Monday, March 20, 2017

Why didn't they stay?

   On September 1, 1863, Joseph Grubb, a private in the 4th Tennessee Infantry (US), made a recruiting sweep through the Laurel community of Madison County. He was looking for men for a new company in the 8th Tennessee Cavalry (US). Grubb enrolled some 74 men for this new company. Maybe half were actually from Madison County. The others appear to have been hiding out.
   While there are undoubtedly more, I was able to identify seven of the 74 who were Confederate deserters: George Franklin, William Gentry, Tilmon Landers, Peter McCoy, Hackley Norton, Martin Norton, and Roderick Norton. All seven enlisted in Company G, 64th North Carolina Troops in July 1862. Records are not clear if they volunteered, or if they were literally forced in (the grace period ran out in August for voluntarily enlistment). All seven would desert the Confederate army. George Franklin and William Gentry were gone prior to November 25, 1862; Tilmon Landers and Peter McCoy were gone on November 3, 1862; Hackley Norton was declared a deserter in February 1863, but he likely never returned from a sick furlough; Martin and Roderick Norton were gone in August 1862. With the last two, it might be that they were enrolled, and then never joined their command when it moved to Knoxville.
   As Grubb came through the Laurel community, these seven former Confederate deserters joined the  Federal army. However, they apparently had as about as much use for the Federal army as they did the Confederate army. George Franklin was declared absent in June 1864. He apparently went home sick in November 1863. He did return to his regiment by early 1865.
   William Gentry also left out in November 1863. His family stated he was sick, but others, in his widow's pension claims, refuted this. When Federal soldiers were sent to round up deserters from the 2nd NCMI, Gentry said he would join them, but never did. He was found hiding in a cave (or thicket), and killed by some Confederate scouts.
   Tilman Landers deserted on November 3 (or maybe November 4). He never returned.
   Peter McCoy deserted on October 25, 1863. He returned in April 1865. McCoy had obviously heard of Lincoln's amnesty offer for Federal deserters.
   Hackery Norton was declared a deserter on January 2, 1864, or, the records state he was sent off on a "scout" about that same time. One other record found states that these scouts were to last about 30 days. When Norton did not return, he was declared a deserter. One further card in his file states that he was killed by the enemy at Camp Vance on June 28, 1864.
Roderick Norton is also reported as being absent on recruiting service, and then absent without leave on February 29, 1864, and finally as a deserter on June 1, 1864. A card in his folder states that he was "killed by the Rebels while on recruiting service Dec 15 1863."

   Of the 74 men who are enrolled in Laurel on September 1, 1863, 45 are later declared absent without leave or deserters. Of that number, only 18 return, the vast majority after Lincoln's proclamation to grant amnesty to those absent from their commands. So I propose the question: why didn't they stay in the Federal army? Was life better living in that cave or laurel thicket, constantly having to evaluate each sound coming through the woods?

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