A Higher Duty: Desertion among Georgia Troops during the Civil War

A Higher Duty: Desertion among Georgia Troops during the Civil War

A Higher Duty: Desertion among Georgia Troops during the Civil War

A Higher Duty: Desertion among Georgia Troops during the Civil War

Synopsis

This book addresses the most important issues associated with Confederate desertion. How many soldiers actually deserted, when did they desert, and why? What does Confederate desertion say about Confederate nationalism and the war effort? Mark A. Weitz has taken his argument beyond the obvious reasons for desertion -- that war is a horrific and cruel experience -- and examined the emotional and psychological reasons that might induce a soldier to desert. Just as loyalty to his fellow soldiers might influence a man to charge into a hail of lead, loyalty to his wife and family could also lead him to risk a firing squad in order to return home.

Excerpt

It was July 1862. Pvt. Joseph Hodges of the Eighth Georgia Infantry sat down to write his sister Mollie. He poured out his feelings about the commitment he had made without fully understanding what would be required. "We will never get to Georgia until peace is declared," he told his sister. Hodges believed the war might drag on for ten more years, but he felt sure the Eighth was already near its end. The regiment had dwindled to fewer than two hundred men, with some companies barely mustering eight for dress parade. Hodges added, "If I had known there was so many in the army I never would have come back to it, and I want to get out now the first opportunity. No wonder I am so sick, disgusted too, of the war. I am almost tempted to desert." Hodges never had this "opportunity" because he died at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. For his Georgia comrades who were fortunate enough to survive him, the temptation to desert would prove overwhelming, and from late 1863 through 1864 many did. Their actions and motives form the desertion story of Georgia's Confederate soldiers.

As surely as battlefield casualties, desertion saps an army's strength by diminishing its total numbers and weakening the resolve of those who continue to fight. All too often Civil War desertion is summarily dismissed as a "natural" consequence of war. With their lives constantly endangered by combat, disease, exposure to the elements, and malnutrition, it seems logical that soldiers would eventually forsake their military duty. Civil War desertion, however, was much more complex than a simple reaction to wartime conditions. As the experience of Georgia soldiers shows, desertion was as much a response to the home front as to the battlefield. Desertion measures morale like a barometer gauges weather patterns. Rising incidents of desertion reflect a decline in an army's morale. However, to assume that diminished morale is attributable solely, or even primarily, to conditions on the battlefield is to ignore the unique nature of the Civil War and the importance of the home front throughout the conflict.

Only, two major studies have been done on desertion in the Civil War, and . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.