Civil War Court-Martial Case Files

Civil War Court-Martial Case Files


Desertion is a very common charge found in Civil War court-martial case files. Many of these cases are brief and provide little testimony. There are examples, however, of cases where the finding of the court resulted in a flurry of activity, including new information being brought to light after the trial ended.

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2d Lt. Charles Conzet, Company B, 123d Illinois Infantry Regiment.

    A good example is the case of 2d Lt. Charles Conzet, Company B, 123d Illinois Infantry Regiment. Lieutenant Conzet deserted on January 9, 1863, was later captured in Illinois, and returned to his unit on February 21, 1863.(1) Conzet was tried and convicted of desertion and sentenced "to be stripped of his badges of office, and shot until he is dead, with musketry." Both the commanders of the division and the Department of the Cumberland approved the sentence and forwarded it to the President of the United States for his approval. After the trial, thirteen officers of the 123d Illinois, including the regimental and company commanders, signed a letter addressed to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, requesting that Lt. Conzet's sentence be commuted. The officers expressed concern that the lieutenant was "induced to abandon his post by letters from his wife begging him to come home and relieve her from her destitute condition, representing to him that the community in which she lived was opposed to the war, and would do nothing to relieve her necessities because her husband was in the Army." His wife was in financial need, and the lieutenant had not received any pay for his five months of service in the army. The officers requested that the secretary of war commute his sentence to "reduction to the ranks with forfeiture of all pay and allowance." The officers noted that Lieutenant Conzet requested to "be allowed to return to his company so that he may yet prove himself to be a man." On September 24, 1864, President Lincoln wrote, "Let the prisoner be ordered from confinement and dishonorably dismissed [from] the service of the United States."(2) Second Lt. Charles Conzet was dishonorably dismissed two days later under War Department Special Order No. 321.(3)

    Additional information related to Lieutenant Conzet's capture can be found in his compiled military service record filed under the last name of "Conzit." Lt. Charles Conzit, Co. B, 123d Illinois Infantry, entry 519, Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations: Civil War, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, Record Group 94, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC (hereinafter, records in the National Archives will be cited as RG ___, NARA).

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