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FROM-- SET FIVE, CIVIL WAR STUDIES

PART ELEVEN-- CIVIL WAR NAVY, IRONCLAD SHIPS & NAVAL RECRUITMENT-- TEACHER GUIDE
U.S. Civil War Naval Ships, Men and Battles--Confederate and Union
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The Recruitment of Sailors and Officers in the Navy

"Immigrants During the Civil War"

By Patrick Young, Esq. - June 28, 2015

PART ONE-- ONE-HALF OF U.S. NAVY ENLISTMENTS WERE IMMIGRANTS

       Nearly half of all of the men who joined the Union navy were immigrants. There were a number of reasons immigrants made up a disproportionate share of naval recruits during the Civil War.

WHY THE NATIVIST (BORN IN THE U.S.) DID NOT WANT TO ENLIST INTO U.S. NAVY

       The first reason was the failure of native-born men to enlist in the navy. Civil War military service was often seen as a community activity in small towns throughout the North. A new regiment might fill its ranks entirely with men from one city or county. The members of the regiment would elect most of the officers and frequently elected the same men to lead them into battle who had led them politically at home.

ARMY “ELECTED” OFFICERS VS. NAVY PROFESSIONAL OFFICERS

       The U.S. Navy, on the other hand, was commanded by professional officers. A lawyer or politician could be taught to lead a regiment in a matter of months, but it took years to train someone to captain a ship or to perform the specialized engineering and nautical function of a ship’s officers. The lack of democratic functions on shipboard discouraged white native-born men from placing themselves under the command of what many saw as an aristocratic naval officer corps.

       Immigrants, who might have seen the likely officer/politicians in the local army regiment as nativists, may not have had quite the same desire to serve in units where officers were elected. Unless the regiment was a designated Irish or German one, immigrants were likely to encounter discrimination in rising to the level of an officer and they would probably not serve under an immigrant officer.

PREJUDICE IN THE U.S. NAVY—IRISH-MEN PREDOMINATE IN JOINING

       Unfortunately, the navy was hardly prejudice-free. From the ships officers to the top brass, racism and nativism pervaded. For example, in 1864 Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox wrote to Rear Admiral Samuel Lee that “We are beginning to get a few sailors in New York…. [W]e must have the 12,000 [new] sailors. The 1,000 potato diggers [Irish] are extra, and taken because we won’t refuse any human being physically sound.” Fox’s disdainful note betrays the difficulty the navy had in recruiting and its dependence on the Irish to man its ships. Although he treats them as an unwelcome addition, in Fox’s navy, one-in-five men was born in Ireland. Without them, the blockade of Confederate ports would have been impossible.

COASTAL CITY RECRUITMENT CENTERS

       The places where the navy recruited were also important factors in creating an immigrant-dependent force. Naval recruitment stations, called “rendezvous”, were located primarily in coastal cities like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, the very centers of immigrant America.

SHADY TACTICS TO RECRUIT

       The rendezvous were well—placed to recruit immigrants, and they sometimes used shady tactics or outright coercion to lure newcomers into the navy.

“CIVILIAN RUNNERS” TO RECRUIT & VIOLENCE

       At the South Street Rendezvous near New York’s Five Points Irish neighborhood, the navy paid “civilian runners” to lure men into enlisting. A businessman complained that a man passing the rendezvous would be “wantonly insulted, often dragged into the Rendezvous, and when they cannot overawe him to enlist, they commence to beat him without mercy. There is hardly a day that passes, that the most corrupt and outrageous means are used by these said runner to decoy” men into the navy.

BLACK MEN IN THE NAVY BLUE DURING THE CIVIL WAR

By Joseph P. Reidy  Reposted with permission from Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration, Fall 2001, vol. 33, no. 3

       At the start of the conflict, the army and the navy drew upon separate traditions regarding the service of persons of African descent. Following adoption of the federal Militia Act in 1792, the army excluded black men, and the prohibition remained in effect until the second summer of the Civil War.

       The navy, in contrast, never barred black men from serving, although from the 1840s onward regulations limited their numbers to 5 percent of the enlisted force.

       When the war began, several hundred black men were in the naval service, a small fraction of those with prewar experience and a figure well below the prescribed maximum. During the first ninety days after Fort Sumter, when nearly three hundred black recruits enlisted, fifty-nine (20 percent) were veterans with an average of five years of prior naval service per man. Over succeeding months, the proportion of black men in the service increased rapidly. At the end of 1861, they made up roughly 6 percent of the crews of vessels. By the summer of 1862, the figure had climbed to nearly 15 percent.

Aggregate Percentages of Black Enlisted Men Serving on Board U.S. Naval Vessels
by Quarter of the Calendar Year, 1862–1865

Quarter Percentage
1st Quarter 1862 8
2nd Quarter 1862 through 2nd Quarter 1863 15
3rd Quarter 1863 through 3rd Quarter 1864 23
4th Quarter 1864 through 3rd Quarter 1865 17
4th Quarter 1865 15
Source: Muster Rolls of Vessels, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Record Group (RG) 24, National Archives.

THE MISSISSIPPI SQUADRON AND RECRUITMENT OF ENSLAVED AFRICAN AMERICANS

The large concentrations of enslaved African Americans on the plantations along the Mississippi River and the strategic importance of the river to both sides assured that Secretary Welles' directive regarding the employment of contrabands would have special relevance to the Mississippi Squadron. In April 1863, as the combined army and navy assault on Vicksburg, Mississippi, took shape, Flag Officer David D. Porter instructed the commanders of vessels to take full advantage of "acclimated" black manpower. Under these guidelines, more than two thousand men enlisted on the vessels that plied the Mississippi and its tributaries.

COASTAL REFUGEE CAMP BLACK MANPOWER AVAILABLE

The refugee camps that sprang up in Union-occupied areas also proved a rich source of recruits. In the camps of coastal North Carolina, for instance, recruiters from the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron displayed posters promising good pay and other amenities and urging volunteers to "Come forward and serve your Country."

The success of these efforts to recruit black men from the Union-occupied regions of the South tipped the demographic balance among black sailors. Largely free men with considerable naval experience at the start of the war, over time the force included growing numbers of recently enslaved men with only limited maritime experience. Not surprisingly, most were from the states where Union naval forces operated: the Carolinas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The largest contingent of southern-born men, however, was the Virginians, more than twenty-eight hundred strong, numbers of whom had been sold before the war from their native state to plantation regions farther south. The fact that nearly six thousand (roughly 35 percent) of the black sailors whose nativity is known came from the Chesapeake Bay region is striking. Even more so is that more than eleven thousand men were born in the slave states as against four thousand born in the free states. Even allowing for the fact that a small fraction of those from the slave states had been born free, nearly three men born into slavery served for every man born free. Hardly predictable from the record of black sailors in the antebellum navy, this demographic division profoundly influenced the black naval experience during the war.  For the complete article Click Here.


Read the article about Navy Recruiting at:

Union Jacks-- Yankee Sailors in the Civil War-- Chapter One-- Dissenters from the American Mood: Why Men Joined the United States Navy during the Civil War

Copyright 2004 The University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8078-2870-X

Port Columbus National Civil War Naval Museum
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Vicksburg National Military Park Ft. Donelson National Battlefield

 

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