Desertion – The Other Way

As we have seen in previous posts, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut, along with the rest of the Second Brigade, held an advanced and prominent position atop Stony Mountain during the winter encampment of 1864. As the harsh winter progressed, more and more Confederate deserters forded the icy Rapidan and surrendered. Late in February, Capt. Samuel Fiske was penning yet another letter to his faithful readers back home when he paused his political musings to record the following:

There, my reflections are interrupted by the approach of a corporal with two butternut-colored prisoners who have just deserted the the enemy’s picket post here at the ford, and waded the cold, deep stream to take refuge within our lines. They are men of some 40 years of age, with families in North Carolina, conscripted six months since, and apparently overjoyed at the successful opportunity of escape which they have long been watching for. They report the one uniform story we hear every day from such stragglers into our lines, of discontent in the rebel camps, especially among the North Carolina troops. Every camp is most carefully guarded, they say; no man allowed to leave on any excuse; rations very short and precarious; sometimes many days without any meat, and then a tiny bit of bacon or fresh beef, their staple article corn meal.

Throughout the Confederacy, there were pockets of strong pro-Union sentiment. This was particularly true in the high country of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. Imagine if you were conscripted into the army of a government you didn’t support to fight for a cause you didn’t believe in. The shoes you left home with were soon destroyed by hard marching and the army didn’t replace them—you took the nearly soleless ones you’re wearing now from a corpse. Your empty belly gnaws at you constantly, you’re sick all the time, and you just received a letter from your desperate wife telling you your children are on the verge of starvation. Across the river, just a short hundred yards away you see the warmly dressed and well equipped Union pickets eating well every day and enjoying real, hot coffee. What would you do?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *