Discussion Was it acceptable for officers to shoot their own men if they retreated?


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Arioch

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#22
I know of one incident @ The battle of South Mountain. The 7th Pa. Reserves had just reached the summit of the mountain (which had plateaued) and were firing on the retreating rebels. The Col. had just been wounded, shot in the chest and ankle...Leaving Major Chauncey Lyman of the same regiment in command. Some motion came down the firing line on the right which caused some of the men to involuntarily take about 3 steps back following the motion...The Major, misunderstanding the motion, then came down the line with his revolver drawn saying "If any man attempts to run, I'll blow his brains out!"

(pg. 140 'Pennsylvania Reserves in the Civil War', by U.W. Ent)

* Addendum....I forgot to answer the original question...The above work I just cited was written by Uzal W. Ent, himself a General in our contemporary times...He commented that the Major was 'way out of line'.
 
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#23
I was fuzzy in with my recollection in post #3. The soldiers in the Crater at Petersburg weren't necessarily bayoneted by their officers but "[w]ith fixed bayonets they forced officers and men into the works and held them there until they were enabled to contribute to the defense."

HDQRS. FIRST BRIG., SECOND DIV., TENTH ARMY CORPS,
Near Bermuda Hundred, Va., August 3, 1864.
SIR: In comp1iance with your orders, I have the honor to report the action of my brigade in the battle before Petersburg, Va., July 30, 1864.
I left my position in the trenches near the Hare house at 10 p.m. July 29, and marched in rear of the division to a point in front of General Burnside’s headquarters, where the brigade halted and rested until or-
dered forward, at 3 a. m. July 30, to the high cleared ground in rear of the artillery of the Ninth Corps. At 7 a.m. I was ordered forward through the covered way leading to the right and the line in rear of the enemy’s fort, which had been blown up. In reaching this position I was obliged to march a greater part of the way in single file and found the road continually obstructed with stragglers and parties of men returning with the wounded, carried in blankets, and by from four to ten men to each wounded man. Having worked my way to the head of this passage, was ordered to form my brigade in column, by battalion, in rear of our advanced earth-work, and there await further orders. While executing this movement, and before the right battalion was in position, the charge then being made by our troops from the crater in our front was checked and the troops came rushing back to their late position, thence to the rear and over the works behind which I was forming. A greater part of the line I had formed at the breast-works, as well as those occupying the line in advance, unaccountably gave way and broke through my troops to the rear. The retreating force became so great that I placed at this time but two regiments, the One hundred and forty-second and One hundred and twelfth New York Volunteers, in the position first ordered. The remaining two regiments, the Third and One hundred and seventeenth New York Volunteers, were halted in the covered way, with direction to stop the stragglers. The conduct of the officers and men of my command in attempting to stop the retreating mass and check the advancing enemy was most satisfactory. With fixed bayonets they forced officers and men into the works and held them there until they were enabled to contribute to the defense.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant
MARTIN N. CURTIS,
Colonel 142d New York Volunteers, Commanding Brigade.
O.R. Series I, Volume 40, Part I, pg. 701

____________________________________________________

_________________
 
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#25
So during the American Revolution it was acceptable for officers to instantly put to death solders who fled in battle. Was this still acceptable during the Civil War? If, so more than a few Civil War soldiers could have suffered this fate.
Meh, not really. There's a French name for the practice of killing retreating soldiers that escapes me right now. The Russians used the technique extensively during WWII.

I don't think it happened much during the American War Between the States.
 
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#26
The conduct of the officers and men of my command in attempting to stop the retreating mass and check the advancing enemy was most satisfactory. With fixed bayonets they forced officers and men into the works and held them there until they were enabled to contribute to the defense.
In other words, the men retreating from the Crater were not killed....
 
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#27
Major Bill. Many years ago I attended a lecture by John Michael Priest about Pickett's Charge. During this lecture and if my memory serves me correctly, Priest stated that Robert E. Lee apparently gave verbal orders to shoot any stragglers returning from Pickett's Charge. I tried several years ago to research this particular point and found nothing. I could not even find this information in his own book on Pickett's Charge. Did you or any other Gettysburg expert on the Forum ever hear anything about this situation? Thank You in advance. David.
 

Waterloo50

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#28
Pickett was harsh on deserters especially at Kinston but even then he had to go through the formality of a court-martial. I also think that most men would rather take their chances in an attack rather than risk the certainty of being killed by an officer of their own side. During WW1 British officers threatened to shoot any man that refused to fight and to the best of my knowledge I don’t think that it was ever carried out, there were however a number of cases where British soldiers were killed by firing squad for desertion but again it was only done following a court-martial. This is just my humble opinion but if a man refused to attack, I’d see that as a failing of the officer, it’s his job to motivate and lead his men, with that in mind, I’m sure that many officers would have struggled with the idea of killing one of their own, if it happened, I believe it would have been the exception rather than the norm.
 
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scone

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#31
interesting topic... I have seen no source either way... Could it have happened? Possibly … Its war people lose it … early forms of PTSD seen enough others stronger than others … look at today 22 + vets a day take their own life … I know going away way from topic and sorry Soldiers Hart as it was called then may called to run . for a another to shoot them … ? Thank you for the post
 
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#32
@christian soldier, I have read that General Lee believed that military executions were sometimes necessary, particularly in the cases of habitual deserters.

Just prior to the Second Battle of Manassas, "Stonewall" Jackson ordered three such men publicly executed. On August 19, 1862, they were marched in front of open graves and shot in the presence of thousands of witnesses, provoking a variety of responses. While some soldiers expressed anger and revulsion at the incident, others respected the level of discipline it represented. In general, soldiers believed that executions were sometimes necessary, but felt that in this case the sudden decision to enforce the letter of the law was unfair.

Source:
Carmichael, Peter S. "So Far From God and So Close to Stonewall Jackson: The Executions of Three Shenandoah Valley Soldiers." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 111 (Winter 2003): 33–66.
 

major bill

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#33
I am not sure I could have shot any of my solders. However, I did have a couple of men and women which it would have not hurt my feelings too much is somehow a live hand grenade would have rolled under our fuel tanker and "accidentally" exploded as they fueled their vehicle. I would have wrote a very kind letter to their families explaining the sad accident.
 
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#34
@christian soldier, I have read that General Lee believed that military executions were sometimes necessary, particularly in the cases of habitual deserters.

Just prior to the Second Battle of Manassas, "Stonewall" Jackson ordered three such men publicly executed. On August 19, 1862, they were marched in front of open graves and shot in the presence of thousands of witnesses, provoking a variety of responses. While some soldiers expressed anger and revulsion at the incident, others respected the level of discipline it represented. In general, soldiers believed that executions were sometimes necessary, but felt that in this case the sudden decision to enforce the letter of the law was unfair.

Source:
Carmichael, Peter S. "So Far From God and So Close to Stonewall Jackson: The Executions of Three Shenandoah Valley Soldiers." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 111 (Winter 2003): 33–66.
Ellie. Thank You for the information. I appreciate it. David.
 
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#35
I am not sure I could have shot any of my solders. However, I did have a couple of men and women which it would have not hurt my feelings too much is somehow a live hand grenade would have rolled under our fuel tanker and "accidentally" exploded as they fueled their vehicle. I would have wrote a very kind letter to their families explaining the sad accident.
Not the first time I've heard such feelings spoken of!

As for the whole officers shooting fleeing soldiers, I think this thread has established that it happened. I'm mainly reminded of Forrest verbally attacking an officer who lost his artillery and that whole episode ending quite badly, after the battle was over.

This thread reminds me of when I was reenacting in high school and my First Sgt. and I replicating this for laughs at two reenactments. The first was a surprise for our Captain during the last reenactment held in Deridder Louisiana, where we were Union. We had arranged the time during the battle to pull off the innocent shenanigan, and when I hollered out the line and ran, the good First Sgt. yelled out I was a coward and shot me in the back as I ran. The first hilarious part is the ground was slippery and when I dropped I slid forward about a foot or two and stopped right in front of a group of girl scout spectating I didn't notice which caused a dozen girls to scream bloody murder and run away startling even some reenactors in the midst of "fighting" the second part was very sobering. Two other spectators there were old WW2 or Korea vets who proceeded to compliment me and offer advise, saying that what I did was as realistic as one could expect from a reenactment, except for that I moved a little too much after "dying" (advice I've tried to remember at events), and they said they were glad we had pulled that stunt so people could halfway get the idea that war ain't pretty after which one told me they had seen it happen for real in their wars (I guess what startled me about him was he didn't seem to mind) and were glad to see it happen in a reenactment so maybe it'd teach people. As for our Captain, yeah he was fit to be tied and mad we had pulled that stunt, plus causing a whole chapter of girl scouts to run for their lives through the place screaming bloody murder apparently wasn't funny.

The second time was later that year or the next spring during I believe the 145th anniversary of the Battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill. We had fought a early humid battle in Mansfield as Union, where I had broke my glasses, and at Pleasant Hill we were Confederate. I was tired, couldn't see and had a headache, (try driving back to NE Texas like that lol), and I asked my former partner in crime to put me out of my misery. At a certain early time during the battle I did exactly as at Deridder, yelled out the same line ran and was shot down by the good First Sgt. Then after the so-called battle, all h*** broke loose.

Me pulling that stunt brought down the full condemnation and many a cussing from the whole Confederate Army because I was stupid and to most folks "unknowing" enough to do something so disgraceful in a Confederate uniform. That was not a fun evening, and the next day was not fun either, because of so many folks getting "their feelings hurt" over me doing it Confederate uniform (which it happened there too historically but some folks will never believe it), and it convinced me to never pull that innocent shenanigan again in reenacting.

Good times.
 

jackt62

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#36
@christian soldier, I have read that General Lee believed that military executions were sometimes necessary, particularly in the cases of habitual deserters.

Just prior to the Second Battle of Manassas, "Stonewall" Jackson ordered three such men publicly executed. On August 19, 1862, they were marched in front of open graves and shot in the presence of thousands of witnesses, provoking a variety of responses. While some soldiers expressed anger and revulsion at the incident, others respected the level of discipline it represented. In general, soldiers believed that executions were sometimes necessary, but felt that in this case the sudden decision to enforce the letter of the law was unfair.

Source:
Carmichael, Peter S. "So Far From God and So Close to Stonewall Jackson: The Executions of Three Shenandoah Valley Soldiers." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 111 (Winter 2003): 33–66.
At least in the case of military executions, there was a veneer of some sort of military "justice" in which these men were first tried and convicted in contrast to being summarily executed in the midst of battle without due process.
 
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#37
I was interested in this version of Forrest shooting a color bearer at Murfreesboro as I came across a similar article in the Confederate Veteran. Was going to file a story in Soldier Tales but I will post it here - just to clarify what an eyewitness said he saw.

forrest 1.jpg

forrest 2.jpg


In this particular case, it appears Forrest was more interested in the flag than the bearer.
 
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#38
Traditionally, the Russian and Japanese armies never had any qualms about it. North Korea today.
During the world war 1 it was so spread in any army. Point is, in a bombered battlefield, where the guns continue to explode near you and the men you have to make advance, the shoots of the enemies continue to kill the soldiers who run to the enemy's positions, and where all the doubts about the true and the life rise in a second in the mids of the people you've to order, shoot own men is an excellent deterrent for how many intend to desert or retreat, then if the officer do it or not, it's in his choices, but sure, he has the power to do it, at the end during the war, there's just a law, the martial law, and anybody is immune, even the civilians too.
Then the history create the myths about, it's always who lose, or the enemy, to make the worst act .. sure americans too, and in any era, world war 2 included. I'm not surprised, anyway !
 



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