Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Punishment Horse

With the majority of Civil War soldiers being in their late teens and early twenties, it stands to reason that commissioned officers and NCOs would have a fair share of disciplinary cases to contend with. Many men, away from home for the first time and just becoming accustomed to losing their civilian liberties, made mistakes. Minor infractions such as speaking back to ranking superiors, being late for roll call, not keeping their weapon clean, or shirking various camp fatigue duties called for methods of correction.

During the war, both Union and Confederate armies banned whipping as a disciplinary method. But with such a diversity of infractions, and yet without an established code for punishing infractions, officers could get quite inventive with their choice of penalties. However, most officers and NCOs believed that the most effective measures were those that both corrected the guilty party and also served as an example for their observing comrades.

A favorite disciplinary tool was the “punishment horse.” Offending soldiers were required to sit for determined duration on an uncomfortable rail while in full view of their fellow soldiers. The effect of this form of punishment was twofold: first, soldiers were humiliated among their peers, and second their physical discomfort served as a corrective reminder that there were consequences for ill behavior.

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