A More Perfect Union: The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Constitution

By Harold M. Hyman | Go to book overview
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Chapter XII
Shaping the Topography of War

U ntil they learned better, the President and congressmen were inclined to let military stars govern the Union's armies. In 1861 generals complained that the Bull Run debacle resulted from lack of adequate discipline among the citizensoldiers, and the indiscipline resulted because Washington civilians were diluting military law. Since appeals from courts-martial death sentences could by statute and tradition travel from regiments to the White House, the salutary effect of swift capital punishments following serious offenses was lost, according to uniformed commanders.

Still in their period of apprenticeship, Lincoln and War Secretary Simon Cameron lent support in Congress to legislation aimed at satisfying the generals. A law of December 24, 1861, gave division commanders final determination in appeals from death sentences imposed on soldiers by courts-martial.1 Then Lincoln's understanding increased of the fact that, as he described it in mid-1862 to a French friend of the Union, "With us every soldier is a man of character and must be treated with more consideration than is customary in Europe."2

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1
SAL, XII, 330.
2
Abraham Lincoln to Count Agénor-Étienne de Gasparin, Aug. 4, 1862, in Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basleret al. ( New Brunswick, N.J., 1953), V, 355; hereafter cited as Lincoln, Works.

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