties, as they were known then) for signing up.
These bounties varied wildly from both state to state and from regiment to regiment. They also varied according to the enlistee’s marital status or race. Below is an example of a poster from New Jersey that entices recruits with an offer of a large bounty:
While the offer of a monetary bonus was often used to lure men into service, many of the posters also employed the time-honored tradition of appealing to the patriotic feelings of those who were needed for service. In the poster below, the Rhode Island regiment in question uses phrases such as “the Union Must and Shall Be Preserved!” and “the Constitution Must Be Maintained” to invoke patriotism, capping it with an incendiary “Rebels Swarming the Potomac!”
However, by the midpoint of the war, even offers of bounties and appeals to patriotism could not sustain the numbers of enlistees needed for the continued war effort, and a draft was instituted by both the U.S. and the Confederacy in order to man their respective armies. The tone of recruitment posters changed, as well. In the example below, towns in New Jersey warn of a draft that will be held to fill the enlistment quotas:
Substitutes were often recent immigrants to the U.S., but even before these new citizens were paid privately to serve, they were recruited, as evidenced by the Garibaldi Guard poster below, which appealed to Italian, French, and German immigrants to support their newly-adopted country:
Recruitment posters from the Civil War era offer a fascinating alternate history of the military recruitment process and a window into the changing nature of the war as it continued on. All the posters featured here were accessed at the American Memory Project on the Library of Congress’ webpage.