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VIII. offences and punishments.

“They braced my aunt against a board,
To make her straight and tall;
They laced her up, they starved her down,
To make her light and small;
They pinched her feet, they singed her hair,
They screwed it up with pins;--
Oh, never mortal suffered more
In penance for her sins.

No popular history of the war has yet treated in detail of the various indiscretions of which soldiers were guilty, nor of the punishments which followed breaches of discipline. Perhaps such a record is wanting because there are many men yet alive who cannot think with equanimity of punishments to which they were at some period of their service subjected. Indeed, within a few months I have seen veterans who, if not breathing out threatening and slaughter, like Saul of Tarsus,

Ball and chain.

are still unreconciled to some of their old commanders, and are brooding over their old-time grievances, real or imaginary, or both, when they ought to be engaged in more entertaining and profitable business. I shall not, because I cannot, name all the offences of soldiering to which punishments were affixed, as no two commanding officers had just the same violations of military discipline to deal with,--but I shall [144] endeavor in this chapter to include all those which appeal to a common experience.

The most common offences were drunkenness, absence from camp without leave, insubordination, disrespect to superior officers, absence from roll-call without leave, turbulence after taps, sitting while on guard, gambling, and leaving the beat without relief. To explain these offences a little more in detail — no soldier was supposed to leave camp without a pass or permit from the commander of the regiment or battery to which he belonged. A great many did leave for a few hours at a time, however, and took their chances of being missed and reported for it. In some companies, when it was thought that several were absent without a permit, a roll-call was ordered simply to catch the culprits. Disrespect to a superior officer was shown in many ways. Some of the more common ways were to “talk back,” in strong unmilitary language, and to refuse to salute him or recognize him on duty, which military etiquette requires to be done. The other

Carrying A log.

offences named explain themselves.

The methods of punishment were as diverse as the dispositions of the officers who sat in judgment on the cases of the offenders. In the early history of a regiment there was a guard-house or guard-tent where the daily guard were [145] wont to assemble, and which was their rendezvous when off post during their twenty-four hours of duty. But when the ranks of the regiment had become very much depleted, and the men pretty well seasoned in military duty, the guardtent was likely to be dispensed with. In this guard-tent offenders were put for different periods of time. Such confinement was a common punishment for drunkenness. This may not be thought a very severe penalty; still, the men did not enjoy it, as it imposed quite a restriction on their freedom to be thus pent up and cut off from the rest of their associates.

Absence from camp or roll-call without leave was punished in various ways. There was no special penalty for it. I think every organization had what was known as a Black List, on which the names of all offenders against the ordinary rules of camp were kept for frequent reference, and when there was any particularly disagreeable task about camp to be done the black list furnished a quota for the work. The galling part of membership in the ranks of the black list was that all of the work done as one of its victims was a gratuity, as the member must stand his regular turn in his squad for whatever other fatigue duty was required.

Among the tasks that were thought quite interesting and profitable pastimes for the black-listed to engage in, were policing the camp and digging and fitting up new company sinks or filling abandoned ones. A favorite treat meted out to the unfortunates in the artillery and cavalry was the burying of dead horses or cleaning up around the picket rope where the animals were tied. In brief, the men who kept off the black list in a company were spared many a hard and disagreeable job by the existence of a good long list of offenders against camp discipline.

This placing of men on the black list was not as a rule resorted to by officers who cherished petty spites or personal malice, but by it they designed rather to enforce a salutary discipline. Such officers had no desire to torture the erring, [146] but aimed to combine a reasonable form of punishment with utility to the camp and to the better behaved class of soldiers, and in this I think they were successful. But there was a class of officers who felt that every violation of camp rules should be visited with the infliction of bodily pain in some form. As a consequence, the sentences imposed by these military judges all looked towards that end. Some would buck and gag their victims; some would stand them on a barrel for a half-day or a day at a time; a favorite punishment with some was to knock out both heads of a barrel, then make the victim stand on the ends of the staves; some would compel them to wear all inverted barrel for several

Bucked and Gagged.

hours, by leaving a hole cut in the bottom, through which the head passed, making a kind of wooden overcoat; some culprits were compelled to stand a long time with their arms, extending horizontally at the side, lashed to a heavy stick of wood that ran across their backs; others were lashed to a tall wooden horse which stood perhaps eight or nine feet high; some underwent the knapsack drill, that is, they walked a beat with a guardsman two hours on and two or four hours off, wearing a knapsack filled with bricks or stones. Here is an incident related by a veteran who served in the Gulf Department: One day a captain in General Phelps' Brigade put a man on knapsack drill; in other words, he filled his knapsack with bricks, and made him march with it up and down the company street. The General had the habit of going through the camps of his brigade quite frequently, [147] and that day he happened around just in time to see the performance, but returned to his quarters apparently without noticing it. Soon, however, he sent his Orderly to the Captain with a request to come to his tent. The Captain was soon on his way, dressed in his best uniform, probably expecting, at least, a commendation for his efficiency, or perhaps a promotion. On reaching the General's tent, he was admitted, when, after the usual salute, the following dialogue took place :--

General P.--“Good-morning, Captain.”

Captain.--“Good-morning, General.”

General P.-“I sent for you, Captain, to inquire of you what knapsacks were made for.”

Captain.--“Knapsacks!--why, I suppose they were made for soldiers to carry their spare clothing in.”

General P.-“Well, Captain, I passed your camp a short time ago and saw one of your men carrying bricks in his knapsack up and down the company street. Now, go back to your company, send that man to his quarters, and don't let me know of your ordering any such punishment again while you are in my brigade.”

One regiment that I know of had a platform erected, between twenty-five and thirty feet high, on which the offender was isolated from the camp, and left to broil in the sun or soak in the rain while a guard paced his beat below, to keep away any who might like to communicate with him. [148] Some were tied up by the thumbs, with arms extended full length, and compelled to stand in that position for hours; some were put into what was known as the sweat-box. This was a box eighteen inches square, and of the full height of a man, into which the culprit was placed to stand until released. Some had their full offence written out on a board with chalk, and, with this board strapped to their backs, were marched up and down through camp the entire day, without rest or refreshment.

In the artillery, the favorite punishment was to lash the guilty party to

Loaded knapsack.

the spare wheel — the extra wheel carried on the rear portion of every caisson in a battery. In the cavalry, men were sometimes punished by being compelled to carry their packed saddle a prescribed time — no small or insignificant burden to men unused to a knapsack. Sometimes the guilty parties were required to carry a heavy stick of wood on the shoulder. I knew one such man, who, because of this punishment, took a solemn oath that he would never do another day's duty in his company; and he never isolated on A platform. did. From that day forward he reported at sick-call, but the surgeon could find no traces of disease about him, and [149] so returned him for duty. Still the man persistently refused to do duty, claiming that he was not able, and continued to report at sick-call. By refusing to eat anything, he reduced himself to such a condition that he really appeared diseased, and at last was discharged, went home, and boasted of his achievement.

Sometimes double guard-duty was ordered for a man on account of an omission or act of his while on guard. This

On the spare wheel.

punishment gave him four hours on and two off his post or beat instead of the reverse. His offence may have been failing or refusing to salute his superior officer. It may have been that he was not properly equipped. It may have been for being found off his beat, or for leaving it without having been properly relieved; or he may have failed in his duty when the “Grand rounds” appeared.

When non-commissioned officers sinned, which they did sometimes, they were punished by being reduced to the ranks.

In some organizations gambling was not allowed, in others [150] it was carried on by both officers and privates. In one command, at least, where this vice was interdicted, culprits in the ranks were punished by having one-half of the head shaved — a most humiliating and effective punishment.

Then “back talk,” as it was commonly called, which , interpreted, means answering a superior officer insolently, was a prolific cause of punishments. It did not matter in some organizations who the officer was, from colonel or captain to the last corporal,

On A wooden horse.

to hear was to obey, and under such discipline the men became the merest puppets. In theory, such a regiment was the perfect military machine, where every man was in complete subordination to one master mind. But the value of such a machine, after all, depended largely upon the kind of a man the ruling spirit was, and whether he associated his inflexibility of steel with the justice of Aristides. If he did that, then was it indeed a model organization; but such bodies were rare, for the conditions were wanting to make them abundant. The master mind was too often tyrannical and abusive, either by nature, or from having been suddenly clothed with a little brief authority over men. And often when nature, if left to herself, would have made him a good commander, an excessive use of “commissary” interfered to prevent, and the subordinates of such a leader, many of them appointed by his influence, would naturally partake of his characteristics; so that such regiments, instead of standing solidly on all occasions, were [151] weakened as a fighting body by a lack of confidence in and personal respect for their leaders, and by a hatred begotten of unjust treatment. Hundreds of officers were put in commission through influence at court, wealth or personal influence deciding appointments that should have been made solely on the basis of merit. At the beginning of the war it was inevitable that the officers should have been inexperienced and uninstructed in the details of warfare, but later this condition changed, and the service would have been strengthened and materially improved by promoting men who had done honorable service and shown good conduct in action, to commissions in new regiments. It is true that such was the intent and partial practice in some States, but the governors, more or less from necessity, took the advice of some one who was a warm personal friend of the applicant, so that shoulder-straps, instead of being always conferred for gallant conduct

In the sweat-box.

in the front rank, were sometimes a mark of distinguished prowess in the mule-train or the cookhouse, which seemed to maintain readier and more influential communication with the appointing power at the rear than was had by the men who stood nearest to the enemy.

To bow in meek submission to the uneducated authority of the civilian, or to the soldier whose record was such as not to command the respect of his fellows, was the lot of thousands of intelligent and brave soldiers, the superiors in all respects, save that of military rank alone, of these selfsame officers; and to be commanded not to answer back, [152] when they felt that they must utter a protest against injustice, was a humiliation that the average volunteer did not fully realize when he put his name to the roll,--a humiliation which grew bitterer with every new indignity. Punishments or rebukes administered by social inferiors were galling even when deserved. It seems ludicrous to me when I recall the threats I used to hear made against officers for some of their misdeeds. Many a wearer of shoulder-straps was to be shot by his own men in the first engagement. But, somehow or other, when the engagement came along there seemed to be Rebels enough to shoot without throwing away ammunition on Union men; and about that time too the men, who in more peaceful retreats were so anxious to shoot their own officers, could not always be found, when wanted, to shoot more legitimate

On the Chines.

game. In these days, when private soldiers are so scarce and officers so exceedingly abundant, the question might very naturally arise how the abundance came about if the officers were so often between two fires; but what I have said will furnish a solution to the mystery.

Then, there were hundreds of officers that were to be settled with when they reached home, and were on an equality with the private soldier so far as military rank was concerned. But while there were, as I have previously intimated, a few who took their resentments out of the service with them, they were only few in number, and it is [153] doubtful whether any of them ever executed their threatened deeds of violence. Poor underpaid non-commissioned officers, who occupied the perplexing and uncomfortable position of go-betweens, were frequently invited by privates to strip off their chevrons and be handsomely whipped for some act annoying to said privates; but I never heard of any n. c. o. sacrificing his chevrons to any such ambitionfor various reasons, of which the fear of a thrashing was not necessarily one.

There were regiments each of which, when off duty, seemed to contain at least two or three hundred colonels and captains, so much social freedom obtained between officers and rank and file, yet at the proper time there was just one commander of such a regiment to whom the men looked ready to do his bidding, even to follow him into the jaws of death. These officers were not always devout men; at an earlier period in their lives some of them may have learned to be profane; some drank commissary whiskey occasionally, it may be ; but in all their dealings with subordinates, while they made rigid exactions of them as soldiers, they never forgot that they were men, and hence, endeavoring to be just in the settlement of camp troubles, protecting their command in the full enjoyment of all its rights

A wooden overcoat.

among similar organizations, never saying “go!” but “come!” in the hour of danger, they welded their regiment into a military engine as [154] solid and reliable as the old Grecian Phalanx. Punishments in such regiments were rare, for manliness and self-respect were never crushed out by tyrants in miniature. The character of the officers had so much to do with determining the nature and amount of the punishments in the army that I consider what I have thrown in here as germane to the subject of this chapter. It should be said, in justice to both officers and privates, that the first two years of the war, when the exactions of the service were new, saw three times the number of punishments administered in the two subsequent years; but, aside

Strapped to A stick.

from the getting accustomed to the restraints of the service, campaigning was more continuous in the later years, and this kept both mind and body occupied. It is inactivity which makes the growler's paradise. Then, in the last years of the war the rigors of military discipline, the sharing of common dangers and hardships, and promotions from the ranks, had narrowed the gap between officers and privates so that the chords of mutual sympathy were stronger than before, and trivial offences were slightly rebuked or passed unnoticed.

At the beginning of the war many generals were very fearful lest some of the acts of the common soldier should give offence to the Southern people. This encouraged the latter to report every chicken lost, every bee-hive borrowed, every rail burnt, to headquarters, and subordinates were required to institute the most thorough search for evidence [155] that should lead to the detection and punishment of the culprits, besides requiring them to make full restitution of the value of the property taken. Our government and its leading officers, military and civil, seemed at that time to stand hat in hand apologizing to the South for invading its sacred territory, and almost appearing to want only a proper pretext to retire honorably from the conflict. But by the time that the Peninsular Campaign was brought to a close this kid-glove handling of the enemy had come to an end, and the wandering shote, the hen-roosts, the Virginia fence and the straw stack came to be regarded in a sense as perquisites of the Union army. Punishments for appropriating them after this time were much rarer, and the difficulty of finding the culprits increased, as the officers were becoming judiciously near-sighted. Drumming out of camp was a punishment administered for cowardice. Whenever a man's courage gave out in the face

Drumming out of camp.

of the enemy, at the earliest opportunity after the battle, he was stripped of his equipments and uniform, marched through the camp with a guard on either side and four soldiers following behind him at “charge bayonets,” while a [156] fife and drum corps brought up the rear, droning out the “Rogue's march.” He was sure of being hooted and jeered at throughout the whole camp. There were no restraints put upon the language of his recent associates, and their vocabularies were worked up to their full capacity in reviling him. After he had been thoroughly shown off to the entire command, he was marched outside the lines and set free. This whole performance may seem at first thought a very light punishment for so grave an offence, and an easy escape from the service for such men. But it was considered a most disgraceful punishment. No man liked to be called a coward, much less to be turned out of the army in that disreputable way, and the facts recorded on his regimental roll side by side with the honorable record of his fellows. He was liable to the death penalty if found in camp afterwards. Many more men deserved this punishment than ever received it. There were very few soldiers put out of the service by this method. Sometimes an officer was assaulted by a private soldier or threatened by him. For all such offences soldiers were tried by court-martial, and sentenced to the guard-house

Tied up by the thumbs.

or to hard labor at the Rip Raps or the Dry Tortugas, with loss of pay; or to wear a ball and chain attached to their ankles for a stated period. These offences were often committed under the influence of liquor, but frequently through temper [157] or exasperation at continued and unreasonable exactions, as the victim believed.

The penalty for sleeping at one's post, that is, when it was a post of danger, was death; but whether this penalty was ever enforced in our Army I am unable to state. There is a very touching story of a young soldier who was pardoned by President Lincoln for this offence, through the pitiful intercession of the young man's mother. Whether it was a chapter from real life, I am in doubt. I certainly never heard of a sentinel being visited with this extreme penalty for this offence.

The penalty attaching to desertion is death by shooting, and this was no uncommon sight in the army; but it did not seem to stay the tide of desertion in the least. I have seen it stated that there was no time in the history of the Army of the Potomac, after its organization by McClellan, when it reported less than one-fourth its full membership as absent without leave. The general reader will perhaps be interested in the description of the first execution of a deserter that I ever witnessed. It took place about the middle of October, 1863. I was then a member of Sickles' Third Corps, and my company was attached for the time being to General Birney's First Division, then covering Fairfax Station, on the extreme left of the army. The guilty party was a member of a Pennsylvania regiment. He had deserted more than once, and was also charged with giving information, to the enemy whereby a wagon-train had been captured. The whole division was ordered out to witness the execution. The troops were drawn up around three sides of a rectangle in two double ranks, the outer facing inward and the inner facing outward. Between these ranks, throughout their entire extent, the criminal was obliged to march, which he did with lowered head. The order of the solemn. procession was as shown in the accompanying diagram, the arrows indicating its direction.

First came the provost-marshal,--the sheriff of the army, [158] --mounted; next, the band playing (what to me from its associations has now come to be the saddest of all tunes) P, prisoner; C, coffin; G, grave; F, firing party; R, reserve firing party; E, twelve guards. Pleyel's Hymn, even sadder than the Dead March in “Saul,” which I heard less frequently; then followed twelve armed men, who were deployed diagonally across the open end of the space, after the procession had completed its round, to guard against any attempt the prisoner might make to escape; fourth in order came four men bearing the coffin, followed by the prisoner, attended by a chaplain, and a single guard on either side; next, a shooting detachment of twelve men. Eleven of these had muskets loaded with ball, while the twelfth had a blank cartridge in his musket; but as the muskets had been loaded beforehand by an officer, and mixed up afterwards, no one knew who had possession of the musket with the blank cartridge, so that each man, if he wanted it, had the benefit of a faint hope, at least, that his was the musket loaded without ball. After these marched an additional shooting force of six, to act in case the twelve should fail in the execution of their duty.

When the slow and solemn round had been completed, the [159] prisoner was seated on an end of his coffin, which had been placed in the centre of the open end of the rectangle, near Ills grave. The chaplain then made a prayer, and addressed a few words to the condemned man, which were not audible to any one else, and followed them by another brief prayer. The provost-marshal next advanced, bound the prisoner's eyes with a handkerchief, and read the general order for the execution. He then gave the signal for the shooting party to execute their orders. They did so, and a soul passed into

Death of A deserter.

eternity. Throwing his arms convulsively into the air, he fell back upon his coffin but made no further movement, and a surgeon who stood near, upon examination, found life to be extinct. The division was then marched past the corpse, off the field, and the sad scene was ended.

I afterwards saw a deserter from the First Division of the Second Corps meet his end in the same way, down before Petersburg, in the summer of 1864. These were the only exhibitions of this sort that I ever witnessed, although there were others that took place not far from my camp. The artillery was brigaded by itself in 1864 and 1865, and artillerymen [160] were not then compelled to attend executions which took place in the infantry.

Here is a story of another deserter and spy, who was shot in or near Indianapolis in 1863. He had enlisted in the Seventy-First Indiana Infantry. Not long afterwards he deserted and went over to the enemy, but soon reappeared in the Union lines as a Rebel spy. While in this capacity he was captured and taken to the headquarters of General Henry B. Carrington, who was then in command of this military district. He indignantly protested his innocence of the charge, but a thorough search for evidence of his treachery was begun. His coat was first taken and cut into narrow strips and carefully scrutinized, to assure that it contained nothing suspicious. One by one, the rest of his garments were examined and thrown aside, until at last he stood naked before his captors with no evidence of his guilt having been discovered. He was then requested to don a suit of clothes that was brought in. This he did, and then triumphantly demanded his release. But the General told him to keep cool, as the search was not yet completed; that full justice should be done him whether guilty or innocent. Taking up the trousers again, the General noticed that one of the spring-bottoms was a little stiffer than the other, and on further investigation with his scissors, sure enough, carefully sewed in under the buckram, found a pass from the Rebel General Kirby Smith.

At this discovery the culprit dropped on his knees, and begged for his life. He was tried by court-martial, and sentenced to be hanged-hanging is the penalty for treason, shooting being considered too honorable a death for traitors. But General Carrington, wishing the influence of the execution to be exerted as a check against desertion, which was very common, decided that he should be shot. It is customary to detail the shooting squad from the company to which the deserter belongs. But so enraged were the members of this man's company at his offence that they sent a [161] unanimous request that the entire company might act as firing party. This request was refused, however, and a detail of fifteen men made for that purpose. But whereas it is usual for the sergeant in charge of such a detail to load the muskets himself, putting blank cartridges into one, two, or three of the muskets, on this occasion the men were allowed to load for themselves, and when the surgeon examined the lifeless body he found fifteen bullets in it, showing that each one of the fifteen men had felt it to be his duty to shoot his former comrade, and that he had conscientiously acted up to that duty.

Shocking and solemn as such scenes were, I do not believe that the shooting of a deserter had any great deterring ilfluence on the rank and file; for the opportunities to get away safely were most abundant. Indeed, any man who was base enough to desert his flag could almost choose his time for doing it. The wife of a man in my own company brought him a suit of citizen's clothing to desert in, which he availed himself of later; but citizen's clothes, even, were not always necessary to ensure safety for deserters. When a man's honor failed to hold him in the ranks, his exit from military life in the South was easy enough.

I have been asked if all deserters captured were shot. No; far from it. There were times in the war when the death penalty for this offence was entirely ignored, and then it would be revived again with the hope of diminishing the rapid rate at which desertions took place. Desertion was the most prevalent in 1864, when the town and city governments hired so many foreigners, who enlisted solely to get the large bounties paid, and then deserted, many of them before getting to the field, or immediately afterwards. They had no interest in the cause, and could not be expected to have. These men were called bounty-jumpers, and, having deserted, went to some other State and enlisted again, to secure another bounty. In this manner many of them obtained hundreds of dollars without being detected; but [162] many more were apprehended, and suffered for it. I knew of three such being shot at one time, each having taken three bounties before they were finally captured. The greater part of these bounty-jumpers came from Canada. A large number of reliable troops were necessary to take these men from the recruiting rendezvous to the various regiments which they were to join.

The mass of recaptured deserters were put to hard labor on government works. Others were confined in some penitentiary, to work out their unexpired term of service. I believe the penitentiary at Albany was used for this purpose, as was also the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. Many more were sent to the Rip Raps, near Fort Monroe. On the 11th of March, 1865, President Lincoln issued a proclamation offering full pardon to all deserters who should return to their respective commands within sixty days, that is, before May 10, 1865, with the understanding that they should serve out the full time of their respective organizations, and make up all time lost as well. A large number whose consciences had given them no peace since their lapse, availed themselves of this proclamation to make amends as far as possible, and leave the service with a good name. This act was characteristic of the Emancipator's matchless magnanimity and forgiving spirit, but scarcely deserved by the parties having most at stake.

I have already intimated that death by hanging was a punishment meted out to certain offences against military law. One of these offences was desertion to the enemy, that is, going from our army over to the enemy, and enlisting in his ranks to fight on that side. In the autumn of 1864--near Fort Welch, I think it was — I saw three military criminals hanged at the same moment, from the same gallows, for this crime against the government. They were members of the Sixth Corps. There was less ceremony about this execution than that of the deserter, whose end I more fully described. The condemned men were all foreigners, [163] and rode to the gallows in an ambulance attended by a chaplain. The ambulance was well guarded in front, in rear, and on the flanks. The gallows also was strongly guarded. If I recollect aright, the troops were not ordered out to witness the spectacle. Nevertheless, thousands of them from adjoining camps lined the route, and, standing around the gallows, saw the prisoners meet their fate. No loyal heart gave them any sympathy.

In April, 1864, I saw a man hanged for a different offence, on the plains of Stevensburg. He belonged to the second division of my own corps. Most of the corps, which was then twenty-seven thousand strong, must have witnessed the scene, from near or afar. In hanging the culprit the provost-marshal made a dreadful botch of the job, for the rope was too long, and when the drop fell the man's feet touched the ground. This obliged the provost-marshal to seize the rope, and by main strength to hold him clear of the ground till death ensued. It is quite probable that strangulation instead of a broken neck ended his life. His body was so light and emaciated that it is doubtful if, even under more favorable circumstances, his fall could have broken his neck.

The report of the Adjutant-General, made in 1870, shows that there were one hundred and twenty-one men executed during the war — a very insignificant fraction of those who, by military law, were liable to the death penalty.

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