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Which Union Officer Switched Sides After the Emancipation Proclamation was Issued?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: August 22, 2013 
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Which Civil War Union officer switched to the Confederate side after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation?


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Dear DD,

When I contacted John Coski at the Museum of the Confederacy, he informed me that amid all the desertions in the Union Army in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation (allegedly 700 from the 128th Illinois Infantry, necessitating its remaining personnel to be incorporated into the 9th Illinois), he knows of no case of a Union officer defecting to the other side—and assured me that if one had, it would have been cause celêbre enough to have made the papers in Richmond.

There was, however, a noncommissioned Union deserter, Sergeant James F. Ames of the 5th New York Cavalry, who went over to the Confederate side in February 1863 as a member of Lt. Col. John S. Mosby's Partisan Rangers (later 43rd Cavalry Battalion), and took part in the Fairfax Raid in March. Nicknamed "Big Yankee" because of his size as well as his origins, he had earned the trust of Mosby and his Rangers enough to have gained a second lieutenant's commission when he was killed in action on October 9, 1864.

Details on his death are on the accompanying marker below.

As Mr. Coski said, however, "There were lots of desertions in the weeks and months after the Proclamation, though not the volume feared (or hoped). And, of course, there were lots of soldiers on both sides who "galvanized" to the other side – before and after the Proclamation. In short, was there cause and effect in Ames' desertion? If not, I see nothing special in his case except that Ames joined a high-profile, highly-romanticized unit and died in action. But is it relevant to the Proclamation? That seems to me to be the question that we need to answer and, so far, I'm not convinced it is." 



Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History


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