The President’s Substitute

John Summerfield Staples

John Summerfield Staples served in the Union Army during the Civil War, a distinction he shared with about two million of his compatriots.  He never advanced beyond the rank of private.   His service was honorable but undistinguished, with one exception.

Born in 1845 in rural Stroud Township in Monroe, Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Union Army in late1862 in the 176th Pennsylvania.  His service was cut short after a few months due to illness, probably typhoid fever.  In 1864 he was working with his father as a carpenter in Washington, DC.

In October 1864 he was approached by  Noble D. Larner, president of the 3rd Ward Draft Club.  Larner explained that President Lincoln wanted to pay a man as a substitute for him in the Union Army.  Draft age men could pay a substitute to join up in their stead during the War.  That practice was highly controversial.  However, it was considered patriotic for non-draft age men like Lincoln to pay a man to go and fight for the Union.   Staples had acted as a substitute for a Robert A. Berry of Monroe County when he enlisted the first time.  The Union Army was going through a manpower shortage at the time, with many of the men who had enlisted for three years in 1861 leaving the Army, and Lincoln wished to set a good example for others who could afford it to pay men to enlist. 

Staples agreed, met with Lincoln at the White House, who told him that he hoped he would be one of the fortunates to go through his service in the Army unharmed, was paid $800.00 by Lincoln from Lincoln’s personal funds, a considerable sum at a time when Union privates were paid $14.00 a month, and joined the 2nd Regular DC Volunteers.  His service was non-dramatic.  He saw no combat and served as a clerk and prison guard.  He mustered out in September of 1865 and went back to Monroe County, Pennsylvania, residing in the town of Stroudsburg.  He died at age 43 in 1888, his tombstone recalling his one touch with fame:

J. Summerfield Staples
A Private of
Co.C. 176 Reg. PV
Also a member of the
2 Reg D.C. Vols as a
Substitute for
Abraham Lincoln
Jan. 11, 1888
Aged 43 Yrs 4 Mos &
27 Days

Published in: on September 29, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The President’s Substitute  
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