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How serious was CSA desertion?

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by leftyhunter, Oct 20, 2013.

  1. carson_reb

    carson_reb Sergeant Major

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    An empty stomach, bare feet, tattered clothing, exposure, rampant disease, and home sickness were pretty reasonable reasons to desert IMHO. Plus, Southern boys were fighting literally on the homefront, so the temptation to just up and go home was probably too great.

    I think desertion became more common as the war wore on, and provisions were harder to come by.
     

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  3. TerryB

    TerryB Captain

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    Some commentators think Sam Watson did not return to the AoT after Nashville. If so, that would make him a deserter, but there's nothing on his records to show that. He was one of the staunchly loyal to the end Rebs, so it does raise the question of whether even he saw the writing on the wall and elected to stay home. These men who had been furloughed home after Franklin and Nashville were under enormous pressure from their families to take the oath and avoid retribution from occupying Feds.
     
  4. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter First Sergeant

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    A couple of problems with the authors thesis. One The author did not discuss what I quoted in terms of what top CSA officials stated about their concern of desertion. Two . the author did not mention CSA deserters joining the Union Army . Third he did not discuss CSA deserters using force of arms against the home guard so they would not have to ever come back to military duty. Yes some CSA soldiers cam back to duty but many did not not and in war the more enemy soldiers desert the better it is for the other side.
    Leftyhunter
     
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  5. CSA Today

    CSA Today Major

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    The increase in the Federal desertion rate from 4,647 a month in 1863 to 7,333 a month in 1864 undoubtedly helped the Confederate army to resist longer, but unfortunately not long enough given the far greater manpower pool in the North and thus the Federal army ability to replace war casualties and desertions.

    See J. G. Randall David Donald, The Civil War and Reconstruction (footnotes pp.229-230)
     
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  6. JPK Huson 1863

    JPK Huson 1863 Captain Forum Host

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    Yes, I don't think either side were slouches when it came to this issue- I'm guessing the armies considered it an issue, the soldiers involved considered it staying alive. Volunteers were not regular army. Gosh, you read book after book after book, what these former civilians were suddenly launched into, former civilians yes, with training, expected to endure what military men trained for lifetimes to do. Both sides, then told well, you go walk into enemy fire ( Pickett's Charge ) or WE'LL shoot you ourselves. Only chose Pickett's Charge because it's one we all know about- there are Northern examples as well. Some were just, plain not cut out for the strain- a LOT, with the best will in the world, couldn't do it. I'll never judge one of them either- I'll judge the dealers in flesh ( not slave traders in this case ) who made profits in the draft, selling men to the government, literally, and men who sold themselves over and over again while others died for them.

    I think if the premise, the underlying intent behind desertion didn't seem to be that these men from both side just did not care, or were somehow chicken- that the discussion would be far easier to maintain.

    I read one of those obscure diaries, in a book of collected stories ( darn it, forget the title ), a British woman married to a Southern man, during the war. Her husband volunteered, was wounded and sent home. Later, as conscription got tighter, they were hounded to send him back, although he wasn't fit. Manpower was just so, so short, all men, all ages and ability, being conscripted. That couple fled, she writes some deserted out of not being able to be there. Circumstances, not cowardice, or lack of patriotism- an increasingly desperate government, short of everything, on the other hand.

    I keep reading things about farming communities, North and South, no men at home to work the farms, some felt they had to leave or their families would perish. Must have been terribly conflicting, as far as loyalties, at least in the North those spots could be filled by new enlistments or draftees.
     
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  7. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy 1st Lieutenant

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    Confederate desertion rates rose as the war progressed as well so it kind of balanced both sides out.

    R
     
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  8. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter First Sergeant

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    I hope I did not give the impression that one side was braver then the other therefore it had less desertion. War is hell has Gen. Sherman said back in the day. From what I gather it was somewhat higher in the South one main reason being that not all Southerners supported secession to begin with. Based on what I have been able to quote from the above sources more Southern men deserted and more were willing to take up arms against the CSA then Union deserters did against the federal govt. I will freely admit desertion was a serious issue for both sides and for many good solid reasons.
    Leftyhunter
     
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  9. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter First Sergeant

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    Interesting statistic. On the other hand if the Union Army in 1864 was approx 500k then yes that a lot of desertion somewhere around 18% vs at the same time around 66% AWOL per President Davis in my quotes in post 1. Did Union deserters form has many armed bands that resisted local authority has did the deserter gangs mentioned in the book "A South Divided and"A South bitterly divided? Plenty of Union soldiers deserted and I am not casting blame on any from either side. My point is war is in essence a numbers game. The side with the least men and the most desertions is going to have a hard time being the winner.
    Leftyhunter
     
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  10. JPK Huson 1863

    JPK Huson 1863 Captain Forum Host

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    Oh, it seemed like possibly the elephant would show up in the room eventually, take the door off the hinges sliding in there only because generally these threads tend to take a slow turn towards the adversarial. Whichever side showed the greater number of deserters would be bound to attract either defensive, ' yo-momma- wears-army-boots ' posts or a pile-on of agenda, you know? It's inevitable given the inherent shame associated with the ' D ' word. Thought it good to deflate the elephant previous to the problem popping up, let it fly around the room backwards for awhile. Threads beginning life in a well-intended fashion sometimes end life with posts written in red inclusive of that Yale lock icon. Not that it's at ALL my business to do so, the big buttinski, could see the icing on the wall, wait, the handwriting on the cake- wait! The-

    Wierdly, Dilba just posted in another thread the story of a grgrgrgrandfather, speculated to have deserted but with a service record which retired legions of Guardian Angels- inclusive of surviving more days at Gettysburg than most, and because of which did not end up included on a memorial to his unit. I have a ' thing ', I think, about desertion in general- admire the stuffing it took to finish the war. 3 grgrgrandfathers did so. Who knows why, being Union and owning shoes, blankets and tents probably helped massively. CSA soldiers, reading their daily rations, no shoes, awful disease, less and less leadership, they kept getting killed- that last winter must have been a kind of free-range Andersonville. Leaving increasingly the only thing to do, or die.

    Yes, the numbers- did not know they were so huge- that desertion played a role in weakening the Confederate Army. If you think about it, means the Blockade worked, resultant shortages helped desertion numbers (?), a big factor in winning the war along with Grant's tactics. Wish I were better versed in military interpretations of all this- makes it 'seem' like one, big plan which led to Appomattox. I realize it wasn't, kind of got there in spite of itself, would be enlightening to understand more.
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2013
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  11. CSA Today

    CSA Today Major

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    By 1864 the Northern armies was losing the equivalent of one large or two small divisions a month to desertion. There is no way the much smaller Confederate armies could have suffered such losses to desertion and, in addition to battle and disease , and lasted to 1865. I would be the first to agree that man for man the Confederate soldier was the superior to his Union counterpart on the field, but the Confederates were not supermen. Certainly, if it is true, as you allege, that the South had more desertions and more men off fighting for the enemy and still kept the enemy at bay for so long there has to be some explanation as to why.
     
  12. carson_reb

    carson_reb Sergeant Major

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    I think in a lot of cases, it only took once to see the elephant and get stomped by it for a glory-seeking soldier to get his fill.
     
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  13. Rio Bravo

    Rio Bravo Corporal

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    Didn't Sherman's rampage through Georgia cause a lot of Georgia soldiers to desert ?
     
  14. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter First Sergeant

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    I already provided some good quotes from CSA leaders on desertion. 1864 was not a good year for offensive actions. Other then Sabine Pass and Cold Harbor I am not aware of a whole lot of CSA o victories. In 1864 for a good part of the year Lee was holed up at Petersburg. There were few troops to oppose Sherman in Ga other then militia which where just good for Union target practice.
    I don't know of any reputable scholar who would make the statement that a CSA soldier was better then a Union soldier. There were several battles such has Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove where Union forces were outnumbered and still won. If you read the books I quoted they give plenty of examples of Southern white men who not only evaded conscription and deserted but killed home guard units sent to round them up.
    Leftyhunter
     
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  15. CSA Today

    CSA Today Major

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    Enlistments in the federal military exceeded the free male population of the eleven state Confederacy. This was the free male population of all races, ages and conditions of health in the eleven state Confederacy. If it is true as you, and several others here, seem to suggest that excessive number of white Southerners from those states fought for the enemy, deserted or refused to fight for some reason or another, it stand to reason that the far more numerous Northern forces had even more problems and were even less willing to fight. You can’t have it both ways, either there were far more Confederates willing to tenaciously fight to the end or the few that were willing to fight were far superior to the unionists that opposed them, to hold on for so long.
     
  16. Jamieva

    Jamieva Sergeant

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    My gg grandfather walked out of the trenches at Petersburg sometime in the late fall or winter of 64/65 and rejoined the ANV in late March according to what I could piece together. I believe they listed him as AWOL. MY assumption was he went home to Caroline County because he was hungry/ ill clothed etc
     
  17. Henry Whitworth

    Henry Whitworth Corporal

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    It's well known that with the weapons and tactics of the age, the best advantage was in being able to oblige the enemy to come at you into prepared defenses. The formula they accepted at the time that you needed a 3/1 advantage to carry the enemy's works, and this likely understated the problem. So it's not a mystery why the side, by the nature of the war, who was obliged to subdue the other would need far more men and resources. It's not because of some "man for man" superiority. That sounds like warmed over propaganda and regional pride. Not historical analysis.
     
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  18. CSA Today

    CSA Today Major

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    But this formula ignore the Confederate strategy of defense was to attack even late in the war. This was frequently the case at Petersburg as well as Monroe Cross Roads, Averasbobough and Bentonville in North Carolina, in March 1865. In any case, my point was that given the South much smaller manpower pool to draw an army, and the war did last four years, and if Southerners were so unwillingly to fight as several people here seems to imply there must have been something terribly wrong with the Federal armies.
     
  19. Henry Whitworth

    Henry Whitworth Corporal

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    I think the risk is in making it an absolute. You can't just say what Southerners were willing to do because different people made different choices. There were thousands of them still willing to fight but that doesn't mean there weren't also a lot of desertions. This seems very well documented both from Confederate leaders and Union accounts of men coming over into their lines. Encouraging desertion was part of the goal of a lot of Union strategy. And remember that by late in the war a fair percentage of them had been drafted in the first place or enlisted in the face of the threat of conscription and the Home Guard. It was a long war and the makeup of the units and their individual reasons for being in the line changed over time.

    Considering what they went through it's amazing how many did hang in. I think it's this inspiring level of pride and dedication that was so celebrated in the generations after the war that makes people want to see entire armies made up of one kind of man. But like with all wars, it was much messier than that.
     
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  20. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter First Sergeant

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    Let me see if I understand you. You are claiming that out of 5.5 million white people ( per the 1860 US Census) that would mean something like 2 million plus would be males plus approx 300k free black males that make 2.5 million or so males. Are there any records that show over 2.5 million or so men enlisted in the Union army from 1861 to 1865? Per McPhersons "Battle Cry of Freedom " the Union had a 2.5 to one man power advantage over the Confederate Army. Has a general rule the CSA had about 369k men in their army. That would not make 2.5 million or so men. If your argument is throughout the war 2.5 million Union men enlisted and say one million Southern men enlisted maybe that happened.
    I am just trying to understand what you are saying if I am wrong let me know.

    If you have an issue with the books I quoted from that is fine you can show sources that dispute them. If understand what your trying to say one CSA soldier is worth x number (you can define x) of Union troops. Again I don't know any reputable historian who would agree with that idea .
    Leftyhunter
     
  21. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter First Sergeant

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    Indeed. See the above book by Gallater and others they discuss that in more detail. I was surprised by how many deserter gangs there were in Ga per "The South bitterly divided".
    Leftyhunter
     

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