Governor Edwin Denison Morgan and the Recruitment of the Union Army in New York State
by
Thomas Harrold

     The recruitment process in the Union Army was affected by several factors at the State and Federal level. The relative strength of the State Governments in the North compared to the Federal Government at the outbreak of the Civil War was a considerable factor in the early stages of recruiting and organizing the Union Army. Overwhelming support from the people for the war at the initiation of hostilities created control problems for both State and Federal leaders. Ironically, after the war began the States Rights Policy generally associated with the Southern States became more of a problem for the Union than for the Confederacy.

     At the beginning of President Lincoln's term of service as Commander and Chief, the military forces were already in trouble. From 1849 to 1860 the Secretaries of War had all been from Southern States and had little interest in strengthening the Federal forces that could conceivably be used against their home States. [1]  Consequently, the Army before President Lincoln's election was small and widely dispersed across the United States. On January 1, 1861, the Regular Army was composed of, one thousand, one hundred and eight officers, and fifteen thousand, two hundred and fifty nine, enlisted men, organized into nineteen regiments. This small Army was spread across the United States in six departments with headquarters located in the following areas: Troy, N.Y., St. Louis, Mo., San Antonio, Tex., Santa Fe, N. Mex., Camp Floyd, Utah. and San Francisco, Calif. To cover this large area units were broken down into company or smaller organizations to garrison isolated outposts in their regions. Therefore, before the Civil War it was rare for an element of the Regular Army to gather in strength greater than battalion level and usually left them in increments of less than company size. Furthermore, this small force was decimated when Texas seceded from the Union and General Twiggs was forced to surrender, the Department of Texas, on February 18, 1861. The Department of Texas consisted of, one hundred and two, officers, and two thousand, three hundred, and twenty-eight, enlisted men, at the time of surrender these forces were allowed withdraw from the State. However, only twelve hundred, had withdrawn by the start of the war with the remainder becoming prisoners. Furthermore, by March 4, 1861, when President Lincoln was inaugurated three hundred and thirteen members of the officer corps had left the Army to join the Confederacy exacting a great toll on the Army.[2] 

     When The Civil War began on April 12, 1861 the size of the Regular Army (according to the figures above) was seven hundred, eighty-five, officers, and fourteen thousand, one hundred and thirty one enlisted men. At the Federal level, there was no plan immediately available for the mobilization or waging of the war. The only law in existence at the time to raise additional troops for the Federal Government was the Militia Act of 1792, which empowered the President to call out the Militia to suppress insurrection. Under this law, the President called for seventy five thousand militiamen to serve for a period of three months. President Lincoln called out this number in anticipation of the Anaconda Plan that was created by, Brevet Lieutenant General, Winfield Scott, General in Chief of the Army. General Scott was an able officer; he received his commission in 1808 and had combat experience in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. The seventy-four years old General was the only man in Washington with a sound plan for the execution of the war. The Anaconda Plan called for control of the Mississippi River to conduct an enveloping land campaign in conjunction with a tight naval blockade. His estimate for manpower at that time was a Regular Army of twenty five thousand, men with a three year Volunteer Army of sixty thousand men. The Anaconda Plan was eventually used, as the general strategy for the war its major flaw was the underestimate of manpower. Unfortunately, Lincoln and his advisers were unwilling to accept General Scott's plan it still seemed possible to them that a compromise with the South could be reached. This and the insecurity that existed with the President over what demands Congress would approve led the Federal Government to act lethargically when the people were most willing to respond.[3] 

     Due to the relatively weak nature of the Federal Government at the outbreak of war, the State Governments had considerable power in making decisions for the organization of the Union Army. Once secession was established policy in the South, the need for State's Rights evaporated, because the interests of those States was homogeneous. In the Northern States, however, this was not the case. People in the North were not bound by a common cause some fought to preserve the Union, others for economic reasons, and others for the abolition of slavery. Regardless of these differences the State Governments in the North response to call for men was outstanding. New York was second only to Wisconsin in acting to raise the Army.[4] 

     In New York, Republican Governor Morgan was moved by economic reasons and preservation of the Union. Immediately after the election of President Lincoln, New York suffered a financial panic due to the secession crisis in the South. Within ten days three and one half million dollars in gold had moved to the South. Morgan took action through the newspapers and as a director of the Bank of Commerce. The papers reported the move of the Bank of Commerce to take exchange from foreign banks on Western produce. This measure reassured investors an abated the panic.[5]  When the State Legislature convened on January 2, 1861, the Governor gave a moderate and conciliatory speech in which he stated that "New York should set the example.... Let her stand in an attitude of hostility to none; but extending the hand of fellowship to all...".[6]  The Governor felt that in order to create unity in the North and to show moderation to the South the Northern States should repeal their Personal Liberty Bills that in New York granted trial by jury to fugitive slaves. He felt that this action would bring the States into agreement with the Fugitive Slave clause of the Federal Constitution. The idea was put forth at governors' conference held New York on December 21, 1860 where it found widespread approval with the exception of Governor Andrew of Massachusetts. It failed to pass in the legislatures of the States except in Democrat controlled Rhode Island and Vermont.[7]  Morgan also took steps to insure the readiness of the State in case Civil War became unavoidable. In late January 1861, at the beginning of the one hundred-day session of the Legislature a bill was introduced to appropriate five hundred thousand dollars for equipping the State Militia. However, a lack of harmony between the Governor and the Legislature left the bill tabled on February 15. Morgan took what limited action he could and reviewed the First Division of the State Militia on Washington's Birthday. The State at that time had a Militia of twenty thousand men, unfortunately they had only eight thousand rifles.[8] 

     On April 14, 1861 the day after the surrender of Fort Sumter, Governor Morgan called an early staff meeting to act in support of the Union. Members of the Governor's staff met with members of the Military and Finance committees of both houses of the State Legislature. A four-man committee drafted a bill providing for the enrollment of thirty thousand volunteers and a tax of two million dollars. Problems for the Governor began here before the bill went to the legislature a provision was added to create a Military Board that would share authority with the Governor in carrying out the act. The provision was challenged but to no avail the Act passed with the provision on April 16,1861 with an appropriation of three million dollars to equip and enroll thirty thousand two year volunteers. The two million-dollar tax and anticipation of reimbursement from the Federal Government secured the appropriation. The Military Board was comprised of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Comptroller, Attorney General, State Engineer, and State Treasurer. Simultaneously the Legislature approved the earlier appropriation of five hundred thousand dollars to equip the State Militia which was outside the scope of power of the Military Board. With this Act, the Legislative session ended leaving the Governor and the Military Board to raise the volunteers.[9] 

     A power struggle began between the Military Board and the Governor with the first call for troops from the President on April 15,1861. New York State was issued the largest quota, based upon population; it was to provide seventeen regiments or thirteen thousand one hundred eighty men. In accordance with General Order 13 from Secretary of War Simon Cameron the volunteers would be organized as companies and be approved by the Governor before being formed into regiments. The Board refused this measure because they should have the authority to approve the new companies. Several days later the Board made a partial reversal of their decision after Morgan pointed out that there were three depots of embarkation for the volunteers to Washington and that it was improbable that all the members of the Board would be able to leave Albany to review the companies. However, the Board retained the power to form the companies into regiments. In the meantime, Morgan on April 16,sent marching orders for the Seventh Regiment of the New York State Militia to Washington on the following day three more State Militia Regiments received orders to report to Washington.[10]  Fortunately for the Governor the Military Board's influence dealt only with the first quota received by New York on April 16, however, the problems of plurality had just begun. Due to communication problems and confusion in the War Department on April 25, Morgan sent out a proclamation calling for twenty one additional regiments of two year volunteers or approximately the remainder of the thirty thousand men provided for in the Act of April 16. The Governor made the proclamation while communications with Washington were limited and the threat to the city seemed to be great. By April 29, New York had sent ten of its seventeen regiment quota to Washington nine of these regiments were of the State Militia and one Volunteer regiment the Eleventh of Colonel Ellsworth the first volunteer regiment sent from New York. On the same day, Secretary Cameron telegraphed that there was no further immediate danger and no further call for troops would be made. With this news, the Governor started to countermand marching orders and suspend the call for twenty-one additional regiments. The move to suspend the call for additional troops caused an outcry from the public, however, the Governor could not be sure if the Federal Government would accept the additional troops. On May 1, acting on the orders of the Military Board the State Attorney General offered Secretary Cameron New York's proposed thirty-eight regiments instead of the seventeen in the original quota. The Military Board had overlooked the fact that one was already in Federal service and that nine Militia regiments were also in Federal service. Cameron accepted the offer on May 3, the same day that the President called for a second quota from New York State of forty two thousand three-year men.[11]  Now Morgan had to deal with raising thirty-seven regiments instead of seventeen in addition to the second call from the President. Once the first call was completed the Military Board was no longer a problem, however, dealing with the War Department was more difficult.

     At the Federal level confusion and contradiction ran rampant due to the incompetence of Secretary of War Simon Cameron and the lack of communication between him and the President. First, it took one month from May 12, to June 12, to get Washington to understand the number of troops being sent from New York and the length of time they would serve. The first problem was that the thirty-eight regiments that Cameron accepted on May 3 had volunteered to serve for two years or the duration of the war. On May 6, Cameron demanded that they be mustered in for three years. Governor Morgan repeatedly explained to Cameron that these men had volunteered under the Act of April 16, and could not legally become three years men. Second, due to a lack of communication between Cameron and Lincoln by May 15, Cameron was only willing to accept twenty-eight regiments again stating that they be three years men. (Part of the problem here came from the Union Defense Committee that will be examined further below.) The other problem that Cameron could not seem to comprehend was that ten of the eleven regiments that were in Washington by May15, were three months State militiamen. Ellsworth's regiment was the only volunteer regiment sent forward by then and had mustered in for the length of the war[12] . Morgan sent, State Judge Advocate General, William H. Anthon to Washington to try to clarify matters and by May 22, clarification seemed at hand with the War department's acceptance of the thirty eight regiments exclusive of the three month State Militia. Two days later after a federal mustering officer had mistakenly mustered in some of the two year men as three month men it became apparent that Cameron still did not understand the situation. In early June, Morgan and Anthon again returned to Washington to clarify matters with Cameron. By June 12, Morgan had secured from Cameron the understanding that under the first quota New York would furnish thirty eight regiments of two year volunteers exclusive of the ten regiments of three month State Militia men. On June 12, when the agreement was reached fifteen regiments of the two-year men had already been furnished. Morgan promised that he would send the rest within one month and he kept that promise by July 12, New York had thirty eight regiments of two year and ten regiments of State Militia in Federal hands.[13] 

     Throughout this debacle, one independent recruiting organization had become dissatisfied with what it felt to be a lack of enthusiasm for the war at both the State and Federal levels. The Union Defense Committee was made up of prominent figures from New York City. All the members had dealings with Morgan in past either political or business. The intentions of the Committee were honorable, however they did cause considerable confusion. Hamilton Fish was the chairman of the Committee. He and a delegation of the Committee went to Washington on May 15 to offer the President 14 regiments of two-year volunteers. At first Lincoln told the Committee to go through proper channels, then he changed his mind three days later telling them to send the troops forward. This outraged Morgan who believed that both the President and the U.D.C were challenging his efforts and authority. On May 19, Morgan telegraphed the President in compliant of the order to send troops without his authorization. On May 20, Lincoln replied and admitted some responsibility for the action but also stated that the U.D.C. felt it was unsafe to keep the men in New York City any longer. He also had consulted with General Scott on the matter and both agreed to bring the men forward. Part of the misunderstanding was because some of the regiments sent forward by the U.D.C. were organized by the State as volunteers and others were totally independent and that fact was unknown to the President. Furthermore, Lincoln could not understand the problem other than the technicality of who raised the troops. The President went on to commend the Governor for his response in raising troops and assured him that no breach of authority was intended.[14] 

     Morgan also lashed out at the U.D.C. in a letter to the chairman on May 19, he called the action taken by the Committee an offence to his authority. He accused the Committee of insubordination and stated that the action taken "was striking at the very foundation of discipline." He went on to explain that the regiments had not been forwarded due to their lack of readiness and equipment. Hamilton Fish sent a letter of apology on May 21, denying any attempt on the part of the U.D.C. to undermine the Governor.[15]  The situation was resolved when Morgan and Colonel W.B. Franklin of the War Department met with the members of the U.D.C. in New York City on May 26, and the regiments of the U.D.C. were put under Morgan's authority. The meeting also disclosed the problem with independent agencies when the U.D.C. admitted that they had only six regiments to send. Morgan would have to come up with the other eight promised by the Committee and accepted by Washington. As if to add insult to injury for the U.D.C. three hundred and fifty men refused to muster in when the reached Washington. From that point forward, the U.D.C. receded into the background in raising the Army.[16] 

     The problem of the changes in number of men sent to Washington was finally addressed by the President in July when he stated to Congress "One of the greatest perplexities of the Government is to avoid receiving troops faster than it can provide for them." That message was in response to a meeting of the Governors of the Northern States held in May that Morgan did not attend. At that time the Governors were criticizing the Federal Government for not taking more men.[17]  By August, the Governors were looking to the Federal Government for support in stopping the acceptance of independent regiments. The Federal Government responded on September 16, banning independent recruitment throughout the States.[18]  Ironically the problem became critical after the Presidents call on July 25, for 500,000 three-year volunteers New York was responsible for twenty five thousand. Competition for enlistment's became fierce, this was due in part to the authorizations made by the Federal Government for seventy five independent regiments between July 22, and August 30. This was due in part to the continued lack of communication between Cameron and Lincoln. The other factor influencing the drop in enlistments was the defeat at Bull Run that gave the patriotic zeal of the North a strong dose of reality.[19] 

     In New York State, Morgan acted to end independent recruitment just before the Federal Government. On September 5, notice of New York State General Order 71 was transmitted through the Quartermaster Generals office that no volunteer unit would be equipped by the State unless authorized by the Governor.[20]  By this means, Morgan surmounted the problem of the rights of the people of the State to join the Federal Army of their own volition. They remained free to do so but from that point forward, the State would take no responsibility for them.

     Another struggle between the State and Federal Governments dealt with the selection and commissioning of officers. Under the first call of April 16, the President had authorized the appointment of two Major Generals; Morgan appointed John A. Dix and James Wadsworth. On May 4, War Department General Order Number 15 reserved the appointment of Generals to the President. Morgan held his ground and was vindicated in September when both Dix and Wadsworth received the Rank of Major General. Furthermore, Governor Morgan was appointed Major General of Volunteers the Department of New York was created with General Morgan commanding. Morgan refused any salary for the position; however, it did strengthen his position in the State's authority over troops.[21]  Morgan beginning with the July 25, call already applied General Order 15 to a lesser extent. The State as well as the Federal Government required a written examination that all commissioned officers had to pass. Under Morgan's interpretation of the Order elections remained for Company grade officers while field grade officers were henceforth, appointed by the Governor. The elective process of the Company grade officers was offset by specific recruitment totals set down by Morgan. To be commissioned a Second Lieutenant required the recruitment of thirty men, First Lieutenant 40 men, and Captain upon completion of a Company sized element. Promotions in the field were based on merit and came only through the ranks of that particular unit. Field grade appointments were generally a matter of patronage although Morgan did seek out as many West Point men as possible.[22] 

     During the period of July 22-27 the Federal Government validated the request for five hundred thousand volunteers, enacted a law for indemnifying the States, and permission was received to make purchases billed to the Federal Government. These actions freed the Governor from obligations to the State Legislature and made the equipping of the volunteers easier. The U.S. Congress also provided a bounty of one hundred dollars per man who volunteered which helped speed up the recruitment process.[23] 

     It was under the circumstances above that the Forty-Forth New York Volunteers were raised. The Forty-Forth started out as an independently raised regiment drawing on the entire State for men. The Peoples Ellsworth Association had set high standards for the Regiment and counted on the strong wave of patriotism of May 1861, to fill its ranks quickly. The grass roots movement was also fueled by resentment felt in the State with the death of its native son Col. Ephraim Elmer Ellsworth. In May with the founding of the Ellsworth Association the Regiment seemed destined to be raised and equipped completely by the Association and given into direct service of the U. S. Army outside the jurisdiction of the State for the duration of the war. The Association expected to have the Regiment organized, uniformed and equipped by June.[24] Although the Regiment was still incomplete, the Association continued an independent coarse through July. On July 20, Mayor Thatcher the President of the Association, acting on instructions of the Association, sent a letter to Erastus Corning, the Association's Treasurer, and representative from New York in the U.S. Congress, asking if he would ask President Lincoln, prior to the Assembly of Congress, if the Regiment would be accepted. The Executive Committee of the Association was trying to gain "if possible a definite answer."[25]  This correspondence also causes question to the context of President Lincoln's speech cited above (page 8) and about his motives in accepting independent regiments. The President apparently had many similar requests by that time due to the large number of independent organizations that were accepted immediately following his address. Possibly all that was missing up to that time was the means provide for them which was obtained by the end of the week of the Associations request. The option must have had strong appeal to the President, even if only New York State is used as an example. Dealing with Governor Morgan up to that point and his States Rights agenda could all have been avoided leaving more time to focus on the war effort. In fact the People's Ellsworth Regiment was accepted by Lincoln if it was complete within twenty one days of July 24, however, the Committee found themselves unable to meet that deadline and as a result the regiment became the Forty- Forth, New York Volunteers.[26]  By this means, the Soldiers of the Forty-Forth gained benefits not previously available as the second circular of the Association illuminated and they were put under the control of the Governor through the Federal call of July 25.[27] 

     By December 1, 1861, Governor Morgan, had supplied over one hundred thousand men making New York second only to Pennsylvania in raising troops. However, with the coming of the New Year responsibility for recruiting changed to Federal hands through War Department General Order105. Morgan protested the policy to no avail. The War Department on April 3, 1862 rescinded order 105 and recruiting responsibilities returned to the Governors of the States. [28] 

      By June, the Federal government again took responsibility for raising troops the difference here was the President wanted the appearance of a move by the Governors to raise more troops. Beneath the guise of popular support Lincoln, called for three hundred thousand, three-year troops on July 1. Enrollment for the Militia law that was a Federal force being raised in the States had started the previous month this call was for three hundred thousand men, nine-month men. Simultaneously, the Federal Government was recruiting men to replace men of the Regiments in the field, which was completely outside of State control. Furthermore, Congress passed a conscription law on July 17, that would go into effect on August 15, if the Militia quota were not filled by that date. The final quota to be taken from New York was approximately one hundred twenty thousand men, half of them three year men and the other half nine month militiamen exclusive of the men recruited for existing regiments. To fill the new Regiments of three-year men Morgan delegated authority amongst the thirty-two senatorial districts allowing committees of leading citizens to raise and encamp troops in a hometown atmosphere. The State also offered a bounty for enlistment.[29] 

The Militia Act which was a struggle for all the States due to the split in control between State and Federal governments. Morgan dealt with this in a rather backhanded fashion. He did this to fend off the Draft, which was perceived by the State's Rights Governor as intolerable. After August, when the conscription act loomed large over the State, Morgan continually corresponded with Secretary of War Stanton. He received permission from him to fill part of this quota with three-year men. Morgan's stated reason for this was that the War was sure to last for another three years. However, his true motive was that by his interpretation of the Militia Act each three year man counted as four nine month man. Sorting out the policy became the responsibility of Governor Seymour who became Governor-elect in November. By the end of 1862, New York had contributed another one hundred sixteen thousand eight hundred and three men to the War. The Governor's performance overall was commendable. He moved on to a post in the U.S. Senate although he is best remembered as "the War Governor".[30] 


[1]  Marvin A. Kreidberg and Merton G. Henry, History of Military Mobilization in the United States Army 1775-1945 (Washington, 1955), p.84. Return to Text

[2]  Ibid., pp. 88-89. Return to Text

[3]  Ibid., pp. 90-92. Return to Text

[4]  Fred Albert Shannon, The Organization and Administration of The Union Army1861-1865 (Gloucester, 1965) pp. 15-21. Return to Text

[5]  James A. Rawley, Edwin D. Morgan 1811-1883 Merchant in Politics ( New York, 1955), pp. 120-121. Return to Text

[6]  Ibid. , p. 123. Return to Text

[7]  Ibid. , pp. 124-25. Return to Text

[8] Ibid. , pp. 130-31. Return to Text

[9]  Ibid. , pp. 134-35. Return to Text

[10]  Ibid. , 136-37. Return to Text

[11]  Ibid. , 140-42. Return to Text

[12]  Eugene Arus Nash, A History of the Forty-Forth Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War, 1861-1865 (Chicago, 1911), p. 5. Return to Text

[13]  Rawley, Edwin D. Morgan, pp. 143-46. Return to Text

[14]  Ibid. , pp. 146-48. Return to Text

[15]  Edwin D. Morgan Papers, New York State Library, Collection Call # GK11818, box 84, folder 7. Return to Text

[16]  Rawley, Edwin D. Morgan, pp. 148-49. Return to Text

[17]  Ibid. , p. 143. Return to Text

[18]  Ibid. , pp. 150-51. Return to Text

[19]  Ibid. , pp. 163-65. Return to Text

[20]  Edwin D. Morgan Papers, New York State Library, Collection Call # GK11818, box 41 folder 1. Return to Text

[21]  Rawley, Edwin D. Morgan, pp. 151-52. Return to Text

[22]  Ibid. , pp. 162-63. Return to Text

[23]  Ibid. , pp. 159-61. Return to Text

[24]  Nash, A History of the Forty-Forth, pp. 7-11. Return to Text

[25]  Corning Collection, Papers of Erastus Corning, Box 77, Folder 7, Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany N.Y. Return to Text

[26]  Nash, A History of the Forty-Forth, p. 11. Return to Text

[27]  Nash, A History of the Forty-Forth, p. 12. Return to Text

[28]  Rawley, Edwin D. Morgan, pp. 167-68. Return to Text

[29]  Ibid, pp. 173-77. Return to Text

[30]  Ibid, pp. 180-83. 12 12