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Mark Simonson

January 18, 2014

Civil War deserters challenged local law enforcers in 1864

Area law enforcers had their hands full with rough-and-tumble activities in the early months of 1864. While there were still many enlisting in the Civil War, there were also many local deserters from the front lines, and it was the latter men who challenged the authorities. These accounts came from January editions of The Oneonta Herald.

“A DESPERADO.—Sheriff Mather a few days ago arrested a deserter in the town of Milford, named Doolitttle,” it was reported on Jan. 6, 1864. “Doolittle, when arrested, claimed to have a discharge and the Sheriff went with him to his house to satisfy himself of the truth of the claim. Instead of producing a discharge, he presented a loaded revolver to the Sheriff’s breast, and said: ‘there is my discharge and G—d d—n you, if you don’t leave the house I’ll blow you through.’ This took the Sheriff by surprise, as it was not the sort of discharge he was looking for. The Sheriff left the house and started for assistance, and Doolittle started out to make his escape. The Sheriff observing his intention, endeavored to head him off, when Doolittle fired at him, the ball missing by a few inches. The Sheriff returned the fire, and the deserter deserted for the woods, followed by the Sheriff and several others, and made good his escape, although the sheriff fired three more shots at him, and followed him for several more hours, when all track of him was lost. Doolittle has deserted twice, and knowing his fate should be retaken, was determined to sell his life as dearly as possible. Some of the Copperheads express great satisfaction at the escape of Doolittle, and regret exceedingly that he did not murder the Sheriff.”

Copperheads were a political group at the time opposed to the Civil War, persuading Union soldiers to desert. They were highly encouraged by the Confederacy.

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Mark Simonson

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