Cruel Crimes and Painful Punishments

Military Punishments,
page 3 of 9

Occasionally a faint gleam of humanity seems dawning, as when we find Colonel Crafts in camp before Boston in 1779 sending out this regimental order:

“The Colonel is extreamly sorry and it gives him pain to think he is at last Obliged to Consent to the Corporal Punishment of one of his regiment. Punishments are extreamly erksome and disagreeable to him but he finds they are unfortunately necessary.”

After that date the “cat” was seldom idle in his regiment, as in others in the Continental army. Lashes on the naked back with the cat-o’-nine-tails was the usual sentence, diversified by an occasional order for whipping “with a Burch Rodd on the Naked Breech,” or “over such Parts as the commanding officer may apoint.” There was, says one diary writer of Revolutionary times, “no spairing of the whip” in the Continental army; and floggings were given for comparatively trivial offenses such as “wearing a hat uncockt,” “malingering,” swearing, having a dirty gun, uttering “scurulous” words, being short of ammunition, etc.

A New York soldier in 1676 was accused of pilfering. This was the sentence decreed to him:

“The Court Marshall doth adjudge that the said Melchoir Classen shall run the Gantlope once, the length of the fort: where according to the custom of that punishment, the souldiers shall have switches delivered to them, with which they shall strike him as he passes between them stript to the waist, and at the Fort-gate the Marshall is to receive him, and there to kick him out of the garrison as a cashiered person, when he is no more to returne, and if any pay is due him it is to be forfeited.”

All of which would seem to tend to the complete annihilation of Melchoir Classen.

Gantlope was the earlier and more correct form of the word now commonly called gantlet. Running the gantlope was a military punishment in universal use in the seventeenth century in England and on the continent. It was the German Gassenlaufen and it is said was the invention of that military genius, the Emperor Gustavus Adolphus.

The method of punishing by running the gantlope was very exactly defined in English martial law. The entire regiment was drawn up six deep.


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