Monday, July 18, 2016

“An Outburst of Passion and Profanity”: The Career of Hobart Ward, Part 2.

This is my second post about Brigadier General Hobart Ward, a forty-year-old officer who served with the Army of the Potomac. By the summer of 1863, Ward was a veteran of a dozen Civil War engagements. So far, he had fought at Bull Run, Yorktown, Williamsburg, Fair Oaks, Glendale Cross Roads, Malvern Hill, 2nd Manassas, Chantilly, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. He was also commanding more troops than he ever had in his life. After Gettysburg, he became acting divisional commander, directing the maneuvers of the 1st Division, 3rd Corps.

One might think that Ward was something of a star on the rise, but in fact, as Ward’s responsibilities grew, he received less and less respect from his troops. As I mentioned in the previous post, Ward was not a nice man. He was petty, erratic, unlikeable, and fond of drink at inappropriate moments. Moreover, Ward did not think highly of his enlisted men or of the value of human life. As one soldier who served under him later related, “General Ward was formerly a prize fighter and, no doubt, much brutalized. He regards human life much as an angler does the worm he uses for bait.” Arguably, Ward’s lowest moment came when he acted out childish vengeance against a portion of his command the day after the Battle of Wapping Heights. His troops wanted food and Ward wanted them to shut the hell up.

The affair began when Ward’s division engaged in a furious but largely forgotten battle called Wapping Heights, which occurred on July 23, 1863. That day, the 3rd Corps assaulted a portion of the Army of Northern Virginia in Manassas Gap. After a day-long engagement, Ward’s division took possession of the heights, driving off Colonel Edward Walker’s Georgia brigade. Despite the importance of the battle, Ward was rarely seen directing the action. According to one soldier, Ward stopped at a house near Linden Station to drink from a jug of whiskey offered by his corps commander, Major General William French, who was, likewise, no inspirational leader. At 4 P.M., just as the Union troops gained the summit, Ward and French came to check on the course of the battle, and both were, in the words of a witness, “in a highly exhilarated condition by this time.”

Although Ward’s misbehaviors earned the ire of his enlisted men, the real trouble occurred the next day, July 24. At 11 A.M., Ward’s division set out on a thirteen-mile trek to Springfield, a small village east of Markham. Having fought in a rigorous battle the day before and lacking rations, Ward’s soldiers were in a sour mood. Writing to friends, Chaplain Lorenzo Barber explained, “Our supplies were not up and our men were out of rations. Some of us had not had half a breakfast, and nothing left in our haversacks.” By the afternoon, after marching seven hours through the heat with nothing to eat, Ward’s 1st Brigade demanded their overdue nourishment. Specifically, they began chanting, “Hardtack! Hardtack!” A private in the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters wrote in his journal, “The men of our regiment took up the cry and kept it up all afternoon.” Chaplain Barber of the same regiment noticed how quickly the chanting spread among the other regiments. Soon, the entire division was shouting loudly for the ill-loved army cracker. Barber wrote, “Tired with their hard work and with empty stomachs, they halted to rest at almost dark. As the officers were putting them into position, the whole division (Gen. Ward’s) good naturedly cried out, ‘Hard Tack!’ ‘Hard Tack!’” In a letter to friends, Barber insisted that the chanting started out genially, but he pointed out that it carried serious undertones: “The Colonels and Brigadiers took it good naturedly as it was intended, though their own empty larders must have reminded [them] it was a suggestive joke.”

The chanting caught the attention of Ward, who rode along the line with his staff. For whatever reason, Ward was in no mood to hear his soldiers’ pleas for a meal—even one as inadequate as hard tack. The chanting soldiers embarrassed him and he wanted them silenced immediately. Sensing bad blood, Chaplain Barber continued the story: “The thing was made serious by Gen. Ward and staff riding furiously among the men, and Gen. Ward saying: ‘God damn your souls, I’ll give you hard tack; I’ll shoot the first man that says hard tack again.’ Two or three brigades nearest him kept silence, but every other regiment in his division shouted ‘hard tack’ louder than before.”

Ward grew furious when the chanting would not cease, so he rode down the line and accosted the men of the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, the unit that had started the ruckus. Private Wyman White described the scene: “The general rode to the right of the regiment, and turned his horse, and facing the regiment, drew his revolver and called out in the voice of a brigadier general, ‘G—D— your souls to hell. The next man that says ‘Hardtack’ I will put a ball through his head’.” (As an aside, White’s recollection of Ward’s threat must have been remarkably accurate. Another soldier in the same regiment jotted the words in his diary that evening, and with alarming similarity, they confirmed what White and Barber had both recorded: “God damn your souls! I will give you hardtack! The first man that says hardtack I will put a ball through!”)

Whatever might be said of Ward’s reaction, it did not have the desired effect. The Sharpshooters had no intention of letting Ward get away, not without one last jab. As White related, “All was still and the general turned his horse and in an instant every man in the regiment yelled, ‘Hardtack.’ He did not stop to shoot. If he had, I dare say it would have been his last, for I heard lots of rifles click.” Barber, meanwhile, heard Ward muttering under his breath. “Baffled and disgraced,” Barber narrated, “he rode off cursing officers and men, threatening them with terrible punishment in the way of picket duty, &c.”

Even so, Ward carried out something akin to revenge. When the division went into camp, he ordered several regiments placed under temporary arrest, keeping the men at full marching gear for several hours. Meanwhile, he called into his tent the officers of those regiments that had humiliated him and gave them a rigorous tongue-lashing. Although witnesses disagreed on the length of time he kept the men standing at attention, Private John Haley probably had it correct, saying that it lasted about two hours. Haley remembered, “After we went into bivouac, a portion of the division was made to stand in line for two hours, in marching order, for yelling ‘Hard Tack!’ at General Ward as he rode past. Although many hadn’t eaten for a day or two, and are nearly insane from hunger, they should realize that such behavior will not help.” When the officers returned to the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, they told their men what Ward had said. According to Private White, “the old puff ball told the officers that he would hold them responsible for our good behavior thereafter and that ended the matter.”

Ward’s pomposity killed his reputation among his enlisted men. Chaplain Barber wrote home, making it clear that Ward was not a man to be admired: “I have not time to moralize on such an outburst of passion and profanity on the part of a commanding General, but I am sorry to say that we have some such in command of our brave and intelligent troops.”

For Ward, the incident began the downward spiral of his career. In a year, he’d find himself discharged and disgraced. One wonders, if he had been nicer to his men on July 24, would they have stuck up for him when the army threatened to remove him from command in the midst of the Overland Campaign? Such is the fate of people who indulge in petty tyrannies. Without respect, they have nothing.


Here's the photograph of Hobart Ward that everyone usually sees. Here he is as brigadier general, taken in 1863, presumably.
 

Friday, July 15, 2016

“I Always Supposed Him to Be Brave”: The Career of Hobart Ward, Part 1.

For the next few posts, I’d like to focus on the Civil War career of Brig. Gen. John Henry Hobart Ward, a soldier who served three years with the Army of the Potomac. Ward was an interesting character. As an officer, he enjoyed widespread praise from newspaper correspondents and from superior officers. Lofted to the rank of colonel early in the war, he eventually rose to divisional command by the summer of 1863. And yet, Ward was hardly a likable man. He was mean, condescending, intemperate, and ruthless. In short, he was a general who fooled a host of admirers (and I’m sad to say, still manages to bamboozle a cluster of historians who consider him an excellent officer). This is the story of a grade-A snot-bag who managed to wear general stars despite a series of personality defects that would have normally kept him from rising high in the ranks of the Army of the Potomac. This is the tale of Hobart Ward.

In some ways, Ward was destined to fight in the Civil War. He came from a family steeped in military tradition. His grandfather fought in the American Revolution and his father fought in the War of 1812. He was a huge man, over six feet in height, and it was rumored that he had been a pugilist in his teenage years. In 1841, at age eighteen, Hobart Ward followed in the family tradition and joined the Army. He enlisted in the 7th U.S. Infantry, eventually reaching the rank of sergeant-major in 1845. In 1847, he served in the Mexican-American War, fighting at the Battle of Monterrey, where he was wounded, and also at the Battles of Cerro Gordo and Huamantla. After the war, Ward returned to New York and served as the state militia’s assistant commissary general from 1851 to 1855, then as the senior commissary general, which post he held until 1859. He joined the “Scott Life Guard,” a militia regiment that recruited only veterans from the Mexican-American War. When the Civil War began, Ward acquired a colonelcy from New York’s governor, Edwin Morgan, and he began raising a two-year regiment, the 38th New York (informally known as the 2nd Regiment, Scott Life Guard).

Ward and his regiment gained fame quickly. Ward was one the few officers who kept his cool during the rout at Bull Run. Later, on the Peninsula, Ward and his regiment fought several tough fights, losing eighty-eight officers and men at Williamsburg and another eighteen at Fair Oaks. At Williamsburg, Ward’s divisional commander claimed that Ward “conspicuously distinguished himself,” and has “already been noticed by me as one of the bravest of the brave.” Another officer believed that Ward was so talented that he should be elevated to the rank of major general. He wrote, “His experience during twenty years, and his services during the Rebellion, eminently fit him for the position recommended.” Major General Daniel Sickles called him a “an officer whose tact, discretion, and accomplishments fit him for command of a division, and his services have been so conspicuous and brilliant that he deserves this recognition of merit.”

Wherever Ward went, he received praise. Between 1861 and 1863, newspapers heaped commendation upon him. After Bull Run, a New York newspaper mentioned Ward’s coolness. It proclaimed, “Colonel J. H. Hobart Ward, who served during the war with Mexico, and was breveted for his good conduct on the field, throughout the late battle was collected, courageous and energetic. Wherever his men faltered, there he was to rally and encourage them, and where danger appeared he confronted it.” When Ward’s regiment, the 38th New York, mustered out in New York City in May 1863, Mayor George Opdyke couldn’t say enough about Ward’s fine qualities as a commander. Opdyke wrote, “The excellent record you have made in the army must be attributed, in a large degree, to the skill, courage and coolness of . . . the brave veteran Colonel, who just commanded the Thirty-eighth, now Brig.-Gen. Ward.”

When Ward applied for a brigadier general’s commission, his superiors jumped at the chance to discuss his finer qualities. Not only did Major Generals Philip Kearney, John Sedgwick, David Birney, and Joseph Hooker offer endorsements, but even Winfield Scott—now in retirement—chose to write a testimonial based on his experience with Ward in Mexico. One of Ward’s superiors, Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman, wrote of Ward, saying, “There has been no Colonel in my command who has rendered more efficient and gallant service on the Peninsula, both as Colonel, and when temporarily in command of a brigade.”

With such esteemed opinions, the U.S. Senate confirmed Ward’s promotion to brigadier general on October 4, 1862. When he assumed command of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 3rd Corps, Army of the Potomac, Ward held his men enthralled by his stature and soldierly demeanor. Captain Charles Weygant, an officer who served in Ward’s brigade, remembered his first meeting with Ward. He later wrote, “Our new brigadier was a dark-complexioned, stern-looking man, about fifty years of age, stood six feet three, weighed about two hundred and forty pounds, and when mounted on his iron grey charger looked a very giant.”

Reading all these estimations, one might assume that Ward was a wonderful general, universally loved by his men and his peers. In truth, he was a brutish tyrant. Thin-skinned, petty, and foul-tempered, Hobart Ward lacked the graces held by his contemporaries. Ward’s foul behavior surfaced early on. When his regiment, the 38th New York, was encamped in Washington in May 1861, Ward mercilessly beat an unarmed citizen for cheering on behalf of the Confederacy. Ward was standing on the steps of a hotel when he overheard three citizens cheering loudly for Jeff Davis followed by three more cheers for the Southern Confederacy. Ward was about to walk away when he heard the men propose three groans for the U.S. government. When he heard this, Ward snapped. He walked over, humorously accusing the men of acting “unconstitutionally,” and then Ward slugged one of them in the face. After their friend tumbled down the steps, the other two citizens bolted down the street, and Ward gave chase. He didn’t catch them, but the newspaper reporter who described the incident praised Ward—as any northern newspaper writer might—for standing up for the Union. Another crack in his reputation appeared a bit later, at Chancellorsville. On the evening of May 2, 1863, Ward gave way to panic (although, in all fairness, so did many Union soldiers who fought in the night action there). He put spurs to his horse and bolted for the rear, running over two men, one of whom was trampled so badly that he later died.

Probably, the beating of the southern sympathizer and the running over of the two soldiers were more emblematic of Ward’s character than all the newspaper reports or the endorsements from superiors.  As my future posts will show, all these people got Ward dead-wrong. Ward was nursing a sequence of bad behaviors that became more pronounced as the war dragged on. It is unclear how Ward was able to fool so many people for so long, but he did. In May 1864, when Ward was arrested for drunkenness during the Battle of Spotsylvania (the subject of a future post), Colonel Theodore Lyman—an officer attached to George Meade’s headquarters—expressed himself shocked  that he had misjudged Ward. Baffled by the fact that Ward’s career was coming to an inglorious end, Lyman wrote, “General Ward was relieved from his command, for misbehavior and intoxication in presence of the enemy at the Battle of the Wilderness. I had always supposed him to be a brave but rough man.”

How did Ward forfeit his reputation? Stay tuned!

Here, you can see John Henry Hobart Ward as colonel of the 38th New York.
 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Gettysburg Casualty’s First Memorial Day


This post is about something topical. A Union soldier who was killed at Gettysburg is finally getting Memorial Day recognition by his hometown. His name is John Dolson and his hometown is Richfield, Minnesota.
First of all, how was he killed?
At 4 P.M., July 2, 1863, Brig. General Jerome Robertson’s Texas Brigade surged across the Slyder and Bushman farm fields south of Gettysburg. As the Confederate soldiers trampled down the crops, they came under fire from the expert riflemen belonging to the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters. Under heavy pressure from the Texans, several companies of U.S. Sharpshooters gave way, but not before losing a few men killed or captured when the Texans closed the distance.
Specifically, the Texans mortally wounded two soldiers from Company A, Corporal Benjamin O. Hamblet and Private John O. Dolson. One man who witnessed it was Second Lieutenant Dyer Burgess Pettijohn. He remembered, “While we were paying some attention, and not without effect, to the enemy troops in our immediate front and our left, another regiment of ‘Johnnies’ came up through a grove of timber on our right until they were within easy pistol range before we discovered their presence.” A Confederate officer commanding the Texas skirmish line called out to Pettijohn, Hamblet, and Dolson, demanding their surrender. Pettijohn threw up his hands, but Hamblet and Dolson decided to make a break for it. The Confederate officer ordered his men to fire, and according to Pettijohn, “a rattle of musketry was the response.” The musket balls hit both men as they tried to flee. Hamblet was struck in the left thigh and Dolson was struck in the left leg and lung. The Confederates made no effort to recover the men they had just shot. They shoved Pettijohn to the rear, and he became a prisoner of war, one of the unlucky officers sent to Libby Prison.
Hamblet and Dolson remained on the field overnight, still suffering from their wounds, but not subsequently touched by either side. On the morning of July 3, soldiers from Colonel William McCandless’s Pennsylvania Reserve Brigade reoccupied the ground, recovering Hamblet and Dolson. Both men lingered from the effects of their wounds for weeks. Surgeons amputated Hamblet’s leg, but he died on July 30. Dolson, meanwhile, succumbed to the effects of his wounds at Camp Letterman Hospital on September 3.
In one of the great mysteries of the Battle of Gettysburg, Private Dolson’s remains were terribly misidentified. Although Dolson lingered in a hospital tent for two months, when he died, the attendants seemed not to have remembered that he belonged to a Union regiment. When he was buried on the field, Samuel Weaver labeled his remains as: “John O. Dobson, 2nd North Carolina Infantry.” Exactly how Weaver failed to correctly identify Dolson’s remains is the mystery. It seems utterly incomprehensible for a wounded man, who clearly told the surgeons and nurses that he was a northerner, to be buried in a Confederate’s grave, but that is what happened. Certainly, there is more to the story that has not yet come to light.
In any event, grave diggers committed Dolson’s corpse to a temporary graveyard near Camp Letterman, even though Dolson—as a U.S. soldier—was entitled to be buried in the Soldiers' National Cemetery, which was then seventy-seven days short of being dedicated by Abraham Lincoln. (Incidentally, Dolson’s comrade, Hamblet, was correctly identified and buried in the Soldiers' National Cemetery when he died. His remains are there today.) Meanwhile, Dolson’s corpse lay outside the cemetery, waiting for someone to come and claim it.
In 1871, eight years after his death, Dolson’s corpse made a long journey to North Carolina. Confederate remembrance organizations had recently erected a new cemetery called Oakwood in Raleigh and they paid for the transportation of 137 Tar Heels from the Gettysburg battlefield to be laid to rest there. Believing Dolson’s remains to be those of a Confederate, the North Carolinians exhumed his casket and sent it down south.
In reality, Dolson was a nineteen-year-old farmer from Richfield, Minnesota, when he was killed at Gettysburg. This truth was not uncovered until 2006, when a Civil War researcher in Pleasantville, New York, contacted the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who looked after the graves in Oakwood, telling them that the Confederate cemetery contained a Union sharpshooter. In 2007, the Sons replaced the grave marker, putting in a new one with the correct information. Meanwhile, they sent the incorrect stone—with the Confederate unit and the name “Dobson” on it—to Richfield, Dolson’s hometown.
On this Memorial Day, May 30, the residents of Richfield, Minnesota, will attend a ceremony at the town’s Honoring All Veterans Memorial on Portland Avenue. The memorial will feature a new plaque in honor of Dolson, who gave his life at Gettysburg.
As some of you know, for eight years I worked as a seasonal ranger at Gettysburg. Every Memorial Day, the graves were  beautifully decorated with American and state flags. Dolson’s grave ought to have been included in this commemoration, but due to the mistake made in 1863, his earthly remains were denied that honor. Since 2007, Dolson’s grave has been honored at Oakwood, and now, his hometown in Minnesota joins in honoring him. It gives me a sense of satisfaction that this long forgotten Union soldier has finally been recognized.
 
Here is John Dolson's grave in Oakwood Cemetery.
 

Friday, May 13, 2016

All Except These Fellows Who Foolishly Signed Three-Year Papers.


Thanks to a certain movie, it’s kind of a well-known event among us Civil War nerds, that on May 23, 1863, 120 veterans from the from the defunct 2nd Maine—a two-year regiment that mustered-out on May 19—had to join unwillingly the ranks of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry. These 120 unfortunate soldiers had to undergo their unpleasant transfer because, back in 1861, they had foolishly signed on for a three-year tour-of-duty instead of a two-year tour-of-duty, unlike everyone else in their regiment. Understandably, this merger put the 20th Maine’s commander, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, in an unenviable position. His corps commander, Major General George Meade, had told him to force the 2nd Maine men to join the 20th Maine or to execute them; or as Meade wrote, “make them do duty, or shoot them down.” Famously, Chamberlain handled the dyspeptic 2nd Maine veterans in a generous way, telling them that it was their choice to fight or not. He would not execute a single soldier for the crime of wanting to return home with his former unit. Amazingly, of those 120 “mutineers” from the 2nd Maine, all but six elected to honor their enlistment contract, choosing to fight alongside the soldiers of the 20th Maine for an additional year.

I prefer to remind people that the 20th Maine was not the only regiment attached to the Army of the Potomac that received an influx of disgruntled soldiers in May 1863, men who formerly belonged to disbanded two-year regiments. In today’s tale, I’d like to profile a lesser-known group of “foolish” three-year soldiers who had to be transferred when their two-year regiments went home, the men of the 37th and 38th New York.

Here’s how their tale began.

When New York mobilized for war, Governor Edwin Morgan called up thirty-eight regiments to be officered, organized, and equipped at the state’s expense. (He numbered these units the 1st through 38th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiments.) As regiments go, they were not terribly unusual. They followed the standard protocols and regulations that governed regiments in federal service; however, unusually, Morgan decreed that all men who enlisted into these thirty-eight regiments would serve only two years in the army, instead of three. (At this point in the war, Union infantrymen typically enlisted for a three-year tour-of-duty.) Eventually, in late-May 1861, the War Department—which had grown desperate for more regiments to come to the defense of Washington—accepted Morgan’s two-year men into federal service, even promising to uphold the important stipulation that they would not serve no longer than two years. However, Secretary of War Simon Cameron insisted that Morgan must cease recruiting two-year men immediately. Thereafter, all soldiers from New York had to be enlisted for three years’ duty, the same as in other states.

The next unit raised in New York, the 39th New York Volunteers (which mustered-in on June 6), became the state’s first three-year regiment. However, Cameron’s order created a problem for two of the two-year regiments, those that were still in the process of mobilizing. Neither the 37th nor 38th New York had filled their ranks by the time Cameron issued the order to cease recruiting two-year men. It took each regiment another week to fill, which meant that both units had to complete their organization by recruiting a sizable portion of men who were signed on for three years, even though the bulk of both regiments had signed on for only two years. (The 37th New York mustered-in on June 6 and 7, and the 38th New York mustered-in on June 3 and June 8.) After serving for several weeks in the defenses of Washington, both regiments joined the Army of the Potomac in the autumn, and by the spring of 1862, they were assigned to the same division in the 3rd Corps. For the next year, the two New York regiments witnessed heavy action, fighting on the Peninsula, at Second Bull Run, at Chantilly, at Fredericksburg, and at Chancellorsville. By the end of May 1863, the 37th New York counted up eighty-one killed-in-action and fifty-eight dead by other causes, while the 38th New York tallied seventy-five killed-in-action and forty-six dead by other causes. During their short time in federal service, the two-year recruits from these two regiments had fought and bled copiously. It is no exaggeration to say that the volunteers of the 37th and 38th New York had made incredible sacrifices for their country.

When the Army of Potomac licked its wounds at Falmouth after the disastrous Battle of Chancellorsville, high command had to decide what to do about the three-year men who served in those two regiments. During the first week of June, the two-year men expected to return to New York City, 170 from the 37th Regiment and fifty-seven from the 38th. But what should be done about those who still had an additional year of service? Those contingents were not small in number. The 37th New York contained 238, while the 38th New York contained 387. Should they be sent home to muster-out with their regiments, or should the army find another way to use them? The New Yorkers’ divisional commander, Major General David Birney, decided to send the two-year men home as planned, while transferring the three-year men to another regiment, the 40th New York. Under Birney’s order, the veterans from the 37th New York joined their new regiment on May 29, while the veterans from the 38th New York joined on June 3. “They were a valuable addition,” remembered the regimental historian of the 40th (although was not present to witness the merger), “and they gave tone and vitality to our weakened ranks.”

In truth, the fusion of these three regiments was not at all cordial. Most of the three-year recruits from the 37th and 38th New York wanted to go home alongside their two-year brethren and they felt betrayed when the army denied their request. In fact, they became increasingly stubborn about it because Brig. Gen. Hobart Ward (the brigade commander and the former colonel of the 38th New York) informed his men that they would go home on June 3, no matter what. Private William L. Hauptman, a twenty-three-year-old Bronx native who belonged to Company E, 38th New York, recalled how he underwent a change of emotions thanks to Ward’s influence: “Before Genl. Ward told me that I was going home I had made up my mind to stay three years, but when he announced Publicly that the recruits of the 38th N.Y. would go home, why I then made up my mind to go.”

What exactly happened during the discussion about what to do with the 37th and 38th New York is still a bit unclear, but it appears that a disagreement occurred between several high-ranking officers. General Ward insisted that all the members of his old regiment should be discharged on June 3, regardless of their enlistment contract, while General Birney believed that all the three-year men should serve out their time in the 40th New York. Unable to come to an agreement, the two generals decided to consult the 38th New York’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Robert F. Allason. Unable to speak strongly or register any sort of convincing opinion on behalf of his men, Allason demurred to Birney’s wishes, refusing to ask for the three-year recruits’ early discharge. Private Hauptman described the complexity of this arrangement and the prejudice he believed actuated the decision:

Col. Allason is to blame for not taking the recruits home, he would not take the responsibility. I might say that Genl. Dead Beat Birney had a hand in the Pie, he never was a very great favorite of the 38th or of Ward. Birney used to be the law partner to Secretary [of War Edwin] Stanton, its all in the family. Genl. Ward when he left [regimental command] made everything all right so there would be no difficulty about our going [home], but as soon as he left, Birney was Boss. . . . No doubt he dreams every night of the great Victory he gained over the 38th[.] the boys all swear Vengeance against Allason, poor man, I would not [want to] be in his shoes for any amount.

With the decision thus rendered by Allason and Birney, the 565 three-year men of the 37th and 38th New York had to join the ranks of the 40th New York, like it or not. Private Hauptman made it clear that this verdict cast a pall over the two regiments. He wrote to a friend: “my expectations, as well as others, ran very high, so high that it made the fall all the worse. . . . A great many were wounded (in the feelings) [when the news came].” Although he professed to have prepared himself for the possibility of staying on additional year, Hauptman admitted to homesickness. He wrote, “I would have given $100 to go home with the Regiment, even if I had to go back the next day. For the past twenty one months all I have been thinking about was going home with the Regiment but to be humbugged in this manner, makes the little I have done for the Union go for nothing, in my estimation.”

Unwillingly, Hauptman joined Company F, 40th New York, but as he admitted to a friend, the word “mutiny” rumbled from lip to lip among the other three-year men. Hauptman believed, “Stack Arms will be the word.” The other 38th New York soldiers “swear they will never go into a fight with the 40th.” As for Hauptman, dark, perilous thoughts filled his mind as he contemplated his next move. He wrote, “If I was alone in the world and had no friends, why french leave [desertion] would be the [way to] go, but as I have a few friends that think a little of me, I will stay in the Army for their sake if not my own.”

Near as I can tell, the 40th New York’s commander, Colonel Thomas Egan, did not have an inspirational speech to motivate his reluctant three-year men, quite unlike the situation involving Chamberlain and the 2nd Maine. Egan demanded that all of his new soldiers respect his authority, and with that, he took his regiment north to fight at Gettysburg, where 150 of his soldiers fell killed or wounded. I wonder if those feelings of betrayal crept into the minds of the 37th and 38th New York soldiers as they battled their way across the “Valley of Death.”

Maybe those thoughts escaped Hauptman, at least. Despite all his grousing, he re-enlisted on January 18, 1864, and served with the 40th New York for the rest of the war.



There aren't many photographs of the soldiers from the 37th and 38th New York Volunteers, but there is this one. This depicts the officers of the 37th New York (known as the "Irish Rifles"). The officer in the middle is Colonel Samuel B. Hayman.
 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

On Behalf of a Grateful Nation: My Tribute to Dusty Kleiss


 


Tales from the Army of the Potomac is a blog dedicated to the valiant Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War, but occasionally I feel the need to let my interest in the Pacific War intrude in my Civil War affairs. Let this be one of those times.

For those of you who pay attention to the goings-on in my life, recently, I had to say farewell to a friend of mine, Captain Dusty Kleiss. He died on Friday, April 22, 2016. He was 100 years old.

Dusty was a dive bomber pilot who served in World War 2. During the opening days of the Pacific War, he belonged to Scouting Squadron Six, a carrier-based squadron attached to USS Enterprise (CV-6). He fought in several important engagements: The Battle of Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941), the Battle of the Marshall Islands (February 1, 1942), the Battle of Wake Island (February 24, 1942), the Battle of Marcus Island (March 4, 1942), and the Battle of Midway (June 4-6, 1942). At Midway, on June 4, Dusty piloted a Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bomber labelled 6-S-7. Together with his squadron and his trusty gunner, RM 3/c John W. Snowden, Dusty participated in two missions that led to the sinking of four Japanese carriers. Dusty’s bombs scored direct hits on two of those carriers, the Kaga and the Hiryu. On June 6, Dusty participated in another mission. During this one, he made another direct hit, this time on a Japanese cruiser, the Mikuma. He was the only American pilot during the Battle of Midway to score three direct hits. As far as I’m concerned, he was the most indispensable American aviator at the battle because he caused the most physical damage of any U.S. pilot in the air during those three decisive days. During the war, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Navy Cross. After the Battle of Midway, Dusty spent another twenty years in the Navy, retiring as a captain in 1962.

I first met Dusty back in January 2012. Together with my wife, I traveled to his apartment at the Air Force Village (now Blue Skies of Texas), a retirement community in San Antonio located just outside of Lackland Air Force Base. Originally, Laura and I wanted to interview him for a short article we were writing for the Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s historical journal, the Daybook. Our visit became a bit more involved than we thought. Soon, we came back a second time, and then a third, and we made many phone calls. In the end, we conducted hours upon hours of interviews, as Dusty shared his life story, his intimate tales, opinions, and confessions. He was a veteran with an interesting story to tell, and he wanted someone to remember it.

What struck me the most about Dusty was the fact that he hated to be called a hero. It bothered him greatly. He encountered the term often. Whenever he did public presentations on the Battle of Midway—and he did a great many for the nearby Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas—visitors came up to him and called him a hero. This is no surprise. As is our custom nowadays, we tend to revere the World War 2 generation, calling them heroes whenever the opportunity presents itself. This was a tradition set in place by historians and politicians. For instance, in his 1997 book about World War 2 GIs, Stephen Ambrose wrote, “So they fought and won, and we all of us, living and yet to be born, must be profoundly grateful.” In 2004, President George W. Bush said: “They saved our country, and thereby saved the liberty of mankind.” I could go on. It’s fairly easy to find similar expressions of gratitude.

Dusty hated that kind of attention. “I’m anything but a hero,” he once told a reporter. “I was only doing what at the time was the proper thing to do.” During one of our conversations, he recollected an incident where the USAA invited him to be the guest of honor at their 2011 Memorial Day Commemoration. The whole event made him uncomfortable. He grumbled, “They just wanted to make me into some kind of hero. Just garbage!”

I watched the video of the event in question. The USAA showed a 12-minute clip that profiled Dusty and his actions at the Battle of Midway. At one point, Hugh Ambrose (son of Stephen Ambrose) asked Dusty to stand up and be recognized. Timidly, he arose from his seat in the corner, and the spotlight came on him. Without prompting, the audience surged from their seats and gave him a standing ovation. For two minutes the audience applauded loudly. My friend, Dusty, clutched a USS Enterprise ball cap nervously. Then, when the clapping subsided, he said, “I don’t deserve it, but I sure thank you.”

Dusty’s modesty only made me love him more. I rarely use the word, “hero.” After spending years in academia, I gained a healthy suspicion of the expression. Perhaps it is jaded of me to think this way, but whenever I hear the word, my eyebrows tilt in doubt. In my lifetime, I’ve only ever told one living person that he was my hero; that man was Dusty.

After one of our trips to San Antonio, my wife and I bid Dusty goodbye in the lobby of Air Force Village. After giving him a hug, I said: “Now, Dusty, I know you hate to be called a hero, but I want to let you know that you’re mine.” I expected him to grumble some self-effacing retort, but he didn’t. He giggled happily and stood there smiling. My wife Laura and I walked down a long hallway, bound for our rental car and a trip to the airport. When we looked back, we could see Dusty there, still in the hallway, still smiling happily.

I don’t know how to explain it. Dusty shrugged off every compliment he ever received about his service in World War 2, but for some reason, when I gave him the same effuse praise, he let it slide.

I prefer to think that my estimation of him is accurate. Back in 1941, the U.S. Navy asked a great deal from him. Effectively, the country said: “You will kill our foe. You will do this by dropping out of the sky like a meteor. You will plummet to earth and release your bomb at the last minute. Most likely, you will be killed in attempting this. You may be shot down. You may be hit by your own bomb blast. You might not pull out of your 240-knot dive. You might run out of gas on your trip back to your carrier. . . . But you will do this for us. We need to win and you must make the sacrifice.”

Dusty attempted to make the sacrifice. There were nineteen pilots in Dusty’s squadron at the Battle of Midway. Seven died in the battle. Two more died later in the war. As Dusty explained it, he just happened to be in the lucky half that lived. Even more luckily, he outlived the other nine who survived the war. In fact, Dusty was the last dive bomber veteran alive to have served at Midway, and I suspect, he was the last American pilot to have served at that battle. Four years ago, he wrote this for my wife’s museum’s publication: “At age ninety-six, I wonder why the Good Lord has spared me, perhaps the last dive bomber pilot that bombed a ship in the Battle of Midway? . . . The only thing I can presume is that He has not yet found me worthy to reach all those other Saints above us.”

On April 29, 2016, Dusty’s friends and family placed his earthly remains to rest in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. I had to honor to be there to witness it. As happens at military funerals, a Navy officer handed Dusty’s son, Jack, Jr., the flag that draped his father’s coffin and thanked him “on behalf of a grateful nation.” Lacking the talent to describe the emotion that impregnated those proceedings, I will say simply that I was truly moved by seeing it.

Dusty was my hero because he always knew that a living hero would be too proud. He didn’t die at Midway, and for that I am grateful; he lived long enough to become my cherished friend.

Now that I am back in Norfolk, I plan to have chicken wings and beer in his honor. (This was Dusty’s favorite meal, and incidentally, it’s also mine.) I respect the word “hero” too much not to keep his memory fresh in my mind.

Tally Ho! Dusty! You’re the bravest man I ever met.
 
 
This photograph depicts LTJG N. Jack "Dusty" Kleiss (1916-2016) in the summer of 1942. He is arm-in-arm with his wife, Jean Mochon.
 
This image depicts USS Enterprise (CV-6) in April 1942. That plane in the foreground is 6-S-7 with Dusty at the controls. 
 
 
 



That's Dusty in the middle. My wife and I are on either side.
 
April 29, 2016.
 


Thursday, April 21, 2016

“It is a Sight No One Need Be Desirous of Seeing”: Friday Afternoon Executions in the Army of the Potomac, Part 6.


In the previous five posts, I profiled the cases of convicted deserters executed by the Army of the Potomac. From June 12 to October 2, the army executed twenty-three men for that crime. If you have been reading along, you know I have an explanation for why this surge of executions came when it did. I argue that Abraham Lincoln temporarily abandoned his normally lenient policy of pardoning convicted deserters when, in mid-1863, the stories of repeated Union defeats darkened his days. However, by late-autumn, Lincoln’s natural affinity for mercy resurfaced, and he began pardoning deserters who petitioned him. In October, he pardoned two convicted deserters from the 119th Pennsylvania whose parents begged for clemency, and in November, he did the same for a soldier from the 49th Pennsylvania. However, not all cases seemed to have warranted or been brought to his attention. Even after the bloody execution of Adam Schmalz, four more men suffered death by firing squad:

·         On October 9, the 1st Division, 6th Corps, executed Private Joseph Connelly (4th New Jersey)
·         On October 16, the 1st Division, 2nd Corps, executed Private James Haley (116th Pennsylvania) and the 1st Division, 3rd Corps, executed Private Henry Beardsley (5th Michigan)
·         On October 30, the 2nd Division, 2nd Corps, executed Private John Roberts (15th Massachusetts)

By the last month of the year, the number of executed deserters had risen to twenty-seven, and every corps (except the Cavalry Corps) had carried out executions for deserters. The executions went on hiatus when Meade’s army embarked on the Rappahannock and Mine Run Campaigns, but when it returned to Brandy Station and established winter quarters, the executions started again, and justice was meted out on two more Fridays.

For this post, I’d like to examine those last two Fridays. They were December 4 and December 18. Even though many soldiers who witnessed them were viewing executions for the second or third time, these killings were just as vivid to the audience as they had been earlier in the year.

On December 4, the 1st Division, 3rd Corps, executed Private Cyrus Hunter, a soldier attached to the 3rd Maine. Corporal Wyman White of the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters remembered Hunter’s case vividly. “The story of his troubles was sad,” White confided to his journal. “He could not be driven into a fight, and he acknowledged himself a coward.” In the past, the officers 3rd Maine had tried to be gracious with Hunter, assigning him to non-combat tasks. But even so, Hunter still deserted, and when he did, it cost him his officers’ good graces. He stood his court-martial, and upon conviction, he faced a death sentence.

December 4 was a beautiful day, weather-wise. The 1st Division, 3rd Corps, formed into a three-sided box with little trouble and it patiently awaited the arrival of Private Hunter. An ambulance carrying his coffin started the procession, followed by the drum corps, the provost marshal, and then a guard of five men at the position of “reverse arms.” Hunter and his chaplain followed next, followed by five more guards carrying their weapons at “charge bayonet.” Observers remarked how Hunter looked every inch a soldier, even as he marched to death at the hands of his comrades. Private Samuel B. Wing, who served in Hunter’s company, remembered that the condemned man was “in the prime of life, fine proportioned, weighing about 180 pounds, fine features and complexion, healthy, strong, and vigorous.” Corporal White agreed. He wrote, “The prisoner was a fine, clean looking man, I should judge about thirty years old and about six feet in height. He had a beautiful full beard and was in fine form physically.”

Additionally, Hunter betrayed no emotion as he walked to his grave. As he marched past his old company, Private Wing noticed his countenance. He wrote, “He seemed wholly indifferent to [his fate]. The chaplain who walked beside him, told me that he was perfectly unmoved and unconcerned. Oh! How hard the human heart can become!” Corporal White confirmed the same air of indifference. He wrote, “The man to be shot marched around that long line of soldiers, all facing him, as unconcerned as any man there, keeping step to the dead march being played by the drum corps, and he, the man who was too much of a coward to fight in battle.”

Private Hunter sat on his coffin and died cleanly, but only a few in the audience liked what they saw. Corporal White wondered how a professed coward could meet death so bravely. With disgust, White wagered, “It seemed to me that this man might have been made a brave and good soldier if his officers had taken the right course with him. It always seemed to me that the man ought not to have been shot.” Private Wing, who was a draftee and unused to such hard scenes, opined, “Some say, it was all right, that he deserved it; but it is more than I ever want to see again, or ever want to carry in my memory long.”

The day after Hunter’s execution, General Meade signed General Order Number 104. Five more condemned deserters were added to the death list, their executions scheduled for December 18. The army intended to squeeze in one more mass execution before the New Year. The convicted men were:

·         Private Winslow N. Allen, 76th New York
·         Private George E. Blowers, 2nd Vermont
·         Private John Tague, 5th Vermont
·         Private William H. Devoe, 57th New York
·         Private John McMann, 11th U.S. Regulars

The oldest of the condemned men was Private William H. Devoe, age forty-six, a native of Utica, New York. Devoe had enlisted back on September 15, 1861, and had fought with his regiment, the 57th New York, through some of its toughest battles. He was last seen on July 2, 1863, when his regiment plunged into the George Rose Wheatfield at Gettysburg. Sometime later, authorities apprehended him, and he faced a court martial for desertion. The men of Devoe’s regiment had a tough time making sense of his crime. As one of them later wrote, “He was not a ‘bounty jumper’ but one of the first enlistments, had passed through several battles and was reported missing after Gettysburg. It was truly a funeral procession when the regiment marched to his execution.” The 1st Division, 2nd Corps, formed at Stevensburg and carried out Devoe’s execution. According to an observer, he died quickly, falling over his coffin, “instantly dead.”

Of the five executions held on December 18, the case of Private Winslow Allen was likely the strangest. Allen enlisted in Company H, 76th New York, back on December 4, 1861, when he was almost twenty-four-years-old. He deserted in the spring of 1862 before his regiment ever saw combat and he made his way back home to his wife and child. For more than a year, he remained undetected, but then he chose to go to the front again as a substitute. Allen took a $300 bounty and returned to the Union army in September 1863 with a detachment of eight men. Oddly enough, he was assigned to his old regiment—indeed, to his old company! He gave a fake name—Newton—but when his sergeant called the roll, his old comrades recognized his voice. The officers took him into custody and Allen stood trial for desertion.

Apparently, Allen did not expect to die for his crime. Back when he deserted in 1862, the death sentence for deserters had always been commuted or pardoned. Private Albert Smith of Company D narrated, “So many had been arrested and either returned to duty or punished by imprisonment and loss of pay, that he could not believe he would be sentenced to death. Others who had been sentenced to be shot had been pardoned, so that after the decision became known to him he still indulged in hope.” Allen’s company commander, Captain Amos Swan, tried to explain to him that his hope was in vain. As Private Smith related, “A day or two before his death he began to realize his situation, and to set about making preparations to enter ‘The undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveler returns’.”

At 2 P.M., December 18, Allen’s death proceedings began, and the 1st Division, 1st Corps, formed for the execution. Allen did not have a chaplain to console him. Instead, he relied on Captain Swan escort Allen to the hollow square. As they marched arm-and-arm, the prisoner underwent a rapid change of emotion. At first, remembered Private Smith, “He seemed calm and collected, and declared himself ready to die, if such must be his fate.” But as Swan and Allen marched to the grave and coffin, Allen could see the faces in the crowd. Smith continued:

As they marched to the mournful measure of the death march, and neared the fatal spot where the rough coffin and gaping grave were waiting to receive their victim, he seemed suddenly struck with terror, and, seizing the Captain’s hand with a vice-like grasp, thus remained until they arrived at the coffin. Around him were formed his companions whom he had deserted. The grave which was to receive him as a loathsome criminal, was fresh beside him. It was a severe test of his physical courage. To none but the Captain was there the exhibition of the least emotion.

The sergeant of the guard placed Allen on the foot of his coffin. He tied a blindfold over his eyes and pinioned his hands. The provost marshal, Captain John A. Kellogg, read aloud the order of execution, and Captain Swan whispered into Allen’s ear: “Winslow, I can go no further with you; the rest of your dark journey is alone. Have you any last word[s] for your wife and child?” Allen replied, “No, Only tell them I love them all!” These were his last words. Swan stepped aside and Kellogg gave the signal. One member of Allen’s regiment, Private Uberto Burnham, wrote home that the execution was quick and painless: “Everything passed off in the best of order. The prisoner was hit by eleven bullets. He died without a struggle.” Private Smith agreed: “He died without a perceptible movement of a muscle.” Strangely, it was Allen’s birthday. He had just turned twenty-six.

Although only a few in the line wished to see Allen executed, his situation did not elicit many sympathies from the men who watched him die. One of the sterner characters wrote home: “It is hard, I know, but without such punishment there could be no army!”

Meanwhile, over in the camp of the 2nd Division, 6th Corps, a dual execution occurred, this one for Private John Tague and Private George Blowers. As always, the division assigned to carry out the killings formed up in a three-sided box facing the graves. The soldiers who observed the execution stood at “order arms” for about one hour until two ambulances drove onto the site, bearing the condemned men and their coffins. One of the soldiers in line, Private Wilbur Fisk, wrote, “It seemed as if some horrible tragedy in a theater were about to be enacted, rather than a real preparation for an execution.” The most alarming thing about it was the behavior of John Tague, who, as the orders of execution were being read, threw his hat onto the ground in bold defiance. Two chaplains stepped to the sides of Tague and Blowers, bade them kneel, and delivered a prayer. After that, the sergeant of the guard conducted them to their coffins and made them kneel again. He put two massive rings around their necks which suspended targets on their chests. (By now, authorities had realized that the firing squads needed to be coaxed into taking a kill shot.) Strangely, this execution contained no reserve. That is, no one expected the prisoners to live beyond the first volley. Two platoons of men faced each prisoner, and the prisoners were not blindfolded. Private Fisk recorded the final moments:

Blowers had been sick, his head slightly drooped as if oppressed with a terrible sense of the fate he was about to meet. He had requested that he might see his brother in Co. A, but his brother was not there. He had no heart to see the execution, and had been excused from coming. Tague was firm and erect till the last moment, and when the order was given to fire, he fell like dead weight, his face resting on the ground, and his feet still remaining on the coffin. Blowers fell at the same time. He exclaimed, “O dear me!” struggled for a moment, and was dead. Immediately our attention was called away by the loud orders of our commanding officers, and we marched in columns around the spot where the bodies of the two men were lying just as they fell. God grant that another such punishment may never be needed in the Potomac Army.

This was Private Fisk’s first execution. Like many who witnessed such tragic scenes, he never forgot what he saw:

I never was obliged to witness a sight like that before, and I sincerely hope a long time may intervene before I am thus called upon again. . . . These men were made examples, and executed in the presence of the Division, to deter others from the same crime. Alas, that it should be necessary! Such terrible scenes can only blunt men’s finer sensibilities and burden them the more; and Heaven knows that the influences of a soldier’s life are hardening enough already. . . . I have seen men shot down by scores and hundreds in the field of battle, and have stood within arm’s reach of comrades that were shot dead; but I believe I never have witnessed that from which any soul shrunk with such horror, as to see those two soldiers shot dead in cold blood at the iron decree of military law.

Finally, over at the encampment of the 2nd Division, 5th Corps, the Army of the Potomac carried out one more execution. Only a few hours earlier, the soldiers of that division had learned that high command intended to execute Private John McMann of the 11th U.S. Regulars. No one was in the mood for it, yet the division marched one mile from camp, through awful mud, and formed a three-sided box. The enlisted men grumbled until the procession appeared, which cast a pall of silence over the scene. The band arrived first, followed by the eleven executioners. Next, came four men carrying the coffin, the condemned prisoner, a chaplain, and a provost guard of forty men. Of all the deserters killed between June and December, Private McMann showed the most surprising sense of decorum. According to Sergeant Porter Marshall of the 155th Pennsylvania, “The culprit marched to the time with a firm step, recognizing acquaintances and saluting the Generals as he passed them.” After parading past his former comrades, McMann kneeled in front of his grave and joined the chaplain in prayer which lasted five to ten minutes. Then, the chaplain blindfolded him, shook his hand, and stepped to the side. Sergeant Marshall remembered, “Everything was as still as death. He remained on his knees, his head erect. The officer gave the command by signs, and when the guns cracked, he fell forward on his face and knees, and in a few minutes he was in his grave and we were on our way back to camp.”

Although nearly every member of the 2nd Division, 5th Corps, had seen an execution before—most of them had been present to witness the August 29 execution of the five deserters from the 118th Pennsylvania—none of them felt that the scene had gotten any easier. Sergeant Marshall wrote, “We had hoped, after witnessing the execution of the five deserters at Beverly Ford, that it would never be necessary to witness another. It is a sight that no one need be desirous of seeing.”

Amazingly, all six soldiers executed in December had died cleanly, something that could not be said about the executions carried out in the previous months.

In any event, the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac had five months to mull over what they had seen. In May 1864, the army marched into the Wilderness. The real killing began. At that point, more sinister images filled their nightmares.
 
 

Monday, April 18, 2016

“Friday Was Execution Day”: Friday Afternoon Executions in the Army of the Potomac, Part 5.


As the previous posts have made clear, in the summer of 1863, the Army of the Potomac unveiled a new policy of executing convicted deserters every Friday afternoon. This tradition began on June 12, when the Iron Brigade executed Private John P. Woods during the march to Gettysburg. The following Friday, the 12th Corps executed three more men near Leesburg. After Gettysburg, the army executed one man on August 14, another on August 21, two more on August 28, and then it held two mass executions on August 29 and September 18, killing twelve more deserters between them. By the end of the summer, twenty deserters had faced capital justice. It became clear to many in the Army of the Potomac that they would continue to witness executions every weekend until the desertion stopped. Indeed, so wrote Sergeant Thomas P. Meyer: “Friday was execution day and no Friday passed without shooting deserters in some part of the army.”

If a deserter had been convicted the week before and received no Presidential pardon, his division formed up to watch him die. After the mass execution of September 18, the next two Fridays witnessed executions.

·         On September 25, the 1st Division, 12th Corps, executed Private John Timlin (145th New York) and the 1st Corps executed Private Charles Williams (4th Maryland)
·         On October 2, the 1st Division, 2nd Corps, executed Private Adam Schmalz (66th New York) (Additionally, the 2nd Division, 1st Corps, executed Private William Smitz of the 90th Pennsylvania for sleeping on sentry duty)

For this post, I’d like to focus on just one of these executions, the one that killed Adam Schmalz of the 66th New York. Schmalz was just twenty-years-old when he died. He enlisted in Company E of his regiment on October 23, 1861, in New York City. He served with his regiment for more than a year, but then deserted on July 1, 1863, as the Army of the Potomac was marching to Gettysburg. On July 27, Union troops captured him in Hanover and he stood his court-martial on September 1. One observer left behind an unflattering description of him. Adjutant Charles Ramsey of the 148th Pennsylvania called him “an undersized, stoop-shouldered, black haired man with a furtive restless look in his eyes, without a suggestion of color in his face.”

Schmalz’s execution is interesting because it was recorded in detail by the last man to speak to him, the chaplain who conducted his last rites. During the last week of September, Brig. Gen. John C. Caldwell became concerned that the army had not provided Schmalz with any spiritual guidance in his final hours. The young prisoner was not terribly religious and he rejected all the chaplains from his brigade because they did not belong to his denomination. Accordingly, Caldwell hunted up Reverend Emory Stevens of the 148th Pennsylvania to officiate at Schmalz’s execution. Schmalz was a Methodist and Stevens was one of only two Methodist chaplains in the division. Stevens agreed to Caldwell’s request, even though he was in no mood to do it. He had seen the executions of Privates Hill and Smith (see one of my previous posts) and the scene had rattled him to the core.

Further, Stevens believed he had his work cut out for him. Schmalz was completely ignorant of his scripture. As Stevens wrote home, “I found him to be very ignorant on all religious subjects and seeing that I would have to be his teacher as well as his spiritual advisor, I commenced at the alphabet of religion.” As the minister told it, somehow, he completed his conversion of the condemned man, getting him to praise God loudly. According to Stevens, by Thursday night—the night before the execution—Schmalz had come to understand the theory of redemption and the minister was certain of his “genuine conversion.” He commented, “He was too ignorant to be susceptible of deception or hypocrisy.”

At the hour of execution, October 2, Schmalz was singing hymns when the provost marshal came for him. Unruffled by the news, Schmalz quietly took Stevens’s arm and walked off with him, following behind four soldiers selected to carry his coffin. A single drummer beat the march to the three-sided box formed by the men of the 1st Division, 2nd Corps. Along the way, Schmalz said happily, “Chaplain, it seems to me that the Lord goes with me wherever I go,” a comment that apparently calmed the normally flustered minister. At the gravesite, the provost marshal read the order of execution. Stevens prayed with Schmalz for a few minutes and then shook his hand, bidding him farewell. Stevens remembered, “He never moved a muscle—was as composed and cheerful as I have ever been in all my life.” The provost marshal applied the blindfold and gave the signal. As Stevens remembered it, “Strange to tell, though a few weeks ago I stood off and saw the execution of two men, I was so shocked that I could hardly stand on my feet, I led this young man to the place of execution, attended him in his last moments and saw him shot, put in his coffin and buried without the least emotion or unpleasant feeling.”

If Stevens felt reassured by Schmalz’s conversion and tranquil demeanor, the soldiers in the ranks didn’t have the same warm, fuzzy feeling. Few of them exhibited pleasure with how the execution was carried out. As happened at other executions, the firing squad failed to get a clean kill. Adjutant Ramsey, one of the observers, wrote that Schmalz was “shot to death with a relentless promptness and dispatch that seemed to me revolting to the last degree. It fell to my lot to see many executions after that, but none of them impressed me as this one did.”

Schmalz was hit four or six times in the chest, but the volley didn’t kill him. He fell off his coffin and began writhing on the ground. Using his navy revolver, the provost marshal had to deliver the coup ’de grace by shooting Schmalz through the head at close range. Sergeant Meyer, another disgusted member of the audience, wrote, “This was the first execution for desertion in our Division and it was a butchery. The victim was shot four times; the executioners emptied their guns on him; he received two bullets from a navy revolver into the head at close range, before the surgeon in attendance pronounced him dead,” Worse, remembered Meyer, when the 1st Division marched off the field, the soldiers had to look at the carnage up close. He wrote, “Then the whole division was made to march in single column close by the victim, to view the poor mangled and blood covered body of this hapless mortal.”

Schmalz left behind a mother and four brothers.