Discussion Deserters


Sep 13, 2018
How hard did the Union army go after deserters? Was it strictly a provost marshal thing? Or did the Union have forces that would go back to towns and look for people that deserted? Or, if you could escape the sentries of your army, were you generally home free and didn't have to constantly look over your shoulder the government was coming after you? If there were efforts to go after deserters, did they continue after the war ended?
Jun 7, 2021
Here is the experience of one Benjamin Franklin Smith of New Haven KY, 28th Regiment, Kentucky Infantry (I think). A few months after his enlistment he was captured and paroled. He was supposed to stay at Camp Chase in Ohio until he could rejoin his unit but he decided to go home instead. When he did rejoin the regiment, some months later, he was able to obtain an order from General George Thomas basically forgiving him for being listed as a deserter. The follow year he got sick, but rather than stay in the hospital (in Louisville, KY?) to recover, he went home again and was gone for an even longer time. He was accepted back into the regiment a second time when he returned, but this time his absence was not expunged from his record. He stayed with the regiment until it disbanded in 1865.
I'm still trying to figure out if I'm related to this man, but I find his story interesting. Why he wasn't shot is a mystery to me. But this doesn't make me think the Union army was very hard on deserters. Smith did keep returning so maybe that counted as something. Bounty jumpers were more of an issue perhaps? Or maybe it depended on the officers and how well they knew the men, etc.
Jun 7, 2021
For the 2nd trip home, as he had been listed as being in the hospital, he was not punished, since it was common for soldiers
to recuperate at home, on both sides.
That makes sense in that why have the government pay for your care when you could no doubt have better care among your own family. However, he seems to have gone awol from the hospital and from Camp Chase. After getting away with it when he was paroled, I get the feeling he felt he didn't have to ask permission.
Dec 31, 2010
Kingsport, Tennessee
I believe the conscription laws passed by the Confederacy probably affected any leniency they might have been shown before. After Gettysburg & Vicksburg, with a drastic manpower shortage, The Confederates were more inclined to shoot you for going home. Any Rebel deserters among my relatives changed sides.