SHARING THE STORIES OF NORTHWEST CONNECTICUT'S AFRICAN AMERICAN CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS
The 29th Connecticut Bounty Scandal
Colonel Benjamin S. Pardee originally enlisted in the 10th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry as a Captain of Company A. He rapidly advanced in rank to major in April of 1862 and then, two months later, to lieutenant colonel. He continued to serve in this position until he was appointed provost marshal of Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional District. This consisted of overseeing recruiting and enforcing the draft. In Pardee’s new role, he had a major influence in passing the bill in the Connecticut legislature that authorized the governor to create a regiment of African American soldiers. The result of this was the 29th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, and with the creation of black regiments, Pardee became Connecticut’s Superintendent of Recruiting Services for Colored Volunteers.
Increasingly, Union military strategy was predicated on the fact that their armies would outnumber those of the Confederacy. However, a string of high-profile defeats and lengthening casualty lists made recruiting the needed manpower difficult. Also, the draft held in the summer of 1863 was wildly unpopular, leading notably to the New York City Draft Riots. To raise men and, hopefully, eliminate the need for future drafts, the Northern government hired men as recruiters, also known as bounty runners, who were then tasked with encouraging men to enlist. One means of doing this was through the use of bounties, or cash incentives to join the army. The recruiters were given the bounties to pass on to the men enlisting. By late 1863, the bounty offered by the federal government alone totaled $300; states, counties, and towns often offered additional monies. To prevent men from enlisting to get the bounty and then running away (called “bounty jumping”), soldiers were given often given $150 upon enlistment and were promised the other half when they had completed their service.
This broadside from New Jersey shows the large bounties being offered to
African American recruits in December 1863.
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which not only freed the slaves in states in rebellion but also authorized the enlistment of African American soldiers, proved to be another source of manpower for the army. This led directly to the development of the 29th Regiment Colored Volunteers. With education and information much less accessible to Connecticut’s African American population in 1863, those who enlisted were far less likely to be aware of the laws governing the bounty. With state and federal bounty money given directly to the bounty runners to disperse, there were plenty of opportunities for corruption. Many recruiters/bounty runners took advantage of the men, keeping part of the allotted money for themselves.
In December 1863, a forty-two year of black Philadelphian named Aaron Willett met Joseph Peck, who claimed to be a lieutenant in the newly forming 29th Connecticut Infantry. Peck offered Willett a $400 bounty, plus monthly relief payments from the state of Connecticut of $6 per month to Willett’s family. Although doubtful that Connecticut would pay relief to family members who lived in another state, Willett could not turn down so much money. He traveled to New Haven, where Peck brought him to the basement of a building. There he was introduced to the colonel of the 29th, Benjamin Pardee. Pardee sent Willett and some other recruits to be examined by a surgeon. Willett was told he had passed the examination, but there was bad news. The cost of the train fare to New Haven would be deducted from his bounty. Also, the bounty needed to be reduced to only $200. When Willett refused, Pardee offered him $75 when the regiment was in camp. He also offered to hold on to Willett’s money for him, for safekeeping. Willett turned over $170 to the man he assumed was his commanding officer. Of course, Pardee was not an officer of the 29th. Neither was Peck, who worked for Pardee as a recruiter for which he was paid $3 a day plus expenses. Willett received virtually none of the money promised him, deserted from the army, was captured, fined sixty dollars, and had his length of service extended. He died of disease in December 1864. But he counted toward Bristol, Connecticut’s quota for men.
General James A. Dix
In the summer of 1864, General James A. Dix, Commander of the Department of the East, began an investigation in response to rumors of corruption with bounty runners. On June 22nd, he ordered Benjamin Pardee to testify. Pardee, however, claimed that he was an agent of Connecticut’s governor, William A. Buckingham, and refused. Evidence, however, demonstrated that Willett was not the only member of the 29th Connecticut Pardee had defrauded. In many cases, Pardee paid the recruits only what he thought the market for manpower warranted, sometimes $150, sometimes $200. He would keep the remainder of the bounty for himself. Buckingham, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and Provost Marshal James Fry all disagreed with this policy, and while Pardee apparently escaped punishment, Dix ordered that all recruits in his district be given the full amount of the bounty. He also issued an order eliminating brokers, bounty runners, and all such middlemen. This, however, was revoked by Stanton. The need for men was simply too great.
Special thanks to Professor Brian Luskey of West Virginia University for sharing his research about this topic. For more information, see Professor Luskey's book, Men is Cheap: Exposing the Frauds of Free Labor in Civil War America, (University of North Carolina Press, 2020).