Publication Date

March 2020




UNC Press


Over 2 million men, including African Americans, served in the U.S. army during the Civil War. But questions remain about what may have (or not) motivated men to join the U.S. Army. Recent scholarship moves the historical conversation beyond discussions of military tactics and prominent figures to an important, but often marginalized topic—U.S. Army recruitment's financial logistics. Brian P. Luskey argues in Men is Cheap: Exposing the Frauds of Free Labor in Civil War America, that capitalism, class dynamics, and labor speculation is critical to understanding both the successes and shortcomings of U.S. Army recruitment. Luskey places U.S. Army labor brokers as the central figures of his study. He emphasizes their usage of the free labor system, made famous by the Free Labor Party (and later the Republican Party), to boost enlistment numbers through monetary enticements. Furthermore, Luskey asserts that labor brokers' willingness to apply capitalist elements of the fee labor system allowed some U.S. Army representatives (and occasionally potential substitutes) to profit from wealthy northerners' unwillingness to serve financially.