Thursday, December 1, 2016

Shot in the Neck

Here’s another installment of my on-going series, “Shot in the [blank],” a series about soldiers from the Army of the Potomac who received gunshot wounds to uncommon pieces of their anatomy. Today, we’re going to explore a neck wound.
Neck wounds are horrifying things. They emit lots of blood, they disable their victims through asphyxiation, and they take away any means of communicating the nature of their injury. In essence, sufferers of neck wounds lose their breath and their voice in one cruel blow.
For our story today, a bizarre quirk of fate happened whereby a soldier’s neck wound saved his life. Had this federal soldier been able to speak normally, he would likely have been killed by his Confederate captor.
The unfortunate soldier in question—the one who received an awful neck wound—was Sergeant Franklin H. Evans, Company E, 121st Pennsylvania. He received his injury on July 1, 1863, just as his regiment commenced combat with Confederate infantry at the south end of McPherson’s Ridge, an acclivity west of Gettysburg. At 2 P.M., Brig. General Abner Perrin’s South Carolina brigade surged against the left end of the Union 1st Corps. This was where the 121st Pennsylvania held the line.
Evans was among the first soldiers o fall. The commanding officer of the 121st Pennsylvania, Major Alexander Biddle, had just given orders to his men, telling them to rise up from the tall grass and volley into the attacking Confederates. Obediently, Evans rose to one knee and cocked his rifle. Before he could pull the trigger, a miniĆ© ball struck him in the neck. The ball whizzed through him. It entered one side of his neck and came out the other. Evans recalled the sensation. He wrote, “When the bullet struck me, it jarred my body as a blow on the neck with a fist. I felt it enter my neck but I did not feel it go out, so I thought it was still [in] there.”
Knowing his wound might be dangerous—perhaps even mortal—Evans rose to his feet and started hobbling to the rear, a desperate bid to get out of the danger zone. After traveling only 100 yards, he collapsed, unable to move. He tried calling for help, but to his horror, discovered he could not speak. The shock of the blow and the blood filling his trachea made it impossible to talk. Closing his mouth, he focused on breathing through his nose. In a few minutes, a wounded private from his company—his tent-mate, in fact—came along, holding his mangled arm. Seeing Evans prostrate and bleeding, the soldier—Private Harry Gouldy—urged Evans to endure the pain and “come out of this.” Evans shook his head. Choking and weary, Evans felt his life slipping away. It was an odd sensation. He remembered:

I had difficulty breathing. The affairs of this world seemed to lose their importance. I had a dim thought that mother would be sorry. I ceased to care which way the victory went. My thoughts were concentrated on the hereafter; I wanted to see how it went to die.

Evans fainted. He awoke several hours later, long after the battle had passed over him. It was two hours to sunset, so he must have been unconscious for nearly three hours. Evans first laid eyes on a nearby fence, and concluded rather matter-of-factly that he must be alive. He wrote, “I had never heard that fences were used in Paradise, and as I knew they were used on earth, I concluded that, at any rate, I was not dead yet.” Within a few minutes, a plump fifteen-year-old Confederate straggler came by and asked Evans if he could offer any assistance. Evans begged for water, trading his penknife for a generous swig from the teenager’s canteen. The water stimulated Evans, and it returned his voice, though it remained weak. More importantly, Evans vowed to live on. He wrote, “I had changed my mind about dying.”
After the helpful Confederate straggler passed by, another gray-clad soldier arrived. This one had a mean look on his face. Evans called him “a devil of the Wilkes Booth type, only infinitely worse,” a man who looked “like Mephistopheles in Faust.” According to Evans, the Confederate soldier readied his weapon, eager to execute him at the first sign of provocation.
Hoping to get Evans to say something derogatory against the Confederacy, the “Wilkes Booth”-looking Confederate asked, “Ain’t you ashamed of yourself, coming down here to drive us from our homes?” Under normal circumstances, Evans might have retorted with disdain or sarcasm, pointing out the Confederate soldier’s idiocy. They were in Pennsylvania! But as Evans later explained, had he attempted to answer flippantly, it would have provoked the Confederate to evil mischief. He reflected, it would have “called forth his missing courage to deliver the fatal cut and leave one more [Yankee] to be reported as ‘killed in action;’ when the truth would have been ‘murdered’—murdered by a cowardly, cold-hearted, blood-thirsty villain.”
Evans’s neck wound prevented him from blurting out a hasty rejoinder. He could not answer because he could barely speak. He mumbled, “I don’t know.” Furious that Evans would not take the bait, the Confederate launched into a tirade, demanding an answer to his question. Why had the Yankees invaded his country? Again, Evans replied, “I don’t know; I don’t care to talk politics with a bullet through my throat.” The Confederate snarled, asking Evans if the bullet really was lodged in his neck. Evans nodded. The Confederate soldier kicked him in his cartridge box, boasting how his army had enough bullets to kill all the Yankees, and soon they’d whip the Army of the Potomac permanently. Unable to get Evans to debate with him, the vicious-looking straggler fetched two members from the Confederate ambulance corps, who, in turn, moved Evans to an aide station where the Confederates had collected other wounded prisoners. Evans was relieved to be rid of his captor. Through silence, he remembered, “I had escaped the tiger’s jaws.”
No Confederate medical personnel operated on Evans, even though he insisted the bullet was still inside him. (Only hours later did Evans discover his error. He found an exit wound, proof the bullet had passed clean through.) The next day, July 2, Evans reached a field hospital, although he had to beg a gray-clad staff officer to take him there. (I’m not sure to which farm he journeyed, but I would guess he stayed at the Harman or Bream farms; however, I would not stake money on it.) He slept along a fence, and on July 3, he reported to the surgeon-in-charge. The farmhouse contained six to eight wounded Union soldiers, but the Confederates did not operate on any of them. A sergeant with a shattered ankle even begged to have his leg cut off, but the Confederates ignored him. They were “working like bees,” Evans remembered, “cutting off the limbs of their own wounded.” On July 4, a Confederate provost asked if any of the Union prisoners were able to walk. None of them admitted to it. Frustrated that he could not carry off any more prisoners, the provost vacated the hospital. The next day, the Confederates abandoned the area, leaving the Union wounded behind. As Evans recalled, he felt a “happy sensation” watching the last few Confederates gallop down the Fairfield Road, trailing after their beaten army. In a few hours, he and the other wounded prisoners were safely back in Union lines.
Sergeant Evans survived his neck wound and returned to duty. After recovering in Philadelphia, he acquired a commission as first lieutenant in the 8th U.S.C.T. By war’s end, he had risen to the rank of captain, mustering out with his regiment in November 1865. He died on December 30, 1913, at age seventy. He is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
Neck wounds are horrifying things. They take our breath and our voice. Thankfully, for Evans, by losing the latter, he kept his life.

This is Sgt. Frank H. Evans, Company E, 121st Pennsylvania, the victim of an ugly, but non-fatal neck wound, suffered on July 1, 1863.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Capture the Flag

People who know me probably know I’m a something of a cynic when it comes to Civil War “flag captures.” (Yes, I know, it’s kind of a weird thing to be cynical about.) You see, most Civil War soldiers believed that losing a regimental standard was a great dishonor. To them, any capture of an enemy banner was a cause for celebration. In reality, in my humble opinion, the captures of enemy flags were hardly spectacular things. (For those interested, I explored this in greater detail in a previous post about the Medal of Honor and the Civil War.) Generally, capturing a flag was an easy thing. After a battle, scattered colors littered the field. The instant the fighting stopped, the soldiers who held the field went looking for these trophies and many of them received medals for it. Any skulker with two hands and a bit of determination could snag a fallen standard from the death-grip of its deceased bearer. Keep in mind, I speak as a person who has never seen combat, but I can’t imagine there is much glory in taking an enemy flag from a dead corpse right after the fighting has ended.

That being said, I freely admit that some flag-captures required a tremendous amount of daring. Occasionally, soldiers seized flags from living color-bearers. As you might imagine, when that happened, epic violence accompanied the confrontation. In my opinion, there was a particular moment when the Army of the Potomac experienced more heroic flag captures than any other time, with each moment justifiably glorious in its own right. That time was early-morning, May 12, 1864. The place was the Mule Shoe Salient.

If humankind’s collective nightmares ever decided to manifest into the shape of the Civil War, it would look like the Mule Shoe, a crush of 20,000 men grappling hand-to-hand in mud and rain for fourteen hours. Horrors of all kinds—some of which I’ve already profiled on this blog—played out left and right. Yet in the midst of this inhuman carnage, fifteen soldiers from the Army of the Potomac’s 2nd Corps rose out of the fog and grasped at enemy standards, pulling them from the Confederates’ grip. Few events during the war were more worthy of praise and acclamation. For this post, I’d like to profile one of these incidents.

This story comes from an officer who witnessed a spectacular flag-capture at the Mule Shoe. His recollection emphasized a key point. The sight of a blue-clad soldier wrenching away a Confederate flag was an unforgettable thing. The account comes from First Lieutenant Robert Stoddart Robertson, a staff officer attached to Colonel Nelson Miles’s 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 2nd Corps. The flag-capture he witnessed proved so amazing that he mentioned it twice. He mentioned it first in a short narrative about the Overland Campaign written in 1883. It was called, “From the Wilderness to Spottsylvania,” a paper read before the Ohio Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion. It was later published in collection of essays in 1888. Robertson repeated the same story in his personal memoir of the war published in 1896.

Robertson was part of the first wave of Union soldiers to strike the Confederate salient on May 12. Despite the horrors of the battle, he stayed with his brigade even as the number of bluecoats swelled, cramming men against the earthworks like sardines. In places, Union troops held one side of the trenches, while the Confederates desperately clung to the opposite rampart. From a distance, it was hard for the corps commanders to tell what was happening. Both sides were hugging the ground, occasionally rising up to fire, which created a massive cloud of white smoke that hung over the Mule Shoe. Only the shadowy battle-flags could be seen whipping back and forth, an indication that the fighting had stalemated, even though the opposing troops were within spitting distance of each other.  Needless to say, anyone who attempted to capture a flag risked death. A potential captor had to leap atop the earthworks, expose himself to pointblank gunfire, and then wrest the trophy from the hands of a determined foe.

Believe it or not, one Union soldier attempted that very act. When he grabbed a Confederate flag, he and the bearer began choking each other! Here’s what Robertson saw:

Once, the rebel colors floated out of the wind, until it could be grasped by one of our boys. The brave color-bearer rose to his feet clinging to the staff. Our brave boy rises clinging to the flag, and with disengaged hands they seek to grasp each other’s throats, in a deadly struggle for the flag. Thus they stand over the very rampart, both determined to win the flag. By common consent the firing ceases at that point, and both sides eagerly watch and encourage the fray. Finally, the flag is torn from its staff, and its proud captor, with shattered arm, is hailed with shouts of applause.

Yikes! What a scene! Robertson considered it the bravest act he had ever witnessed. Of the captor, he wrote, “I wish I knew his name, that I might hand it down to the future, to be honored in history.”

Although Robertson never had a chance to know the identity of the courageous captor, as a modern historian, I get that luxury. The captor’s identity is fairly simple to deduce. In October 1864, the Army of the Potomac’s headquarters asked its regimental commanders to identify all soldiers who individually captured Confederate flags at Gettysburg, Bristoe Station, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. The 2nd Corps listed a slew of names, fifteen of whom had captured flags at the Mule Shoe Salient.

The soldier who Robertson so admired was 17-year-old Corporal Archibald Freeman, Company E, 124th New York Volunteers (who had enlisted underage in 1862), and the flag he captured belonged to the 15th Louisiana. Lieutenant Colonel Charles Weygant, the regimental commander, remembered hearing about the incident from a wounded man who belonged to Company E. You will notice the similarity in the way Weygant’s informant described the incident:

“The Rebs,” said he, “had charged almost up to the works twice before, but this time they came clear up and planted their stars and bars on the other side of the works right opposite the Union flags. The Louisianans were facing our regiment and had thrust their standard in the earth directly opposite and were not more than three feet from ours. But it did not float there more than a minute when Arch. Freeman, of my company, sprang on the works and quick as a flash jerked up the traitor rag and was back in his place without getting a scratch—and, well now, you ought to have just heard our boys yell.”

The tale told by the wounded man from Company E made a slight error. Freeman did not get away “without getting a scratch.” Although he was not wounded during his confrontation with the Confederate color-bearer, a bullet struck Freeman in the face a few minutes later. The ball caused only a slight wound. Of course, it was also contrary to what Robertson said. Freeman’s arm was not “shattered.”

Freeman was one of a handful of Army of the Potomac soldiers who received a Medal of Honor during the war. (Most Medal of Honor recipients won their awards years later.) On November 28, 1864, after considering Freeman’s case, the War Department decided to issue him the highest award it could bestow. Army of the Potomac headquarters circulated Special Order No. 309, ordering Freeman’s brigade (1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 2nd Corps, under Brig. Gen. Regis de Trobriand) to form up on December 15, 1864, and present Freeman his award in front of his entire command. Colonel Weygant remembered, “The presentation was duly made and Sergeant Archibald Freeman became, for the time being, the envied hero of de Trobriand’s command.” Freeman stayed with his regiment until its muster-out in 1865. He died in 1918.

I hope Lieutenant Robertson eventually learned Freeman’s identity; however, I worry he didn’t. I am in agreement with what he wrote. Freeman’s name needed be handed down to the future, “to be honored in history.” Freeman (and others like him who also captured flags at the Mule Shoe) accomplished an act that few people will ever duplicate.
This is 1st Lt. Robert Stoddart Roberston, shown here in August 1863 as an officer assigned to Co. K, 93rd New York Volunteers. During the Overland Campaign, he served on the staff of Colonel Nelson Miles, and on May 12, 1864, he witnessed an incredible flag capture, the seizure of the colors of the 15th Louisiana by Corporal Archibald Freeman.
I'm a sucker for panoramic Civil War art. Here is an illustration by Richard Schlecht showing the Mule Shoe at Spotsylvania. Imagine Freeman's amazing flag capture happening right in the middle of the image, at the breastworks, where the smoke is thickest.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Listen to the Wise Sergeant

So,  . . . there is a Presidential Election here in the United States, and as we count down the hours to Election Day, naturally, our anxiety and animosity increases. To help readers through this restless period, I thought I’d share a short story about the one Presidential Election witnessed by the Army of the Potomac. We must remember, of course, that the soldiers from that army had to consider carefully the two controversial candidates who ran in the pivotal Election of 1864, Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan.

How did the soldiers weigh the candidates’ abilities?

Well, one soldier wrote a letter describing a political debate in the field. In early October 1864, while the 6th Corps was encamped at Front Royal, Virginia, a cluster of Yankees gathered around a spring, initially to collect water for their canteens. While there, a debate arose concerning the two Presidential candidates. One of the participants in that conversation, Private Wilbur Fisk of the 2nd Vermont, wrote home that he “never enjoyed a better discussion.” As they filled their canteens, the bluecoats voiced their opinions. Although Lincoln had the most supporters, “The McClellan men were noisy and defiant, and their arguments were of the old, stereotyped order, the sum and substance of which usually is, ‘Damn the niggers’.” Fisk wrote that it wasn’t worth his time to record what the McClellan men said, but he attempted to describe the loudest of them, saying, “One of them would vote for McClellan because he was the best General the world had ever produced, and had been so shamefully abused. The President, his General in Chief, his Secretary of War, and the greater portion of Congress, he said, had been ‘down’ on him, because they were afraid of him, and it would do his soul good to see him raised to the supreme control of our affairs.” Frighteningly, the McClellan man suggested prosecutorial retributions as soon as McClellan came into office. Fisk related, “The first thing he wanted to see him do then, was to put old Abe and Stanton and Horace Greeley, and a few other abolition criminals into Fort Lafayette. A long list of other grievances were enumerated, which he hoped McClellan’s statesmanship would discover some way to punish, and he wanted he should do it with a vengeance.”

After two McClellan supporters had railed against Lincoln and the abolitionists for a few minutes more, a “well dressed, fine looking” orderly sergeant belonging to the 139th Pennsylvania stepped into the cluster of soldiers and started speaking on behalf of Lincoln. Particularly, the unnamed sergeant hated the Democratic Party’s “peace plank,” its plans to call for armistice talks to force a reunion of the states under negotiated conditions. Fisk recorded what the sergeant said. Here’s what he wrote. (Keep in mind that Fisk switches between his own voice and that of the sergeant’s):

If we are willing to stop the war for the sake of talking this matter over with the South, we recognize them at once. If we are willing to negotiate with Jeff Davis, England will claim the same privilege, and so will France, and what can suit the rebel President better than that[?] His government will then be fully recognized, and we can’t help ourselves. . . . A convention of all the States now, he thought, was the greatest absurdity of the age. He believed the South, unless their case was entirely hopeless, would scorn to have anything to do with it. At best, it would only be a scene of crimination and recrimination, of jargon and confusion, and end in a grand fizzle, leaving our ship of state without chart, or compass, or principle, or purpose to guide her. South Carolina would want redress of Massachusetts for the indignity she suffered when black men stormed her forts on Morris Island, and Jefferson Davis would probably ask to have ‘Beast Butler’ hung as a guaranty of our good faith in calling a convention. All the results that could be obtained now might have been obtained four years ago. Now, after we have lost 500,000 men slain by this rebellion, he would not call it a joke and come back to that, and nobody but a coward would think of it.

After ridiculing the peace plank thoroughly, the Pennsylvania sergeant cut to the heart of the matter. He explained why an armistice would allow the dangerous principles of secession to stand:

No sir, said he, there is no use in talking of armistices and conventions. We have got to fight this thing out. There is no other way. The North and South must find out who is master. . . . The South had rebelled against our common Government, and the Government must compel them to cry Enough, or it would be no Government at all. A Government that couldn’t vindicate itself, wasn’t worth having, and he didn’t believe the people of the North was [sic] quite ready yet to vote for any such.

At this point, the sergeant pointed out that his family had already sacrificed blood in the war, telling listeners that he had already lost two brothers. He hated to think that the Democratic Party would dishonor their memory by refusing to see the war through to its conclusion. Fisk explained, “It made him provoked, he said, that men of the North, who ought to know better, should encourage the South to hold out by talking of propositions for peace. It was only prolonging the war, and killing so many more of our men.” He said that every man who would vote for the Chicago platform “ought to be made to go in front of the whole length of our army drawn up in line, with a board strapped to his back marked COWARD in big letters, and every soldier ought to hiss at him as he passed.”

The debate at the Front Royal spring went on for a few more minutes, but the Pennsylvania sergeant closed the discussion. Fisk argued that he was the most impressive speaker at the unplanned deliberation. “His ideas appeared to be well digested,” he wrote, “and being the ranking man, his opinions had greater weight with us than those of any other one in the crowd.” Happy with the way the dialogue turned out, Fisk wrote home to his local newspaper, concluding, “What I have written is a true index of ‘what the soldiers think’ of the great political contest now pending.”

Who was the eloquent sergeant? Fisk never caught his name, but he gave us a few clues which helped me pin him down. Most likely, he was First Sergeant Samuel B. Thompson, age twenty-four, from Company G, 139th Pennsylvania. Thompson’s two brothers were Cyrus and William. Cyrus died of disease at Downsville, Maryland, on October 18, 1863, and William was killed at the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5, 1864. Although wounded at the Wilderness, Sergeant Thompson survived the war and mustered out with his regiment in 1865.

When it came to the election, Fisk and his comrades made the right choice. They went to the polls on November 8 and re-elected Abraham Lincoln and history applauds them for it. As Fisk would have us believe, Lincoln’s victory among the 6th Corps soldiers came from the words of the wise sergeant. Perhaps we should take that advice. To those caught up in the throes of this 2016 contest, to those who are noisy and defiant, to those who are eager to see vengeance meted out after electoral victory arrives: perhaps you should reconsider your choice and heed the wisdom of the Sergeant Thompsons of the world.

This is Pvt. Wilbur Fisk, 2nd Vermont, who recorded the persuasive language of Sergeant Samuel B. Thompson, a grizzled veteran who chose to stump for Abraham Lincoln in 1864.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Shot in the Eyes

As my diligent readers know, I have an on-going series called “Shot in the [Blank].” In this series, I examine casualties from the Army of the Potomac, soldiers who were shot in an interesting piece of their anatomy. So far, I’ve written such posts as “Shot in the Brain,” “Shot in the Shoulder,” and “Shot in the Lung.” Today, this series gets grim. This is “Shot in the Eyes,” the story of a Union soldier who lost his sight forever thanks to an unlucky Confederate musket ball. It’s a heart-rending story for several reasons. Not only did the young soldier in question have the glory of sight taken from him, but the wound and his resultant surgery proved especially painful. Finally, everyone who saw the wound gave the wounded man slim odds at survival. Onlookers believed his life could be counted in hours. In short, “Shot in the Eyes” is the story of one of the most depressing wounds of the war.
The ugly wound in question occurred on August 15, 1864, when the Army of the Potomac’s 2nd and 10th Corps landed at Deep Bottom, Virginia, a bend in the James River a few miles south of the New Market Crossroads. Marching through brutally hot weather, the beleaguered Union troops hoped to find a weak point in the Confederate earthworks that protected the east side of Richmond. It was not to be. The ill-coordinated Union attack faltered and the exhausted bluecoats failed to keep up the pressure. After five days of battle, the so-called Second Battle of Deep Bottom ended in a decisive Confederate victory. The two Union corps counted 2,900 losses, including 327 killed.

Among those 2,900 men, the Second Battle of Deep Bottom claimed 18-year-old Private William H. Sallada of Company B, 57th Pennsylvania. A few weeks earlier, Sallada had been detailed to act as orderly, responsible for delivering messages between brigades and for handing out the regimental mail. At 10:30 A.M., as the Union column made its way north from the landing zone, Sallada was riding his horse in an effort to overtake the column of the 10th Corps. When he reached the front of the 10th Corps’ column, he passed Maj. Gen. David Bell Birney (commander of the 10th Corps) and his staff marching north on the Kingsland Road. Sallada remembered, “These were the last Union soldiers I ever saw.” Riding ahead of Birney’s column, Sallada reached the New Market Road, expecting to find the rear of the 2nd Corps. Unfortunately, Sallada found no Union troops. A gap had opened up between the two Union corps as they headed north, the 2nd Corps marching too fast and the 10th Corps marching too slow. Instead of friendly troops, Sallada found only rows of “slashing,” felled trees left behind by the Confederates to hamper the Union advance. Eager to catch up to his regiment which accompanied the 2nd Corps, Sallada maneuvered his horse to find a gap in the Confederate obstructions, and after entering a cluster of trees, he came face-to-face with a Confederate squad.

The Confederates rose up from their hiding spot and volleyed into the teenage orderly. One bullet struck Sallada’s horse in the neck and another ripped off the horn of his saddle. Next, a “giant-like rebel” rose up and called for Sallada to surrender. Knowing that surrender might equal a death sentence at Andersonville, the young orderly chose to make a break for it. He wheeled his injured horse, hoping to gallop back to the 10th Corps lines before the Confederate squad could reload. In that same instant, the Confederate sentry who had called for his surrender raised his gun and fired. A blast of buck and ball shot burst from the barrel, hitting Sallada in the left temple. The ball entered Sallada’s head between his left ear and eye, passed through his skull, and then exploded out the bridge of his nose. The ball shattered both cheeks—the left in three places, the right in two. One of the buckshot hit Sallada’s left eyebrow, mashing it horribly. But worst of all, the ball gorged out Sallada’s right eye, causing instant blindness in that organ. “I was most horribly mangled,  . . .” Sallada recalled simply. “My head was completely benumbed, and my clothes were being saturated with blood.”

The shot dismounted Sallada, who fell to the ground with an ungraceful “thump.” Driven by adrenalin, he hopped up on both feet and looked around with his left eye, which still functioned. He could see his horse galloping for the safety of Union lines, the last image he ever beheld. Starting after it, Sallada ran three or four steps, jumping over the embankment at the New Market Road. As he did so, the blood from his wound rushed into his left eye, blinding him totally and permanently. Even without sight, he kept running, trying to reach the Union lines off to the south. He traversed a few additional steps until he slammed against a tree, throwing his arms around it in a bizarre hug, just to keep from falling over.

Now immobilized, Sallada waited for fate to intervene. The Confederates who had shot him reached him first. One of them came over to him, and after a short interview, proceeded to rob Sallada of his personal items. Although it annoyed Sallada that his captors decided to relieve him of his possessions while he was so enfeebled, he rationalized their behavior this way: “With the blood pouring out both sides of my head, to all appearance I could live but a short time; I could not expect any attention from my captors, and in all probability would be left alone in this forest to die.” In a few minutes, the situation changed. A U.S.C.T. brigade from the 10th Corps entered the area and surrounded the squad of Confederates. Sallada was rescued, his captors taken prisoner, his horse recovered, and his possessions returned to him (although Sallada ultimately gave them to the U.S.C.T. soldier who had taken them from the Confederate thief.) Sallada’s head began to swell and he could no longer speak. His final words, before his mouth swelled shut were, “If I could only get into our lines.”

Although none of the 10th Corps troops expected Sallada to live, they put him on a stretcher and carried him to a field hospital near the Deep Bottom landing zone. The day was hot and thousands of troops marched along the Kingsland Road, raising an enormous dust cloud. As Sallada recalled, “It is difficult to imagine a more desolate and melancholy spectacle than my condition presented that day. My features were so disfigured by the rebel shot; they were beginning to swell, and the dust and blood mingling together in a horrible mass, gave me, I know, a revolting appearance.” At the field hospital, Union surgeons paid Sallada little to no attention. They were overloaded with wounded from the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery, which had been mauled in an assault near Fussell’s Mill, and they decided that Sallada was not worth the time or the energy to save. The surgeons told him that he had only hours to live and he had best make his peace with God. They assigned a chaplain to him to give him last rites. Unable to speak, Sallada could only sit and listen to the morbid prognosis. In incredible pain and realizing that his right eye had been horribly gouged out, he moaned piteously, hoping that someone might use a pistol to put him out of his misery. When the Union surgeons ordered the wounded men from the battle be loaded onto medical transports, they determined that Sallada should be left to die. “The boy cannot go,” they said firmly. Amazingly, a helpful chaplain violated the orders of the chief surgeon and loaded Sallada onto the steamer State of Maine, and on August 17, he arrived at Carver Hospital, Washington, D.C.

Sallada’s case attracted widespread attention from many of the chief surgeons, for few had ever seen a head and eye wound quite like Sallada’s. Essentially, the Confederate bullet had bored a large tunnel right through Sallada’s face, taking out his cheeks, nose, and eyes. Sallada couldn’t speak, taste, smell, or see, but he could hear. Believing Sallada to be unconscious, many of the surgical staff expressed their opinion freely. “Poor fellow!” exclaimed one. “He is past all help. He is done with his campaigning forever!” Indeed, even the most educated practicioners doubted his chances.

Sallada was assigned to a capable surgeon—a man remembered only as “Dr. Wynants”—who performed the surgery to clean out Sallada’s wound, remove the fragments of bone, and close up the entry and exit wounds. Acutely aware of these proceedings, Sallada recalled the sensation they produced:

The ordeal was keenly painful, for, before the entire operation was concluded, a piece of silk was drawn three times through the wound, each time enlarged to meet the demands of the occasion. My sensations while passing through this treatment  were those of unmixed agony. The needle was too short for the purpose for which it was required, making it necessary for the operator to introduce, to a slight extent, his finger into the wound, thus pushing the instrument along its course. Fragments of bones were in this manner disturbed, and the irritation caused in this way was a most torturing experience.

When it became clear that Sallada might, perhaps, recover from his wound, the surgeons began treating him with sedatives. The next few weeks passed by in a delirium. “I lay in a sort of apathy,” Sallada remembered, “or rather in a condition of animal enjoyment, the grave thoughts of death, the judgment scene, and eternity, seemed not to demand any fixed attention. This part of my life comes back to me with a kind of vagueness, like a dream, which, in spite of its general impressiveness, is but half-remembered.”

As Sallada’s wounds improved and he emerged from the fog of the various anesthetics used on him, he became aware of the horrible truth that his eyes were gone and his blindness was permanent. Naturally, the news disheartened him. Later in life, when he penned his account of the distress he felt, this is what he wrote:

Sight was gone forever! Never again was I permitted to look out, as I had been wont to do, on the familiar scenes of nature; never again would I look on the green earth, or the blue sky, glittering with its retinue of sun and stars; never again would I have the unspeakable privilege of looking into the faces of those home relatives who were dearest to me in life.

Sallada’s situation did not get any easier, as he learned that his mother had died at his parent’s home in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Thankfully, Sallada had a dutiful volunteer nurse, Harriet Douglas Whetten (who is frequently quoted by modern historians who study Civil War nurses), who counseled him through the sad news of her death. By January 1865, Sallada was well enough to travel, although he remained in the army until August 1865 when the surgeons considered him fit to be discharged. During his year-long period of recovery, Sallada adapted as most blind people do, learning to hone his other senses to make up for his loss of sight. In so doing, he ended up hearing one of the most famous moments in American history. On April 11, 1865, he stopped by the White House to hear Abraham Lincoln deliver his last public address, a privilege that Sallada treasured until his dying day.

After his discharge, Sallada returned to Pennsylvania and became a retail fruit dealer. He married a woman named F. D. McGinnis and raised three children with her. In the 1870s, he moved to Iowa and got into politics, winning election as a Republican member of the city council of Monroe. He died in 1935 at age 89.

There is no doubt that eye wounds stood among the most ghastly of the Civil War. What I find most disturbing about Sallada’s experience was the lack of humanity he received from those around him. Confederate soldiers attempted to rob him, surgeons refused to allow him transportation to a general hospital, practitioners spoke openly about their belief that he had no chance of survival, and others poked and prodded inside his head with no sedative to dull the pain. In plucking out Sallada’s eyes, the Confederate ball that wounded him had plucked out a part of his humanity as well.

Cherish your eyes. We who have sight do not know how lucky we have it. 
Private William H. Sallada is seen here, later in life.

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 badly 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.

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,
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.