Military Monday: Army Recruitment in 1858

Army Recruitment Ad in the Daily State Sentinel, Indianapolis, Indiana, 27 April 1858, page 3, via Hoosier State Chronicles.
Army Recruitment Ad in the Daily State Sentinel, Indianapolis, Indiana, 27 April 1858, page 3, via Hoosier State Chronicles. (Click to enlarge.)

Springsteen Family (Click for Family Tree)

This 1858 ad seems somewhat charming in a way, taken as is. Just $11-22 per month pay? That is about $300-600 in today’s dollars. No wife or child? It made sense to not have encumbrances, as at that time, the US Army was fighting Native Americans out west and in Florida, was involved in armed conflict with the Mormons in Utah, had become a player on the world stage, etc. Although our founding fathers had not wanted a standing army, by the 1850s it was deemed a necessity, hence this advertisement for new Army recruits.

But once this ad is put into the context of the times and our family, as well as our nation, it is actually a chilling foreshadowing.

The years leading up to the Civil War were contentious, whether the issue was overtly slavery or the deeper heart of the matter- state’s rights. Economics were in play as well, with not just the huge property value of slaves being an issue- the South felt that the federal tariffs were favorable to the North and penalized the South. Our nation was quite divided by all of these issues.

In May, another massacre had occurred in ‘Bleeding Kansas’ with pro-slavery forces crossing from Missouri into Kansas Territory, which was in the process of determining whether or not to be a slave state. The gang captured 11 Free-Staters who were not armed and had not been involved with any of the previous violence- many of them actually knew the gang leader and went willingly as they did not realize the intention was to shoot them down in cold blood. Five died in the incident, and only one of the gang members was ever prosecuted. (He was later hanged.)

[We had families by the name of Hemphill, Turner, Daniel, and Thomas in Missouri (although most were originally from southern states), possibly Joseph H. Payne in Kansas Territory, and quite a few families who lived in border states or the south during this time period. They all would have seen the violence and hatred up close and possibly personal.]

Abraham Lincoln in 1858. Ambrotype by Abraham Byers, Beardstown, Illinois, via Wikipedia; public domain.
Abraham Lincoln in 1858. Ambrotype by Abraham Byers, Beardstown, Illinois, via Wikipedia; public domain. (Click to enlarge.)

Not long after the above recruitment ad and the pro-slavery ‘Marais des Cygnes massacre,’ Abraham Lincoln gave his famous “House Divided” speech on 16 June 1858 as he accepted his Republican party’s nomination for the Illinois US Senate seat. He was pitted against Stephen A. Douglas, who felt each state or territory had the right to choose whether or not they wanted slavery.

Here is the passage you might remember from history class:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.”

The famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates began that August, and although Lincoln did not win the Senate seat that election, his ‘House Divided’ speech helped to put him in the forefront of his party and the abolition/federal vs. state’s rights cause.

There was, most likely, a young boy named Abram Furman Springsteen (1850-1930) taking in all of this news and such advertisements with wide eyes. Although his father, Jefferson Springsteen (1820-1909) was a Democrat, because Jeff was active in local politics, Abram would have heard the latest news and discussions, probably from both sides, for quite a few years.  Abram was only 7 at the time of the ad, and he turned 8 in July, after Lincoln’s speech. By age 11, he was running away to join the Army, on the Union side. Apparently, Northern sympathies trumped his father’s political party, at least, for a young man in Indiana. Or maybe it was the exciting visit of Abraham Lincoln who stopped in Indianapolis on 11 February 1861, as he was on his way to be inaugurated as the 16th President of the United States… We will probably never know for sure, but it is interesting to see the history and context of the times of our ancestors through newspapers and other research, so we can determine how it may have motivated the events of their lives.


Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. Army Recruitment Ad in the Daily State Sentinel, Indianapolis, Indiana, 27 April 1858, page 3, via Hoosier State Chronicles.
  2. ‘1858 in the United States’–
  3. ‘Marais des Cygnes massacre’–
  4. ‘Lincoln’s House Divided Speech’–

  5. ‘The Abraham Lincoln Blog’–
  6. Of course, the glamour and glory of going off to war may also have inspired Abram to enlist. He was quite a patriotic man in his later years, though, strongly believing in the United States and its government, so Abram’s reasons for enlisting were likely many.
  7. See also “Wisdom Wednesday: The Springsteens and Abraham Lincoln”–


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