Law And Punishment

Military Punishments,
page 8 of 9

In the American army it is said lunacy and imbecility often followed excessive punishment in the whirlgig.

Various tiresome or grotesque punishments were employed. Delinquent soldiers in Winthrop’s day were sentenced to carry a large number of turfs to the Fort; others were chained to a wheelbarrow. In 1778 among the Continental soldiers as in our Civil War, culprits were chained to a log or clog of wood; this weight often was worn four days. One soldier for stealing cordage was sentenced to “wear a clogg for four days and wear his coat rong side turn’d out.” A deserter from the battle of Bunker Hill was tied to a horse’s tail, lead around the camp and whipped. Other deserters were set on a horse with face to the horse’s tail, and thus led around the camp in derision.

There was one curious punishment in use in the army during our Civil War which, though not, of course, of colonial times, may well be mentioned since it was a revival of a very ancient punishment. It is thus described by the author of a paper written in 1862 and called A Look at the Federal Army:

“I was extremely amused to see a rare specimen of Yankee invention in the shape of an original method of punishment drill. One wretched delinquent was gratuitously framed in oak, his head being thrust through a hole cut in one end of a barrel, the other end of which had been removed, and the poor fellow loafed about in the most disconsolate manner, looking for all the world like a half-hatched chicken.”

I have made careful inquiry among officers and soldiers who served in the late war, and I find this instance, which occurred in Virginia, was not exceptional. A lieutenant in the Maine infantry volunteers wrote on July 13, 1863, from Cape Parapet, about two miles above New Orleans:

“We have had some drunkenness but not so much as when we were in other places; two of my company were drunk, and the next day I had a hole cut in the head of a barrel, and put a placard on each side to tell the bearer that ’I am wearing this for getting drunk,’ and with this they marched through the streets of the regiment four hours each. I don’t believe they will get drunk again very soon.”


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