Civil War soldiers and bounty payments
Did you know that many Civil War soldiers were paid money to enlist? Some soldiers did fight out of a sense of patriotic duty, but many also saw it was a way to make some extra money. Bounties were paid based on at what point during the war they enlisted and for how long. Soldiers enlisting in 1861 for three years were entitled to a $100 bounty (almost $3,000 in today’s money). By 1863, the amount went up to $400 for a five year enlistment (about $8,500 in today’s money).
Civil War service records will tell you if your ancestor received bounty. In this case, William Cady was a poor farmer from New York with a wife and two young children to support. At the age of 42 he enlisted in the 194th New York Infantry, and his service records show that he was receiving $33.33 per month as a bounty (about $565 in today’s money, every month).
At 42, he was older than the average soldier. This bounty can help explain why a married man of his age might decide to go off to join the war. He may have been drafted and had no choice, but he also may have been taking advantage of the federal bounty paid to soldiers and saw it as a way to help support his family.
What stories are in your ancestor’s Civil War files at the National Archives? Let me help you find out!