|The Office of Provost Marshal
|When General McClellan assumed the chief command of the United States forces in the East, he devoted
his undoubted talents for organization and a considerable part of his time to the definition of the duties of
staff-officers of his command. In the performance of this task he assigned to a provost-marshal-general " a
class of duties which had not before in our service been defined and grouped under the management of a
Among these duties were:
1. Suppression of marauding and depredations, and of brawls and disturbances, preservation of good
order and suppression of disturbances beyond the limits of the camps
2. the preservation of good order, the prevention of straggling,
3. the suppression of gambling houses or other establishments prejudicial to good order and discipline,
4. and the supervision of hotels, saloons, brothels, and places of resort and amusement generally.
5. making searches, seizures, and arrests, the custody of deserters from the opposing forces and of
prisoners of war, the issuance of passes to citizens, and the bearing of complaints of citizens.
6. Execution of sentences of general courts-martial involving imprisonment or capital punishment.
7. Enforcement of orders prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquors.
8. Deserters. from the enemy - All deserters from the enemy, and other persons coming within our lines,
will be taken at once to the provost marshal of the nearest division, who will examine them in presence of
the division commander or an officer of his staff designed for the purpose and communicate the result and
the information obtained to the provost marshal general. In important cases, the deserter or other person
will be sent to the provost marshal general with the report.
9. Countersigning safeguards. All safeguards granted at head-quarters will be countersigned by the
provost marshal general. Persons found violating such safeguards will be instantly arrested by the provost
10. Passes to citizens within the lines and for purposes of trade.
11. Complaint of citizens as to the conduct of soldiers. The provost marshals, general and local will notify
the regimental commanders concerning of all arrests of soldiers made under their orders, and will cause
the men to be delivered, with a copy of the charges against them, to their proper officers.
12. Confiscation of contraband.
13. Prisoners of war.
15. Passports for travel.
16. Arrest of "Draft-dodgers" and men who were "AWOL".
(Radley 1989:50; U.S. Army 1994:3).
From this long list of important duties it is obvious that the provost-marshal partook of the character both of
a chief of police and of a magistrate. When an army was actively engaged in the field, the first class of
duties was the more important. But since provost-marshals were appointed for every military department,
though no active warfare was in progress within its limits and they assumed the right to arrest citizens on
suspicion and confine them without trial, very often the magisterial side of the office was uppermost.
Immediately upon arriving in camp, or in a town or city, the provost officers of divisions or brigades, in the
districts assigned to their command, should station guards to enforce compliance with the army regulations
and orders of the commanders.
Details of men for provost guard should be selected from officers and soldiers having the best reputation,
in their respective commands, for efficiency, intelligence, and attention to duty. A proper observance of this
rule aids much in establishing and enforcing discipline amontg large bodies of troops.
from Camp and outpost duty for infantry: by Daniel Butterfield., 1862
|General George B. McCellan