Understanding The Red Badge of Courage: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

By Claudia Durst Johnson | Go to book overview

WHAT IS THE TRUTH?

JAMES BEACE

In an attempt to unravel the controversies about desertion and officer incompetence at Chancellorsville, James Beace, who had served in the 12th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War and had been, as he states, a member of the Army of the Potomac, delivered a paper in 1888 to the United Service Club of Philadelphia, indicating a number of contradictions, showing the questionable statements of some of the officers who had tried to justify their actions or those of their companies. In the course of his treatise, he speaks of the wholesale desertion of men before the battle began and after the assault by the rebels near the Plank Road. But although he acknowledges desertion, especially on the part of the 11th Corps (which their leader, General Schurz, denied), he finds no grounds for the veracity of General Howard, who had been first among the officers to blame the men's cowardice rather than his own incompetence for the failure at the Plank Road in the late afternoon of May 2.

Two slang words referred to deserters: they were called "stragglers" and were said (the Union borrowing a term from the confederates) to have "skedaddled."


FROM JAMES BEACE, CHANCELLORSVILLE

( Philadelphia: N.p., 1892, pp. 1-10)

Those of us who then served in the Potomac army will recollect the feeling of discontent which had arisen, and certainly none can withhold from General Hooker all praise for the transformation that followed his assumption of command. He himself impulsively declared it "the finest army on the planet," but it contained elements of discord. The service of twenty-three thousand short-term men was about to expire, and with much unanimity these declined further duty. I well recollect one regiment which on April 28 flatly refused to break camp. De Peyster, a general, alludes to thirty-eight regiments which left the line on the morning of May 4, and speaks of others as having to be forced up at the point of the bayonet. Have we all forgotten the rumors of a "stragglers' brigade"?

· · ·

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