Crime and Punishment in England

Military Punishments,
page 9 of 9

The officer who wrote the above adds today:

“This punishment was not original with me, as I had read of its being done in the Army of the Potomac, and I asked permission of the colonel to try it, the taking away of a soldier’s pay by court-martial having little permanent effect. In those cases one of the men quit drinking, and years afterward thanked me for having cured him of the habit, saying he had never drank a drop of liquor since he wore the barrel-shirt.”

Another Union soldier, a member of Company B, Thirteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, writes that while with General Banks at Darnstown, Virginia, he saw a man thus punished who had been found guilty of stealing: With his head in one hole, and his arms in smaller holes on either side of the barrel, placarded “I am a thief,” he was under a corporal’s guard marched with a drum beating the rogue’s march through all the streets of the brigade to which his regiment was attached. Another officer tells me of thus punishing a man who stole liquor. His barrel was ornamented with bottles on either side simulating epaulets, and was labelled “I stole whiskey.” Many other instances might be given. There was usually no military authority for these punishments, but they were simply ordered in cases which seemed too petty for the formality of a court-martial.

This “barrel-shirt,” which was evidently so frequently used in our Civil War, was known as the Drunkard’s Cloak, and it was largely employed in past centuries on the Continent. Sir William Brereton, in his Travels in Holland, 1634, notes its use in Delft; so does Pepys in the year 1660. Evelyn writes in 1641 that in the Senate House in Delft he saw “a weighty vessel of wood not unlike a butter churn,” which was used to punish women, who were led about the town in it. Howard notes its presence in Danish prisons in 1784 under the name of the “Spanish Mantle.”

The only contemporary account I know of its being worn in England is in a book written by Ralph Gardner, printed in 1655, and entitled England’s Grievance Discovered, etc. The author says:

“He affirms he hath seen men drove up and down the streets, with a great tub or barrel open in the sides, with a hole in one end to put through their heads, and so cover their shoulders and bodies, down to the small of their legs, and then close the same; called the new-fashion cloak, and so make them march to the view of all beholders, and this is their punishment for drunkards and the like.”

It is also interesting and suggestive to note that by tradition the Drunkard’s Cloak was in use in Cromwell’s army; but the steps that led from its use among the Roundheads to its use in the Army of the Potomac are, I fear, forever lost.


:: Previous Page :: Next Page ::

Books & articles appearing here are modified adaptations
from a private collection of vintage books & magazines.
Reproduction of these pages is prohibited without written permission. © Laurel O'Donnell, 1996-2006.