Given its wide scope and the seriousness of consequences to soldiers and civilians alike, the application of military law in contested areas by the Union army between 1861 and 1865 remains understudied. Bob Schmidt, the author of several regional studies, in his new book Civil War Justice in Southeast Missouri does not attempt a broad treatment, but rather delves into seven case studies, ranging from mundane offenses on up to capital murder. Schmidt's selections serve as a rather good cross section of the types of crimes and punishments encountered during the war, especially in areas where both sides enjoyed considerable popular support. The first involves civil courts, the rest only military.
The following are very brief summaries of the cases covered in the book:
- Samuel V. McFarland, and unarmed civilian, was murdered by William Nash of the 68th Enrolled Missouri Militia, who accused him of being a "rebel". Indicted by a civilian court, Nash disappeared before he could be arrested and justice was never served.
- Corporal John F. Abshire served in the Missouri State Guard and later joined an independent Missouri cavalry company of the kind not always recognized by Union forces as legitimate. Captured in 1863, he was predictably accused of being a guerrilla by his Union captors and was tried by a military commission for killing citizen William Hayes and sentenced to death. From the documents provided, it is unclear why he was hanged after his punishment was commuted by higher authorities to imprisonment.
- John B. Coffman and his wife Missouri were arrested for allegedly aiding guerrillas, a common offense. After being imprisoned on two occasions, they were released without trial, probably due to the war's end as much as the stated reason of lack of evidence.
- Famed bushwhacker Sam Hildebrand killed the 68th EMM's Addison Cunningham, but Schmidt concerns himself here with the case of accused accessory William B. Jones, who was held but released for lack of evidence.
- Private Joseph Jokerst of Battery C, 2nd Missouri Artillery was shot and killed by unit mate John W. Terry, who was tried by court martial and found guilty of 2nd degree murder. Terry served only a small portion of his sentence before being released in 1866.
- Another military commission case involved a civilian spitting on 9th Wisconsin private August Kock. The perpetrator, Herman Schuster of St. Louis, was convicted, fined 10 dollars and released from prison upon payment.
- Finally, company clerk Private James Shields of the 3rd Missouri State Militia, found to be drinking on duty, was court martialed and confined for five days.
Taken together, the cases provide a good discussion of how various offenses were addressed by civil courts, courts martial, and military commissions within the state of Missouri. They highlight for the reader the difficulties involved as well as the often inconsistent application of justice. The documents reproduced in Civil War Justice in Southeast Missouri also reveal insights into the various legal processes. For the benefit of local readers, as well as the many families consulted personally by the author, detailed genealogical data is also presented.