During the war both the Union and Confederacy experienced soldiers who violated military codes of conduct. The most severe crime involved abandoning one’s post in the face of the enemy; however, many men went AWOL in order to provide for their families back home.
Even this type of desertion adversely affected military order, so punishment was severe, including execution. Commutation of sentence was possible, with both Lincoln and Davis often commuting death sentences. In at least six cases Lincoln did so in early January 1864, explaining “I am trying to avoid the butchering business lately.”
Jefferson Davis also commuted the death sentence of a Virginia private. Both leaders recognized that random acts of leniency had a positive effect on both armies, even when the military code of conduct should be upheld.