Private, Company I, 76th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, Schuylkill County Volunteers
February 1865 to June 1865
Private, Company G, 151st Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, Burks County Volunteers
September 1862 to July 1863
(As related by great-grandchildren Nate and Rosemary Pearson)
This Harper’s Weekly cartoon exposes the corruption existing under the policy which allowed paid substitutes to serve in place of military draftees during the Civil War. In this cartoon, a recruitment broker, dressed in the familiar garb of a nineteenth-century “confidence man” (con man), bribes a barber to disguise an elderly man as a young substitute.
The caption reads Volunteer-Broker (to Barber) ” Look a-here – I want you to trim up this old chap with a flaxen wig and a light mustache, so as to make him look like twenty; and as I shall probably clear three hundred dollars on him, I sha’n’t mind giving you fifty for the job.”
When the Civil War began in 1861, both sides assumed they would win a quick victory, and had more volunteers than they could readily accommodate. As the war went on, both sides suffered from manpower shortages and resorted to military drafts to fill the ranks; the Confederacy in April 1862, and the Union in March 1863. Both measures were unpopular. The Union policy spawned draft riots in cities across the North in the summer of 1863, with the worst being four days of bloody civil disorder in New York City in early July.
The Union draft age of 20-45 was broken into two classes: 1) single men 20-45 and married men 20-35; and 2) married men over 35. Those in the latter group were rarely conscripted. That a man was drafted into the Union military, however, did not mean that he would serve. Some draftees simply did not report for duty. Others were sent back home if their district had already filled its quota. Some men were exempted for various reasons, such as having a physical disability or familial dependents with no other means of support.
Finally, the federal law allowed draftees to pay a commutation fee of $300 to the government, which did not exempt them from future drafts, or to hire a substitute to enroll in their place, which did exempt them from all drafts. The Union conscripted 207,000 men, but 87,000 anted up the commutation fee, while 74,000 hired substitutes, who were mainly those too young for the draft or non-citizen immigrants ineligible for it. This practice led to charges of a “rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.” In reality, unskilled workers often had commutation or substitute costs paid by their employers, local governments (funded by property taxes), or partisan political machines, such as New York City’s Tammany Hall.
The Union had set the commutation fee at $300 in order to prevent repetition of the skyrocketing substitution prices—over $1,000—occurring under the Confederacy’s draft policy. The federal commutation fee was repealed later in 1864. Yet, the Union’s complex draft law and procedures provided plenty of opportunities for fraud.
Very little is known about James’ early years other than he was born in England in 1841 and reportedly served in the Queen’s Guard. The Queen’s Guard is the name given to the contingent of infantry responsible for guarding Buckingham Palace and St. James’s Palace in London. A detachment is also responsible for providing the guard at the Tower of London. He came to the United States in 1862 and obtained employment in the coal mines in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.
He fell in love with a young lady from the Brisbun/Ramey area of Pennsylvania, but his marriage proposal was not exactly welcomed by the young lady’s mother. James had no money, no family, no reputation, no significant assets other than his name and good intentions. He saw a newspaper advertisement placed by a Mr. Charles Schuler offering a $300 commutation fee to any qualified person who would serve in the Union Army in Mr. Schuler’s place. James accepted the $300, turned most of it over to the mother of the young lady, who apparently felt that he now had sufficient assets, and used the balance to get married to Mary in Pottsville, Pennsylvania on February 19, 1865.
James reported to the 76th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment the next day, February 20, 1965 to keep his end of the bargain and to serve in Mr. Schuler’s place. They were known as The Keystone Zouaves. Who were the Zouaves? The origins of the Zouaves can be traced to the Zouaoua, a fiercely independent Kabyli tribe living in the rocky hills of Algeria and Morocco. In their day, they were better known than the French Foreign Legion, revered by their countrymen as tough, dashing, roistering daredevils; heroes of many a hard-fought battles; the stuff of legend.
Young U.S. Army captain, George B. McClellan, who observed the colorful and exotic fighters in 1855, praised the Zouaves as “The finest light infantry that Europe can produce….the beau-ideal of a soldier.” It was not long before American militia units began to adopt the baggy trousers, braided jacket and tasseled fez of these famed Gallic warriors.
James saw plenty of action in his 5 months with the 76th Regiment. The regiment was involved in the assault and capture of Fort Anderson, North Carolina in February 1865, the advance on Goldsboro, North Carolina in March, the occupation of Raleigh, North Carolina in April, and Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s surrender at Bennett’s House in Durham Station, North Carolina in April, 1865.
The details of James’ life during the post Civil War period, from 1865 to 1885, are vague, but it is known that he worked off and on in the coal mines and entered a soldiers home in 1885. He was reported to be a heavy drinker and his wife, Mary separated from him. He was moved to The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Dayton, Ohio in 1893. His disability, for which he received a pension of $12 per month, was attributed to a case of pneumonia he developed in February, 1884. It resulted in paralysis on his left side. He lived in the home for 15 years until his death on February 14, 1908.
Rosemary Pearson’s great-grandfather, Daniel Zechman, volunteered for duty in the Union Army in September, 1862 at the age of 40. He was enlisted into Company G, 151st Regiment at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In June of 1863 his regiment marched from Harrisburg to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. During the first week of July the regiment was engaged in the Battle of Gettysburg. Specifically, Daniel’s regiment withstood the charge of Confederate General Pickett’s division in what was the bloodiest engagement of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Robert E. Lee was the Confederate commander and George G. Meade was in command of the Union forces which fought for three full days from July 1 to July 3. The total of Confederate and Union forces engaged in the battle exceeded 157,000. There were 51,112 casualties, 10,000 of whom were killed outright. Daniel’s regiment suffered an enormous number of casualties (367 out of 487 officers and men), but their casualty rate was only the third highest for the battle. The 26th North Carolina, the Confederate regiment facing the 151st, suffered a 73% casualty rate and lost 714 of its 800 men at Gettysburg. On the first day, this regiment lost 584 dead and wounded, and when roll was called the next morning for G Company, one man answered. He had been knocked unconscious by a shell burst the day before. This roll was called by a sergeant who lay on a stretcher with a severe leg wound. The 24th Michigan, a gallant Federal regiment which was in front of the North Carolinians on the first day, lost 362 of its 496 men. At times, only 20 paces separated the regiments during their engagement.
At least 618,000 Americans died in the Civil War. Some experts say the toll reached 700,000. The number that is most often quoted is 620,000. At any rate, these casualties exceed the nation’s loss in all its other wars, from the Revolution through Vietnam.
General Lee’s army was pursued in his retreat from Gettysburg by the 151st Regiment until Lee and his army crossed the Potomac River into Virginia. Daniel and the 151st then traveled to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia and eventually back to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where he was discharged on July 28th, 1863.
In his later years, Daniel suffered from what was described as “disease of the lungs”, and a tumor in his left shoulder believed to have been caused by carrying a knapsack on the many long marches. He received a $12 per month pension until his death in 1910.
During the course of researching what happened to their respective great-grandfathers, Nate and Rosemary Pearson have become Civil War buffs and have visited many of the great battlefields. They report that Elderhostel has great educational programs for those who are interested in learning more about the Civil War. Both James Wiseman and Daniel Zechman are memorialized with pavers at the Worcester County Veterans Memorial at Ocean Pines. Nate Pearson is honored as well for his U.S. Army service during the Korean War.
~ GEORGE REISWIG