War of the Rebellion: Serial 096 Page 1300 N. AND SE. VA., W. VA., MD., AND PA. Chapter LVIII.

Search Civil War Official Records


March 10, 1865.

Major H. E. YOUNG,

Judge-Advocate-General of Northern Virginia:

MAJOR: In obedience to circular of March 7, from department headquarters, I very respectfully submit below what seems to me the most available plan of obtaining more uniform and speedy punishment of military offenses without having recourse to legislation.

The principal evils of our present system of discipline, are I believe, the lack of uniformity in the punishments given by different courts to similar offenses and the necessary delay experienced in trial by the present tribunals. These, at least, are the only evils which I think can be reached without legislation; for if this could be had I would advocate the legalizing of punishment by stripes for larcenies and desertion and the legalizing of punishment by stripes for larcenies and desertion and by death for robberies or pillage committed by men with arms in their hands. Without waiting for this, however-for, legislation on the subject of the discipline of "our brave soldiers" would occupy our Congress an indefinite period and be of very uncertain issue at best-I respectfully submit the following plan:

Let the general commanding in chief summon a general court-martial of select officers, who shall as a court arrange all offenses against military law and discipline in classes, and decide upon and define a specific punishment for each class two-third of the court to upon each offense placed in any class of which the punishment is death. For instance, Class Numbers 1 might comprise murder, rape, arson, espionage, &c., each to be punishable with hanging. Class Numbers 2 might comprise desertion to enemy or across Confederate lines, desertion, with arms, second desertion under any circumstance, formal refusal to march, &c., each punishable with death by shooting. Class Numbers 3, overstaying leave until arrested desertion to home within Confederate lines, conniving at escape of prisoners, &c., each punishable with six years' hard labor with ball and chain. The court having completed such a schedule, should submit its proceeding s for ratification of the general commanding, to be approved and published to the army. Let the general commanding then authorize the summoning at any time by division commanders of division tribunals and by regimental commanders of regimental tribunals-the former of five or more, the latter of three or more officers-which tribunals shall simply take evidence and find guilty or innocent in all case of alleged offense. Division tribunals to take cognizance of cases; regimental tribunals of all except, for instance, those classes Nos. 1,2, and 3.

On the finding of a tribunal being approved by the officer summoning, it if the finding be guilty this officer shall at once order to be inflicted the punishment decreed in the code or schedule provided for above.

This course would satisfy the law as it now stands, for all punishment would be decided upon and ordered by a general court-martial. It would practically be giving a larger power to regimental courts, which are more easily held and quicker in result but this power need be no greater than the general commanding sees fit. The gravest cases would also be much more speedily disposed of in this way than by present processes, and punishments would then certainly be uniform and permanent and better arrangements for carrying them out could be made in every command. Should plan appear to be too summary in any of its particulars, it can be corrected by requiring approvals of higher officers, &c. I have attempted to indicate only its leading features which may be considerably varied, but still answer the same ends.