previous next


No graver question was ever considered by this court; nor one which more nearly concerns the rights of the whole people; for it is a birthright of every American citizen charged with crime to be tried and punished according to law. . . . If there was a law to justify the military trial it is not our province to interfere; if there was not, it is our duty to declare the nullity of the whole proceedings.—Decision United States Supreme Court, ex parte Milligan.

When General McClellan assumed the chief command of the United States forces in the East, he devoted his undoubted talents for organization and a considerable part of his time to the definition of the duties of staff-officers of his command. In the performance of this task he assigned to a provost-marshal-general ‘a class of duties which had not before in our service been defined and grouped under the management of a special department.’ Among these duties were the suppression of marauding and the depredations on private property, the preservation of good order, the prevention of straggling, the suppression of gambling houses or other establishments prejudicial to good order and discipline, and the supervision of hotels, saloons, and places of resort and amusement generally. To this officer was also entrusted the duty of making searches, seizures, and arrests, the custody of deserters from the opposing forces and of prisoners of war, the issuance of passes to citizens, and the hearing of complaints of citizens.

From this long list of important duties it is obvious that the provost-marshal partook of the character both of a chief of police and of a magistrate. When an army was actively

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Lambdin P. Milligan (1)
George B. McClellan (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: