View Full Version : "Voting" To Go To The Front...

03-27-2007, 09:54 PM
Last year I transcribed a large grouping of Civil War letters from an Ohio family with several son's serving in various regiments. In one letter, written on June 7, 1864 from Ft. Derussey, Washington DC, the soldier describes his regiment taking a vote on whether they wished to go to the front to join the Army of the Potomac. The letter reads:

Last night about four o clock PM there was a dispatch come to Head Quarters 170th Regt couched in these words “Does the 170th wish to go to the front?” You may imagine the excitement these few words raised in camp. The men had to vote upon it and were given 1 hour to make up their minds. There was a great deal of talking done in that hour. A few wished to go but a larger majority wished to stay. The vote was taken and our Co voted 10 to go and 73 to stay. The vote of the whole Regiment was 80 to go and the balance wished to stay. What do you think that speaks for the patriotism of the 170th? It was truly a knotty question to decide upon whether we would go down before Richmond and assist Grant and the gallant men in his command or whether we would remain where we are. I was never more puzzled in my life to know what would be right for me to do in any case than in this. As far as I was individually concerned I would rather go and act the soldier in earnest and help Grant and his suffering army than to remain where we are playing the soldier but a member of Co. G. I didn’t feel as though my vote was my own. If a majority of the Company wanted to go the whole company would undoubtedly have to go and there were a great many men who did not wish to go. Men who had left families in Ohio. Men who said that they wouldn’t go. That they would die first. Who claimed that they had been swindled into the service. That they never enlisted for the purpose of going to the front of even out of the state. And the question with me was have I a right to say go when by voting go I might send men to the front who would rather do almost anything else.

Later in the letter, the soldier notes:

Today the 163rd Regt O.N.G. which is in our Brigade was ordered to go to the reinforcement of Grant. They took a vote on the proposition we did and there was only 10 in the whole regiment voted to go but notwithstanding they were ordered forward today and will start tomorrow morning at 1o clock. Our Regt is likewise ordered to move but we go into the Fort they leave. Our turn will come next and one of these days up will come and order for the 170th to go. If we are needed I will say Amen to the order.

I was wondering if it was common practice at this stage of the war to allow these National Guard or late war regiments to vote whether they wished to move to the seat of war? There is a fine book available entitled "100 Days to Richmond" on the subject of Ohio National Guard troops, but I do not recall the book mentioning the subject of voting. These late war troops were promised "behind the scenes" duties, such as guarding railroads, prison camps, etc, so I understand their frustration at the thought of being sent in harms way. The men making up most of these regiments were the young and old men left who had not enlisted. In the case of the author, he had served previously in two regiments, but illness necessitated a discharge in 1862 before volunteering again in '64.

Clearly, as mentioned in the case of the 163rd ONG, your vote did not always guarantee the desired outcome. Has anyone else seen mention of regiments being given this option at this stage in the war?

J. Gilot

03-30-2007, 08:11 PM
The "Hundred Day Men" were Federalized. They did not have a vote in where they were to go. My own gg grandfather was with the 160th OVI guarding rail lines around Harpers Ferry.