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Friday, February 1, 2013

Civil War Photo Friday: Taking the Oath of Loyalty

This week's image shows a group of Confederate prisoners taking the Loyalty Oath in 1864. This was an option given to most rebel prisoners. The deal was that if they swore loyalty to the United States, they'd be given a certificate proving they'd done so and could return to civilian life. If their home was in Union-occupied territory, they could even go home.

Most prisoners honored the oath. Some were sick of the war, while others were draftees who had never wanted to be in it in the first place. The temptation of a return to civilian life was a strong one. The Confederate armies in all theaters of the war were plagued with desertions.

Not everyone honored the oath, however. Sometimes a rebel would be captured and would take the oath in order to get out of prison. They considered the oath to have been taken under duress and therefore invalid. Often these guys would become bushwhackers. The Union Military correspondence in Missouri and Arkansas is filled with reports of bushwhackers being killed and having the loyalty oath paper being found on their persons.

Right at the bottom of the form was a line that said that if you broke the oath by acting in support of the Confederacy, the punishment was death. Sometimes oath breakers were taken alive. They nearly always faced execution.

In my next post I'll be talking about the oath of loyalty two Confederate bushwhackers named Frank and Jesse James took.

OK, so this isn't a photo, but hey, it's a photo of a drawing, right?

Image courtesy Library of Congress.


  1. So Frank and Jesse James rear up their infamous heads? Quite fascinating. Thanks for this interesting post.

  2. I never knew that. I wonder if it was only the Union that was merciful with its POWs, and what the Confederacy did with theirs.

    I'm glad the Spain cliff-walk helped you fix a WIP problem. Yay! I've been totally stuck for months, which is why I'm critiquing so much. :P

  3. Not to smart to be carrying the paper while killing Union soldiers.

  4. I wonder where people hid out if they decided to defect? The wild, wild West??


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