Executing Deserters in Civil War Times Magazine

On this cold and dreary January day I was pleasantly surprised to find complimentary copies of the latest issue of Civil War Times waiting for me when I arrived home.  This latest issue includes my article on Confederate executions.  The goal of the essay is to explore how Confederate soldiers, along with civilians, responded to these events throughout the war.  This is a condensed version of a much longer essay that I wrote for a graduate seminar back in 2004.  Since it’s not one of the more hot-button topics I thought it would make for an interesting magazine article.  I also wrote a 500-word sidebar on an execution that took place in Stonewall Jackson’s command in August 1862.  Since I didn’t get a chance to do so in the essay I want to acknowledge two sources that were extremely helpful with this shorter piece on Jackson.  The first is John Hennessy’s classic, Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas and the other is Peter Carmichael’s excellent essay on the execution that appeared in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (Vol. 111 [2003]).  Dana Shoaf did an excellent job editing the essay and I absolutely love the layout in the print version.  I also very much appreciate Dana’s enthusiasm when I first submitted the piece.  He has done an outstanding job since taking over as editor.  Luckily, if you can’t afford the print version you can read it Online.  I hope you enjoy it.  Comments are welcome if you manage to read through it.

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12 comments… add one
  • Sherree Jan 22, 2010

    Excellent article, Kevin. Thanks for putting it online for greater circulation.

  • msimons Jan 24, 2010

    Common practice for 100's of years in the Worlds Armies.

  • Larry Cebula Jan 26, 2010

    When I first read the title of this post I thought that the Civil War Times was shooting people who dropped their subscriptions. Which even in these economic times seemed harsh.

  • Tim Ware Feb 2, 2010

    Great Article. I found it interesting how some soldiers remembered an execution so vividly and felt saddened by the event while others didn't think much of it after what they had seen in battle. It's also amazing how the Confederacy would go to such great lengths to win the war, even if it meant executing a deserter.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 2, 2010

      Glad to hear that you enjoyed the article. I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing it. Admittedly, it is very difficult to draw conclusions from the amount of evidence that is available. I wasn't so surprised by the tendency among enlisted men to support such harsh punishments since I tend to think that we downplay the myriad ways in which white southerners identified with the Confederacy and the war.

    • hjs Feb 5, 2010


      The practice was not unique to Confederate armies. Keep in mind that R. E. Lee's own father drew the ire of George Washington when he recommended putting the heads of deserters on pikes. I see there is a new book coming out on death sentences in Confederate armies, co-edited by thomas Lowry, I believe.

      • Kevin Levin Feb 5, 2010

        Good point, Harry and thanks for the reference to the Lowry book. I am going to look into it.

        • Harry Feb 5, 2010


          Confederate Death Sentences: A Reference Guide (Lowry and Laska)

  • Joseph privott Dec 1, 2010

    Haha, I am looking for a topic to write my civ war hist final on, and found this. Dana is a friend of mine, cool.

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