Military Justice, 1863

Article excerpt

Military justice systems often must preserve law and order under very difficult circumstances. In former times, punishments were harsh. Those who believe that little has changed should consider the following excerpt from the entry of 23 July 1863 in the diary of Corporal William W. Cluett, a drummer of the 57th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, part of the garrison of Corinth, a strategic railroad junction and the main Federal stronghold in northeastern Mississippi:

 
      This morning we are ordered on review at 8 o'clock in the large 
   field to the south-east of Corinth, to witness the execution of a 
   deserter named Johnson, from Company A, 1st Alabama Cavalry. At the 
   appointed time the troops are all in line, the sun is intensely hot, 
   and from the movements of the troops it is very dusty; soon the 
   procession, with the unfortunate man, appear at the right of the 
   column, a brass band playing the dead march; then the company of 
   which he was a member; then four men carrying his coffin, the 
   prisoner following, assisted by the Chaplain of the 66th Indiana; 
   and then came the detail of twelve men who were to carry out the 
   sentence of the Court Martial--that he be shot to death--passing 
   along the line of the troops from right to left. …