A Brief History of War Resistance

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

war resistance
BF Latta's record of arrest for desertion, 1865

On this melancholy Memorial Day, I'd like to introduce my family's first recorded war resister: Benjamin Franklin Latta, of Hickman County, KY, my great-great-grandfather.

While two of BF's brothers leapt at the chance to serve with the Confederate Army, BF stayed out of the fray, working his farm, until the U.S. Civil War no longer enthused volunteers, and the North had to imposed mandatory service.

BF was drafted into the Union Army in August 1863 and called to duty on an unknown date. Private BF Latta flipped the Civil War the bird on December 15, 1864 and was arrested on July 28, 1865, after the war's conclusion. The Yankees were still really pissed.

Whatever punishment was inflicted on deserters after the fact, BF survived—until erysipelas turned him orange (seriously!) and killed him in 1874, likely the result of a minor cut playing host to strep bacteria. The wonders of antibiotics had not yet been discovered.

My own war resistance is a vague recollection of riding in the back of a van and getting high on silkscreen fluid, while we printed t-shirts on the way to an anti-Vietnam War protest in D.C. I'm waiting for confirmation of that from a sibling—it could have been a dream.