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What were some of the terms and conditions of an honorable discharge in the American Civil War?

2 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Ok, I'm going to refer you to three different manuals printed during the war and reproduced by Stackpole Books and one I'm not sure if Stackpole Books has yet produced or not but which US Regulars Archive has produced on the net. "The 1865 Customs of Service for Officers of the Army" by August V. Kautz, "The 1865 Customs of Service for commissioned Officers and Soldiers" by August V. Kautz (the Stackpole Books publication actually uses the second edition which was printed in 1865, the first edition by Kautz was in 1864), "The 1863 Laws of War" by the U.S. War Department, and the "Revised U.S. Army Regulations of 1861" the author of which I can't find but I'm going to assume it's also the war department.On Kautz, he became a Brigadier General in April 1864 with a brevet promotion to Major General (brevet ranks allowed the individual to be addressed as such and use that rank on their stationary but they only recieved the pay of the last regular promotion they had, basically they allowed more junior officers to be a part the jury during the court martial of a more senior officer as you could only have officers of your rank or higher on the jury) so he would have been a Brevet Major General when he wrote these two. So beginning with the Officer's manual (Also if you want you can try The US Regulars Archive which has the text of the following at

    "616. PAY AND DISCHARGE.—The Colonel is responsible that the soldiers of his Regiment receive their just dues, as long as they are under his immediate command, and it is equally his duty to see that the Government is not defrauded, and the soldiers paid more than they are entitled to. This he does in his capacity of Mustering and Inspecting Officer; as such he examines the Muster-Rolls of each company, and sees that they are properly made out, and that the ‘Remarks" are correct in principle, for to matters of fact the Captain is responsible, and makes the required certificate.

    617. When a soldier is discharged, he should see that he is supplied with the "final statement," in duplicate, of his pay and clothing account. The discharge is signed by the Colonel or other Field Officer of the Regiment. The papers are all prepared by the Company Commander, and sent up to the Colonel for his signature to the discharge papers. This is the manner of discharging in the Regular Service, when the soldier’s enlistment has expired. In the Volunteer Service, Mustering Officers prepare the muster-out papers, on data furnished by the Captain.

    618. Where the Company Commanders are competent officers, the preparation of the Muster-Rolls and the discharge-papers of soldiers require but little scrutiny on the part of the Colonel. It is in new Regiments, where the officers are inexperienced, that all the vigilance possible is required to see that these papers are properly prepared. The absence of Inspecting and Mustering Officers, in the great majority of cases, compels the Colonel to perform this duty."

    On the non-commissioned offices and soldiers manual (US Regulars Archive has this section at and

    "13. After enlistment, no soldier can be discharged before the expiration of his term of service, except by order of the President, the Secretary of War, the commanding officer of a department in case of disability, or the sentence of a general court-martial. (Art. 11.) No soldier can leave the service without a proper discharge, without subjecting himself to the penalty of desertion. Any soldier who leaves his command, without permission, more than one mile, subjects himself to the penalty of desertion. (Art. 41.)"

    "577. When non-commissioned officers are promoted, they must be discharged; the discharge and final statements to be made out up to the date of acceptance of the commission. Volunteers must be mustered out of the old grade and mustered in in the new. The muster-out and muster-in rolls can be dated back to the time when the officer can furnish the necessary evidence of having entered upon the duties of his commission, and that he could not be mustered before; otherwise the muster must be dated at the time it is made. The muster, however cannot in any case be dated prior to the date of commission, nor prior to any muster in which the officer has been mustered in another grade: this would seem to restrict the dating back of the muster to two months at farthest. It sometimes happens that an officer receives his commission where he cannot be mustered for some months; and, as it is prohibited to take him up on the rolls in any capacity until he has been regularly mustered out of the old and mustered in the new grade, the dating back the commission, it seems, cannot be extended beyond the last muster (See G.O. No. 48, 1863.)"

    The 1861 manual (US Regulars Archive has it at http:/

    Edit: The 1861 manual (US Regulars Archive has it at


    163. No enlisted man shall be discharged before the expiration of his term of enlistment without authority of the War Department, except by sentence of a general court-martial, or by the commander of the Department or of an army in the field, on certificate of disability, or on application of the soldier after twenty years' service.

    164. When an enlisted man is to be discharged, his company commander shall furnish him certificates of his account, usually called final statements, according to Form. 4, Pay Department. And to ensure his being at the post to get these, no leave of absence, terminating with his service, will be given to him. He may, however, be discharged in advance of the latter, under the circumstances and conditions described in General Orders No. 24, from the War Department, of November 30, 1859.

    165. Blank discharges on parchment will We furnished from the Adjutant-General's office. No discharge shall be made in duplicate, nor any certificate given in lieu of a discharge.

    166. The cause of discharge will be stated in the body of the discharge, and the space at foot for character cut off, unless a recommendation is given.

    167. Whenever a non-commissioned officer or soldier shall be unfit for the military service in consequence of wounds, disease, or infirmity, his captain shall forward to the commander of the Department or of the army in the field, through the commander of the regiment or post, a statement of his case, with a certificate of his disability signed by the senior surgeon of the hospital, regiment, or post, according to the form prescribed in the Medical Regulations.

    168. If the recommendation for the discharge of the invalid be approved, the authority therefor will be indorsed on the "certificate of disability," which will be sent back to be completed and signed by the commanding officer, who will then send the same to the Adjutant-General's office.

    169. Insane soldiers will not be discharged, but sent, under proper protection, by the Department commander to Washington for the order of the War Department for their admission into the Government Asylum. The history of the cases, with the men's descriptive list, and accounts of pay and clothing, will be sent with them.

    170. The date, place, and cause of discharge of t soldier absent from his company will be reported by the commander of the post to his company commander.

    171. Company commanders are required to keep the blank discharges and all certificates relating to discharge carefully in their own custody.

    172. No volunteer will be discharged upon Surgeon's certificate of disability until the certificate shall have been submitted to the Medical Director, and shall have been approved and countersigned by him."

    And finally from the Laws of War:

    "Art. 11. After a non-commissioned officer or soldier shall have been duly enlisted and sworn, he shall not be dismissed from the service without a discharge in writing; an no discharge granted to him shall be sufficent which is not signed by a field officer of the regiment to which he belongs, or commanding officer, where no field officer of the regiment is present; and no discharge shall be given to a non-commissioned officer or soldier before his term of service has expired, but by order of the President, the Secretary of War, the commanding officer of a department, or the sentence of a general court-martial; nor shall a commissioned officer be discharged from the service but by the order of the President of the Unites States, or by sentence of a general court-martial."

    Source(s): "The 1865 Customs of Service for Officers of the Army" by August V. Kautz "The 1865 Customs of Service for commissioned Officers and Soldiers" by August V. Kautz "The 1863 Laws of War" by the U.S. War Department
  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    An honorable discharge was (is) gained when a full term of service had been completed and there had been not breaches of military law by the serviceman during their enlistment period.

    Once discharged the soldier became a citizen and was bound by the civil laws and not the military laws.

    Also HD could occur due to severe wounds if the soldier was no longer fit for service or if their unit had been dissolved and there was no further requirement for continued service by that individual.

    Another reason could be that the person was an essential skilled person and was required on the home front. In some cases a family could be at risk of loosing all its men folk and the last survivor coulds be sent home.(very unusual and rare)

    Usually before discharging a serving man he would be given the option to re-up (resign) for a further term of service.

    HD also meant that in later times a person would be accepted back into the military if required at a later date.

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