President Lincoln Hires a Stand In


1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Oct 10, 2012
Mt. Jackson, Va
Many healthy men who were eligible to serve in the military during the Civil War never ended up enlisting. The Enrollment Act of 1863 provided that a draftee could pay a “substitute” the sum of $300 (about $5,000 in today’s terms) in order to enlist in his place. Grover Cleveland and John D. Rockefeller were two of the more prominent men who took advantage of the provision and bought their way out of serving. Abraham Lincoln was too old for the draft, and, being president, he was exempt regardless of his age. But the Army was short of men, and the commander in chief wanted to encourage other “ineligibles” like himself to voluntarily hire a substitute. To that end, in 1864 he paid a “representative recruit” to fight for him. A 19-year-old Pennsylvanian, John Summerfield Staples, was the choice. This was not the first enlistment for Staples, he had served as another man's sub earlier in the war. When Lincoln approved of Staples, he paid him $500 and told him he hoped he would be " one of the fortunate ones."
An official swore that Staples was of age, “free from all bodily defects and mental infirmity,” and “was entirely sober when enlisted.” The official recorded that the substitute had blue eyes and brown hair and was 5 feet 3 inches tall. He went on to have a relatively easy time of it in the Army; serving for only a year and worked as a clerk and guard. His later life was less lucky. He suffered from poor health, and although he applied for a Civil War pension in 1882—claiming to be disabled following the typhoid fever he suffered during his first enrollment—his application was denied. Staples died of a heart attack in 1888 at the age of 43.

Further reading:


John Summerfield Staples

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