Exploring Civil War Court Martial Records

One of the areas of the Civil War I have a particular interest in is Military Justice. From my perspective I think looking at court martial records gives a unique and deeper insight to the relationships, cohesiveness and dynamics of Civil War Regiments. My focus and background has been on regiments from Maine. In my own research on the First Maine Heavy Artillery I have been able to uncover 5 Court Martials against members of the regiment. None of these cases is mentioned in the regimental history written by Horace Shaw and Charles J House in 1903 but thanks to the work of Thomas Lowey, MD and The Index Project. I was able to find the reference numbers to these records and then request copies of the files from the National Archives.

The The Index Project has built a database of the court martial records within the National Archives. For a modest fee they will do a look up by regiment and provide the reference numbers so any one interested can ask for copies from the National Archives. I think anyone who is doing research on a Civil War Regiment needs to consider looking at the Court Martial records.

Dr. Lowry has also published at least two books on Union Army Court Martial which highlight some selected cases against Union Army Colonels and Army Doctors . Dr. Lowry is also noted for his book on sex and the Civil War . Dr. Lowry is scheduled to be a guest on Civil War Talk Radio January 20.

Now at the extreme of Civil War military justice were military executions. I came across this listing of Union Army Executions in chronological order. Two things really struck me about this list. One was the number of executions that took place in New Hampshire Regiments which was 17. The 5th NH had 8 and the 2nd NH had 6. I haven’t done statistical breakdown but there were only 3 executions attributed to Maine Regiments so the rate of executions in NH regiments seems a little high. The second thing that struck me was that out of the 267 executions accounted for 25 of them were carried out between June 1865 and June 1866 after the war had ended, Of those, based on the listed regiment 19 of these soldiers were in black units.

From my perspective this just goes to show that there are still many elements of the Civil War that remain to be more fully explored.


Anonymous said…
Lowry also wrote a book titled something like "Don't Shoot that Boy: Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice" that was one of the earlier Savas titles.
Anonymous said…
Regimental summaries claim 20 2nd Maine men were executed for mutiny, why don't they show up in this list?
Andy said…
John, there were men in teh 2nd maine arrested for munity but they were never executed. Most of the these men ended up serving out their time in the 2Oth Maine. James Mundy wrote a book on the 2d Maine called Second to None which gives a good account of what actually happened. There were only 3 executions attributed to Maine regiments during the war.

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