Authors

Robert W. Novak '15, Gettysburg College

Document Type

Student Research Paper

Date of Creation

Fall 2014

Department

History

Abstract

Between May and June 1864, the Army of the Potomac conducted yet another push toward Richmond. The intense weather, extended time under fire, and unprecedented slaughter took its toll on the rank and file. For many of the army’s best and most hardened veterans, this would be their last campaign. As their anticipation for home grew, however, their disdain for the new style of warfare grew with it. Fresh troops arrived almost daily from the cities across the north. Many of whom were conscripts or bounty men. Even the soldiers who chose not to reenlist expressed their low expectations for these men. Soon, soldiers began to become lax in their disciplinary efforts: straggling, shirking, skulking, insubordination and even the most heinous crime, desertion. This lack of discipline exasperated the army commanders, leading them to enact harsh penalties and make examples of their men. The citizens of the north saw a different and partisan picture of the army, images of Grant the Butcher, Meade the inept, and bloody losses took the place of the soldier’s story of ill-discipline and hardship. The new style of warfare that began during the Overland Campaign led to a breakdown of military discipline that infused the Army of the Potomac and left a northern populace stunned with its effects. [excerpt]

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