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Judith Lee Hallock, "The Role of the Community in Civil War Desertion" (1983)


Judith Lee Hallock, "The Role of the Community in Civil War Desertion" (1983)


In this source, the author describes the draft that Lincoln issued during the Civil War, and some of the possible reasons that soldiers chose to desert during this period. The government stated that all men should be required to offer their services for their country if they were able. At first the draft offered little incentive for soldiers, thus Lincoln and his administration began to offer those who enlisted a small commission for their service. When these wages came about, the number of deserters began to rise. Soldiers who deserted were known for enlisting, receiving their dues, deserting, and moving on to a neighboring town to repeat this cycle. Those who were found deserting were often shot in a firing squad, however, the number of individuals deserting began to grow to such a large amount that very few were ever caught, and those that were often escaped punishment. One other method that soldiers who chose to desert would use, was to pay off another individual to take his position once he received his payment. The author states that this was mostly a method used by those who were a bit wealthier. The author also stresses that those who deserted were most likely foreigners. Those who had close ties to the community were more likely to be motivated to serve their country and fight for those around them. If one wasn't from this particular community, their likelihood of them deserting rose dramatically.


Hallock, Judith Lee


Hallock, Judith Lee. "The Role of the Community in Civil War Desertion". Civil War History 29, no. 3 (June 1983): 123-134.



Original Format

Journal Article


Judith Lee Hallock
Communities, like individuals, have personalities, and their response to
crises reflect their peculiar characteristics. During the Civil War,
Northern communities played an important role in supplying the Union
armies with soldiers. Townships met their obligations in various ways,
from sponsoring rallies that aroused the patriotic fervor of their own
young men to hiring substitutes from as far away as Europe.
The American Civil War was a transitional war in many ways, including
the manner in which armies were recruited. From its earliest days,
military service was handled locally, and initially Abraham Lincoln followed
tradition by calling upon the states' militia. At the war's outset the
federal government was feeble, secession having left it tottering, while
the state governments were stable, financially sound, and already in possession
of military organizations.1 When the president issued a call for
men, the secretary of war notified the governors of their quotas, which
were then apportioned throughout the states. On 4 August 1862, however,
Lincoln issued a call for the draft of 300,000 men, the first instance
of the federal government assuming military draft prerogatives in the
United States. The protests made by the governors did not question the
president's authority to order a draft, which at least one source contends
was of "dubious legality,"2 but rather the quotas and time allowed for
the recruitment. This executive draft of 1862 was relatively ineffective;
its "chief contribution . . . was that it affirmed without serious constitutional
opposition the principle of a compulsive Federal draft of
manpower for military purposes."3 On 3 March 1863 Congress passed
the Draft Act, firmly establishing the principle "that every citizen owes
the Nation the obligation to defend it and that the Federal Government
can impose that obligation directly on the citizen without mediation of
the states."4
Only about 6 percent of the Union soldiers were obtained directly
1 Fred Albert Shannon, The Organization and Administration of the Union Army
1861-1865 (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1965), 1:22.
2 Marvin A. Kreidberg and Merton G. Henry, History of Military Mobilization in the
United States Army 1775-1945 (Washington, D.C.: Dept. of the Army, 1955), p. 104.
3 Ibid., p. 104.
4 Ibid., p. 108.
through the draft, yet it probably increased the number of volunteers
because the draftee was peculiarly stigmatized. Fred A. Shannon believes
that the "coercive power of the draft was more moral than statutory
and seems to have exerted its direct influence more upon the state
and local governments and patriotic organizations than upon the people
direct."5 State and local officials, independent clubs, and recruiting officers
"alternated between describing the ignominies and horrors of
drafting and advertising the bounties they were willing to offer
Neither drafting nor bribery was necessary at the war's outset. Enthusiasm
was high. Men marched off to fight in a blaze of excitement, and
many were apprehensive that peace would be proclaimed before they
had the opportunity to fire a weapon at the enemy. So many men volunteered
that individuals and organized units alike were turned away by
the state and federal governments.
Besides the patriotic fervor and holiday spirit, the regional economies
aided in the procurement of volunteers. Jobs were scarce and many
young men were unemployed. Volunteers, believing the war would be
over quickly, considered soldiering as a short-term occupation—
something to tide them over for the next few months. In December 1861
Edwin F. Worthington wrote to his mother, "I could find nothing to do
anywhere so ... I went to New York and enlisted."7 Another young
man, Phinias E. Johnson, informed his cousin that he had no work and
no immediate prospects for employment.8 Within a few months, Johnson's
uncle explained, "He enlisted ... in a fit of dejection and discouragement
at not being successful in getting steady work or a proper
remuneration."9 Both of these young men died before a year passed.
As the war continued volunteers became scarce. The surplus labor
supply had been absorbed by the army and by the increased demands of
farms and factories. Potential volunteers, weighing their earning capacity
in civil life with the meager pay of a soldier, chose to remain
The federal government recognized that more incentive was needed
to draw voluntary enlistments and instituted the bounty system.
Severely criticized at the time, as well as down through the years since
the war, the bounty system led to and encouraged desertion. As it became
increasingly difficult to obtain recruits, states and localities
5 Shannon, Organization and Administration, 1:291.
8 Ibid., 2:57.
7 Edwin F. Worthington to his mother, 25 December 1861, Pennypacker Long Island
Collection, Easthampton Free Library, New York.
8 Phinias E. Johnson to his cousin, 21 April 1861, Whittaker Historical Collection,
Southold Public Library, New York.
9 Joshua Payne to his brother, 18 December 1862, Whittaker Historical Collection,
Southold Public Library, New York.
10Shannon, Organization and Administration, 1:259.
offered ever higher bounties to attract prospective soldiers to their own
area, thus receiving credit toward their draft quotas. The expenditures
for bounties, approximately $750,000,000, were "about as much as the
pay for the entire Army during the entire war; exceeded quartermaster
expenditures for the war; and were twice as great as the cost of subsistence
and five times the ordnance costs."11
The basic evil of the system was that as communities vied with each
other for recruits, the bounty, rather than being an incentive to enlist,
became a "price for mercenaries. . . . However well the bounty program
was conceived, in practice it was cosdy, inefficient, and sordid."12
This situation encouraged bounty-jumping, wherein a man volunteered,
collected his bounty, deserted, and reenlisted in another area using an
alias. Ella Lonn concludes, "The vast size of the country, the feverish
zeal of each town and city district to fill its quota, rendered it hard to
detect the miserable bounty-jumpers."13
The high rate of desertion was closely related to the bounty system,
and those states paying the largest bounties produced the largest proportion
of deserters.14 New York, which paid the highest bounties in the
country (one district averaging $407.74 per volunteer),15 had a high percentage
of deserters: 89.06 per thousand, as compared with a national
rate of 62.51 per thousand.18
Substitution, which allowed a draftee to furnish a man in his place,
was another inducement to desert. The price for substitutes increased as
draftees vied with one another to hire replacements. The competition
for substitutes also raised bounties because men enlisting for mercenary
reasons would naturally seek out the highest profit available. High
bounties, in turn, encouraged desertion, as men moved on to avail themselves
of those high profits as often as possible. Many people, of course,
could not afford the price of a substitute, and charges were made that it
was a rich man's war and a poor man's fight.
An additional factor in the desertion rate was the high proportion of
recent immigrants in the Union armies. Many foreign-born men had
settled in the United States long before the war began. Others, however,
came for the express purpose of enlisting, and still others were cajoled
and tricked into coming by less-than-honest agents sent abroad on
recruiting missions. These agents, hired by local and state governments,
promised industrial and agricultural employment in America. Upon
arrival in the States, however, the immigrants were delivered to a re-
11Kreidberg and Henry, History of Military Mobilization, pp. 109-10.
12Ibid., p. 110.
13Ella Lonn, Desertion During the Civil War (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1966),
p. 141.
14Ibid., p. 142.
15Shannon, Organization and Administration, 2:61.
18 Lonn, Desertion, p. 138.
cruiting officer, but the agent collected the major portion of the bounty
due the recruits. Having no money, and no options, the men became
unwilling soldiers. Understandably, such foreign-born soldiers were the
most likely to desert. Statistics compiled by Provost Marshall General
J. B. Fry revealed a far greater ratio of deserters for the eastern states,
with urban populations in which the foreign elements were significant,
than for the western states, where a larger native-born population prevailed.
He held that desertion was a crime of foreigners rather than of
native Americans, and army officers corroborated this view.17
Deserters often escaped punishment. Through the course of the war
there were approximately 200,000 desertions, but only about 80,000
arrests. Of those tried, 147 were executed by firing squads.18 Although
military officials objected strenuously, Lincoln commuted death sentences
on the slightest pretext. Lonn believes that public opinion made
execution for desertion difficult until 1864, when the nation finally
recognized the "inevitability of war rigor in time of war,"19 but by then
there were just too many deserters. Few were shot, "and the evil increased."
20 A civilian recalled Lincoln explaining his leniency in desertion
cases: "If I should go shooting men by scores for desertion, I should
have such a hullabaloo about my ears as I have not heard yet, and I
should deserve it. You cannot order men shot by dozens or twenties.
People won't stand it and they ought not to stand it."21
Although some general conclusions have been drawn about the
motives of Civil War deserters, too little is known about the degree of
influence the community had on its enlistees while they were away from
home. Comparisons of two townships located in Suffolk County, Long
Island, New York, and of some of their enlistees suggest a significant
relationship between the community's sense of responsibility and the
enlistees' devotion to military service. Brookhaven and Southold,
although close geographically, responded quite differently to the demands
of war, as did the men enlisting in each of these townships.
The 190 individuals studied from these two townships (70 from
Brookhaven, 120 from Southold) enlisted between August and November
of 1862. By that time the feverpitch of volunteering had worn off.
People recognized that the war was not going to be over quickly, and the
realities of war began hitting home as deaths from battle and disease
were reported. When Lincoln issued his draft call in August 1862, these
17Ibid., p. 219.
18E. B. Long and Barbara Long, The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac, 1861-1865
(Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1971), p. 714.
19Lonn, Desertion, p. 223.
20Ibid., p. 222.
21Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (New York: Harcourt, Brace and
World, 1939), 1:554.
communities were eager to avoid the degradation of drafting their
quotas, so they turned to other methods to fulfill their obligations.
In general, the men enlisting from Brookhaven and Southold were
similar. The majority of them were between 18 and 29 years of age. Both
townships followed the national trend of heavy enlistments of 18 and 21
year olds, with a curious lag in the enlistment of 19 and 20 year olds.
Brookhaven enlisted 16 men who were 18 or 21 as opposed to 7 who
were 19 or 20; Southold had 31 in the former group and 14 in the latter.
The average age of enlistees from both townships was 23.47, somewhat
lower than the national average of 25.81.22 When broken down according
to township, however, Brookhaven's average was 25.88, while
Southold's was only 22.83.
Occupations were varied among the enlistees but were similar
between communities. Thirty-five percent of the enlistees were farmers
or farm laborers, well below the 48 percent national average. Given the
unique characteristics of the Long Island area, however, an additional 12
percent were listed as mariners, boatmen, baymen, or fishermen—
occupations not listed in the national categories other than under "4 percent
miscellaneous."23 Among the Brookhaven and Southold enlistees
were also seven carpenters, three shoemakers, two printers, two blacksmiths,
one wheelwright, one cooper, and one pedlar. No professional
men or merchants enlisted in these townships during the period
The number of foreign-born enlisted from each township in late 1862
accounts for the greatest difference between the two groups of men.
Only 6 percent of Southold's enlistees were of foreign birth, while
Brookhaven's enlistees included 40 percent foreign-born.
Although the enlistees were similar in age and occupation, the two
townships were strikingly different. A decade after the Civil War a local
historian described Brookhaven, the largest township in Suffolk County,
as "still covered with forest and scrub growth. The settlements are
mostly along the middle, and on die south side. Between these ranges of
settlements large tracts of wood-land intervene, the monotony of which
22Long and Long, The Civil War, p. 707.
23Ibid., p. 707.
24Information on the individual men was obtained from a variety of sources. The names
and other data on the Brookhaven volunteers were taken from a set of enlistment papers
preserved at the Suffolk County Historical Society, Riverhead, New York. The Southold
names came from William S. Pelletreau's A History of Long Island, Vol. 2 (New York:
Lewis Publishing Co., 1903). The service record of each man was found in the Annual
Reports of the Adjutant General of the State of New York for the Years 1893-1905, fortythree
volumes additionally entitled Registers of New York Regiments in the War of the
Rebellion (Albany, New York). The 1860 Federal Census, Schedule 1, Population (microfilm,
State University of New York at Stony Brook), and the 1865 New York State Census
(manuscript, Pennypacker Long Island Collection, Easthampton Free Library, New
York), were used to determine the geographic mobility of the individuals.
is scarcely broken by any attempt at improvement."25 Brookhaven does
not appear to have had the makings of a cohesive social unit: widely scattered
setdements, with difficult access to other areas, prevented the
closeness apparent in other Long Island townships of the period. There
were also no newspapers published in Brookhaven during the Civil War
that might have promoted community spirit and unity.
The published records of Brookhaven make no mention of the war
until February 1864, but the journal of Nathaniel Miller, town supervisor,
28 contains an entry on 21 August 1862 noting that a town meeting
voted authority to the supervisor to raise money to pay each volunteer a
$150 bounty. In June 1864 the bounty was raised to $300. On 12 January
1865 a special town meeting authorized a committee to get substitutes at
a price of up to $500 for a three-year enlistment. From late 1862 to the
end of the war, the supervisor was active in finding substitutes for the
men drafted from Brookhaven. He often traveled to Jamaica, Long
Island, or to New York City for that purpose.27 Miller's success in 1862 is
revealed by the enlistment papers for the months of August through
November; of the 240 men enlisted, 109 were foreign-born, 74 ofwhom
were born in Ireland. Only 2 of these foreigners appeared in either the
1860 federal or the 1865 New York State census, suggesting that the
overwhelming majority of recruits were probably not Brookhaven
residents at the time of enlistment. Though foreigners were not the only
deserters, this may have contributed to the extremely high desertion rate
found among this particular group of men. While the national figures
show an approximate rate of 10 percent,28 the desertion rate for the
Brookhaven enlistees examined here was 27 percent.
Although 240 enlistment papers are extant from Brookhaven, the following
analysis is based upon the military careers of 70 individuals—42
native-born and 28 foreign-born. These were the only individuals for
whom complete service records could be found.
Brookhaven's foreign enlistees were all mustered in during November
1862 and may well have been the group mentioned by the town supervisor
in his journal: "Nov. 5th, 1862 In New York and arranged for aliens
in Cochoran Brigand [sic] for men enough ... to fill the quota of the
town for $80 each a saving to the town of $220 to what I had paid previous
as the other towns and counties had got their supply of men we
could make better terms."29 All but 8 of the 28 Brookhaven enlistees for
whom records were found were Irish.
25 Richard M. Bayles, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Suffolk County with a
Historical Outline of Long Island (Port Washington, New York: Ira J. Friedman, 1962),
p. 224.
28 Long Island follows the New England tradition of referring to townships as towns.
27Memo from the Journal of Nathaniel Miller, 5 November 1862, Brookhaven Town
Historian's Office, Port Jefferson, New York.
28Shannon, Organization and Administration, 1:179.
29Miller Journal, 5 November 1862.
It has been estimated that 15 percent of the soldiers from New York
were born in Ireland.30 Their motives for enlisting were varied: some
thought it would be good training for the time when Ireland would
strike a blow for freedom from England; others believed that in accepting
America's privileges they must also accept the duties; and many
enlisted from mercenary motives.31 Once they were in the army, the
Irish proved to be hard fighters, men who could be relied upon to carry
their share, and more, in battle. Many of them fought as a unit in the Irish
Brigade and Cocoran's Brigade, which included the 155th New York
State Volunteers, the regiment that these Brookhaven foreign-born
served in. The Irish carried into battle their distinctive green flags. Their
battle losses were always high: they suffered heavy casualties at Gettysburg,
Antietam, Wilderness, Cold Harbor, North Anna, and Petersburg.
They were virtually massacred at Fredericksburg during the
assault on Marye's Heights. Southern generals, however, praised the
courage of these Irish soldiers. George Pickett, for example, wrote, "The
brilliant assault . . . was beyond description. . . . cheer after cheer at
their fearlessness went up all along our lines." Robert E. Lee said that
"never were men so brave." A. P. Hill, perhaps, said it best when he
exclaimed: "There are those d----- green flags again!"32 And the historian
Ella Lonn pays them tribute when she writes, "Undeniably the
Irish added a picturesque and dramatic quality beyond that of other
races to the motley array of the Union Army."33
Although the Irish had a reputation for bravery, 35 percent of the 20
who enlisted from Brookhaven in late 1862 deserted. The overall desertion
rate among Brookhaven's foreign enlistees was 39 percent, or 11 of
the 28 studied. Seven individuals deserted within the first month, 3 men
deserted after serving approximately eight months, and one served for
thirteen months.
As the 155th New York State Volunteers, in which all but 2 of Brookhaven's
foreigners served, had been engaged in only minor skirmishes
during the time these deserters served, battìe fatigue was not the motive
for deserting. These enlistees were men with no apparent ties to the
people of Brookhaven. Nor did their regiment supplant their alienation:
it was predominantly European, but non-Irish, and the few Brookhaven
foreigners who enlisted together were scattered among many companies.
Thus it appears that there was no community spirit binding these
individuals to their military obligations.
Native-born volunteers from Brookhaven also had a high rate of
desertion: 8 (19 percent) of the 42 studied deserted. These 42 men
30Joseph M. Hernon, Jr., Celts, Catholics, and Copperheads: Ireland Views the American
Civil War (Ohio State University Press, 1968), p. 17.
31Ella Lonn, Foreigners in the Union Army and Navy (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State
Univ. Press, 1951), pp. 74-75.
32Hernon, Celts, Catholics, and Copperheads, p. 18.
33Lonn, Foreigners, p. 648.
became members of nine different organizations, with the largest
group, made up of 22 men, joining the Second New York Cavalry. Five
Brookhaven men deserted from this unit after serving less than a month.
Although the Second Cavalry was active throughout the war, no action
occurred while these men served. Four men deserted on 26 October
1862, all with the last name of Albin. The fifth man left the following
day. All of these men were listed in the 1860 federal census, but only
Thomas B. Albin appeared in the 1865 state census where, under
"Remarks" regarding his war service, is the comment, "Skedaddled
after two months." One man from Brookhaven, who enlisted in the 145th
New York State Volunteers, deserted after five months. The regiment
had been involved in virtually no fighting during his term. There was
one volunteer in the Eleventh New York Volunteer Cavalry, also known
as Scott's 900. He deserted within five months, after having been involved
in very little fighting. The final native-born deserter was one of
two men who enlisted in the First Mounted Rifles, New York State
Volunteers. He had served fifteen months, during which time his regiment
was not involved in heavy fighting, although it took part in many
minor affrays.34
In addition to the organizations already mentioned, American-born
enlistees from Brookhaven also joined the Third New York Artillery,
and the 92d, 131st, 158th, and 159th New York State Volunteers. All of
these regiments participated in battles, some units losing hundreds of
men during the war.
Of Brookhaven's 70 enlistees for whom complete service records
were found, 5 were wounded, but later mustered out with their companies;
10 were captured, and 3 of these died in the prison at Andersonville;
3 died of disease; 4 were killed in battle; 10 received early discharges
for disability; 19 were mustered out at the war's end; and 19 (27
percent) deserted.
The war records of the men who enlisted at Brookhaven suggest a certain
instability, which is confirmed by an examination of the 1860 federal
and the 1865 state censuses. Of the 70 enlistees from Brookhaven
studied, only 6 were listed in the 1860 census, 9 in the 1865 census, and 10
appeared in both, for a total of 25 men, or 36 percent. Of those found in
at least one census, only 2 were foreign-born, neither ofwhom deserted.
Of the 42 native Americans studied, only 23, or 54.3 percent, appeared in
at least one census, an indication that Brookhaven at this time may have
been a rather unsettled community with a great deal of mobility among
its inhabitants.
It is difficult to determine the mood of Brookhaven Township during
34 Information on the battles and campaigns of all regiments was obtained from
Frederick Phisterer, New York in the War of the Rebellion, 1861 to 1865 (Albany, New
York: J. B. Lyon Co., 1912).
the Civil War, partly because there were no newspapers published
there. In some of the Township's villages there were Ladies Aid Societies
organized to give aid and comfort to soldiers away from home by supplying
them with otherwise unobtainable items, but no records of their
specific activities could be located. The published town records show
only one instance of aid to families of volunteers. The 7 March 1865
Trustee Meeting "Ordered that the child of James Downs who is in the
army as a volunteer be allowed Seventy five cents per week from this
date until further notice."35 In general, it appears that Brookhaven was
not a cohesive community during the Civil War, and this lack of unity
was reflected in the high rate of desertion of its enlisted men. Even discounting
the foreign-born, Brookhaven still showed a 19 percent desertion
rate, high in comparison with the national average of approximately
10 percent.38
Southold Township, on the other hand, a more cohesive community,
tallied only a 3 percent rate of desertion. In 1873 a local historian noted,
The principal part of the land of this town is cleared, and being divided into farms of
moderate size is kept in an excellent state of cultivation. . . . This town presents almost a
solid and continuous settlement, from one end of its territory to the other. Nearly the whole
surface is occupied by farms, and the settlements joining each other in unbroken lines are
compact enough to be pleasant, and still afford sufficient room for the convenient prosecution
of farming operations.37
Two newspapers had been in existence for some time prior to the war,
and they both continued publication throughout. The Republican
Watchman became a protest, or Copperhead, paper. Its editor, Henry
A. Reeves, was so outspoken that on 3 September 1861 he was arrested
by federal authorities and confined in Fort Lafayette, a detention center
for political prisoners, until early in October 1861.38 The Suffolk Times,
on the other hand, was ultrapatriotic, and in 1862 the editor, John J.
Riddell, after drumming up enthusiasm for volunteering, left the paper
to enlist in the army. Cordello D. Elmer continued publication of the
Times, following Riddell's war policies, until 1865 when Riddell returned
at the close of the war.39
The manuscript Southold Town Records first mention the war on
7 April 1863 when the citizens voted to raise $10,000 to pay bounties and
monthly allowances to the families of volunteers. On 5 April 1864 citizens
of the town voted to pay up to $400 per substitute and to raise an
35 Records of the Town of Brookhaven, Suffolk County, New York, 1856-1885 (New
York, 1893), p. 234.
38 Shannon, Organization and Administration, 1:179.
37Bayles, Historical and Descriptive Sketches, pp. 360, 366.
38Margaret O'Connor Bethauser, "Henry A. Reeves: The Career of a Conservative
Democratic Editor, 1858-1916," Journal of Long Island History 9 (Spring 1973): 39-40.
38 Greenport [New York] Suffolk Times, miscellaneous clippings, Whittaker Historical
Collection, Southold Public Library, New York.
additional $20,000 for the families of volunteers, who received $27,900
more on 4 April 1865.40 In the village of Orient a Union meeting resolved
to canvas for subscriptions for the benefit of volunteers and their families.
An item in the Suffolk Times on 4 September 1862 reported that a
special town meeting in Southold voted to give each volunteer's wife $8
per month, and each child under eleven $2 per month.41 The strong
support given to the families of volunteers indicates that Southold
accepted responsibility for those who might be left destitute in the absence
of the breadwinner, and this unquestionably had a positive influence
on those serving far from their loved ones.
Of the 120 men enlisting from Southold Township in late 1862, 84
were native-born and 8 foreign-born; the birth places of 28 are unknown.
All of the foreigners (3 Irish, 4 Germans, and one Englishman)
were listed in the 1860 federal census, and 2 were located in the 1865
state census. These people were settled in Southold and did not immigrate
in order to participate in the war. None of them deserted.
The vast majority of the Southold enlistees studied joined the 127th
New York State Volunteers (100 of the 120), and all but 3 of these 100
enlisted within Southold Township. In the summer of 1862 a man with
family ties in Southold, Stewart L. Woodford, assistant U.S. district attorney
of New York, resigned his position in order to organize a company
of the 127th on the eastern end of Long Island, creating much
excitement in the area.42 One young man wrote in his diary:
Mon, Aug 18, 1862, Southold—This evening Stuart [sic] L. Woodford commenced a series
of lectures (to enlist recruits for a company to belong to the Regiment of Monitors now
being raised in the first and Senatorial Districts of this State) in the Presbyterian Church—
one of which is to be delivered on consecutive evenings in each vilage in this town [ship].
After the meeting 22 joined the co., myself among the number.43
Only one Southold man deserted from this regiment, and he did so prior
to his mustering. The 127th did a great deal of moving about but saw
little fighting, the heaviest being at Honey Hill and Mackey's Point,
South Carolina, in November and December 1864.44
The 165th New York State Volunteers had 15 Southold men, two of
whom deserted. This regiment saw a good bit of hard fighting, especially
at Port Hudson and in the Red River Campagin. One deserter left
after nine days as a soldier, and the other departed two months after
being wounded at Port Hudson, having served for eleven months.
The 170th New York State Volunteers had only 3 Southolders, one of
whom deserted forty-one days after mustering in. Although this regi-
40Southold Town Records, Town Hall, Southold, New York.
41Suffolk Times, 9 May 1861, 4 September 1862.
42Sag Harbor [New York] Corrector, 23 August 1862, microfilm, Long Island Historical
Society, Brooklyn, New York.
43Diary of Ed. F. Huntting, 18 August 1862, Whittaker Historical Collection, Southold
Public Library, New York.
44See note 34.
ment participated in heavy fighting and sustained severe casualties, the
deserter never saw any fighting at all—he was gone long before the
action began.
One enlistee each joined the 163d and the 176th New York State
Volunteers. Both regiments were engaged in battles with severe casualties
reported. Neither of these men deserted.
The record on the Southold enlistees in late 1862 stands as follows: 7
were wounded, but later mustered out with their companies; 4 were
captured, of whom 2 died as prisoners; 12 died of disease; 12 were discharged
with disabilities; 3 were killed in action; 78 were mustered out
with their companies; and 4 deserted. All 4 deserters had enlisted in New
York City rather than in Southold.
Of the 120 enlistees from Southold studied, 18 appeared in only the
1860 federal census, 27 only in the 1865 state census, and 46 appeared in
both—75 percent, as compared with Brookhaven's 36 percent. None of
the Southold deserters were found in either census.
Southold was a more settled community than Brookhaven before and
during the Civil War. There was a deep community spirit as evidenced
by the Suffolk Times reports of union rallies and meetings and the raising
of "Liberty Poles" in several villages. The townspeople also showed
their concern through financial support of the families of volunteers,
voting at least $50,000 for that purpose. The Ladies Relief Union of
Southold village met weekly at the Southold Institute to sew for the
soldiers.45 On 25 January 1862 the Sag Harbor Corrector published a
report that the Ladies Aid Society of Mattituck, a Southold Township
village, had sent a variety of bedding and clothing to the soldiers.48 The
newspapers published letters sent by soldiers telling of their activities. In
1865 the Suffolk Times carried an item reporting that "Barton Skinner, a
member of Co. H, 127th NYV arrived home on Friday . . . reports all
the Suffolk County boys well and in good spirits."47 Many of the newspapers
eventually reached the soldiers through families and friends,
further strengthening the bonds with home. During the national crisis of
the 1860s Southold Township responded as a closely knit community;
citizens supported each other, as well as the soldiers away from home.
This cohesiveness probably contributed to the extremely low desertion
rate (3 percent) of Southold's volunteers.
Foreign birth was the most common characteristic of the 23 deserters
from Brookhaven and Southold, another indication of the community's
role in the decision to desert. At least 12 of the deserters (the birth places
of 2 are unknown) were born in Europe. No other pattern emerged so
clearly. These 23 deserters ranged in age from 18 to 42. The average age
45 Minute Book of the Southold Ladies Relief Union, 14 August 1861, Whittaker Historical
Collection, Southold Public Library, New York.
48 Sog Harbor Corrector, 25 January 1862.
47 Suffolk Times, 4 May 1865.
was 26.43, somewhat higher than the average age of the entire group of
enlistees (23.47). However, the average age of deserters from Brookhaven
was 25.05, very close to the average age of the town's enlistees
(25.88), while the average age of deserters from Southold was 30.74,
much older than the average age of its enlistees (22.83) . The occupations
of 4 of the deserters are unknown; 4 were farmers; 4 boatmen or sailors; 3
laborers; 2 ship carpenters; 2 blacksmiths; and one each carver, cigarmaker,
machinist, and printer—an assortment that does not seem to
indicate any particular pattern. Thirteen of the men deserted within the
first month of their muster in, 8 within the first year, and the remaining 2
left after thirteen and fifteen months. Only one of these deserters was
wounded in battle; as he left shortly after, that may have prompted his
decision. Of the 23 deserters studied, 5 appeared in the 1860 federal
census, and only one appeared in both the 1860 federal and the 1865 state
censuses, an indication that they probably were relatively mobile individuals
with no strong community bonds.
In comparing the responses of Brookhaven and Southold Townships
to their obligations, and the desertion rates of their enlistees (83 percent
of the deserters studied enlisted in Brookhaven), it appears that a community's
degree of unity and support had a direct influence on its soldiers'
decision to desert. This thesis also explains the high rate of desertion
among the foreign-born, most of whom lacked a strong community
bond within the United States. Those foreign-born who appeared in the
censuses, indicating settlement in the communities, did not desert.
Geographically, Southold was generally settled, with easy communication
between its component villages, while Brookhaven had widely
scattered villages and large tracts of woods between, circumstances not
conducive to easy intercourse. Southold seemed to find it easier to enlist
men, as exemplified by the 9 February 1865 Suffolk Times report that
Southold's official quota to be filled under the latest draft call was zero,
while 19 were due from Brookhaven.48 The 100 men from Southold
enlisting in one company of the 127th Regiment created a small community
of Southolders away from home, another factor that probably
discouraged desertion.
The available evidence on enlistments and desertions indicates that
Southold provided a stability lacking in Brookhaven, which its soldiers
carried with them into military service. These Southold men had a
strong sense of community support and approval, which not only added
to their feelings of personal responsibility but also strengthened their
obligation to meet the expectations of their home community.


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Hallock, Judith Lee, Judith Lee Hallock, "The Role of the Community in Civil War Desertion" (1983), Civil War Era NC, accessed July 12, 2024,