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High-Bounty Men in the Army of the Potomac

Reclaiming Their Honor

Civil War Era, Forthcoming, Interpreting the Civil War: Texts and Contexts, Military History

DescriptionReassessing the motivations and contributions of Union soldiers come
late to the war

For more than a century, historians have disparaged the men who joined the Union army in the later days of the Civil War—when higher bounty payments and the conditional draft were in effect—as unpatriotic mercenaries who made poor soldiers and contributed little to the Union victory. However, as Edwin P. Rutan II explains, historians have relied on the accounts of 1861 and 1862 veterans who resented these new recruits who had not yet suffered the hardships of war, and they were jealous of the higher bounties those recruits received. The result, he argues, is a long-standing mischaracterization of the service of 750,000 Union soldiers.

High-Bounty Men in the Army of the Potomac offers a much-needed correction to the historical record, providing a more balanced assessment of the “high-bounty” replacements in the Army of the Potomac. Rutan argues, using combat-effectiveness methodology, that they were generally competent soldiers and indispensable in defeating the Army of Northern Virginia. He also examines the issue of financial motivation, concluding that the volunteers of 1862 may have been more driven by economic incentives than once thought, and 1864 recruits were less driven by this than typically described. Thus, Rutan concludes that the Union “high-bounty” men do not deserve the scorn heaped on them by early volunteers and subsequent generations of historians.


Edwin P. Rutan II is a retired lawyer who graduated from Harvard Law School. He is the author of “If I Have Got to Go and Fight, I Am Willing”: A Union Regiment Forged in the Petersburg Campaign: The 179th New York Volunteer Infantry 1864–1865.