Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

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“I entered upon the duties of division judge advocate immediately, and soon became fascinated.”– “A military execution is a very solemn and impressive pageant.” –Diary of Josiah Marshall Favill.

August 14, 2013

Diary of a Young Officer–Josiah Marshall Favill (57th New York Infantry)

The change from brigade to division headquarters under the circumstances, is a wonderful piece of good luck for us; the division staff is much larger and more important than that of a brigade, and the field of observation much enlarged. The general and entire staff mess together, and this is one of the features of General Caldwell’s headquarters. He is sociable, interesting, and an excellent conversationalist, and makes the hours of meals a genuine interchange of ideas on every variety of subject, save only those of an official character, which are rigidly excluded. No shop, as the staff call it, being permitted. There are some bright fellows here, many of them full of wit and fun, others very learned, and most of them with some particular claim to distinction. I was assigned to the tent of Captain James G. Derrickson, Sixty-sixth New York, now ordnance officer, and we soon become fast friends. He is about my own age, tall, active, intelligent, well educated, and most ingenuous, singularly good natured, he enjoys getting himself into all sorts of ridiculous situations, to his own confusion, and the amusement of the crowd. He and I have infinite fun in our encounters of wit, and when not otherwise occupied of an afternoon, usually collect a small crowd under our awning to enjoy the fun. He is fastidious in his tastes, and as honorable as any Knight of the famous Round Table.

The chief-of-staff, John Hancock, brother of General Hancock, is an agreeable and accomplished officer, exceedingly pleasant to the officers of the staff, and one of the ablest adjutants in the corps. Lieutenant Alvord, the general’s chief aide-de-camp, is a handsome, dashing New Yorker, full of fun and cordiality. Captain Hobart, the provost-marshal, is not handsome, but one of the best fellows, and a gallant and excellent soldier. Captain Wilson, the mustering officer, is a brother of Mrs. Governor Curtin, of Pennsylvania, and is noted for his abilities and gallant conduct in many fights.

The surgeon of the division, Doctor R. Cresson Stiles, is a graduate of Yale, and half a dozen European universities besides; is very learned, very accomplished, and a noted surgeon. He took an interest in me from the first, and is frequently in my quarters; an expert horseman, swordsman, and pistol shot, active and young, he loves to dash across the country and get away from camp. We began to fence and shoot together immediately, which soon brought in the others, till finally all hands fenced and shot an hour or so every day.

I entered upon the duties of division judge advocate immediately, and soon became fascinated. All courts martial sitting in the division, are detailed and organized through my office. I make the selection of officers and the adjutant general details them. We have now three courts in operation, one of which I serve as judge advocate. In this, the principal court, cases of commissioned officers and capital cases of enlisted men are tried, the proceedings of all cases tried in the other courts are submitted to me for review, and are then transmitted by me, with notations, to the general commanding, for ultimate action. It is surprising how many delinquents there are in the army. The Irish brigade is a great sinner in this respect.

In my court we sit from 10 A. M. till 2 or 3 P. M., holding the court in a large hospital tent. The duty of a judge advocate is much like that of a district attorney. He prosecutes for the Government, but at the same time is bound to see the prisoner’s rights are not interfered with. We have our text books and regulations to guide us, and in the absence of special instructions, follow the custom of common law or common sense.

There are many cases of desertion, especially of bounty and drafted men and in order to keep the army together it is indispensable to resort to the most severe punishment. In this camp we tried and found two private soldiers guilty of desertion, and sentenced them to be shot. The sentences were approved by the general commanding the army (which in capital cases is necessary) and was very shortly afterwards carried into effect.

A military execution is a very solemn and impressive pageant. The doomed man marches to his own funeral, to the solemn music of the band, in presence of the whole command. In the two cases mentioned above, the utmost pomp and display was made, to render the executions as impressive as possible. The whole division paraded in full dress, and in column of division, marched upon the ground following the prisoner, led by the band, playing the “Dead march” in Saul. A squad of men from the provost guard immediately followed, then four men carrying the coffin on their shoulders, with the prisoner walking close behind, his buttons and regimental insignia stripped from his clothing; a few files of men with muskets loaded, and bayonets fixed, marched directly in rear of him, the firing party under command of the provost marshal. Then follows with arms reversed, the entire command, marching in step to the solemn cadence of the music. Arriving upon the field, the troops form three sides of a square, while the band, prisoner and provost guard march directly forward to the unoccupied side of the square, halting before a grave already dug. The bands wheel out of line, the bearers of the coffin place it on the ground, close by the new made grave, the prisoner is marched up and seated on the coffin, while the firing party halt a few paces in rear. Then the adjutant general advances and reads the proceedings of the trial, the sentence, and the confirmation of the general-in-chief. Immediately afterwards the prisoner is blindfolded, still sitting on his coffin, and the command is given to “Aim! Fire!” and the lifeless body of the unfortunate soldier falls over, invariably dead. It is certainly an awful and solemn duty, yet necessary for the safety of the forces. The execution over, the bands strike up a lively air, and at a quick step the troops march back to their camps.

The present position of the division is on the Edwards farm, Morrisville, Fauquier County, and is delightfully situated. We have never remained inactive in the summer season so long before, and greatly enjoy the freedom and comfort of not being too close to the enemy. The country seems better than most places we have seen heretofore, certainly an improvement on the neighborhood of Fredericksburg and Alexandria. To the north and northeast, the highest peaks of the Blue Ridge are visible, which adds to the picturesqueness of the view. The land is as usual poorly cultivated and there are no fruit trees, which seems curious in so pleasant a climate; of course there are no fences, they having long ago disappeared in camp fires.

Our. daily routine is an excellent breakfast eaten al fresco, whilst the best of bands discourse sweet music, followed by half an hour’s chat, then comes the gallop, a few minutes’ pistol practice, and then to work, each one of us at our respective duties. My court sits at 10 A. M., there being no clerks allowed in the court room, I am obliged to take down the evidence myself, which I do very rapidly and very illegibly; after the session is over, the clerks take charge of the scrawls, and by the following morning the proceedings are all in handsome form, engrossed and ruled according to regulations. Dinner about 2 P. M. and no further duty as a rule for the day, and so we go off on expeditions, get up horse races, hurdle jumping, fencing matches, and when it is very hot, sit under the awnings and enjoy a battle of wits. Sometimes we have a division review, then there is plenty of riding and plenty of fun.

Broom has been assigned to the duty in which above all others he excells, caterer for the mess, and he is entirely competent and in his proper element. He has infinite resources of persuasion and cheek, and all his other duties are subservient to this important function. Besides his aptitude for this sort of thing, he is a typical gentleman sport and horseman, very good looking, weighs about two hundred pounds, with a hearty manner, and is quite irresistible.

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