“Straggling is a crime which cannot be to strongly reprehended nor too severely punished”: The Sixth Corps’ Orders Against Straggling in the Maryland Campaign

William B. Franklin

Recently, I was sorting through what I found on a past trip to the National Archives, where I spent the day looking through the records of William B. Franklin’s Sixth Corps in the Maryland Campaign. In one of the bound books containing these records, I found an unpublished copy of General Orders No. 30, issued within that corps on September 9, 1862. The first section of the order said:

“Until further orders the rear Guards will be ‘Brigade rear Guards’ and will be composed of half a Regiment to each Brigade. Commanders of rear Guards will be held responsible by their respt. Brigade Commanders for a vigorous performance of their duty, [with?] respect to Stragglers. The cmdg General has noticed a great increase of stragglers in the recent marches of the Corps. Straggling is a crime which cannot be to strongly reprehended nor too severely punished. Division Commanders will use all possible means to stop it in future.”

This internal order was no doubt issued in response to General Orders No. 155, issued from Army of the Potomac headquarters earlier on September 9. This order’s sole purpose was to clamp down on straggling within that army.(1) That same day, a circular went forth from army headquarters, holding “superior officers” accountable for the army’s straggling problems. “Inattention and carelessness on the part of those in high rank has been one fertile source of the straggling and want of discipline which now obtain in the various corps,” said the circular.(2)
Headquarters issued the orders. It was now up to the individual commanders within the column of march to end the straggling problem in the Army of the Potomac. General Orders No. 30 was the Sixth Corps’ current answer.


1. OR, vol. 19, pt. 2, 226-27.
2. Ibid., 225.

Bonus: For statistics of straggling in the Ninth Corps’ Kanawha Division on September 8, 1862, head over to Dan Vermilya’s blog, Our Country’s Fiery Ordeal.

11 Responses to “Straggling is a crime which cannot be to strongly reprehended nor too severely punished”: The Sixth Corps’ Orders Against Straggling in the Maryland Campaign

  1. I’ve always found it dubious when a general complains about straggling being such an awful thing. I first want to see one of them hop down off their horse and march around in uncomfortable shoes for a few days and get a good night’s sleep on the ground–and THEN lecture everyone on how easy it is to keep up with the march.

  2. It would be interesting to see a study of the “straggling” phenomenon. What percentage of units were “straggling”? What did it consist of? I assume most stragglers eventually returned to their units, but is that true? Was straggling primarily due to the physical demands, or was in more a mental shirking?

  3. It was probably worse in the Confederate army in the fall of 1862. Many had no shoes, almost none had a “rubber” rain jacket and little to eat except green corn. It was so bad that Stonewall Jackson court-martialed a bunch and had 3 men shot. He made the Regiment watch and then marched his Division past the dead men. General Winder, PACS, was so strict that his men said he was “marked” and would be killed in his next battle. He was too! But it was a yankee cannon ball that got him.

    1. The author of the editorial cited one of ECW’s past stories in his own piece and included a hypertext link to the story, a guest post written by Cooper Wingert.

  4. Reading this article, I am reminded of accounts that I read involving Soviet troops on the Eastern Front in WW2. They were often ordered to perform suicidal frontal assaults against Nazi armor and/or well prepared defensive positions, and those who survived who dared to turn back towards their own lines often had to face being gunned down by their own side because they did so. Civil War “stragglers” weren’t turning back, or deserting, most of them were probably having trouble keeping up. Conditions were often hot, dusty, muddy, men were hungry, clothes and shoes were inadequate, and orders were sometimes puzzling or not clear. With units strung out for miles and over several routes, it’s rather easy to understand why ‘straggling’ would occur.

  5. It is interesting to compare how one of the new elements of the Army of the Potomac, Jacob Cox’s Kanawha division, dealt with straggling during the march north from Washington. It was simple — there was no straggling! As Cox wrote to his wife, he was “shocked at the straggling” he saw among the Army of the Potomac, while proudly noting that everyone in his division was present and accounted for. One of his subordinates, future president Rutherford B. Hayes, echoed that sentiment in a letter, writing, “The Grand Army of the Republic appeared to bad advantage by the side of our troops.”-

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