Saturday, September 13, 2014

“The Appointment of Any Other Person Would be Greatly Detrimental”: The Promotion of Gustavus W. Town, Part 3

In the last post, I described the conspiracy to prevent Lieutenant Colonel Town from receiving a promotion to colonel. Here’s how the situation resolved.

Although Town had spoken on his own behalf, pleading with Adjutant General Andrew Russell to consider his application, he was not the only member of the 95th Pennsylvania to do so. On July 18, 1862, all twenty-two remaining line officers signed a petition endorsing Town’s popular election as colonel of the 95th Pennsylvania. It read:

Camp near Harrison’s Landing, Va.
July 18, 1862

The undersigned officers of the 95th Regiment Penna Volunteers request the appointment of Lieutenant Colonel Gustavus W. Town to the vacant colonelcy of the regiment. With but one exception, we have been associated with him since the organization of the regiment, and bear our willing testimony to valuable aid rendered by him to our late lamented Colonel in raising it to its present efficient state. Deprived of our Colonel & Major at the battle of ‘Gaines Mills’ June 27th 1862, the entire management of the regiment during the week of trials which succeeded that battle devolved upon its Lieutenant Colonel, and well did he acquit himself, proving that he possessed all the qualities of a true soldier. Devoted to his profession, at all times cool and self possessed, prompt and vigorous in all his movements, we regard him as the natural and fitting successor of that noble soldier the late Colonel John M. Gosline.


In addition, forty-two officers from the three New York regiments in Newton’s brigade (the 18th, 31st, and 32nd) signed a similar petition approving the 95th  Pennsylvania’s decision. The New York officers wrote:

The undersigned officers of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division 6th Prov. Army Corps, commanded by Brig. Genl. John Newton, to which Brigade the 95th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers is attached, desire to express our opinion as to the soldierly qualifications of Lieut Col. Gustavus W. Town now in command of that Regiment. We have been associated with him for eight months, have seen him in all the varying scenes of a soldier’s life, and bear willing tribute to the commendable manner in which he conducted himself in all of them. We desire expressly to bear testimony to his management of the regiment. . . . Well did he perform that duty throughout the memorable week of trials which succeeded the above mentioned battle. At all times cool and self possessed, exhibiting sleepless vigilance and untiring activity, he proved himself to be a fitting leader and fully worthy of being the successor of the lamented Colonel John M. Gosline.

A few soldiers from the 95th wrote to Republican politicians, insisting that they put pressure on Governor Curtin, forcing him to accept Town’s application. Private Abel C. Thomas of Company C wrote to Henry Dunning Moore, former U.S. Congressman and the Pennsylvania State Treasurer. Private Thomas wrote:

Philad. July 22, 1862

To Hon. H. D. Moore

My dear Sir:

Col. Gosline being killed, the Regiment, I learn has made choice of Lieut. Col. Towne as Colonel and Capt. Elisha Hall as Lieut. Colonel.

I have also learned that efforts are being made by certain politicians to set at nought the choice of the Regiment and put in an “outsider” as Colonel.

I am not a politician, and can only express my hope that you will use your influence with our worthy Governor to confirm the election of the Regt. Surely it is both wise and just to encourage regular promotions in the Army of the Republic, especially when approved by our brave soldiers.

Sincerely yours,

Abel C. Thomas


Another soldier, Private Thomas Noble of Company A, wrote to his friend, Jeremiah Nichols, a Republican state senator, arguing similarly:

July 15th 1862
Friend Jerry,

I suppose you will be surprised at receiving a communication from me, but knowing that you feel an interest in the welfare of our Regiment, I will inform you of an imposition which rumor says is about to be penetrated upon our worthy and efficient Lieut. Colonel. . . . [Lieutenant Colonel Town] conducted the Regiment with bravery and skill through the numerous engagements which followed on Gaines’ Hill, which has endeared him to the hearts of every officer and soldier in his command and it is the wish and expectation of them all that he will receive the reward justly due him, viz. a commission as colonel of the Regiment. Rumor says however that a certain Major General supposed to be Franklin is using his influence with Gov. Curtin to obtain the appointment of a favorite of his a 2nd Lieut. in the 5th Regular Cavalry who received his appointment to the position he now holds from civil life about one year ago and he has no more claim to the position of colonel of our Regiment than I have. All our officers say that they will not recognize him and should he receive the appointment it will cause a total disorganization of the Regiment, and knowing your influence with Gov. Curtin and at the request of many of your friends in that Regiment I have written this communication, hoping that you will give it your earliest attention.

Representative Nichols fashioned a quick response. A few days after receiving Private Noble’s letter, Nichols wrote to Curtin, expressing surprise that Curtin would dare be swayed by political pressures at the expense of Pennsylvania’s military meritocracy. Forwarding Noble’s letter, Nichols added, “Knowing the rule you have adopted in refference to promotions, it is, I am satisfied, only necessary to call your attention to the contents of this letter to insure Col. Town’s commission as colonel.”  If Curtin was at all shocked by Nichols’ letter, he did not have long to dwell on it because another soon followed, written on July 23 by Republican State Representative Joseph Moore, Jr. Apparently, another soldier in the 95th Pennsylvania prompted Moore to write, who, in turn, subtly chastised Curtin, stating, “I have heard from a number of my friends in the 95 Regt. that it is your intention to appoint a Lieut. of the 5th Regular Cavalry Col. of that (95) Regt., against the unanimous wish of the whole Regt. to have the gallant Lieut. Col. Town of the Regt. receive, as he ought, the command. I know you will not do such an act of injustice.”

Curtin’s response to these letters is unknown, but he did not have to assume the awkward position of rejecting either Town or McIntosh. On July 24, the Philadelphia Inquirer printed a report sent from the 95th Pennsylvania’s camp at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, making it clear that the soldiers would not abide by the Governor’s choice should McIntosh be made colonel:

Considerable dissatisfaction exists among the officers of the Ninety-Fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers (late Colonel Gosline’s), in consequence of a rumor that Governor Curtin intends appointing officers to the command not at present connected with the regiment. The entire management of the regiment after the battle of Gaines’ Mill devolved upon Lieutenant-Colonel Gustavus W. Town, and most nobly and calmly did he conduct it during the week of incessant toil that succeeded that memorable Friday’s fight. He is said to be possessed of just the qualities for the position to which he naturally ought to succeed; is well educated, active and energetic, of good constitution, cool and calm as a summer’s morn, and devoted to his duties. The appointment of any other person to the command of the regiment would be greatly detrimental to its interests.

Lieutenant McIntosh was in Philadelphia the day this article appeared in print. He read and then penned a brief letter to Governor Curtin:

Having seen by the papers that the officers of the 95th Penna. Regt. have gone into an election & elected their new officers, & seeing also in the papers that considerable dissatisfaction exists among the officers of that regiment at the word that you were about to commission an officer not connected with the regiment as its Col.,—I beg leave to withdrawal my name as an applicant for its Col.

This image depicts 2nd Lt. John B. McIntosh, the would-be colonel of the 95th Pennsylvania. Although he did not succeed in attaining the colonelcy, he survived the war and ended his career as a brevet major general. He is shown here in 1865.
With that, the colonelcy of the 95th Pennsylvania was no longer contested. Governor Curtin forwarded a commission to Town.

That, however, is not the end of the story.

Here is Lt. Col. Gustavus W. Town, still wearing his oak leaves.

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