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Richard Bardolph, "Confederate Dilemma: North Carolina Troops and the Deserter Problem" (1989)


Richard Bardolph, "Confederate Dilemma: North Carolina Troops and the Deserter Problem" (1989)


Throughout the war desertion was a major issue that the Confederacy had to deal with, and North Carolina had the reputation as being the worst. The federal, state and local governments each took initiatives to try and stem the flow of deserters with programs and punishments. From pleas to individual families, bounties on deserters, attempted moral boosts for the troops, to orders for the immediate return directed at the deserters themselves, the government and military tried everything to prevent unauthorized absences. This article looks at the measures that were taken against desertion, from the punishment of death, to the later issued polices of amnesty. Even with the use of many different programs, polices, and punishments, the problem of desertion was inevitable, and remained a problem in North Carolina for the entirety of the war.


Bardolgh, Richard


Bardolph, Richard, "Confederate Dilemma: North Carolina Troops and the Deserter Problem,"North Carolina Historical Review. 1st Ed. Vol 66. 1989: 61-86.





Original Format

Journal Article


At the Beginning of the Civil War, the Confederate States of America could hardly have foreseen the enormous problem that desertion in its army would have become. Amid the initial enthusiasm following the outbreak of the conflict, the rush of enlistments compelled authorities to return some impetuous volunteers to their homes out of sheer inability to enroll, train, and equip them fast enough. But before the struggle was over, desertion from Confederate army ranks had reached such calamitous proportions that even so prudent a commander as General Robert E. Lee felt compelled to issue orders assigning every tenth man on the march the fearful duty of keeping a fixed bayonet and loaded pistol trained upon nine of his comrades, ready to cut them down if they showed a disposition to run away. But even the direst threats proved ineffectual.

The Confederacy's program for dealing with desertion and evasion of duty included measures to prevent unauthorized absences, to recover those soldiers who had fled the ranks or evaded conscription, and to punish the transgressors: measures intended to prevent future, as well as to penalize past, defections. But meanwhile, prudence dictated caution in the dangerously outnumbered Confederacy. If severe punishments were meted out deserters could not be promptly, if at all, returned to duty; if conscription were too relentlessly enforced in seriously disaffected areas, the loyalty of thousands would waver. But if lenient measures were taken, regiments in the field would be gravely undermanned.


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Richard Bardolph, "Confederate Dilemma: North Carolina Troops and the Deserter Problem" (1989)



Bardolgh, Richard, Richard Bardolph, "Confederate Dilemma: North Carolina Troops and the Deserter Problem" (1989), Civil War Era NC, accessed July 14, 2024,