Desertion During the American Civil War Essay

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The first and most wide-ranging study on Civil War desertion was done by Ella Lonn (1928). In spite of its age Desertion during the Civil War is an important beginning for all future studies of desertion. Lonn examined the previously neglected issues of desertion in both the Confederate and Union armies. In an effort to highlight the horrors of war, she disassociated desertion from cowardice and primarily examined the causes of desertion, while also evaluating its effect on the armies.
She maintained that there were multiple causes of desertion among the Confederates, which had little to do with cowardice. She found that desertion was caused by poor leadership, the Conscription Act, shortages of food and clothing at the front as
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The missing muster rolls represent a serious flaw in Lonn’s work because of the assumption that much of overall Confederate desertion occurred during the last months of the war.
Another issue with Lonn’s study is that its all-encompassing nature does not take into account the differences in culture and geography across the south, differences which impacted both the causes and the timing of desertions. In an effort to address this short fall, there have been several studies conducted on the local or state level. The first of these was Bessie Martin’s Desertion of Alabama Troops from the Confederate Army (1932) which was published shortly after Lonn’s work. Martin looked at the causes of desertion amongst soldiers from Alabama, as well as when they deserted. While she found that significant social, economic, and political problems in Alabama were often the causes of desertion, she did not connect those problems to those of the entire Confederacy.
In the decades after Lonn and Martin’s works, the study of Civil War desertion continued to look at the issue from the local level. Richard Bardolph’s “Inconstant Rebels: Desertion of North Carolina Troops in the Civil War” (1964), Richard Reid’s “A Test Case for ‘Crying Evil:’ Desertion among North Carolina Troops during the Civil War” (1981), and Judith Lee Hallock’s “The Role of the Community

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