I am reading Gettysburg The Last Invasion by Guelzo and it is recounted that a captain advised a sergeant to make sure that men who were chronic "playouts" be taken into the fight or killed by the sergeant himself. I assume the term means, men who avoided fighting but can find no such definition. Assuming I am guessing right, I wonder further how common dealing with such playouts by killing them was.

1 Answer 1


From For Duty and Destiny: The Life and Civil War Diary of William Taylor Stott, Hoosier Soldier and Educator by Lloyd A. Hunter:

In Civil War usage, a "play-out was as soldier who was worn out or demoralized, possibly even to the point of a breakdown. The term also applied to one who was "suspected of malingering".

In context, it would seem that "chronic play-outs" would be more likely to be in the latter group.

Although some 500 soldiers were executed (by both sides) during the American Civil War, which is more than in all other American wars combined, this was nevertheless a relatively rare punishment. The vast majority of executions were for desertion, and were carried out in the later stages of the war.

Of course, those executions would have been carried out under military law. The situation that you are describing sounds like an extra-judicial, summary execution. While these may well have happened, there are unlikely to be much in the way of records in most cases.

  • 2
    Thanks. I am guessing that in many wars there was a very obvious and brutal way to deal with them until PTSD began to be understood. There is the famous Patton incident and I bet even in WW2 some sergeants ended up shooting some of their own men -- if not on the American side, certainly on the fascist side and apparently Khrushchev himself killed many men for malingering or subpar performance.
    – Jeff
    Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 16:45
  • @Jeff Absolutely. This paper has some interesting insights on the situation for the United States, but this was clearly a universal problem, and as you say, until the 20th century, the causes and treatment were very poorly understood. Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 16:51
  • "Treatment" was probably very well understood and seems to me was more to help other soldiers understand just how serious displaying the disorder was.
    – Jeff
    Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 16:54

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