Thursday, August 18, 2016

“Obtained by Chicanery”: Promotions in the 3rd Delaware, Part 3.


In the two previous posts, I examined controversies concerning promotions in the 3rd Delaware, a regiment that had a tough time getting its junior officers to play nicely. In this post, I’m going to profile one more controversy, one that got the whole regiment stirred up.

In the spring of 1864, the 3rd Delaware was encamped a Relay House, Maryland, an important stopping point along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. According to the regimental commander, all feuds between the Republicans and Democrats had finally ceased. On April 4, 1864, Lieutenant Colonel William B. Dorrell wrote to Governor Cannon asking for help to fill the regiment’s ranks. Knowing that his regiment had acquired a reputation for bickering, Dorrell tried to assuage any fears Cannon might still have. He wrote, “All strife existing between the officers heretofore I am happy to say has been entirely ceased—they seeming anxious to rebuild the regiment.”

Before the 3rd Delaware could get any new recruits, the War Department redeployed it. In late-May, in response to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s request for more men, the 3rd Delaware rejoined the Army of the Potomac, becoming part of Colonel William Hofmman’s Brigade (2nd Brigade, 4th Division, 5th Corps). The 3rd Delaware fought its second major battle at Cold Harbor and then its third major battle two weeks later at Petersburg.

The fight at Petersburg was devastating. That day, June 18, the entirety of the 5th Corps participated in a disastrous frontal attack against Confederate lines. At 3:00 P.M., Colonel Hofmann’s brigade of seven regiments assaulted Confederate trenches near Rives’s Salient, losing heavily and yet failing to break the enemy position. the 3rd Delaware took about 170 officers and men into the fight. It lost eight killed and forty-eight wounded. Importantly, the 3rd Delaware lost its popular commander, Lieutenant Colonel Dorrell, who was mortally wounded leading his regiment across Poor Creek. He was so baldy hit that he died before his soldiers could remove him from the field.

The death of Lieutenant Colonel Dorrell unhinged the stability of the regiment. Once more, factions arose among the junior officers and it fell to Governor Cannon to promote from the captains and lieutenants who had survived the battle to fill out a new field and staff. The most logical decision was to elevate the senior captain to the position of colonel. As of June 19, that man was Captain William J. McKaig of Company F, one of the few captains who had been at his position since 1861. However, a set of officers wanted Captain James E. Stewart of Company I to become commander of the regiment. Stewart was the second-most-senior captain, but he had acquired a reputation for scheming, having been central in concocting the lies against Captain Hackett in 1863. In reality, however, most of the officers wanted Captain James Baily of Company E to assume command. Baily was the most respected officer, but not the most senior, having joined the regiment as a sergeant.

As always happened with the 3rd Delaware, the officers began to gossip even before Governor Cannon rendered his decision. Most of the gossip revolved around the regimental adjutant, First Lieutenant Manuel Eyre, Jr., who had begun the war as a private. Shortly after the Battle of Rives’s Salient, Eyre acquired a leave of absence to return Dorrell’s body to Delaware. Eyre’s well-known support of Captain Stewart led some of from McKaig’s faction (there were about eight of them) to worry that while Eyre was visiting home, he would use his leave as an opportunity to get Stewart promoted to colonel over McKaig. On June 21, the regimental quartermaster, Lieutenant Edmund Townsend, wrote to Governor Cannon, warning him against the scheme.

I understand that Lt. Eyre has gon home with the boddy of Lt. Col. Dorrell it is rumored that he is to try to get Capt. J. E. Stewart promoted over McKaig which would be very rong for two reasons. First, Capt. McKaig is the senior officer in the Reg’t., a man of good morrell caracter and a brave and good soldier, and on the other hand Capt. Stewart is a man giving to drink at times and first in them intrigues which caused the Reg’t. a great deal of trouble. I could give you a histry but it is not worth while for you know already.

Making sure that Governor Cannon got the point, that Eyre was not to be trusted, Townsend added, “Lt. Eyre is a man of the worst Morrell caracter in our Regt. . . . I do not care about exposing him in any particular thing but he is known all through our Regt to be a thief, gambler, and lier.”

As so often happened with these controversies, Lieutenant Eyre told a different story. He argued that McKaig was an abysmal officer, utterly incapable of executing the simplest maneuvers. He wrote to Governor Cannon too, saying, “We have had many things to contend against. Our regiment has worked up hill nearly all the time because we have had mostly incompetent field officers, and now when we are acquiring a name must we be sent back again to become the laughing stock of all because we have an officer at our head [McKaig] who positively cannot break the regiment into column by Division? I hope and pray we may be aided by you to keep a good name, for we are now acquiring a name.”

Eyre recommended that the Governor adopt a new policy when it came to promoting officers. He advised Cannon to avoid seniority. Eyre believed it would be better if the regiment could be commanded by the most competent men, not those most senior.  He implored Cannon to gather up “all the officers of this regiment” for examination, “and the most competent officer recommended as Colonel, without regard to Seniority.” Meanwhile, those who passed their examination could retain their positions and those found incompetent would be discharged. This would, Eyre argued, “secure to our little state a regiment commanded by those who knew their duty, it would make a battalion which would become an honor to itself and to the State from which it came.”

On cue, Eyre pointed out that he had already been passed by the Silas Casey Board in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Army board that recommended officers to command in the U.S.C.T. Eyre was third on the list of officers soon to be promoted to command a U.S.C. infantry regiment—as soon as vacancy opened up—and he contended, “I have not, therefore, long to remain with this regiment, but I am interested in it and as its Adjutant hope to use every exertion to render it what from the material of its enlisted men, it deserves to be.” But Eyre not-so-subtly pointed out, that if Cannon saw fit to promote him to field command of the 3rd Delaware, it would make perfect sense. Eyre wrote, “I may say, without egotism, that at present, I virtually am in command—on the day of our awful charge on the 18th ultimo, I was really so and no one disputed my assuming the reigns, until all danger was past.”

The situation with the 3rd Delaware did not get any easier as the summer progressed. The two leading contenders for command left the front lines at Petersburg. On June 26, Captain Stewart was wounded and sent to a hospital in Washington. Then, one month later, Captain McKaig was discharged. Believing that he could now promote the most senior officer and the most popular officer in one move, Cannon offered a lieutenant-colonelcy to Captain James E. Baily. Unfortunately for Cannon, Baily unexpectedly turned it down, saying that he did not feel right about taking the lieutenant-colonelcy away from Stewart while he was recovering from his battlefield injury. However, Baily promised to accept a position as the 3rd Delaware’s major.

Cannon believed it unwise to keep the lieutenant-colonelcy vacant for too long, especially when Eyre was barking at his door. With no one else except Eyre asking for the lieutenant-colonelcy, Cannon directed Acting Adjutant General Nathaniel B. Smithers to promote Eyre to that rank. In one fell swoop, the young lieutenant bounced ahead of all the captains and ahead of Major Baily, becoming commander of the regiment. As the officers had done several times before, when they learned the news, they protested. Thirteen of them signed a petition asking Cannon to revoke Eyre’s lieutenant-colonelcy.

Sir;
We the undersigned commissioned officers of the 3rd Regt. Del. Vols. do most earnestly pray that you will revoke the commission as Lieut. Col. of 1st Lieut. & Adjt. Manuel Eyre, Jr. We believe that your Excellency has labored under some misapprehension in giving this commission. Soldiers cannot be expected to suffer so gross an act of injustice as to allow one so much our junior to be promoted over us. It would be considered by all military men, as conclusive evidence of our utter incapability to command, which we are not prepared to acknowledge. Captain James E. Baily whom we have recommended, and is now commissioned as Major, has repeatedly been asked by some of us to accept the position of Lieut. Col. and has uniformly refused in favor of Captain James E. Stewart, his comrade in arms and senior officer now lying a wounded man in Washington.  This we consider highly honorable in Captain Baily, and in strong contrast with the action of 1st Lieut. Eyre whom we consider to have obtained his commission by chicanery and forced himself upon us in utter disregard of the honor to be observed between soldiers. We consider Captain Baily to be capable of filling the office of Major and commanding the Regiment as such.

With all of his fellow officers united against him, Adjutant Eyre backed down. Two weeks after they registered their complaint against him, he wrote to the governor: “Since receiving from you [a]commission as Lieut. Colonel of this regiment, I have learned that a majority of the officers present have sent to you a petition opposing my muster, there being so many senior to me.” Undoubtedly, Eyre was disappointed. His promotion into the U.S.C.T. never came through, and all he could do was remain as adjutant of a regiment that castigated him for being too ambitious. Unsurprisingly, Eyre hoped to use the situation to act out vengeance against those who stood against him. He again requested that Governor Cannon institute an examination of the regimental officers. He wrote, “No one who is competent can dread this and those who are not will be sifted out.”

Eyre’s decision to withdraw his name from consideration ended the matter. The 3rd Delaware never had another colonel or lieutenant colonel to command it. Major Baily directed the regiment for the rest of the war. On February 5, 1865, Eyre was wounded at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run. He recovered, and after the war, he made a career in the army, rising to the rank of brevet colonel of the 14th U.S. Infantry.

About here is where I usually insert my personal opinion about this story. Was Eyre deserving of the 3rd Delaware’s lieutenant-colonelcy? Perhaps he was. Clearly, the War Department saw fit to elevate him to that rank after the war. But in another sense, the officers of the 3rd Delaware were correct in their criticism of him. Eyre was not worthy because he was not senior. Further, they said, he attempted to achieve his rank through “chicanery.” I wonder, though, if it could have been any other way. Throughout the war, the officers in the 3rd Delaware acquired their rank through mischief, deceit, and trickery. Perhaps it made sense to castigate Eyre for what he did, but he only followed the example set by many other ambitious officers who had gone ahead of him.

The 3rd Delaware was a troubled regiment.
 
 
 
This Lt. Manuel Eyre, Jr., the central figure of the 3rd Delaware's contested lieutenant-colonelcy. This image was taken in 1865. Here, he wears a lieutenant colonel's uniform purchased after he was commissioned as an officer in the 6th U.S. Veteran Volunteer Infantry (Hancock's Veteran Corps). Eyre never engaged in combat with the 6th U.S.V.V. His last fight was at Hatcher's Run.
 

Monday, August 15, 2016

“I Think I Have Always Conducted Myself With Propriety”: Promotions in the 3rd Delaware, Part 2.


In my previous post, I examined the curious case of Captain Frederick Hackett, an officer in the feud-ridden 3rd Delaware. As a refresher, by virtue of his seniority, Hackett was entitled to promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel; however, a cluster of scheming officers denied him. They wanted to place another officer in that position and they accomplished it by lying to the governor and then retracting their lies at the last minute. Hackett never got the lieutenant-colonelcy, although the governor generously elevated him to the rank of major, the grade immediately below lieutenant colonel. Today, I’m going to examine another feud in the 3rd Delaware, one that erupted between two lieutenants who each wanted the same vacant captaincy.

This dispute arose on the heels of Captain Hackett’s controversy. When Governor William Cannon commissioned him as major, that left the captaincy of Company A vacant. Immediately, two ambitious contenders vied for that position. One of them was Company A’s first lieutenant, 30-year-old Alfred DuPont Vandever. The other was the senior first lieutenant in the regiment, 21-year-old Mahlon Henry Preston. Both candidates had a claim to the position. Vandever argued that because he belonged to Company A and had served with it since the beginning of the war, he should assume the captaincy. He wrote, “I, as first Lieut. of co A, concider that I should be promoted to captaincy of co A.” Meanwhile, Preston argued that he was entitled to the position because he had served as first lieutenant longer than Vandever. Although Preston came from a different company, he believed he was entitled to the first vacant captaincy. He wrote, “I am . . . senior first Lt. & justly should have the position.”

Now, if the two lieutenants had presented their cases to Governor Cannon with just these two sentences, it would have been a simple thing for him to adjudicate. All Cannon had to do was choose a policy. He could promote officers from within or he could promote men based on seniority. It was that simple. However, the two lieutenants complicated the picture. Rather than merely state their cases as a choice between length of service with the company or length of service as a first lieutenant, each went further by arguing that their opponent did not deserve command due to personal malfeasance. Moreover, each accused the other of using political favoritism to acquire Company A’s captaincy. Problematically, both officers came from opposite political parties. Vandever was a Republican, Preston was a Democrat.

When it came to complaining to the governor, Vandever went first. On March 16, 1863, he discovered that Colonel Samuel H. Jenkins had recommended Preston to the captaincy. The decision smacked of bias because Jenkins was a Democrat and it appeared that he wanted to elevate a political friend without consulting Vandever. Later that day, Vandever wrote his letter of complaint. He pointed out that he had been associated with Company A ever since it mustered in, which dated back to the summer of 1861. (In fact, Company A had once been Company M, 2nd Delaware, a curiosity that poked holes in Preston’s theory that he was, in fact, the longest-serving first lieutenant in the regiment.) Vandever argued that he had held de facto command of Company A ever since the 3rd Delaware embarked on its first campaign back in May 1862. Captain Hackett left the company in June to serve as brigade commissary and First Lieutenant William R. Aldred left the company to serve as regimental adjutant. Vandever contended, “I was really in charge of comp[any A] as first Lieut. and through the exertions of myself and Sergt. [William H.] Lancashire our comp[any] was rendered efficient.” Vandever served as commander of Company A until August 9, 1862, when he was sent home with the body of Adjutant Aldred, who died of disease in Front Royal. While returning to his company later that month, Vandever was captured by Confederate forces and held in Libby Prison until paroled in October.

In addition to clarifying his service history, Vandever pointed out that Preston’s recommendation came from the colonel’s a desire to elevate a fellow Democrat. Speaking for his troops, Vandever wrote, “The men of my company don’t want any one over them but their old officers but Colonel Jenkins has friends he would like to put up.” Interestingly, even though he castigated Jenkins for bringing politics into the picture, Vandever used his own political influences to win the promotion. He wrote to the Secretary of State, Nathaniel Smithers (who doubled as Delaware’s adjutant general), listing four important Republican contacts. He wrote, “I can refer you to . . . any influential republican or union [man] of Wilmington as to my character.” Further, Vandever reminded Smithers that he had done important work on behalf of the Republican Party at election time. He wrote, “I helped to give Mr. Cannon his [office] for I worked hard for him as I was at home on parole at the time.” Finally, in what may have been the most impassioned line in his whole plea, Vandever penned a sentence that would have caught off-guard any caustic white supremacist in Delaware (and there were many in Delaware at the time): “All I want is justice and I will fight with the poorest negroe to break down this rebellion.”

Vandever didn’t stop with the governor. As soon as he heard that Preston was trying to take the captaincy from him, he went to his enlisted men and told them about the scheme. In response, twenty-two soldiers from Company A (presumably the Republicans) sent a petition to Governor Cannon, asking him to honor Vandever’s application.

May 6th 1863
To his Excellency ,
Governor Cannon,
Sir,
We the undersigned members of Co. A, 3rd Regt, Del. Vols. do most respectfully ask the appointment of 1st Lieut. A. D. Vandever as captain of our company, he being the only commissioned officer in our company who started with us, and has stuck by us through weal and woe, we enlisted under him, and we earnestly solicit that you appoint him to fill the vacancy now existing.

As happened with other controversies in the 3rd Delaware, the rival for the position, Lieutenant Preston, learned about Vandever’s letter to the governor through camp gossip. Preston tried to head-off Vandever’s scheme, but he had to hurry. For much of this time, Preston had been absent from the regiment. In late-September 1862, he had gone home to Delaware to recuperate from a wound received at Antietam. Preston returned to duty on May 9, 1863, reaching the regimental encampment at Frederick, Maryland. There, he learned that his promotion had been hung up by Vandever’s interference. He immediately wrote to Secretary of State Smithers, telling him to ignore Vandever’s aspersions. He wrote:

I was somewhat surprised to hear that Lieut. A. Vandever of Co. A had written to either you or the Governor derogatory to my efficiency of ability to have command of Co. A. I also understand he has endeavored to ruin my character and good standing. Allow me to state that Lt. V. and myself have never been intimate, moreover there has always existed a personal enmity between us, and he not wishing to have one promoted over him, he rather wanting the position for himself, has taken this method of injuring me.

Preston went on to state that he deserved a chance to command. He pointed out that although he was a Democrat, he was not politically connected like Vandever. Further, if Vandever took the captaincy, that promotion would commit a great injustice upon the regiment, proving that seniority and merit would not count within the ranks of the army. Preston went on to say, “If I am not competent or my efficiency, actions, or misconduct makes me unworthy [of] the position, I will not complain, but [will] humbly submit to what would be right. . . . I think I have always conducted myself with propriety, which I think has deserved me respect of my brother officers. . . . I have no friends at home to intercede for me so I must submit to all wrongs imposed however unjust. First prove my unworthyness, then I will not complain.”

By now, you may be wondering how Cannon solved this riddle. It’s a tricky one, right? Both officers made valid points, yet both also made wild accusations against the other. Undoubtedly, the correspondence had to have annoyed him. No sooner had Cannon fixed the problem stemming from Captain Hackett’s promotion to major when the position that Hackett vacated also became a bone of contention.

So what did Governor Cannon do? In the end, he acted as so many politicians have done before or since. He did nothing. Cannon elevated neither of the two officers. Vandever remained first lieutenant for the rest of his career. He held command of Company A, which was what he wanted, but he never got those additional bars on his shoulders. No doubt, this greatly disappointed him. Meanwhile, Preston remained first lieutenant in Company I. He never held company command because his company contained a captain who did not vacate the position until the summer of 1864.

Neither officer finished out the war with the 3rd Delaware. Vandever mustered out before its conclusion. Afterward, he lived a full, public life, becoming New Castle County’s coroner. He died in 1916 at age 83. Preston’s life was much shorter. In 1864, he was captured by Confederate forces and sent to Camp Parole in Annapolis, Maryland. In August, he donned civilian clothes and broke out of the camp. Union authorities caught him, arrested him, and charged him with being absent without leave, and with that, he was summarily dismissed. He died in 1867 at age 25.

My initial reaction to this whole incident was to blame Cannon for doing nothing and angering two competent officers. However, on reflection, his decision to deny both officers the promotion they claimed might have formed something of an object lesson. To get the captaincy of Company A, both Vandever and Preston appealed to the lowest common denominator—running down their opponent. That Cannon selected neither says plenty about his ability to judge their character.
 
 
This is Delaware's Civil War governor, William Cannon, the man tasked with promoting every junior officer assigned to a Delaware regiment. At some point, or so I suppose, he must have uttered, "What the hell is wrong with the 3rd Delaware?"
 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

“We May Have Done Him Injustice”: Promotions in the 3rd Delaware, Part 1.


The next few posts are going to focus on an Army of the Potomac regiment that seldom gets attention, the oft-ignored 3rd Delaware Volunteer Infantry. The 3rd Delaware began its life in November 1861, when Governor William Burton called up two additional infantry regiments to meet the War Department’s call for 500,000 three-year men. Throughout the winter and spring, recruits from Kent County assembled at Camp Fisher, near Camden. The 3rd Delaware did two stints with the Army of the Potomac. In the autumn of 1862, it joined the 12th Corps just in time for the Battle of Antietam, where it fielded only 120 men and five officers, losing six killed and eleven wounded. After the bloodbath in Maryland, the War Department detached it, putting it on sentry duty at Frederick and later at Relay House. In 1864, it rejoined the Army of the Potomac in the midst of the Overland Campaign and it fought with that army until the end of the war.

I find the 3rd Delaware especially interesting because it was a unit rife with feuds. Like every Union regiment ever created, its officers bickered over politics, a problem caused by the awkward mechanism of army promotion. The governors of the North—deeply partisan men themselves—appointed soldiers to the ranks of lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel. The governors’ appointing power made it certain that accusations of political impropriety arose whenever an unlikable officer received promotion. But even among feuding regiments, the 3rd Delaware stood out, as its officers besieged the state house in Dover with almost daily complaints about the governor’s commissions. More often than not, these complaints derived from blind partisan loyalty, with Democrats complaining about Republicans and Republicans complaining about Democrats. However, the 3rd Delaware’s controversies reached a heightened level, largely because Delaware politics were especially brutal. Although Delaware Republicans called themselves the “Union Party” (the moderate name for their organization), they had a higher percentage of active abolitionists than most states. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party never experienced a fracture between its War Democrats and its Copperheads. Late in the war, it still contained southern sympathizers and closet-secessionists. This unusual pairing sowed the seeds for bitter political squabbles, both in camp and back home.

For our purposes, the 3rd Delaware’s story of promotions and injustice begins in March 1863, when a cluster of calculating junior officers orchestrated a vicious smear campaign aimed at getting one of their own elevated above another junior officer, one who, by seniority, was entitled to the position of lieutenant colonel. Here is how the story goes.

The timing of the event is crucial. Two important incidents occurred simultaneously in the late-winter of 1863. First, Delaware got a new governor, and second, a handful of officers resigned from the 3rd Delaware. The exodus of resignations was led by the first commander of the 3rd Delaware, Colonel William O. Redden—a long-time Whig who joined the Republican Party prior to the war. Delaware’s first wartime governor, Democrat William Burton, appointed him to the position on May 15, 1862, but Redden commanded the regiment for only a few months until he was forced to take a leave of absence on account of physical disability. He missed Antietam—the 3rd Delaware’s only major engagement at that point—and upon his return from leave, was called to stand before a Board of Examination, an internal U.S. Army organization often used by Democratic generals to rid regiments of unpleasant Republican commanders. Rather than stand before the Board and risk having his military acumen called into question, on December 6, Redden chose to resign. Strangely, twenty days later, he changed his mind and asked for reinstatement, but the officers of the Board refused to grant it, saying that his resignation had been designed to escape examination and therefore “you are considered . . . utterly incompetent.”

Redden was not the only officer from the 3rd Delaware to lose his position. The regiment’s original major, Arthur Maginnis, had been wounded at Antietam and mustered out. Maginnis’s replacement, James Marr, also resigned, as did a handful of other officers, all apparently called before a Board of Examination or disgruntled by news of Redden’s controversial dismissal. When all was said and done, the 3rd Delaware needed a new colonel, a new major, and handful of new captains and lieutenants. In 1863, the question of promoting officers fell to the newly elected 54-year-old governor, William Cannon, who had just won his own office amid considerable controversy. Until 1862, Cannon had been a Democrat, but just prior to the November elections, he switched parties. To ensure a Republican victory, the War Department sent additional troops into Delaware during the election week, which led to widespread accusations of undemocratic military intervention. The General Assembly of Delaware even held an investigation, hoping to turn up evidence of fraud and corruption (but that is another story).

Despite the misgivings of Delaware’s Democrats, the state’s Republican soldiers were elated. Early in the war, they had to endure Burton, a politician who had only mild love for the Union and a propensity for rewarding fellow Democrats with commissions. Now, with Cannon at the helm, they had an opportunity to request that Republican officers take charge of their regiments. The hard-luck 3rd Delaware with its newly-vacant officer corps seemed the likely place for those Republicans to rise to the fore.

Cannon had barely taken office when Redden and the other recently resigned officers of the 3rd Delaware warned him that the regiment was full of Democrats. They advised that “that no more promotions be made in the 3rd Regt Del. Vols.,” and, specifically, that Cannon grant no more commissions to applicants from that regiment, especially none recommended by Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Howell Jenkins, the twenty-six-year-old hardware merchant who now held command.

Amazingly, the news that the resigned officers had sent a letter to the governor reached the other officers of the 3rd Delaware, then encamped at Frederick, Maryland. On January 24, 1863, only eighteen days after Cannon’s inauguration, seventeen of the 3rd Delaware’s officers sent Governor Cannon a message, warning him not to listen to the false insinuations that came from the regiment’s former officers. “Now sir,” they wrote, “. . . We say nothing of ourselves but of Lt. Col. S. H. Jenkins we can & do say that after at least one years’ service under him as an officer that he is not only a good officer but a gentleman in every sense of the word and we therefore hope you will Commission him Colonel of the Regiment.”

Although Cannon was a Republican (albeit a newly-converted one) and had every reason to deny the claims of the seventeen officers, he nevertheless decided to take their advice. On February 5, 1863, he elevated Jenkins to colonel. Then, he decided to commission the senior captain, Frederick Hackett of Company A (an officer who had endorsed Jenkins in the petition of January 24), to fill the position of lieutenant colonel.

It must have caught Cannon by surprise, but his decision to promote Hackett led to another snide letter of protest from the officers of the 3rd Delaware. Now, a cluster of eight officers (Captain Richard E. Smith, Captain James E. Stewart, Captain William B. Dorrell, Captain Levin B. Day, First Lieutenant Benjamin F. Butler, First Lieutenant Dagworthy D. Joseph, Second Lieutenant Charles H. Muncey, and Second Lieutenant William S. Main) sent Governor Cannon a letter of protest, listing reasons why Hackett was unfit for command. The eight officers complained that Hackett had been tried by general court martial on charges “unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” According to the eight officers, Hackett had defrauded an enlisted man belonging to his company out of money the soldier had placed in his charge. Although the eight officers did not know the results of the trial, they thought it “reasonable to suppose that he has been sentenced and that his sentence has been transmitted for the action of the President.”

Next, the officers pointed to an incident that occurred at Front Royal on August 11, 1862, when Hackett was in command of the regimental pickets. On that day, Confederate forces came in sight of Union sentries and fired a volley at them. Unaccountably, so they claimed, Captain Hackett “fled disgracefully from the field causing confusion and disorder among the men for the time being, while he, as their commander, should have remained with them and shared any danger to which they might have come become exposed.” To validate this charge of cowardice, the eight officers listed four witnesses (two lieutenants, a sergeant, and a corporal) who could testify to Hackett’s misbehavior. Due to the two incidents, the eight officers stated, the “promotion of Captain Hackett would not be justified by any merit on his part and . . . he has no just claim upon such distinction.”

Clearly, the eight officers leveled severe accusations against Captain Hackett, but in reality, all they did was narrate gross distortions of the truth. Hackett had, indeed, been tried by a court martial in October 1862, but it was not because he had defrauded an enlisted man. Just before the Battle of Antietam, Hackett fell ill with typhoid fever, and on the advice of the chief surgeon of his division, he went home on leave to recuperate. Due to miscue in paperwork, the Army filed charges against him and fourteen other officers for being absent without leave at the time of the battle. After examining the evidence, the court acquitted Hackett, as he said, the charges “being so groundless and the papers in my possession so strong in my favor that the court cast it a side and thus ended that shameful proceeding.” As for the accusation of cowardice, Hackett argued that he was not present with the regiment at Front Royal on August 11. Between June 3 and August 28, Hackett acted as brigade commissary, and again, he had the paperwork to prove it. Perhaps someone had abandoned the pickets during the Confederate raid, but it was not him. Hackett wrote, “at no time during that period did I have command of my own or any company and consequently could not have been guilty of the charges aledged against me.”

Why, then, did the eight officers misrepresent Hackett’s capabilities to the governor? Hackett believed he knew the answer. He wrote, “It is a well-known fact that the object was to defeat my promotion and elevate one of themselves.” Was Hackett correct? Maybe. The evidence is fragmentary, but his assertion makes sense. With a newly-elected Republican governor taking charge of Delaware, Democratic officers found it necessary to guard the 3rd Regiment’s promotions jealously, such that they impugned a brother officer in the process.

Hackett eventually discovered the charges leveled against him, and in March 1863, he confronted his accusers. In what must have been an incredible meeting, Hackett convinced all eight men to see the error of their ways and offer him “suitable apologies.” They immediately wrote another letter to Governor Cannon withdrawing their earlier protest against him. They wrote, “After calm and deliberate consideration, and consultation with Capt. Hackett in regard to his conduct, we fear that we may have done him injustice.”

What did Governor Cannon do about all this? Well, the situation did not get easier because another officer from the 3rd Delaware, Captain Thomas Draper, argued that he held a commission signed by Cannon’s predecessor, Governor Burton, one that elevated him to lieutenant colonel. Since Draper was not the senior captain, another disruption arose in the regiment. To satisfy the will of the majority, Colonel Jenkins asked the officers to vote for their favorite candidate. When all was said and done, thirty-one officers had voted and twenty-three of them endorsed Captain William B. Dorrell for the rank of lieutenant colonel. This came as little surprise, since Dorrell had been one of the officers who protested Hackett’s promotion and may have been the officer that the cluster of eight had conspired to endorse.

Colonel Jenkins made his opinion clear. He wanted Dorrell promoted to lieutenant colonel and then he wanted Governor Cannon to render a decision about Hackett. Jenkins believed Hackett to be innocent of the charges and was therefore entitled to the rank of major. However, if the charges were “true or even if believed to be true” it rendered his advancement detrimental to the service. If Hackett were to be promoted, then “the fact of his innocence of the charges should be clear and unquestionable.” In short, Hackett could not be merely innocent. His innocence had to be so obvious to all that his promotion would not cause morale to plummet among the contingent of officers who sincerely believed him to be incompetent.

In the end, Governor Cannon elevated Dorrell to lieutenant colonel and Hackett to major. This  satisfied the unruly officers of the 3rd Delaware, at least for a time. As my future posts will show, it didn’t take long for another controversy to erupt. As one officer later wrote, his regiment was often filled with schemes “hatched in secrecy and reared in the dark.” That officer, the heretofore mentioned Captain Draper, who had himself schemed to get a promotion, complained, “I could not for a moment entertain an idea that . . . [the governor] would recognize such reckless and designing letters as being worthy of notice or of more value than the blank paper upon which they were written.”

Sometimes I think to myself that it must have been easy to be the Governor of Delaware. After all, it is only three counties. But the story of the 3rd Delaware proves to me what a headache it must have been to manage promotions in a small state where politics were so factious and personal. There was nothing easy about it.
 
 
This is an image of the officers of the 3rd Delaware taken about May 1862. Unfortunately, none of the officers are labelled. Through a little sleuth-work, I've identified a few of them. Capt. William J. McKaig is standing third from the right. Lt. Dagworthy Joseph is seated on the left. I believe Capt. Levin Day is standing third from the left. The officer with the double-breasted frock coat, seated second from the right, might be Lt. Col. Samuel Jenkins. I worry that Capt. Frederick Hackett--the central figure of my post--is also here somewhere, but presently unidentified.
 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Killed by a Train: The Career of Hobart Ward, Part 4.


John Henry Hobart Ward died on July 24, 1903. He died unusually. He was run over by a train belonging to the Erie Railroad in Monroe, Orange County, New York. At the turn of the twentieth-century, fatal train accidents were not at all uncommon, and depending upon how one frames the incident, it might be said, accurately, that his death was not that bizarre. However, Ward must have been the only Civil War general to have been killed by a train. (Perhaps some of you in internet-land might know a counterexample, but right now, I can’t think of one.)

I really wish I knew more about Ward’s death. Most historians who write about him tend to repeat lines from Erza Warner’s Generals in Blue, saying simply that Ward was hit by a train and because of that, he died. Even the few 1903 newspapers I’ve found were not generous with details. For instance, the New York Times’s obituary said only what I have already written here. Ward was killed by a train. Period.

I am left to wonder several things. How, exactly, did the train kill him? Did he not hear it coming? Did he purposefully step on the tracks? Were there no warning sirens? Was he killed instantly or did he linger from his injuries? So many questions remain unanswered.

What is certain is this. By 1903, everyone had forgotten Ward’s ignominious ousting from the army. The New York Times said, “He bore his eighty years well, and looked the veteran he was, his military bearing with his long white mustache attracting much attention.” Truly, Ward lived a quiet, uninteresting life. He lived in New York City at 230 East 50th Street and summered at a home in Monroe.  From 1871 to 1896, he worked as a clerk for the Superior Court. He retired at age seventy-three and enjoyed seven additional years until that train got him.

As an aging veteran, Ward didn’t divorce himself from the memory of his Civil War service. Most obituaries remembered him fondly, reminding readers that he was a proud veteran of two wars. The Times said, “He was frequently favorably mentioned [in official reports] and highly commended [by his superiors].”

That statement is true, if—and I stress “if”—we consider the period between 1861 and 1863 only. After the summer of 1863, Ward became harder to admire. At Chancellorsville, he ran over his own soldiers in a frightened panic, trampling one of them to death. At Wapping Heights, he was drunk on the field. The day after, he threatened his hungry soldiers, perpetrating childish revenge fantasies. At the Battle of the Wilderness, he fled the front lines and refused to come down from his escape vehicle. At the Battle of Spotsylvania, he showed up drunk on the battlefield, and once again, he tried to flee to the rear at the height of the action. Somehow, years later, all those unsightly acts were forgotten by an exceedingly generous press corps.

As I have found, historians, much like trains, are not so forgiving.
 
 
This is a postcard depicting the Erie Railroad Station in Monroe sometime after the turn of the 20th century, presumably showing the location of Hobart Ward's death.
 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

“Too Disgraceful to be Aired by a Hearing”: The Career of Hobart Ward, Part 3.


In the last two posts, I explored incidents from the life of General Hobart Ward. Today, I’m going to examine the moment when his army career came to a screeching halt. The story of Ward’s inglorious termination spanned several months, but it began with an incident that occurred during the second day of the Battle of the Wilderness. It is logical to start there.

Here’s what happened.

At 4:15 P.M., May 6, 1864, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s corps rumbled over Poplar Run on its way to attack Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock’s 2nd Corps. The Confederate attack fell heavily against the 3rd and 4th Divisions under Maj. Gen. David Birney and Maj. Gen. Gershom Mott. At the height of the Confederate attack, a breach opened up in the center of the Union line, near where the Orange Plank Road intersected with the Brock Road. A Union artilleryman remembered that the break occurred in the “most unexpected and unnecessary form.” As he described it, “Mott’s troops in the second line gave way without the slightest cause . . .  and a portion of Gen. J. H. Hobart Ward’s brigade, of Birney’s division, rushed pell-mell to the rear.”

The sudden panic propelled Ward to the rear as well, although he was not swept away, as if by a tidal wave of humanity, as so often happened with Civil War routs. Oddly enough, Ward walked away from the fighting. Without consultation with any of his superiors, he left the front lines, sauntering off like a man distracted. For the half-hour preceding the attack, Ward had been pacing behind the center of the 124th New York. The commander of that regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Weygant, remembered, “Up to that moment, he had not spoken a word to any one.” Then, as the Confederate bullets whistled around his ears, Ward sputtered an incomplete sentence. Speaking to Weygant, he said, “Take your regiment to the rear of those—” Without finishing the order, Ward walked rapidly away. Then, just as the Union troops began fleeing to the rear, Ward approached the 6th Maine Light Artillery commanded by Captain Edwin B. Dow, whose battery held the vital junction of the Brock and Orange Plank Roads. A line of caissons (four-wheeled support vehicles with repair equipment and additional ammunition) stood in the rear of the guns. Ward hopped atop one of those caissons and ordered the drivers to make haste for the rear. Afterward, Captain Dow didn’t take kindly to Ward’s seizure of the vehicle, saying that Ward jeopardized the position his battery was defending, “owing to the scarcity of ammunition” caused by Ward taking the caisson and all its ammunition to the rear.

Ward’s inglorious retreat earned heavier criticism from infantrymen who watched him abandon the front lines. Although four of Ward’s regiments broke for the rear, five others gamely stood their ground. The men in those regiments expressed fury when they saw their commander flee in the moment of danger. Corporal Wyman S. White witnessed Ward’s hasty withdrawal. He later wrote, “[He] rushed back to one of the limber chests and jumped onto it and ordered the drivers to ‘drive like H— down the plank road to the rear,’ and they obeyed the order.”

The Battle of the Wilderness was later known for its confusion, but still, it wasn’t easy for a general to hide in the rear. It didn’t take long for headquarters staff to find Ward and call his decisions into question. Captain Charles Noble, Jr., commander of the 3rd Division’s provost guard, found Ward about one half mile from the front lines, lingering in the vicinity of “a small pond,” possibly on the Hickman farm. With the assistance of Captain W. D. W. Miller (a staff officer attached to Maj. Gen. Hancock), Noble collected stragglers from Ward’s brigade and from Mott’s division and formed them into a new line. Ward, it seemed, didn’t do much to help the situation. In fact, he caused he routed men to break up because he ordered the drivers of his pilfered caisson to plough right through them. Noble later wrote, “General J. H. H. Ward came through the men sitting on a caisson, the horses moving down the road on a full trot. The troops seeing this broke through the obstructions, and followed the caisson down the road.” Likewise, Miller reported that Ward offered no help at all in rallying the men and even resisted the staff officers’ requests to do so. Miller wrote, “Gen’l. Ward was seated on one of the caissons. I rode up to him & asked if we had not better rally the men & form a line, he answered ‘yes,’ but did not get off the caisson or make any exertion to stop the men.”

At this point, another member of Hancock’s staff, Colonel Charles H. Morgan, came upon the confused scene and took charge, demanding that Ward exit his vehicle. Morgan asked Ward if he was wounded. Ward said, “no.” Morgan then asked if the disorganized troops milling around the pond belonged to his brigade. Ward replied, “Some of them are.” As Morgan remembered it, “I told him he had better get off that caisson and help rally his command.” Despite their annoyance with Ward, Noble and Miller admitted that Ward eventually responded to Morgan’s instructions. As Noble wrote, “Gen’l Ward then got down and assisted in rallying the troops.”

The Battle of the Wilderness ended that evening, and it didn’t take long for rumors to spread. Within hours, soldiers from the 2nd Corps gossiped about Ward’s cowardly flight to the rear and his reluctance to help rally his men. In fact, Ward heard the whispers himself as early as May 10, just as his division was engaging Confederates along the Po River. Fearful for the future of his career, Ward wrote to 2nd Corps headquarters, asking for a chance to defend his actions. He wrote, “It is with deep astonishment and regret I learn that my reputation as a soldier has been impugned.” Apparently shocked by the accusation, he wrote, “It would be difficult to convince those that know me in the army that I could be guilty of the offence described to me. I cannot conceive how my motives could be so misconstrued, for until within a few hours [ago] I was not aware of the specific accusations against me. It is almost with horror I regard the accusation, and were it true would forever abhor myself.”

Ward asked for a five-minute audience with General Hancock, and felt assured that he could convince him that his actions on May 6 had been misinterpreted. Ward never received his audience, although he did have a chance to write out a statement. The next day, May 11, Ward tried to set the record straight. He criticized three points about the accusations against him. First, he claimed that he had not appropriated a caisson. He wrote, “How or by what means the person who made the report could so have so misunderstood or misconstrued my action, it is impossible for me to conceive. . . . I believe sir there is not an officer in this army who knows me, will for one moment, believe this foul aspersion.” Second, Ward argued that he went to the rear after Longstreet’s attack had been repulsed, not before. He maintained, “The enemy had been repulsed and driven back before I started to the rear. How then can this charge be sustained? To the Gen’l. Commanding I would state, that hundreds of witnesses can testify to the facts above mentioned.” Finally, or so Ward claimed, when he finally did go to the rear after the attack—to find his troops who had retreated there—it was a decision that merited praise, not condemnation. He claimed, “That I did go to the rear is patent, hundreds, I may say thousands appreciated and applauded the motive, and the results, and until this accusation was brought forward, I deemed that I was committing an act that demanded praise stead of censure.”

The staff officers who witnessed Ward’s retreat denied his claims. They all confirmed that he went to the rear before the Confederate attack was over—not after—and that he went there atop a caisson. Colonel Morgan remembered, “My impression was and is that the original line was not reestablished when Gen. Ward left.” Captain Noble confirmed, “At the time Gen’l. Ward dismounted [the caisson] to rally his troops, the firing in the front had almost ceased—the enemy had been repulsed.” Even the divisional commander, Maj. Gen. David Birney, agreed with the staff officers’ conclusions. Having seen Ward pass to the rear, Birney stated, “It was before the repulse of the enemy and owing to their failure to make any success, that he passed to the rear.”

Ward had no opportunity to confront his accusers before a second incident intervened, worsening his tarnished reputation. On May 12, during the assault on the Mule Shoe Salient, General Hancock encountered Ward on the field, “laboring under great excitement.” In Hancock’s opinion, Ward acted strangely. As Hancock remembered it, “[he] was disposed to do some things which I thought foolish. He was being reckless and insisted upon making a charge upon the enemy’s works along the parapet. . . . Fearing that he would, in my absence, do some foolish thing during this excitement, I told him in the presence of the troops . . . to be careful and obey my directions. His appearance and actions indicated that he had been drinking more than proper.”

Ward’s divisional commander, General Birney, also noticed Ward’s erratic behavior. When Birney found him, Ward had dismounted and was apparently going to rear to claim his horse, which he said had been taken to the rear by his servant. Not seeing any reason for Ward to abandon the field while the fight was still going on, Birney instructed one of his orderlies to dismount and give Ward his horse. Ward mumbled something incoherent and then fumbled his way into the saddle, probably too drunk to ride. Shortly afterward, Birney met Hancock and explained the bizarre incident to him. Hancock told Birney that he suspected Ward had been drinking. Worried that it might be true, Birney spurred his horse to the Mule Shoe, where Ward’s infantry had made a lodgment, and after a longer interview with Ward, Birney concluded that his brigade commander was “grossly intoxicated.” Without further ado, Birney ordered Ward placed under arrest and he instructed the 1st Brigade’s senior regimental commander, Colonel Thomas W. Egan, to take command of the men in the field.

The divisional provost held Ward under guard for the remainder of the Spotsylvania Campaign, and during that time, he participated in no more battles. By May 20, Hancock issued orders remanding Ward to Fort Monroe for court-martial, charged with “misbehavior and intoxication in the presence of the enemy.” Ward went home to New York to collect material for his trial and he arrived at Fort Monroe on June 17. Strangely, that trial never happened, and perhaps Ward was lucky to avoid it. In my opinion, had the U.S. Army convened a court-martial, it is highly likely that it would have gone against him.

Why didn’t the court-martial happen? It’s hard to say, but it seems that Ward avoided court-martial because General Hancock never found the opportunity to convene a court. Instead, on July 18, 1864, the 2nd Corps staff issued Special Orders 241, which decreed that Ward should receive an honorable discharge. Not until mid-August, long after Ward had returned to New York City, did he learn that he was no longer part of the Army of the Potomac. Perhaps accurately, Ward stated that for two months he never had any knowledge of the charges preferred against him. Only with the intervention of a senator did he finally get a copy of the charges, but by that time, Special Orders 241 had already dismissed him.

Furious that he had been denied a chance to defend himself, Ward wrote to President Lincoln, asking him to revoke Special Order 241 and to convene a general court-martial “to make such disposition of my case as shall be commensurate with equity and justice.” Ward’s letter expressed confidence that he could redeem his actions. He wrote, “If I fail to make a successful defense, there will at least remain the proud satisfaction of knowing that the President of the United States, has not assented to the condemnation of a soldier without a hearing before his peers.” Further, Ward griped that the events that led to his arrest derived from “certain allegations made by a staff officer”—presumably Morgan—“who while reporting certain facts, suppressed the whole truth thereby deceiving his superiors.” Ward tried to make it seem as if Morgan’s actions were motivated by prejudice. He wrote, “The officer alluded to has on many occasions prior to my arrest in the presence of officers expressed sentiments of an inimical character toward myself, and has in this instance maliciously caused reports to be circulated to my detriment as a soldier.”

Complain as he might, officially, Ward’s record remained untarnished. Because the army held no court-martial, Ward retired in good standing. Of course, his reputation had been utterly destroyed. In guessing why Ward never had his day in court, Corporal Wyman White guessed, “He made an effort to get a hearing in the case but he did not succeed. I think the reason why he failed was that the government and army officers thought that such a cowardly case was too disgraceful to be aired by a hearing.”

It’s fair to say that Ward’s behavior merited his arrest. It’s indisputable that he rode to the rear atop a caisson, and at least once, he showed up to a battle too drunk to command. However, it’s strange that the Army never offered Ward a chance to defend himself. After all, Ward had fought at Bull Run, on the Peninsula, at 2nd Manassas, Chantilly, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wapping Heights, and Locust Grove before getting caught. As much as I don’t like to admit it, in the end, Ward was right. The army allowed a travesty of justice by not offering him a hearing—no matter how impossible it might have been to receive an acquittal.

This, I think, proves my point from the previous post. Ward must have been universally despised. The growing dissatisfaction with his personality made it such that the 2nd Corps officers simply wanted him removed the most expedient way possible. I repeat what I wrote in that post: such is the fate of people who indulge in petty tyrannies. Without respect, they have nothing.


This image depicts Brig. Gen. Hobart Ward at his headquarters in Culpeper, shortly before the commencement of the Overland Campaign. Ward is seated at right. The officer seated at left is Brig. Gen. Gershom Mott (commander of the 4th Division, 2nd Corps). The officers standing are (left to right): Colonel John S. Austin (commander of the 72nd New York), Colonel William R. Brewster (commander of the 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, 2nd Corps), and Colonel John Egbert Farnum (commander of the 70th New York and notorious slave-trading pirate from the Wanderer affair.)
 
 
 

This is Colonel Charles Hale Morgan (shown later as brevet brigadier general). On May 6, 1864, he ordered General Ward to dismount a caisson he used to escape the Battle of the Wilderness.

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.