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Making Legal HistoryEssays in Honor of William E. Nelson$
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Daniel J. Hulsebosch and R. B. Bernstein

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780814725269

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814725269.001.0001

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“It cant be cald stealin’”

“It cant be cald stealin’”

Customary Law among Civil War Soldiers

(p.49) 2 “It cant be cald stealin’”
Making Legal History

Thomas C. Mackey

NYU Press

This chapter explores the cognitive dissonance that Civil War soldiers experienced as they left their ordinary lives, suffused with customary common-law understandings of property, and entered the military, where according to the laws of war they could appropriate personal property in a variety of circumstances. Back home, that appropriation might be called “stealing.” During wartime, however, such foraging was often legitimate and necessary. That it was “legal” did not, for many soldiers, lessen their unease. Instead, they felt compelled to explain their behavior to civilian correspondents back home—and to themselves. Examining rarely used personal correspondence by these soldiers, the chapter captures the lived experience of legal pluralism among ordinary Americans who found themselves pulled between two legal orders, civilian and military, in the extraordinary circumstance of a civil war fought at home.

Keywords:   Civil War soldiers, Union soldiers, Confederate soldiers, property, custom law, military law, stealing, legal pluralism, personal correspondence

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