Friday, July 1, 2016

Major Charles Fessenden Morse: July 16, 1864

Near Vining Station, Ga.,
July 16, 1864.

The President, in his wisdom or his weakness, has stopped all capital punishment in the army. The greatest penalty for the crime of desertion now is confinement during the war at the Dry Tortugas; that may be for a longer or shorter period than the term of their enlistment, but during the whole time the deserters are not under fire, their hard labor is probably less than that which troops in the field have to perform, and the chance of escape is always before them. Is it humanity for a man virtually to pardon all these deserters, who have committed one of the greatest military crimes, when, by so doing, the life of every soldier who does his duty and goes into battle is endangered to a greater extent? I do not say that shooting deserters would stop all desertion, but I believe that with such a penalty before them, only the most reckless would attempt it. These men who desert are of no value to society, and no one would regret them if they were justly shot.

This war is now in its fourth year; no one doubts that it has got to go on in some shape or other, either well or poorly managed, till it is brought to a definite conclusion; that end may be in one year and it may be in five years, but should not there be some regard to economy in its conduct? Should it be possible for ten out of every fifteen thousand men, raised at an expense of four or five hundred dollars apiece, to escape their term of service due the Government? Why, at every little scare, are we raising hundred-day men and telling them, as a strong inducement to serve, that they will be exempt from any drafts during that period? A man cannot become a soldier in a hundred days; he can't learn in that time how to take care of his health and rations. The shorter the term of service the greater will be the proportion of deaths. No man in this war can look ahead for one hundred days and calculate on any great and decided success within that time. The chances are that at the end of that term, the occasion for men will be as great as at the beginning.

These calls for men for short terms are farces which have been repeated too often. They are made as concessions to a people who would as cheerfully stand a practical order for men. In the case of these bounty-jumpers, substitutes, and all other unreliable men, there should be an order obliging them to deposit their bounties in some bank, payable only by small instalments, or at the end of their term of service. A man furnishing a substitute should be held responsible for him during the whole three years. I am willing and have made up my mind to serve through this war, no matter how long it lasts, with pay or without pay; and I do want to see a little more practical earnestness in the conduct of affairs, and not so much shirking of responsibility.

SOURCE: Charles Fessenden Morse, Letters Written During the Civil War, 1861-1865, p. 178-80

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