Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dishonorable Discharge Origins

In compiling research for my biography of Major General Charles F. Smith, I came across a journal posting of a January 12, 1844 letter sent to Brigadier General R. Jones, Adjutant General of the US Army, suggesting that the US Army use a discharge similar to that used by the British Army.

"It has often occurred to me that the service would be benefited if a discharge somewhat similar to that granted in the British Army was given in ours. I mean to make it obligatory on the Comp. Commander to state that the man's genl. conduct has been good when such is the case and to cut off the space for character whenever it has been such as ought to prevent a re-enlistment.

"I am inclined to believe that owing to the want of some such evidence of character many worthless men have been re-enlisted who were discharged under the late law for reducing the army. For example: such men as a Capt. of Art. who not re-enlisted would go to the West & get into an Inf. Regt.; & such men as could not get a re-enlistment in the Inf. would come to the Seaboard & join the Art.

"I have 2 or 3 men who came from the Inf., & who I am satisfied would never have been re-enlisted by their former Co. Commander, judging them by their qualifications & conduct since joining my Comp.

"I make a copy of the form of discharge used in the British Service; also a form taken from this & from that now used by us, which I think might be used advantageously in our Service."

"The soldier's character would be inserted only when recommendatory. If the general conduct of the soldier, while in the service, has been such as to give him no claim to having anything said in his favor, the space for character in the above certificate is to be cut off under the black line following the confirmation of the discharge, thereby leaving no opportunity for an addition to be made after the certificate is given to the man.

"When a soldier is discharged on account of disgraceful conduct that will appear in the body of the certificate."

I have not determined whether Smith's suggestion was endorsed by the US Army.  I would appreciate any information that readers might have on this subject.

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