Union Deserter Executed, Soldier Scavenges Food from Gettysburg Dead

August 2, 1863/2013
Volume 4, Issue 31 (147 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Union Deserter Executed

August 7, 1863. Corporal Charles E. Bingham wrote his wife, Sarah, about the execution of a deserter that occurred on August 7. The August 9 letter is compelling not only for the powerful description of the execution, but also for the common-sense humanity it contains.

           My Dear wife i seat myself again to pen a few lines to you again as it is Sunday and did not think that i could let the day pass without a little conversation with you . . . the day before yesterday the execution of a man took place out in front of our camp   it seems as though he had enlisted some three times getting a big bounty each time and then desert again   i stood and watched the execution of him   the division that he belonged to was marched out the band playing a lively tune all the while untill they formed a holow square. then came the officer on horse back       then came the pallbearers four in number carrying his coffin . . . the chaplain and the criminal keeping the step as firm as if he was going out on parade   next came the band playing his death march in fine stile but it did not seem to affect him in the least and folowing them was 12 with loaded guns and i think there was four others with loaded guns in reserve so if the first did not make the work of death complete the others could             finish it at once   they marched in and sat the coffin down and took their position behind the man   the chaplain then stood by him and made a prayer and shook hands with him bade him good bye and stept back   the officer approached him and he stept forward took off his cap and blouse laid them down aloud himself to be blindfolded and then took a seat on his coffin   the officer shook hands with him and bade him good by and stept back to the twelve exicutioners   the criminal then raised his hand three times holding it out straight the last time but he did not hold it long before the death messengers hit him   he fell from of his coffin and lay there kicking the officer steped up and called the others they stood there they came puting their guns quite close to him and let drive and that was what all called butchering and then the company right in heel guide right march pass in review pass and the whole division passing by where he lay and so back to their quarters and so ended the life of a


So i have give you as good an idea of the matter as i can but believe me that i dont want to see any more such proceedings the first shots i did not mind so much but when the others came up and almost put their guns against his breast and head it all most made me sick and as many as was seen at gettys burg laying dead it did not cast as mutch solemnyty over the troops as that one mans death did and what will his wife think when the news reaches her for i have heard that he left a wife and two children) well i must drop this and wind up i am well and doing well and god grant that this bad mess of scrabling may find you in goo health

                  i remain your kind and affectionate husband and shall till death give all the love that you can spare to them that kneeds it only keepe what you want.

Charles E. Bingham, Sarah J. Bingham
so good by for this time

Bingham signed on for a three-year stint in the 64th New York Infantry. He was taken prisoner on June 17, 1864 and imprisoned at Andersonville. He survived the war, but apparently suffered the rest of his life from ulcerated wounds that arose from his confinement in Andersonville. He moved to a small town in northeast Nebraska, where he died at the age of 49.

– Submitted by Charles Bingham’s great-grandson, Charles R. Putney, of Bennington, Vermont


Scan of the letter from Charles Bingham to his wife, Sarah.


“Depiction and Denial: Execution During the Civil War,” First Hand: Civil War Era Drawings from the Becker Collection

“A Tiger Execution,” by Terry L. Jones, Opinionator, New York Times

“Military Executions During the Civil War,” Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

Transcription of the letter from Charles Bingham to his wife, Sarah, War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, Andrew Carroll

Soldier Gets Blisters from Firing So Often, Scavenges Food from the Dead at Gettysburg

On August 8, 1863, Union Private David Smith wrote to his wife about the fighting at Gettysburg, which had happened nearly a month earlier:

“. . . I hope that we shall never get into another fight like that at Gettysburg Pa for it was awful beyond Discription. I cannot describe it with my pencil but . . . I think you would not care to Read the details of the fight as it was. I will just say I sit on my knees by the side of Stone fence & loaded & fired my gun until I had blisters on my fingers as big as 10 cent peaces from Ramming down the loads & my gun was so hot I could not touch the barrel with my hands & so was most the other I never wanted to load & shoot so fast in all my life before . . .

. . . after the battle was over some of our fellows went in among the dead to get their Haversacks. They came back with short or longcakes whichever you may call them & some good biscuits. I tried to beg some but that was no use so the captain told me I was about as stout hearted as any of them I had better go and get some as there was plenty on the field. So I took my gun in one hand & my knife in the other & I started on the hardest mission I had ever been on. the ground being nearly covered with the dead and wounded, the wounded crying for help & water & to be killed & so on that I could not stand it so I cut 2 Haversacks off 2 dead men picked up as many guns on the field as I could carry & went back to the stone fence again. I got cakes & good fresh mutton well cooked enough for 6 or 8 of us. The Rebel sharpshooters was popping away at us all the time but they did not hit me & when we buried the dead there was loads of cakes laying around the battle field.”

Private Smith died in an army hospital two months later.

Dead Confederate soldiers in "the devil's den" at Gettysburg, by Alexander Gardner, 1821-1882. Courtesy Library of Congress

Dead Confederate soldiers in “the devil’s den” at Gettysburg, by Alexander Gardner, 1821-1882. Courtesy Library of Congress

– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, executive director, Vermont Humanities Council


The Soldier’s Pen: Firsthand Impressions of the Civil War, Robert E. Bonner, 79, 82-83.


Transcription of the letter from Private Smith to his wife

Lee Offers to Resign

August 8, 1863. In the wake of his defeat at Gettysburg in early July, General Robert E. Lee offered to resign as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, but three days later, President Jefferson Davis rejected his offer, writing “our country could not bear to lose you.”

– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, executive director, Vermont Humanities Council

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Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1863

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