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December 19, 1862 - Unknown Confederate Soldier Executed For Desertion - Today In Crime History

On this day, December 19, in the year 1862, an unknown Confederate soldier was executed by firing squad for the military crime of desertion.

A person who is a member of a military organization has committed the crime of desertion if he or she is absent from the military without leave and intends to remain away from the military permanently.  Desertion is a major crime in every military organization.

The Confederate Articles of War (1861) specified that "all officers and soldiers who have received pay, or have been duly enlisted in the services of the Confederate States, and shall be convicted of having deserted the same, shall suffer death, or such other punishment as, by sentence of a court-martial, shall be inflicted."

We know of the execution of this unknown confederate soldier as a result of a letter written by Private Thomas Warrick of Alabama on December 19, 1862.  Confederate Private Warrick wrote in his own words as follows:

I saw a site today that made me feel mity Bad I saw a man shot for deserting there was twenty fore Guns shot at him thay shot him all to pease … he went home and thay Brote him Back and then he went home again and so they shot him for that Martha it was one site that I did hate to see it But I could not helpe my self I had to do Jest as thay sed for me to doo.

On execution day, a condemned confederate deserter would be marched or hauled by wagon to his burial site.  The execution by firing squad would be witnessed by the entire regiment by order of the commanding officer.  Few soldiers cared to see the execution proceedings, but they were forced to watch as a lesson for potential deserters.

More soldiers were executed by there own military organization during the American Civil War (1861–1865) than in all other American wars combined.  Approximately 500 men, representing both North and South, were shot or hanged during the conflict, two-thirds of them for desertion.

Sources and more information:

The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy, by Bell Irvin Wiley, LSU Press, 1978

Rich Man's War: Class, Caste, and Confederate Defeat in the Lower Chattahoochee Valley, by David Williams, Historic Chattahoochee Commission (University of Georgia Press 1999)

1862: An unknown Confederate deserter,

Executing Justice: Civil War Executions, by Kevin M. Levin,

Encyclopedia Virginia: Military Executions During the Civil War, by Thomas W. Cutrer

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