Recruited Straight Off The Boat? On The Trail of Emigrant Soldiers From the Ship Great Western

The medical images of Civil War soldiers taken towards the end of the war are undeniably compelling. Friend of the site Brendan Hamilton has previously explored the story of one of these men in a guest post, which you can read here. It was while researching another wounded Irishman that Brendan uncovered an extraordinary link between him and a number of other emigrant Union soldiers who all shared something in common– they had arrived in New York on the same day, in the same ship. This prompted him to carry out extensive research into these men and their fate, which Brendan shares with us in detail below. In addition to this, I was able to uncover some details as to the men’s origins and emigration. What emerges is a remarkable story which takes us from the manufacturing centres of Northern England to New York, via the Liverpool docks, on the trail of potential illegal recruitment into the Federal army.

The medical image taken of Robert Jenkins after his wounding in 1865, only months after arriving in America (National Museum of Civil War Medicine)

The medical image taken of Robert Jenkins after his wounding in 1865, only months after arriving in America (National Museum of Health & Medicine)

The image above is 19-year-old Private Robert Jenkins of Company E, 64th New York Volunteer Infantry. Private Jenkins was wounded in the face at the Battle of Jones’ Farm, during the Petersburg Campaign of the American Civil War. The description that accompanies this remarkable photograph from the National Museum of Health and Medicine notes that the ball entered Robert’s face to the left of his nose, exiting through his cheek.* Robert Jenkins was an Irish immigrant who enlisted in the U.S. Army on 14th January, 1865, relatively late in the war. At Jones’ Farm, his regiment was sent to provide support to the 69th New York and the 28th Massachusetts of the famous Irish Brigade. The latter two units had run out of ammunition and required the 64th to hold their position while they awaited resupply. Jenkins received this wound while helping fellow Irishmen in combat on foreign soil, soil that he himself had only set foot on less than three months prior. (1)

In fact, Jenkins enlisted on the very same day he stepped off the docks in New York City. In researching this man’s past, I stumbled over something quite amazing— a ship manifest revealing that at least 33 European men traveled together to the United States from the port of Liverpool and immediately enlisted in the Union Army. Below is a spreadsheet of recruits who enlisted in the 64th New York Infantry, 10th New York Cavalry, and several other units on or soon after 14th January, 1865. The information is from their muster roll abstracts. All are recorded as having enlisted either in New York City or Brooklyn, and all appear to match men who arrived in New York on the Great Western on that very same day. All of these men but one (Bartholomew Early) appear on the last two pages of the manifest (a portion of which is reproduced below), listed with other men of military age. They appear to have been deliberately recorded in a separate section of the manifest, even though they were not all quartered on the same part of the ship. According to the muster rolls, thirteen were natives of Ireland, ten from England, four from Germany, three from France, one from Scotland, and one from Wales. (2)

Name Age Birthplace Occupation Unit Enlisted Fate
Bornholtz (or Barnholtz), Herman 18 Germany Painter Co. E 14-Jan Mustered Out
Brown, Joseph 23 England Wood turner Co. D 14-Jan Mustered Out
Bruce, Andrew 30 Scotland Laborer Co. D 14-Jan Mustered Out
Brian (or O’Brian), Thomas 30 Ireland Laborer Co. H 14-Jan Mustered Out
Davis, James 26 Wales Laborer Co. D 14-Jan Mustered Out (in hospital)
Fries, Carl (or Friez, Charles) 32 Germany Soldier Co. E 14-Jan Mustered Out
Jordan, Patrick 21 Ireland Laborer Co. E 14-Jan Mustered Out
Hawkins, James 21 England Servant Co. B 14-Jan Mustered Out
Hastings, Patrick 20 Limerick, Ireland Miller Co. E 14-Jan Wounded, 25 March, Discharged
Hoben, John 21 Ireland Baker Co. H 14-Jan Mustered Out
Holloway, Harry 27 England Galvanizer Co. D 14-Jan Mustered Out
Jenkins, Robert 19 Ireland Tailor Co. E 14-Jan Wounded, 25 March, Discharged
Jones, George 23 London, England Co. D 14-Jan Mustered Out
Kanarens (or Canarns), Alfred 23 England Laborer Co. G 14-Jan Mustered Out (in hospital)
Kirker, William 18 Ireland Moulder Co. D 14-Jan Mustered Out (in hospital)
Mackin, John 25 Ireland Bricklayer Co. H 14-Jan Mustered Out
Mayhew, Harvey 20 London, England Gunmaker Co. E 14-Jan Mustered Out
Muller, Conrad 24 Germany Co. D 14-Jan Mustered Out
Salter, William 22 Germany Clerk Co. E 14-Jan Mustered Out
Scott, Walter 22 Ireland Clerk Co. G 14-Jan Mustered Out
Smith, John 27 Ireland Servant Co. A 14-Jan Mustered Out
Watters (or Waters), Thomas 29 England Servant Co. A 14-Jan Mustered Out (in hospital)
Wells, John 24 England Laborer Co. D 14-Jan Mustered Out
Winter (or Winters), John 32 England Engineer Co. A 14-Jan Died 31 January near Petersburg
Wood, James 35 England Co. E 14-Jan Mustered Out
Wood, Harvey (or Henry) 20 Ireland Baker Co. E 14-Jan Mustered Out
Bulens (or Bulins), Joseph 28 France Laborer 10 NY Cav. 14-Jan Transferred 1 NY Prov. Cav.
Ismael, Bizen 20 France Baker 10 NY Cav. 14-Jan Transferred 1 NY Prov. Cav.
Ward, James 30 Ireland Laborer 10 NY Cav. 14-Jan Transferred 1 NY Prov. Cav. (Awaiting trial)
Early, Bartholomew 18 Ireland 48 NY Inf. 19-Jan Deserted 6 August
Hickey, Michael 30 Ireland 48 NY Inf. 19-Jan Wounded, 21 February, Wilmington
Morgan, John 34 6 NY Cav. 14-Jan Deserted 24 May
Gerard, Prosper J 23 Reims, France 14 US Inf. 23-Jan Unknown

Table 1. Union soldiers traced to the Great Western.

What is the story behind these men’s service? To uncover this we must first look at the main drivers in the Union recruitment system by January 1865. The enrollment act of 3rd March, 1863, which instituted a policy of conscription into the Union Army, allowed draftees to be exempt if they either paid $300 or provided a substitute to serve in their stead. As a result, prospective substitutes were often offered hundreds of dollars to join the Union Army. Private substitute brokers sprung up in major Northern cities, facilitating such recruitment and raking in profit on commissions. In addition to the money to be made by signing up as a substitute, bounties, a form of signing bonus, were also offered to further encourage new recruits. These could be as high as $1,500. The value of these bounties was often dictated by the need of a particular area to provide sufficient numbers of volunteers to reach their volunteer quota and thus stave off the draft. Clearly, the need for new recruits was severe, and European immigrants offered an attractive solution. We know that the Federal government rarely if ever– as is depicted in the film Gangs of New York and discussed here– engaged in direct dockside recruitment. The notion of directly recruiting recently arrived immigrants at Castle Garden was debated but (at least publicly) rejected by the New York Commissioners of Emigration in July of 1864. However, potential new recruits did not have to travel far if they wanted to enlist. Added to that, substitute brokers and other agents seeking to make money out of potential enlistees operated in close proximity to the port of arrival. In 1865 the New York Times reported on the ‘swarm of bounty swindlers who infest our public-thoroughfares.’ New York based British diplomat Joseph Burnley spoke of the ‘rascalities and swindling practices of the bounty brokers…the distance from the Emigration Depot to this office is about 400 yards, and the number of recruiting and enlisting rooms and booths within that distance is about 7 or 8, with printed notices in both German and English. In the neighbourhood of these booths and rooms brokers and runners swarm; and the unhappy emigrants who land here are necessarily obliged to run the gauntlet of these mantraps and harpies.’ Is it possible that the Great Western immigrants, including Robert Jenkins, were assailed shortly after their arrival in New York, ultimately induced to enlist en-masse by one of these brokers? (3)

Bounty brokers on the look out for substitutes (Library of Congress)

Bounty brokers on the look out for substitutes (Library of Congress)

To discover the origin of Robert Jenkins and the other men’s enlistment we must return to Liverpool in 1864. It was there on 15th November that some 200 men arrived in the port to board the Great Western as steerage passengers. The majority, reportedly ‘destitute and half-starved’, had come from different manufacturing districts of Lancashire and were joined by some Irish and Germans at the quayside. However, as was the case in Irish port cities, Confederate agents were ever watchful of such groups. These agents soon discovered that the men’s passage to New York had been paid by an American, reportedly with a view to having them work in a New York glass works owned by Messrs. Bliss, Ward and Rosevelt. The Southern emissaries didn’t believe this for a minute, reportedly telling the men that they were being duped, and would be forced into enlisting the Union army. Apparently this caused around 50 of the men to refuse to embark, but the rest boarded the Great Western regardless. Those men who didn’t go aboard were found accommodation in the local workhouse, some of them saying they had been entrapped. A Confederate attorney in Liverpool, Mr. Hull, reported a breach of the Foreign Enlistment Act to the British authorities, who then refused to clear the Great Western to sail. Indeed, on 17th November British custom agents and police even boarded the vessel with the support of the ship’s Captain, questioned the men aboard, and asked if any of them wanted to leave– apparently only four of the men decided to disembark. One prospective passenger reportedly said that ‘they were determined to go to America or some other country, and not to be left destitute in England any longer’ while another said he was ‘not going back to be put in jail to pick oakum.’ One report stated that there was a German on the ship ‘dressed in a kind of military uniform’ who appeared to exercise authority over the passengers, along with a man from Stalybridge who was addressed as ‘Sergeant.’ After a considerable time held in port, the lack of evidence eventually meant the Great Western was allowed to sail, and she departed for New York with the majority of the steerage passengers aboard. (4)

Were Robert Jenkins and his fellow passengers induced to enlist, having thought they were going to a glassworks, or had they known all along they were to become soldiers? It is unlikely we will ever know with absolute certainty, but the balance of evidence suggests that they intended to join the military. The fact that 50 of the men decided not to go aboard the Great Western when they were approached by Confederate agents suggests not all of them were very keen, but it is of note that the majority still chose to travel even after they had become aware of what might lie in store. Interestingly two of those who stayed in Liverpool reportedly gave affidavits saying they had been promised commissions in the Federal army. It was certainly not the only time this type of event occurred. A previous post on the site examined a similar incident with men from Ireland. When the Great Western arrived in New York, the local newspapers were quick to pick up on the story. The 24th January 1865 New York Times noted that 93 men had arrived on the vessel having ‘left England with the purpose of enlisting in the army.’ Apparently only 42 were deemed physically fit enough to be accepted, though unscrupulous bounty-brokers reportedly succeeded in getting a few others through the process. Many others commented on the arrival of the men. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper of 4th February 1865 stated that the men had been taken over from England to join the army by a man called Shaw. Leslie’s noted that although the men were supposedly ‘glassblowers’, none of them held that profession, and ‘all of them well understood the errand they were coming on, which was to enlist in the army of the United States.‘ If the report is to be believed Shaw was ultimately disappointed:

‘On arriving in this country the men soon found out, through the runners and harpies that continually prowl around Castle Garden, that they could obtain more than the sum promised by Shaw, and repudiating the fact that for several weeks he had supported them and paid their passages, stood ready to sell themselves to the highest bidder. The bidder was not long wanting, and appeared in the shape of a New York County Supervisor, who offered the men $650 cash each to enlist as substitutes.’ (5)

An extract of the manifest from the SS Great Western, showing Robert Jenkins and some of the other men who enlisted when they landed in New York (Ancestry.com)

An extract of the manifest from the Ship Great Western, showing Robert Jenkins and some of the other men who enlisted when they landed in New York (Ancestry.com)

The Leslie’s account may be close to the truth of what happened. The muster roll abstracts for six of the recruits describe them as substitutes. Given their apparent poor circumstances, the prospect of a potential financial windfall, and the fact that military service sped up the naturalization process, it is little wonder that the Great Western passengers found American military service enticing. Many of them went on to defy popular notions of late war substitutes and bounty men during their military service, as all but one of those thus far identified appear to have been honorably discharged or, in the case of John Winter, died in service. In fact, six of them were even promoted to the rank of corporal during their tenure and at least two were wounded in battle. There is nothing here to indicate that these men were shirkers, ‘bounty jumpers,’ or had any serious intention of deserting.  (6)

We are still investigating these men, and we welcome anyone who has any further information to share. In the meantime, here are some details about a few of these off-the-boat soldiers. Robert Jenkins survived his wound and heeded the call to ‘go West, young man.’ He appears on an 1897 register of veterans in the U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers as having checked in to the Sawtelle, California Veterans Home suffering from dyspepsia and rheumatism. He is single, his occupation, ‘railroader’ and his residence subsequent to his discharge, Glenn’s Ferry, Idaho. Jenkins is listed in subsequent censuses living at the Sawtelle Veteran’s Home in California through at least 1920. He died in 1931 and was buried at Los Angeles National Cemetery. Patrick Hastings, a native of Limerick, served beside Jenkins in Company E of the 64th, and was likewise wounded at Jones’ Farm. Hastings made a career out of soldiering and served in no less than four regiments of the U.S. Regular Army following the Civil War. Subsequent records suggest he may have been as young as sixteen when he enlisted in the 64th New York. He died in 1920 and was buried in Leavenworth National Cemetery in Leavenworth, Kansas. Census records indicate that Henry C. (or Harvey) Mayhew returned to his native England after the Civil War. An ancestry.com profile for him created by Nicolas Jouault indicates that his birthplace was St Pancras, England and demonstrates via census records that he was living in England again by 1871. (7)

Immigrants in Castle Garden, New York in 1866 (Library of Congress)

Immigrants in Castle Garden, New York in 1866 (Library of Congress)

* The original caption for the photograph erroneously records that Robert Jenkins was a member of the 6th New York Infantry. The 6th were no longer in service by 1865, and no Robert Jenkins is recorded on their muster rolls.

**This Great Western is not to be confused with Brunel’s famous SS Great Western which was broken up in the 1850s. The vessel discussed here was a packet ship built in New York for the Black Ball Line in 1851. To add to potential confusion, the U.S. Navy also had the U.S.S. Great Western in service at this time.

(1) National Museum of Health and Medicine, Official Records: 302-3; (2) New York Passenger Lists 1820-1957, New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts 1861-1900; (3) Moffat 1965, New York Times 24th January 1865, Barnes & Barnes 2005: 251; (4) Wilding to Seward in Papers Relating to Foreign Affairs 1865: 32-36, Frank Leslie Illustrated Newspaper 4th February 1865, New York Times 24th January 1865; (5) Barnes & Barnes 2005: 251, New York Times 24th January 1865, Frank Leslie Illustrated Newspaper 4th February 1865; (6) New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts 1861-1900; (7) National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers 1866-1938, United States Federal Census, U.S. Civil War Pension Index, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments 1798-1914, Nicolas Jouault Website;

References

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper 4th February 1865. Town Gossip.

National Archives and Records Administration. U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000.

National Museum of Health and Medicine CP0980, Robert Jenkins.

New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Year: 1865; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 248; Line: 40; List Number: 31; via Ancestry.com. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

New York State Archives, Cultural Education Center, Albany, New York; New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900; Archive Collection #: 13775-83; Box #: 249; Roll #: 1121-1122; via Ancestry.com. New York, Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

New York Times 24th January 1865. The Draft: Number of Enlistments. Running Men Out of the City. Protection of Soldiers’ Bounties. Substitutes. Fraudulent Enlistments. The County Volunteer Committee. Kings County Quota. The Quota Under the Last Call.

Nicolas Jouault Website.

Official Records of the War of Rebellion Series 1, Volume 51, Part 1. Report of Maj. Theodore Tyrer, Sixty-fourth New York Infantry, of operations March 25.

United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.

U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.

U.S. Department of State 1865. Papers relating to foreign affairs, accompanying the annual message of the president to the first session thirty-ninth congress. Correspondence: Great Britain. No. 390 Mr Wilding to Mr. Seward, United States Consulate, Liverpool, November 18, 1864. pp. 32-36

U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.

Barnes, James J. Barnes & Barnes,Patience P. 2005. The American Civil War Trough British Eyes: Dispatches from British Diplomats, Volume 3, February 1863- December 1865.

Moffat, William C., Jr. 1965. Soldiers’ Pay. Cincinnati Civil War Roundtable.

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Categories: Battle of Jones' Farm, Guest Post, Recruitment

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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7 Comments on “Recruited Straight Off The Boat? On The Trail of Emigrant Soldiers From the Ship Great Western”

  1. bertie mac curtain
    October 2, 2015 at 10:47 am #

    Absolutely brill..

  2. John Murphy
    October 2, 2015 at 1:44 pm #

    Another insightful story. They are becoming as interesting as the many books about the battles.

    • October 2, 2015 at 2:04 pm #

      Thanks John I appreciate that! Brendan did some exceptional detective work to bring this story to us.

  3. Charles McKenna
    October 4, 2015 at 5:40 pm #

    Were there many Canadians that were enticed to go south and enlist? If so, how did they fare?

    • October 11, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

      Hi Charles,

      A lot of Irish-Canadians certainly served, and I come across Irishmen serving in the British Army who deserted to go across the border for the bounties on offer. I imagine the temptation of this must have been strong for many other Canadians as well, although I don’t have precise figures.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Photographs of Wounded Irishmen from the American Civil War | Irish in the American Civil War - January 4, 2016

    […] Our Brave Men Twice Wounded: An Image of Corporal William Kelleher, 125th New York Infantry and Recruited Straight off the Boat? On the Trail of Emigrant Soldiers from the Ship Great Western). These are far from the only Irishmen to feature in this remarkable collection. I decided to take […]

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