Why Didn't the North Hang Some Rebels? The Postwar Debate over Punishment for Treason

Why Didn't the North Hang Some Rebels? The Postwar Debate over Punishment for Treason

Why Didn't the North Hang Some Rebels? The Postwar Debate over Punishment for Treason

Why Didn't the North Hang Some Rebels? The Postwar Debate over Punishment for Treason

Excerpt

The Civil War resulted in the most gruesome body count in our history with an estimated 625,000 northerners and southerners dead. Most people know that former Confederates did their best to cope with defeat even as they remained determined to regain the political and economic authority that the war had cost. What people may not realize is that the fighting and losses left northerners bitter—and thirsting for vengeance. Beyond the grim costs of war that affected many families, atrocities were committed during the conflict, especially on black soldiers at Fort Pillow and the Crater. As the conflict wound to a close, northern people learned of the maltreatment of prisoners of war in the Confederacy, which in their view added crimes against humanity to the list of transgressions committed by officials of the rebellion. Then an assassin killed the president of the United States and another slashed at the secretary of state as he lay in bed. Northerners were told by authorities that Confederate leaders had encouraged the conspirators. The conditions seemed ripe for executions. With the least provocation, the North might have conducted its own version of the twentieth century's Nuremburg trials—or, perhaps more relevant for the nineteenth century, reprisals such as those mounted in the French Revolution.

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