WILD, Francis  and the Dangerous Art of Desertion

Franis Wild (AKA Joseph E.)– enlisted 7 Aug 1862 at age 25 as a Private in Company E, 13th Infantry –as a substitute.  He mustered in 19 Sep 1862, and he deserted 4 Oct 1862 at Camp Chase, VA..  He was born in England, resided and credited to Newmarket.  On 26 Sep 1860 he married Margret Gallin in Newmarket, he was residing in town and is listed in the 1860 census as an operative in the cotton mill, living with the Nicholas and Mary Sidebottom family (likewise both born in England and employed in the cotton mill).

 He later re-enlisted (from Seabrook and was credited to that Town as a substitute born in England, and under the name Joseph E. Wild) he enlisted in Company H, 13th Infantry; however, perhaps fearing detection in the 13th once arriving at the front, he soon transferred to the Navy Regiment on  3 Apr 1864, mustering on 6 Apr 1864 as an Ord. Seaman.  He served on the “U.S.S. Minnesota”, “Roanoke”, and “Dictator”.   He was Discharged 28 Jul 1865 as a 1st Class Fireman, from receiving ship, in Boston.

As written in the History of the 13th New Hampshire: Dec 2„1862 – Hilton Head, S.C. ”  Francis Wild, a nimble little Englishman, enlisted in Company E, and deserted soon after our Regiment came into Virginia.  Now he has the inestimable cheek to write to one of his old comrades in Co. E that he has in all enlisted six times, six times received his bounties, and has just got safely out of his sixth desertion!”  

 NH Deserter Statistics —

Regular Volunteer  NH Troops = 19, 851    Deserters= 1,191     Executed = 2  

Drafted and Substitutes = 11,298           Desertions= 3, 549  Executed =13 

Deserters returned Voluntarily or captured = 205

A Deserter meets his end at a firing squad

(photo: Illustration of the Death of Deserter William Johnson)

Nov. 23. Mon. Rainy, cold. Reg. in camp.

Yesterday we all went out to see the deserter shot.  He was a large good looking man and met his doom without flinching.  Nine bullets went through his breast and cut his back bone completely off, and he was dead before the surgeons could reach him, and they stood only a few feet from him when he was shot—if you see the Papers, you will see a much better account of the sad affair than I can give you.  He said to the last that he was innocent of the crime of desertion.  That  he was on Picket, and went into the rebel lines after a woman, according to his story—and a good many think it was so, but of course we have no means of knowing.  He got out off the wagon, pulled off his overcoat, and dress boots, without any help, and knelt on his coffin, as coolly as if nothing serious was to happen—all the soldiers on the Island were there to witness the execution, except those on other duty, and the sick.  He was only 21 years of age, and it was a sad sight to see so young a man die in such a manner.  He made a few remarks, but I wasn’t near enough to hear them. I shall always remember the sight—   E.F. Hall

News account – Manchester weekly paper The Democrat and American (XX,36, 1), Dec 25, 1862

MILITARY EXECUTION --  Albert W. Lunt, a private in the 9th Maine regiment, was shot for desertion on Monday, Dec 1, at Hilton Head.  He died instantly, eight balls passing entirely through his body.  Rev Mr. Hill of this city, chaplain of the 3rd NH was in attendance upon the condemned soldier at the execution.

 (photo: Illustration, those who escaped execution, where branded with the letter “D”)

Here is another story from the Youth’s Companion magazine,  April 14, 1864. It gives some good details on how an execution was carried out during the Civil War.

  A Deserter Shot   

 Death is the penalty for desertion from the army. It is a severe punishment, but as the efficiency and oftentimes the existence of an army depends upon the prevention of desertion, the most effectual means must be taken to secure it, and the fear of death exerts upon most minds the greatest power of restraint.  A clergyman at Beaufort, S. S., describes the shooting of a deserter at that post, of which he was a witness:

” Joseph Stroble, a member of the 55th Pennsylvania Regiment, was tried by court martial for “desertion and attempting to enter the rebel lines,” convicted and sentenced to be shot, at Beaufort, S.C., at three o’clock P.M.  At two o’clock all the military of this post were drawn up in order, formed in two lines on three sides of a hollow square.  Through these lines, about twenty feet apart, the condemned man rode beside the chaplain, in a cart. Four soldiers bore his coffin in front of him, and his executioners marched behind him, with loaded muskets, while the band, with muffled drums, played a solemn dirge.  After the condemned man had passed through the lines, in plain view of every soldier, he halted at the fatal spot designated for his execution.  The coffin was borne forward ten paces in front and placed upon the ground. The chaplain and young Stroble advanced together and knelt beside the coffin.  A prayer was offered in his behalf.  They arose, and the prisoner read, in a clear, strong voice, a paper confessing his guilt and the justice of his sentence, and that he had lived a thoughtless and wicked life, regardless of God or his soul, and in the name of Christ implored pardon.  The chaplain read the colloquy between Christ and the two thieves, and they both knelt again beside the coffin, and both offered vocal prayer.

” He arose, shook hands with the provost marshal and his spiritual adviser, calmly took off his blue overcoat and laid it on his coffin.  He was not pinioned for hoodwinked, at his own request, but stood erect in a soldier’s position, at the head of his coffin, and ten feet in front of seven soldiers detailed as his executioners.  He put his hand to his left breast and said, “Aim there.”  The word of command was given, and six minie balls passed through his body, and his soul was launched into the presence of his God.

” Each regiment then marched in rank and file past the body of the deserter, while the band was playing a solemn dirge with muffled drums. It was truly a sad and heart-aching sight to see a young man thus violently hurried into eternity, but no malice or revenge could have dictated his death.  He attempted desertion to the rebel lines under the most aggravating circumstances; and had he succeeded in his plot, the streets of Beaufort might have been drenched in blood by a rebel raid.

” Awful as this extreme penalty of military law may seem, yet is, I am convinced, a necessity, as a terror and warning to those who contemplate desertion.”