Waging Just Warfare During America’s Civil War: An Interview With Dr. D.H. Dilbeck

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

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Image courtesy of Bill Pope and Oklahoma Baptist University

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2018 CWI conference  about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. D.H. Dilbeck, an historian of 19th-century American legal and religious history. Dr. Dilbeck received his Ph.D. in American History from the University of Virginia. His first book, A More Civil War: How the Union Waged a Just War (UNC Press, 2016), was a finalist for the Gilder-Lehrman Lincoln Prize.  His most recent book, Frederick Douglass: America’s Prophet is forthcoming from UNC Press in 2018.  A former Assistant Professor of History at Oklahoma Baptist University, Dr. Dilbeck is currently pursuing his J.D. at Yale Law School.

CWI: How did nineteenth-century Americans define what it meant to wage a “just war?” Were there any noticeable differences between Union and Confederate conceptions of “just warfare?”

Dilbeck: Civil War Americans disagreed about what it meant to wage a just war—at times, quite bitterly. Still, the prevailing fundamental principles of “just warfare” in nineteenth-century America appear in two articles in the Union’s 1863 code of military conduct (known informally as the Lieber Code). First: “The more vigorously wars are pursued, the better it is for humanity. Sharp wars are brief.” The idea here is that the most humane and just thing to do in a war is to end it as quickly as possible—even if that means resorting to “vigorous” means. (For a 20th-century parallel, think of America’s use of the Atomic bomb at the end of World War II). Second: “Men who take up arms against one another in public war do not cease on this account to be moral beings, responsible to one another and to God.” The point here being that limitations on warfare must remain even in the “vigorously” waged war. Many Confederates would have generally agreed with these ideas. But the real challenge—and source of controversy—came in translating those broad principles into concrete military policies, strategies, and tactics.

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The Court-Martial of Captain Henry Krausneck, 74th Pennsylvania Volunteers

On February 1, 1864, a general court martial assembled on Folly Island, South Carolina to hear a case against Captain Henry Krausneck, Co. D, 74th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Captain Krausneck was charged with two accounts of misbehavior before the e…

By Mary Roll

On February 1, 1864, a general court martial assembled on Folly Island, South Carolina to hear a case against Captain Henry Krausneck, Co. D, 74th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Captain Krausneck was charged with two accounts of misbehavior before the enemy, both stemming from his actions on the field at Gettysburg on July 1st and 2nd, 1863.  View the trial transcript.

The reputation of the Eleventh Corps of the Army of the Potomac, of which the 74th Pennyslvania was a part, had suffered greatly in the wake of the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, where it had retreated in the face of a surprise attack by Stonewall Jackson’s troops. By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Eleventh Corps was still very much affected by the stigma of cowardice it had been unable to shake following Chancellorsville. Despite this reputation, the men of the Eleventh Corps came to Gettysburg ready to fight. Corps commander Oliver O. Howard  spent much of July 1 deciding where the strongest Union points would be for the coming battle and placing his men in the appropriate positions, focusing a significant portion of his force on Cemetery Hill, from which the Eleventh Corps would fight for the next two days.  However, the remainder of the Eleventh Corps and their comrades in the First Corps had to engage the Confederates north and west of Gettysburg so that time could be gained to establish that position.  It is here we begin the story of Captain Henry Krausneck.
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The Case of Private Constantine Dickerson

By the time that Private Constantine Dickerson and the 67th New York Volunteers were called up from reserve on the morning of July 3rd, 1863, two Confederate attempts to take Culp???s Hill from Union defenders had already been repulsed. As Major Gen…

By Brian Johnson ’14

By the time that Private Constantine Dickerson and the 67th New York Volunteers were called up from reserve on the morning of July 3rd, 1863, two Confederate attempts to take Culp’s Hill from Union defenders had already been repulsed.  As Major General Edward Johnson launched a third assault, Union defenders called for support.  Brigadier General Alexander Shaler and his brigade of New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians, among them Private Dickerson and the 67th, had been held in reserve near the Spangler House since 9 am.  Reserve status, however, by no means meant being detached from the fighting.  Wounded men had been passing through their ranks all morning, and stray rounds passed overhead.  For Dickerson, a veteran, these hallmarks of battle were nothing new.  Dickerson had enlisted with the 67th New York (also known as the 1st Long Island) for three years in August of 1861. He had been a part of McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, seeing action at Yorktown, Williamsburg, Fair Oaks (where his unit suffered 170 casualties), and Malvern Hill Not two months prior to the clash at Gettysburg, he had fought in the Chancellorsville campaign, storming Marye’s Heights.  On the morning of July 3rd, however, surrounded by the familiar sounds, sights and smells of battle, as well as his comrades of almost two years, enduring a wait for battle that must have also been familiar, Dickerson went AWOL (absent/away without leave).

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The Court-Martial Case of Private Francis Dill, Co. K, 9th Regt. P.R.C.

The Court-Martial Case of Private Francis Dill Co. “K” 9th Regt. P.R.C. The case against Pennsylvania Reservist Private Francis Dill seems pretty straightforward at first glance. The court, consisting of Pennsylvania Reserves colonels, convened on…

By Braxton Berkey

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The case against Pennsylvania Reservist Private Francis Dill seems pretty straightforward at first glance. The court, consisting of Pennsylvania Reserves colonels, convened on August 4, 1863 to hear the testimony of four of Pvt. Dill’s comrades. Captain James Ballentine and Sergeant James McVicker were called as witnesses for the prosecution, and Sergeant John Hunter and Pvt. Alexander Caldwell spoke on behalf of Dill. Reading the transcript of the case, two things become apparent. First, Pvt. Dill’s supposed offense, “misbehavior before the enemy” for absenting himself on July 2, 1863 and not reappearing until July 4, seems egregious. Second, his excuse for going AWOL (having sore feet for want of shoes) was not taken seriously by the court. Furthermore, Pvt. Dill’s witnesses, Sgt. Hunter and Pvt. Caldwell, did little to save Dill from a “guilty” verdict. When Dill pointedly asked Sgt. Hunter during examination “Have I not always done my duty as a soldier?” Hunter’s response was both feeble and noncommittal. In essence, Sgt. Hunter said he believed that Pvt. Dill had always done his duty but was not certain because he had transferred from another company in the 9th Regiment in April 1863. Clearly, Pvt. Dill did not confer with his witnesses or coordinate any effective defense on his behalf.  Continue reading “The Court-Martial Case of Private Francis Dill, Co. K, 9th Regt. P.R.C.”