How often did rape occur (specifically, Union soldiers against southern white women) and was this a punishable offense?
I'm writing a story where a Union soldier (cavalry) of low rank rapes a southern white woman on her family's farm or small plantation. He is arrested by his commanding officer (a Captain?) and turned over to be held for court martial.
What were the soldiers who held prisoners from their own army called, and what would be done with the perpetrator?
Would he be likely to face a court martial, and what would his punishment be if he was found guilty?
Excellent question, and I'm personally flattered that you've come here for information for your story.
This is a loaded subject. It's hard to be dispassionate. One might think instances of rape in a situation like Sherman's campaign from Atlanta to Savanah (aka March to the Sea) was very common. But in spite of what one may think at first blush, rape was surprisingly rare during the ACW, period. That's not to say it did not happen, but incidents were quite isolated. I read somewhere that there were fewer than a dozen known rapes during the March to the Sea. I'll suggest here you read my blog "What is War: Now and Then" (I don't suggest this to toot my own horn, but because it's almost 100% an attributed copy of an article by Ohio State University Professor of Military History Mark Grimsley) which has reference to the occurrence of rape during Sherman's March. Now, I'm referring only to reasonably verifiable cases of rape, though the post-facto apocrypha might well offer up the belief that it was at times common. A dispassionate study argues otherwise. So, the short answer to the first part of your question is "Not often".
Rape as a crime was dealt with quite harshly. How it was handled did depend a lot on which army the soldier came from. Some Army commanders were disgusted and mortified by such episodes, some less so. I could imagine a Union soldier under MG Oliver O Howard couldn't expect much mercy. He was a very pious man who was repelled by such crimes.
a Union soldier (cavalry) of low rank rapes a southern white woman on her family's farm or small plantation. He is arrested by his commanding officer (a Captain?) and turned over to be held for court martial.
What were the soldiers who held prisoners from their own army called,
I agree with Ajhall's excellent answer. I will add that the term "rape and pillage" is an old one, was freely associated with "Sherman's March", and probably is the primary reason that people think today that rape in that instance was relatively common.
Books and movies haven't helped either.
Though I'm sure that rape wasn't unheard of, as Ajhall says. When it did occur in Sherman's March, or any other time by a Union soldier for that matter, it was mostly committed by "stragglers", men that couldn't or wouldn't keep up with the moving army and just wandered across the countryside miles behind, some pillaging and stealing as they went.
Normally the Provost Martial would take care of stragglers, but in the case of Sherman's March, the army as a whole was so large and moving relatively fast, and fairly scattered as regiments were detached to burn towns, destroy crops, destroy railroad tracks, etc, that it was no way to effectively police stragglers.
Just for knowledge's sake, "Provost Martial" is still the term used.
As nearly all of the indigent male population left in the South were boys and old men, and soldiers wounded so severely as to not be able to fight anymore, it probably did happen more than was documented, surely women in that day were much less likely to tell anyone than they are today, and even today probably only 1/2 of the rapes committed are actually reported.
Though I have seen cases of illegitimate children born during the war, one of which I found while doing genealogical research for a distant cousin of mine, I have never read a single account of a Confederate soldier charged with rape. I'm not saying that it didn't happen, I'm just saying that I'm not aware of it. But admittedly, I have never looked for it either.
As far as your story, the scenario is valid, though it would be a little more likely for him to be caught and arrested by one of his lieutenants (there were usually 3-6 in a company, as the company commander (yes, a captain) would usually be pretty busy.
As cavalry moves relatively fast, and your cavalry company is obviously detached from the rest of the army for scouting or similar reasons, the man would most likely be held under guard by men of his own company (but allowed to ride) until his company met back up with the army (brigade or division level). Unless the army was nearby, I don't see a company commander sparing men to escort the criminal back to the army. (not telling you what to write, just telling you what would likely happen)
It is very unlikely that there would be any chains or shackles for prisoner purpose in a company, or at the brigade level for that matter. If the army was moving, which it obviously would have been, the "lock up" would have been an open area in the middle of the camp surrounded by guards.
Excellent clarifications. I also want to add that people often confuse the word rapine (which you will often see in CW correspondence) with rape. They appear similar, but rapine refers to the violent seizure of property. Both are often used in association within the broader context of pillaging.
I knew the USMC still called their MP force the Provost Marshal, so it only makes sense the Army would, too. The Navy calls their police force the Master-at-Arms Office. Any idea on the origin of the term Provost Marshal?
Thank you for your quick reply! Provost Marshal is the term I was looking for. This is a great website, I think it will be very helpful if I can get good answers like yours so quickly.
This definitely is a great place to het answers to all kinds of Civil War questions.
Might I suggest signing up to become a member? It quick, easy, and free.
And if you ever have any more questions that you need answered to help finish your book, we'd be more than happy to help. There are plenty of knowledgeable people here who are willing to research the answer if they don't already know it.
Glad we could help!
I'd say that it was pre-Revolution for the Army and Marines, as the term is still used in the British Army, and an exact translation is still used in the German Army.
At some colleges, the head admin person is called the "Provost". Actually that is what she was called at the Jr. College I went to a million years ago.
So I have to assume that "Provost" originally means the person in charge of something. Since the term isn't used that commonly, probably in charge of something in particular. Trying to associate a "college Provost" and a traditional military "Provost Martial", I'd say that the something in particular was administrative in nature, as the Provost Martial was/is in charge of law enforcement, an administrative function.
"Martial" is obviously derived from "marshall"...or vice versa, a term having to do with law enforcement. Surely the origins of the term are European.
Technically, in the current US Army, the "Provost Martial" is the person in charge of the MPs at various levels, and also the name used for the office in charge of law enforcement.
I was going to present a situation where there are multiple men called "provost martial" but only one "office of the provost martial", such as at Ft. Bragg, NC, but it got so complicated that I decided not to.
Man, you get me more and more into etymology.
Manzanita Lady -- we're more than happy to help with any questions you have. I will ask that you not become dismayed if a question/thread you start diverges and morphs into something unrecognizable from your original question. It's how we learn and share information. One never knows where a simple question will take you. You can already see this thread is sending out new shoots. It can be an amazing process to see.
As Copper suggested, become a member and you can get email notifications of replies to your questions.
To Ajhall and others,
What a wonderful website! Thank you so much for all of the thoughtful replies to my question. Provost Marshal is the term I was looking for, and yes, I think the arresting officer should be a Lieutenant instead of a Captain.
This crime occurs near the beginning of my book and the arrest sets up a scenario for desire for revenge on the part of the arrested rapist. He will resurface later in my story, years after the war has ended, to try to pay back Luke McCormack, the man who arrested him.
What fstroupe says about stragglers makes a lot of sense. I need the rapist to be in the cavalry, though, as he has a history of difficulties with Luke McCormack. They come from the same town in Western New York and have had a rivalry since childhood.
I'm so grateful to all of you for your replies. I'll be entering another question, this one about Ely Parker.
Welcome to the site. When you get a chance, give us a little bio on yourself in the Welcome section if you don't mind. I am a wannabee writer and am always interested in how writers get from being a wannabee to actually putting something together.
No problem with your character being in the cavalry, they had stragglers too. And not all stragglers fell behind with the intent of criminal actions, some just felt that you didn't see enough of the countryside while staying in formation. This was tolerated to some extent in the Confederate infantry, so I have to assume that it was also tolerated to some extent everywhere.
The officer could have been "policing stragglers". (looking for men that have fallen behind) rather than the whole company still located in the town, that was just as common as straggling itself.
For that matter he could have been looking for information, forage, a decent place to camp, food, water, etc, and was separated from the other guy or guys that were away from the rest of the company for that purpose. It was very common to "detach" a number of men to ride ahead, behind, or to the "flanks" for various reasons.
Lots of ways that you can work the scenario.
Not intimately familiar with ACW Union Cavalry...never really thought about it....but I guess his "company" could have been called a "troop". It would have been during the Indian Wars.
In the Confederate Cavalry they were called "companies".
"Martial" is obviously derived from "marshall"...or vice versa, a term having to do with law enforcement. Surely the origins of the term are European.
After a quick google, I found a letter from a 12th NY Cavalry 1st LT signed: "Your obedient servant, A. COOPER, 1st Lieutenant, Commanding D Troop, 12th N.Y. Cavalry".
I'd say "troop".
However, Tobie writes of the 1st Maine, "when the regiment was completed, the Companies were in the following order: Co. B on the right, and then..." etc. That regiment was commanded by a Colonel with a staff of 9 (includes Surgeon, asst Surgeon and Chaplain), and each company was commanded by a Captain with a 1st and 2nd Lieutenant. Another "however": I suspect Tobie was using his terms loosely, because the eHistory site from OSU (an extraordinary CW website, BTW -- includes the entire OR) states the Union cavalry was organized into "Troops" of, ideally, 100 Troopers. One way or the other, a "troop" and a "company" were roughly the same thing, but it appears "troop" is the more official term.
Manzanita Lady, I hope we aren't overloading you with TMI, but as I said earlier, these back-and-forths are a large part of how we ourselves learn. As you can see, nearly any question you have on any bit of obscure minutiae can probably be answered here.
I guess my example wasn't great, with a 1Lt commanding the Troop. Though later war it was very common. It just happened to be the first evidence I found of the company-sized element of a Cavalry unit being called a "troop".
I don't know when the Cav changed from calling a "Regiment" a "Squadron". Pretty sure they were called "regiments" in the Indian Wars.
I've used the OSU site for years. It is excellent.
I'm having trouble sending a reply. This is a test.
Two lengthy replies I wrote didn't go. I was on Firefox and got the message that they wouldn't be sent...something about spam. Internet Explorer seems to be working.
Thanks for your request for a bio, I will do that but no time today.
I do think 'troop' is correct, from what I've learned, and 100 in a Company, except that with injuries and deaths the number was often much smaller.
thanks to all, more later.
Yes, I see that there's a lot of information out there. Thank you all for sharing.
I guess my example wasn't great, with a 1Lt commanding the Troop
troop commanded by a Major
Two lengthy replies I wrote didn't go. I was on Firefox and got the message that they wouldn't be sent...something about spam. Internet Explorer seems to be working.That's odd, I use only Firefox and never had the problem. And most of my posts are VERY long lol. The site has a spam filter and obviously that is the issue, for whatever reason.
Answer to original question: We do not know how often southern women were raped by unionist soldiers.
It is extremely likely that more rapes occurred than were reported.
Butler, in New Orleans, ordered his troops to treat southern women as ***** if they seemed haughty. Lincoln did not rescind that order. This left it up to the soldiers themselves to decide what was haughty behavior and what was not, in effect, giving them the right to rape. You may choose to believe that each and every soldier in New Orleans was a holy and righteous saint if you choose to do so. I do not.
Rapes that were reported AND made it into the records are relatively few. Rapes may not have been few. Absence of evidence is not evidence.
It is very likely that many rapes went unreported. Fear of the consequences of reporting rape to "friendly" authorities is still strong; how much more fear would there have been of possible consequences of reporting rape to "unfriendly" authorities. Blaming the victim is not new, having to relive the details is not new, having to "prove" your allegations is not new.
The strength of women may be underrated following a rape: if she had children to care for and protect and her menfolk were far away, she may not have the opportunity nor the time to spend pursuing her case: once an army took all available foodstuffs she would have to find a way to keep her children fed. If the home was burned, she also had to find shelter and clothing for her children. What woman could abandon children's needs to pursue a rape charge?
Regarding Sherman's troops, we all know that Sherman was very kind to the southern civilians along his route, right? Did his men commit rape? Or did they just attempt genocide by burning clothing and shelter and taking all food and animals? I really do not feel that a man who would burn every home and field along his route would care much whether the women he attempted to starve and left without clothing or shelter were raped before being left defenseless against nature, starvation, and lesser (than Sherman et al.) animal predators. He certainly didn't seem to give much thought to what would become of them or their children once he burned or stole the necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter.
IMO, Sherman was worse than an animal. (And, contrary to popular opinion, I have a right to mine.) Any rapes he recorded would have been to save his own career, because they were publically known, not out of any sense of honor.
There are a few that were recorded. Most likely the tip of the iceberg. One was several union soldiers raping a ten year old girl and then holding her upside down in a mud puddle until she drowned. Do you believe that these same men had been saintly before this victim, or that they just continued SOP, not stopping to consider that they could not do in a populated area what they had been allowed (or tacitly encouraged) to do on private farms along their route? This was prosecuted: after all it was known about by many, so it might have caused trouble for the officers if they didn't prosecute. If it happened out in the countryside, with no witnesses, would they have bothered?
That the raped and murdered girl was black makes it undeniably clear that union soldiers were not all saints going gloriously into battle to fight for freedom for slaves.
Can we say that no union officer ever declined to believe an alleged rape victim or failed to
prosecute an accused rapist? We cannot. We can only say that such an event was not
recorded to our knowledge. Would a union officer record an accusation he preferred to ignore? Not likely. Did any union officers commit rapes? You may be able to say it is not recorded. You cannot say with assurance that it did not happen.
Historians deal primarily with what is recorded. Filling in the gaps with psychology or even logical deduction is not allowed. "History" is what is on the record.
"What really happened" is a different and largely unrecorded matter.
According to historian/assistant Professor at Yale University, Crystal N. Feimster: “hundreds, perhaps thousands of women suffered rape” during the war, with many assaults likely unreported.
Who would a woman tell, and enlist sympathy or be believed? The shame factor for these women was bad enough, but to know that it was her word against a soldier/straggler was enough to deter any woman, especially when her prime concern became finding food and shelter for herself and her children.
Yes, Professor Feimster does state that. Still, without records of it, it is only logical supposition and probability, not recorded history, and thus debatable. Note she goes from "hundreds" to "perhaps thousands" in a single phrase: it's the best guesstimate she can make. She's probably right, but since there are no records, "probably" is all we can say.
Since adequate birth control did not exist, one wonders about hundreds to thousands of resultant unwanted and unexplainable pregnancies. Abortions being dangerous, sinful, and likely unavailable, unwanted and unexplainable pregnancies (if husbands were not soon available on
leave) would not be easy to hide. I wonder how many rape-babies didn't make it due to the hardships of the times, and how many infanticides may have resulted, when a mother was forced into an unwanted pregnancy giving her another mouth to feed? What did her husband say if and when he came home?
One thing that seems not to be well known is that the word "plantation" meant "acreage for planting," and does not always mean an enormous southern mansion. Simpler houses were much more the norm, even on large acreages, than the better known grand estates. To the west of the earliest-settled southern coastal areas, even in the colonial-southern states, true mansions were relatively few. Not all pre-civil war southern women were extremely wealthy even when they were not extremely poor. Which means that they went
from not so rich to very poor the instant their homes were burned, and from very poor to desperately so when the fields burned and livestock was taken.
Any slaves that depended on food from the farm went just as quickly to the ranks of ragged and starving, whether they left or whether they stayed. There are no records of extra rations supplied for freed slaves that chose to follow the union army, though this picture of happy and rejoicing black people is often painted. Can you imagine women and little children trying to follow Shermans army on foot, no shelter, no food, no blankets? Do you believe they were welcomed as liberated equals? Camp followers allowed usually had some "service" to offer the troops. Again, brutal, sad.
Historybelle wrote: "
Butler, in New Orleans, ordered his troops to treat southern women as * if they seemed haughty. Lincoln did not rescind that order. This left it up to the soldiers themselves to decide what was haughty behavior and what was not, in effect, giving them the right to rape. You may choose to believe that each and every soldier in New Orleans was a holy and righteous saint if you choose to do so. I do not."
I must protest against this continued slander of Butler's "Woman Order", and its result. Not a single charge of improper advances to a woman by any soldier as a result of this order was ever made. This is further attested by testimony of the Confederate commander in the vicinity, who surely would have heard of it.
The meaning of the order, as Butler himself stated at the time, was that offending women should be treated "as a gentleman regards such a woman, he ignores her and shuns her company." And the men under his command understood that very well. But it was the fear of being "abused" that made the order so effective. Before, women routinely insulted Federal soldiers in the streets -- with the order, that stopped immediately. Butler later quipped, "demonstrating that the Yankee farm boys and Irish mechanics of New England showed far better manners than the vaunted 'ladies' of New Orleans."
Ben Butler certainly had his faults, but the "Beast" myth was entirely spurious.
Welcome and I appreciate your comments.
Butler's Order No 28:
"As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subjected to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans, in return for the most scrupulous noninterference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall, by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation."
The intent is very clear and I'm not surprised that insults towards Federal soldiers declined after Butler's Order. What Southern woman would want to be treated and charged as if she were a woman selling her trades? And this Order was protested by not only Northern and Southern women, but also Britian and France as well.
There is no doubt that the women of New Orleans were insulting Butler's soldiers, both verbally and otherwise, but if I had been in their shoes, and my land, city, home, and personal belongings were being destroyed, along with the daily struggle of feeding myself and my children, not to mention the worry of how my husband was faring; I'd be venting my outrage as well, and would have found myself in the city jail for refusing to take the destruction of my city lightly, and the subsequent Federal take-over.
Letters, journals, and regimental histories from the units in New Orleans make it clear that the men were warned in no uncertain terms that any improper behavior towards any woman would be very severely dealt with. Butler was a strong disciplinarian and would brook no disorder from his men.
The "Woman Order" was issued purely for effect, and as such it was entirely successful. The "outrage" over it was the creation of the wartime southern press -- and happily taken up by Butler's many political enemies in the North.
As to the actions of the women of the city, which were the cause of Order #28 being issued, I agree with you entirely. New Orleans was a strongly secessionist city, proud of its loyalty and its position as the second largest in the Confederacy. Suddenly they found themselves occupied by a hated enemy. They had not been defeated in battle. They had not suffered siege or bombardment. In short, their spirit had been in no way dampened, much less broken. Their own defenders, in the river forts, had offered barely token resistance; and then they had been informed by the Confederate government that their city was not to be defended. Their rage and mortification must have been unbearable, and the slightest provocation set it off. The women must have felt this excruciatingly. I in no way doubt the very real tribulation of these women.
It was an extremely difficult situation, and Butler's sometimes heavy-handed methods were probably the only ones that could have so successfully pacified New Orleans. And the city was successfully pacified.
Jno, you said "not a single charge was ever made." I must say, lack of evidence is not evidence.
That no soldier was officially charged does not mean there was no rape.
Even if no woman dared make an official complaint under these circumstances, that also does not mean there was no rape.
That there are no recorded complaints does not mean there were no complaints.
Marshall Law was the only law at that time. If Butler was what so very many have accused him to be, he could have refused to keep records or file charges.
That Butler was called "The Beast" is not a myth at all. That it was a reference to the Biblical Beast makes it all the more a damning term. Even Sherman was not given such an epithet.
Condemnation is not slander unless it is untrue. In light of the facts that 1. the records of the time were solely in the control of Butler, and that 2. all the official history of Butler's occupation, for many years following Butler's occupation, was written by the Unionists; proving slander would be so daunting as to be rendered impossible.
Unless you believe you can call forth the spirits of enough dead witnesses to testify for defense and prosecution, slander can't be proven at all.
Absence of evidence certainly proves nothing except that there is an absence of evidence. Which says what it says.However, charges made based solely upon that absence and suppositions that Butler might have concealed official charges, could well constitute slander.
There was a huge amount of anti-Butler writing in the wartime southern press, and elsewhere. I have read a great deal of it, but honestly have never seen a single specific claim that improper treatment of a woman in N.O. as a result of Order #28 actually happened. There is a great deal of hand-wringing about "insult to southern womanhood", but no actual claims. If anyone knows of any I would be very interested in seeing it. My interest is solely in learning what happened, not in proving any preconceived ideas. For that matter, in early post-war writing (by people who were actually in N.O. during the occupation, and might have first hand knowledge) are there any specific accusations (with or without names named) that rape or any insulting treatment did in fact occur? If there is, again I would like to see it. If not, once again the absence of testimony is in its own way eloquent.
Finally, Missouri Brig.Gen. M. Jeff Thompson held a Confederate command above N.O. during the summer of 1862. He was taken prisoner a year later, and Butler wrote a letter in his behalf, testifying to Thompson's kind treatment of Federal prisoners. Thompson wrote in his reply, dated 12 Oct. 1863:
"What your intentions were when you issued the order which brought so much censure upon yourself I, of course, cannot tell; but I can testify ... that nearly all of the many persons who passed through my lines to and from New Orleans,...spoke favorably of the treatment they had received from you; and with all my inquiries, which were constant, I did not hear of one single instance of a lady being insulted by your command."
The original of this letter is in the Butler Papers in the National Archives, a huge collection that resulted from his compulsion to save just about every scrap of paper that passed through his hands. There is an immense amount of original material there -- much of it still untapped.
Rape is still a crime in the US. It is prosecuted on the state level, so you would have to look up the laws for each state. The words "sexual assault" broaden the term rape in an attempt to cover crimes that might or might not have been included under the term "rape. However, there are persons serving time for rape, no matter the legal terminology, in every state, so let no one think rape is no longer a crime, or assume that there will be no punishment for it.
Sometimes those who commit rape are raped once they enter prison.
If your post was meant to elicit a fiery response, that is if you are trolling, it is not working:
No fire, just disgust with a post so ignorant. If you meant to express frustration that rape is not being adequately punished you are not clear. If you meant to say that you do not believe people should be arrested for rape that is not clear either. If you are encouraging rape, or planning rape, be aware that many citizens in the US are armed, thus you might not live long enough to be tried. At any rate you are not on topic of rape during the Civil War Era
I'm deleted the offensive posts.