T Nation

Life in the Union Army


"Historian Ella Lonn described how Lincoln created "harmony" within the U.S. Army in the face of massive desertions by literally hundreds of thousands of Northern men in her book, Desertion During the Civil War. Draftees "were held like veritable prisoners" and Lincolnâ??s government "had no compunctions about shooting or hanging deserters," wrote Lonn. The murder of deserters achieved Nazi-like efficiency: "A gallows and shooting ground were provided in each corps and scarcely a Friday passed during the winter of 1863â??64 that some wretched deserter did not suffer the death penalty in the Army of the Potomac. . . . The death penalty was so unsparingly used that executions were almost daily occurrences. . ." The "method of execution" was "generally shooting but hanging seems to have been used occasionally."



Okay...so? Desertion and treason have both been capital offenses since long before the USA was born. Big deal.




Did Di-Lie-Renzo mention that compared to a convicted Union soldier, a convicted Army of Northern Virginia soldier was more than twice as likely to be ordered shot, four times as likely to be ordered branded, five times as likely to be ordered tattooed and three times as likely to be ordered flogged?

I think old Stonewall's eyes lit up every time he got to round up his firing squad.


What "historian" Ella Lonn fails to mention with any clarity or importance is that desertion rates in the Civil War were much more likely to be higher in the North than the South because the war was fought in the South. Most S'erners did not fight to protect slavery or out of some warped need to preserve states's rights. They fought to protect their homes, plain and simple. N'erners deserted at a much higher rate because for them there was a much smaller sense of personal "investment" in the war, regardless of the cause, because it was not fought in their home towns or states.

Also, the desertion rates were much higher in the North overall, but slowed dramatically as the South's rates increased dramatically after late 1863, when the war began to very quickly shift tides against the South. It took about 3 years for the North to gain the upper hand on all fronts in the war, and until this happened there were a lot of N'erners who saw the war as hopeless. But the tides shifted and after a year and a half it was the South who was deserting at a much higher rate. It just did not happen for as long, hence the lower total amount of desertions from the South. If the war had gone on for another year or two, there is no doubt that the total amount of desertions would have ended up roughly even at the least, and probably ended up higher in the South.


Well, if you choose to ignore that Lincolns definition of "treason" was quite extensive, like in, "putting Cheney/Rumsfeld" to shame extensive....

Incidentally teh US constitution defines "treason" rather narrowly as:

Section 3. Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

So it turns out a lot of the people Lincoln had executed were not "traitors" at all.


A war of aggression is usually not as popular with ordinary citizens, which is why desertions were higher in the North. Most men have no desire to burn down someone's farm simply because they (the victims) simply want to decide their own fates. This is a big reason why the North had to load up their army with Europeans, especially from Ireland -- foreigners had less empathy with American women and children, such as whose homes were torched by General Sherman.

Northerners sure are good at total war, a tradition that continued at Dresden and Hiroshima.


"...Northerners sure are good at total war, a tradition that continued at Dresden and Hiroshima..."

HH...I'm almost afraid to ask; but what do you mean by this?



Yes. But the OP is on desertion, which is not defined as treason, and is ALSO still a capital offense, and has been for centuries before the USA was formed. So again my response is, "what's the point?" This OP isn't shocking, surprising, or even disappointing to me.


The Civil War was a war of attrition. Killing non-combatants became official policy of the Northern government.

It takes a special kind of person to burn down a farm house, burn all the crops, kill or steal all the livestock, and leave women and children standing there by the side of the road watching this happen.

Intentionally bombing civilians is a war crime. Bombing of Dresden and Hiro/Naga was a crime. Even though I would happily bomb Iranian military targets, even I wouldn't bomb non-combatants.

As an aside: 2 great-uncles and my great-grandad helped burn Atlanta and two marched with Sherman. My own dad was on Okinawa waiting to invade Kyushu when the Bomb ended the war. I may be alive because of those nukes.

They should have only attacked military targets though.


Unless you're about 100 years old, I doubt your great-anything marched with Sherman. And as far as "official policy" you're way off the mark again. You state that killing non-combatants was official policy, then you state that Sherman left non-combatants standing by the side of the road. Given that Lincoln directly ordered Sherman NOT to kill non-combatants and then Sherman (according to your very words) did NOT kill non-combatants, you've egregiously contradicted yourself here.



You are over a century late.


Anyone who doubts that Sherman's March to the Sea was purposefully designed to destroy the economic base of the South is not dealing with facts. The goal WAS to destroy the economy of the South. How do they do that without destroying everything? Ask them nicely to burn down their barns?

My g-grandfather and his brothers were born in the late 1830's (GGpa in 1841). They fought with the Illinois 57th Volunteers. My great-grandfather came home with enough loot to open a butcher shop near Peoria. Yes, they were LOOTERS.

In fact, I read somewhere that Lincoln teasingly asked Sherman if 'his boys' came home with a lot of 'baubles and trinkets'. My ancestor did.

Leaving people to starve, raping the women (especially black women), leaving a path of destruction 60 miles wide...yep, 'Save the Union!!' LOL!!


So what was the official policy HH? Killing non-combatants or destroying the economic base? I don't blame them for destroying the economic base; it destroyed the South's ability to make war against the North. That's the official policy of ALL nations at war; destroy their ability to destroy you.


Yes, it was official Sherman policy to burn rape and loot. It was encouraged to demoralize the south.

Second, the south never (but for one very brief excursion and only after being invaded) never made war on the north.

But basically, the civil war just blew big donkey balls all around. No one was the good guy, and everyone back then had blood on their hands.


Rape was NOT an official policy of Sherman's. He made as much crystal clear in letter to and from Lincoln and a couple of commanding officers. If it happened anyways, it was against his direct orders. Provide me with primary evidence to back up your claims. I have provided reams of primary evidence to back mine up, and it's all in the Jefferson Vs. Lincoln thread. If you can't provide primary evidence, then your argument rests purely on conjecture and assumption.


Your evidence is that he told the president it wasn't on purpose.

If it was against orders, what was the punishment? The fact that it wasn't punished, and was rampantly allowed is proof of the reality of what he did and intended.


Sherman's official policy, in his own words:

... IV. The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten day's provisions for the command and three days' forage.

Soldiers must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants, or commit any trespass, but during a halt or a camp they may be permitted to gather turnips, apples, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock of their camp. To regular foraging parties must be instructed the gathering of provisions and forage at any distance from the road traveled.

V. To army corps commanders alone is entrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, &c., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.

VI. As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit, discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly. Foraging parties may also take mules or horses to replace the jaded animals of their trains, or to serve as pack-mules for the regiments or brigades.

In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.

VII. Negroes who are able-bodied and can be of service to the several columns may be taken along, but each army commander will bear in mind that the question of supplies is a very important one and that his first duty is to see to them who bear arms. ...

â?? William T. Sherman , Military Division of the Mississippi Special Field Order 120, November 9, 1864.


Rape was punished. Not all rapes were punished, but what crime anywhere goes entirely punished? Did Sherman allow rape to happen simply because not all of the rapists were caught and punished? No.


even though they pretty much all did it? That is some, or a few, but a systematic majority.

Ever been to the cemeteries in Savannah?