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William R. Townsend Civil War Diary: Court Martial Duty

EXCERPTS from the Civil War diary of William R. Townsend, 42nd Illinois Infantry, Co. E -- plus contextual narrative.

Court Martial Duty

           Court Martial Duty: From October 23, 1863 to November 19, 1863, William Townsend served as a Judge Advocate (a military judge) in a General Court Martial (the highest military court which tries violations of military law).  These military tribunals, formally established during the Civil War, prosecuted everything from insubordination and desertion (common occurances), to murder and rape.  Townsend relates his duties:


October 23, 1863 “. . .  was detailed as Judge Advocate in Genl Court Martial to meet tomorrow . . .”


October 24, 1863 “. . . Have been busy all day hunting room   Paper   for Court martial and met this after noon and tried one case  adjourned to meet Monday morning at 8 OClock  we have a very nice room in Dr. Sims house on Main Street  I am going to sleep in the room . . .”


October 25, 1863 “. . . I got my papers all copied up  staid at the room last night and shall as long as we hold the court. . .”


October 26, 1863 “Sat on Gen court martial to day J.A .[Judge Advocate]   tried two cases . . .”


October 29, 1863 “Court to day  nothing from Look Out  still fighting   Bassett has written for me this is the third Eve on court martial Proceedings  this makes 5 days the court has set   had 5 men come back  3 Pvt   2 corporels”


October 30, 1863 “We held court until noon to day making the sixth day when we adjourned until Monday” 


November 1, 1863 “Was busy to day writing up my proceedings . . .”


November 2, 1863 “Court martial again to day  the Rebs have been shelling us to day  one shell bust right in front of the house where we were holding court . . .”


November 7, 1863 “Court to day  have not felt at all well  severe headache  I am afraid I am going to be sick  Ed has not got back as yet  I do not write up any cases lately as Bassett does it all  he writes in the afternoon some”


November 9, 1863 “Court to day  case of a deserter from the 51st Ill who had excepted 1st Lt commission in 86th Ind  it is going to be a long and tedious case . . .”


November 10, 1863 “Court to day  Still on trial of the Officer who deserted as a private . . .”


November 16, 1863 “Court to day but did not try but one case  will get through tomorrow or the day after I think . . .”