Desertion During the American Civil War

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The first and most wide-ranging study on Civil War desertion was done by Ella Lonn (1928). In spite of its age Desertion during the Civil War is an important beginning for all future studies of desertion. Lonn examined the previously neglected issues of desertion in both the Confederate and Union armies. In an effort to highlight the horrors of war, she disassociated desertion from cowardice and primarily examined the causes of desertion, while also evaluating its effect on the armies. She maintained that there were multiple causes of desertion among the Confederates, which had little to do with cowardice. She found that desertion was caused by poor leadership, the Conscription Act, shortages of food and clothing at the front as well as poverty and disorder at home. While the Union army lost more twice as many men to desertion as did the Confederates, the Confederacy was more adversely affected by the desertions, causing them to lose battles, while Confederates who deserted to the enemy provided Union forces with intelligence, and in some cases, additional manpower. Desertion also caused demoralization amongst the civilian population. While Lonn argued that “desertion certainly contributed to the Confederate defeats after 1862 and was a prime factor in precipitating the catastrophe of 1865,” she did not claim that desertion caused Confederate defeat, only that it hastened the “inevitable.” In conducting her research Lonn utilized regimental muster rolls, which listed soldiers who were available for duty and those who were absent, thereby giving a rough estimate of the total number of deserters from Confederate units to conduct her study. Many of the muster rolls for the last seven months of the war were missing fro... ... middle of paper ... ...88/ Virginia Regimental Histories Series. 141 vol. Lynchburg, Va.: H. E. Howard, 1981-2002. Wakelyn, Jon L. Confederates Against the Confederacy: Essays on Leadership and Loyalty. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002. Weitz, Mark A. A Higher Duty: Desertion Among Georgia Troops During the Civil War. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. ____________. More Damning than Slaughter: Desertion in the Confederate Army. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. Wiley, Bell I. The Life of Johnny Reb. Indianapolis, IN: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1943. Williams, David, Teresa Crisp Williams, and David Carlson. Plain Folk in a Rich Man's War: Class and Dissent in Confederate Georgia. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2002. Williams, David. Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War. New York: The New Press, 2008.

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