Absent Without Leave Army Officer: Lt. Josiah Sheetz

While indexing general orders for several military departments in the 1870s I was struck by several orders calling for the detainment of active duty regular officers absent without leave (AWOL).  The orders essentially served as all point bulletins notifying all military and civil authorities throughout the country to detain the officers so that offenders could justify their absence. For example, the Adjutant General issued orders to apprehend 2nd Lieutenant John Aspinwall, 7th Cavalry, in May 1874 and Captain William McClellan Netterville, 21st Infantry in March 1876.  Military authorities failed to catch up to those two officers.  They were eventually dropped from the Army list.  However, the case of 1st Lieutenant Josiah A. Sheetz, reported AWOL in 1875, is an intriguing story.

Brevet Brigadier General Josiah A. Sheetz, ca. 1865. Courtmatialed for being absent without leave.oldarmyrecords.com
Josiah A. Sheetz as a Brevet Brigadier General, ca. 1865.  Photo courtesy of MOLLUS-MASS Civil War Photo Collection RG667s, U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle, PA.
Meteoric Rise

The Civil War catapulted thousands of men into senior leadership roles.  One such person was Josiah Sheetz.  In the spring of 1861, Sheetz resided in Pekin, the county seat of Tazewell County, Illinois.  Responding to the call to arms, Sheetz helped organize Company F, 8th Illinois Infantry, mustering in as a 2nd Lieutenant.  The 8th Illinois served in the Western Theater, mostly along the Mississippi River.  He participated in the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson.  By December 1864, Sheetz rose to the rank of colonel, commanding the same regiment he joined in 1861.  In March 1865, he received the honorary rank of brevet brigadier general of volunteers.

From Brigadier General to Private

Sheetz resigned his commission in February 1866.  However, he was back in the army less than three months later.  His return to service was less prestigious than when he first left.  He enlisted as a private in the 1st U.S. Infantry.  No doubt, Sheetz’s Civil War experience allowed him to advance through the noncommissioned ranks.  He soon served as 1st Sergeant, his previous service no doubt factored into the promotions.  Within a year of joining the regular army, Sheetz attained a commission as 1st lieutenant in the 30th Infantry; he transferred to the 4th Infantry in March 1869.

Doomed by Standard Military Service

As a regular army officer, Sheetz’s military service record is unremarkable.  His responsibilities included roles as adjutant and post treasurer (i.e. financially responsible for money used to fund post schools and funds used to purchase supplies for companies).   His downfall began innocently enough.  However, facts later proved that improprieties began months earlier and quickly spiraled out of control.  In April 1875, Sheetz served with his company at Fort Fetterman, Wyoming Territory.  About the middle of the month he was ordered to escort a soldier to the government insane home in Washington, DC.  His route took him to Fort Laramie.  On his way Sheetz also escorted 11 enlisted, including two defendants and nine witnesses, to Fort Laramie to appear before a general court martial.  His Fort Laramie mission would prove ironic.

Absent Without Leave

While in Washington, the Adjutant General approved Sheetz’s request to delay his return to Fort Fetterman by 20 days.  Sheetz then proceeded to his father’s home in Illinois, via Chicago.  By July neither the Adjutant General nor his post commander had heard from Sheetz.  With no information on his whereabouts, the Adjutant General listed Sheetz as AWOL and issued the instructions to military commands across the country to, if encountered, detain him.  The various military commands in turn reissued the instructions.

The Military Division of Atlantic, for instance, issued the following circular on July 29th.  “Should 1st Lieutenant Josiah A. Sheetz, 4th Infantry, appear at any post or station in this Division, the commanding officer will retain him and report the fact to these Headquarters.”  In the meantime, Sheetz became aware of the problems he was facing and made a feeble attempt to justify his absence, claiming to be ill and bedbound.  Nevertheless, the government, now aware of Sheetz’s location, ordered the rogue officer back to his station at Fort Fetterman.  A lengthy general court martial case was also being prepared.

General Court Martial

On October 18, 1875, the general court martial of 1st Lieutenant Josiah A. Sheetz began in Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory.  A panel of nine officers heard the case.  Captain William H. Bisbee prosecuted the case as judge advocate.  The case included 6 charges and 26 specifications.  In addition to being absent without leave, the facts of the government case included the following.

First, Sheetz claimed and knowingly received two salary payments for the month of April 1875 and three payments for May 1875 thereby defrauding the government of $450.00 (about $10,340 today).  Second, Sheetz failed to properly account for the post fund, under his accountability, in the amount of $502.54 (about $11,548 today).  Third, the lieutenant failed to properly compensate soldiers serving as post baker, assistant post baker, and schoolteacher.  Similarly, Sheetz failed to pay the appropriate money, from the post fund, to units that served at Fort Fetterman.

Under the charge of “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman” the government claimed that Sheetz received cash for his fraudulent pay vouchers from numerous banks and businesses at Fort Fetterman, Cheyenne, and Chicago.  Additionally, the government claimed that Sheetz failed to pay bills, incurred by him while serving as post treasurer, as well as failing to deposit money, given to him by one of his soldiers.

Sentence

Sheetz pleaded not guilty to five of the six charges.  He plead guilty to the charge which included specifications for being AWOL, not accounting for the post fund, failing to pay enlisted personnel from the post fund, and failing to pay for school supplies.  Sheetz represented himself and put up a feeble defense.  The most damning part of the prosecution’s case was the fact that Sheetz signed the three fraudulent pay vouchers.  At the end of the eighth day of trial the court panel briefly adjourned and rendered their findings.  They found the 1st lieutenant guilty of all charges and sentenced him to be cashiered, confined in prison for two years, and publish the crimes, place of confinement, and punishment in newspapers in Freeport, Illinois (where Sheetz’s father lived) and Laramie City, Wyoming Territory.

An Abrupt End to A Military Career

In view of Sheetz’s admirable Civil War record, the Secretary of War remitted the punishment to dismissal from the Army only.  Throughout Sheetz’s military service record documents, the curt word “cashiered” appears, an inglorious end to his army career.  Sheetz died on January 8, 1883.  What prompted the former brevet brigadier general to defraud the government and go AWOL?  Did the isolation of serving on the western frontier cause him distress?  Was he living a colonel’s lifestyle on a 1st lieutenant’s salary?  We may never know why this regular officer went rogue, but Old Army Records will continue to index documents in an attempt to answer those types of questions.

Sentence and Review section of GCMO for 1st Lieutenant Josiah A. Sheetz, 4th Infantry for being absent without leave.
The published findings of the general court martial of Josiah A. Sheetz covered 12 pages. The sentence simply read, “1st Lieutenant Josiah A. Sheetz, 4th Infantry, ceases to be an officer of the Army from the date of this order.”

Sources

Unpublished Sources (Old Army Records collection)
Department of Dakota, General Orders, General Court Martial Records, and Circulars
Department of Texas, General Orders, General Court Martial Records, and Circulars
Division of the Atlantic, General Orders, General Court Martial Records, and Circulars
Josiah A. Sheetz, Consolidated Military Officer’s File (military service record)
Josiah A. Sheetz, General Court Martial Record

Government Documents
Historical register and dictionary of the United States Army: From its organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903 (Heitman, 1903)

Old Army Records Update

Jim and I are back from our most recent Old Army records acquisition trip.  As our journey through Old Army records continues, we always encounter new information that refines our knowledge on the daily operation of the 19th century U.S. Army.  For example, in 1864 the Adjutant General issued General Order No. 75, which clarified several personnel issues, including the designation of draftees and the transfer of soldiers to the U.S. Navy.  Last week we found a document that tabulated the number of copies and distribution of general orders in the 1860s.  The Adjutant General printed and distributed over 5,900 copies of G.O. 75 to various military commands, states, installations, and generals.  This example illustrates the civilian and military manpower required to maintain the War Department.  With that being said, we are excited to announce that soon thousands of names will be indexed related to the following Old Army topics:

  • Soldiers who qualified as marksman/ sharpshooters
  • Lists and assignments of army sutlers/ post traders
  • Charges and specifications against soldiers
  • Lists of soldiers fitted for artificial limbs
  • Lists and assignments of civilian nurses
  • Rosters of noncommissioned officers serving in regular army units
  • Lists of officers detailed to teach military science at high schools and colleges
  • Individuals issued specific firearms
  • Lists of soldiers detailed to perform specific jobs
  • Lists of civilian clerks working at various staff departments
  • Prisoners at Forts Leavenworth and Pulaski
  • Individuals serving as scouts during the Civil War
Old Army soldiers performed a wide-range of daily duty. For example, this list includes the names of soldiers from the 47th New York Infantry assigned to picket duty in North Carolina.
Wide range of Old Army Subjects

What distinguishes Old Army Records apart from other databases, is our commitment to not only capture the names of soldiers, but index the events, places, material, and other subjects associated with the period.  Together, these subjects, or what we call searchable units (SUs), put soldiers into context with the Old Army.  We are therefore pleased to announce the following additions to our dataset:

  • 500+ names and descriptive data for army horses and mules
  • List of countersigns and paroles used during the Civil War
  • List of safeguards issued during the Civil War
  • Tabular data of the types of firearms lost, damaged, and rendered unserviceable by regular army units
  • The causes of desertion from the regular army
  • Lists of items received by soldiers confined to prison
  • Accounting for ammunition expended in the southwest during the 1860s
  • Lists of ordnance and ordnance stores lost by the Union Army in key Civil War battles
Army officers were responsible for all government property and could be called upon to account for expenditures. One enterprising officer maintained a ledger which included the loss and usage of ammunition. This excerpt, for example, includes ammunition used in combat and by the the butcher for Company C, 1st California Cavalry in November and December 1865.
Following the Paperwork Trail

With each document digitized, we are amazed at the breadth of records kept by the 19th century U.S. Army and that survive, yet, today.  The details contained in those documents helps fulfill our goal of presenting the rich day-to-day life of an Old Army soldier.  In the coming months, while we index the new data, we will publish articles on these topics.  So, keep checking the Records Inventory page for updates.  In the meantime, feel free to contact us with questions or your research requests.

Old Army Staff Position: Adjutant

Old Army officers had numerous administrative and command duties.  At the root of all these responsibilities was complete and accurate record keeping.  One military position was responsible for the extant Old Army records:  the adjutant.

U.S. Army Adjutant General Shield.
The Adjutant General

Congress authorized the creation of Adjutant General’s Office (AGO) in 1813.  Initially headed by a brigadier general, the AGO was tasked with issuing orders from army headquarters, detailing troops for specific movements and tasks, and the instruction of troops.  The office also served as the repository of documents pertaining to army personnel.  In times of conflict a small cadre of temporary adjutants, known as acting assistant adjutant generals, aided with the administrative duties.  At the regiment and military post level, those administrative duties were completed by junior officers assigned the position simply known as adjutant.

Staff Position

Although written for regimental adjutants, the following statement, from the 1847 army regulations, equally applies to the position within all types of commands.

It is enjoined upon the adjutant to maintain a courteous and friendly understanding with his brother officers, avoiding all discussions upon the orders, or military conduct of the commander.  He should inform himself upon all points of military usage and etiquette; and on proper occasions kindly aid, with his advice and experience, the younger subalterns of the regiment, especially those just entering the service.  And he should, at all times, endeavor to exert the influence belonging to his station, in sustaining the reputation and discipline of the regiment. 

Captains oversaw their respective companies.  The role of post, regiment, and detachment adjutant therefore fell to the junior most officers, lieutenants.  Like other staff positions, adjutants served at the discretion of the colonel or permanent commander.  However, by the end of the 19th century army regulations stipulated that officers could only serve four years in the position.  He was not eligible for a second tour in that capacity except to serve an unexpired term of four years.

Often detachments were assembled to complete temporary assignments.  Officers completed ad-hoc positions for these units.  For example, in the spring of 1875 a battalion of the 7th Cavalry took up post near Yankton, South Dakota to quell disturbances at the nearby Ponca Indian Agency.  Second Lieutenant William Thomas Craycroft was detailed as adjutant as well as quartermaster and commissary of subsistence for the battalion.

Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork

Whether using a small field desk under “an oak tree”, in tents, or dedicated office space an adjutant performed several tasks.  Captain August V. Kautz in Customs of Service for the Officers of the Army summed up the role and responsibility of an adjutant.

The Adjutant is the official organ of the regimental commander through whom he communicates with the subordinates in the regiment.  He has charge of the books, records, and papers pertaining to the regiment.  He superintends the machinery and workings of the regiment.  He communicates the orders of the commander, and sees that they are obeyed, and the regular returns and reports are made.  He keeps the roster of the officers, makes the details that are called for from the regiment, and forms and marches on the guard at guard mounting.

In addition, the adjutant oversaw the regimental/ post band, often functioned as the official unit timekeeper, served as post treasurer, and issued non-commissioned officer warrants (official papers notifying soldiers of promotion to the rank of corporal or sergeant).   Adjutants maintained a variety of books and documents.  The types of documents varied throughout the 19th century.  However, the following is a representative example:

Descriptive Book
Endorsement Book
General Order Book
Index to Letters Received
Letters Sent Book
Morning Report Book
Rosters
Special Order Book

Each morning the adjutant prepared duty rosters which detailed officers and enlisted men to a variety of temporary assignments.  These included officer of the day, fatigue and guard duty.  The first sergeants in turn met with the adjutant to receive orders and assignments pertaining to their respective companies.  Clerks, detailed from the enlisted ranks, often assisted adjutants with copying and organizing the various reports and papers.  Not surprisingly, clerks received assignments based on their administrative ability and penmanship.

Assembled here, in front of tent, are the adjutant and first sergeants of the 22nd New York State Militia, holding an American flag and rifles.
Each morning regimental adjutants issued duty rosters to the first sergeants. Assembled here are the adjutant and first sergeants of the 22nd New York State Militia near Harpers Ferry, ca. 1862. (photo courtesy of Library of Congress).
Adulation and Consternation
Card de Vist portrait of Captain George M. Templeton, in uniform.
George M. Templeton capably served as post adjutant at Fort C. F. Smith. (photo courtesy of Newberry Library).

The position of adjutant was prestigious, but carried great responsibility.  Post and regiment commanders often recognized the service provided by the military administrators.  George M. Templeton, 27th U.S. Infantry is a typical example.  Templeton’s promotion to Captain no longer allowed him to serve as adjutant at Fort C.F. Smith, Montana Territory (M.T.).  In a January 1868 special order, post commander Luther P. Bradley announced the change and “to express his sense of the very faithful and able manner in which he has discharged the duties of Post Adjutant.”  This sentiment is typical of the sentiments expressed by commanders for adjutants vacating their position.

Occasionally, an adjutant ran afoul of military protocol and answered to a court martial.  In 1873, 2nd Lieutenant Charles Austin Booth, a 7th Infantry officer and adjutant at Fort Benton, M.T. found himself defending the charge of “conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline.”  In his staff capacity Booth “became acquainted with the contents of an official communication from the Commanding Officer of the Department of Dakota” and addressed to the commander of Fort Benton.  The communication in question dealt with policy to prevent Indians from visiting the nearby town of Benton.

Booth informed several local citizens of the policy thereby violating one of the key tenants of adjutant:  confidentiality.  The court found Booth guilty and sentenced him to a written reprimand issued by general order from Brigadier General Alfred Terry, the department commander.  However, Terry concluded that Booth completed the indiscretion inadvertently “rather than the intent to do wrong” and opted not to inflict upon him the “mortification of a reprimand.”

Closing Thoughts

Often, Old Army researchers experience frustration with gaps in the original records for the period.  However, considering the fact that 19th century army records slogged with the soldiers through wind, rain, snow, and mud, we are fortunate that we have as many records as we do.  This is largely due to the unsung administrative warriors of the period, the adjutants.  Check out our list of documents kept by adjutants and indexed by Old Army Records.  In the next article I will discuss details from a superb regimental history prepared by an extremely capable adjutant.

Sources

Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
General Orders from the Headquarters of the Department of Dakota, 1873
Special and General Orders, Fort C.F. Smith
Special Orders, General Orders, and Circulars, Seventh Cavalry

Army Regulations
General Regulations for the Army (1821)
General Regulations for the Army of the United States (1847)
Regulations for the Army of the United States (1895)
Regulations of the Army of the United States (1881)
Revised U.S. Army Regulations (1863)

Congressional Document
Legislative History of the General Staff of the Army of the United States (Its Organization, Duties, Pay, and Allowances), From 1775-1901 (1901)

Published Source
Customs of Service for Officers of the Army (1866)

Unpublished Source
Cornelius C. Platter Civil War Diary, 1864 – 1865, Hargerett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries

Old Army Records: General Orders

In the last post, I briefly discussed Old Army orders.  Orders covered a wide range of subjects and were typically issued as either general or special orders.  We will discuss general orders in this post.  As the name implies, general orders covered a broad range of subjects.  Although the exact content of general orders changed over the course of the 19th century, the Regulations for the Army of the United States (1895) summarizes the information contained in these orders:

General orders announce the time and place of issues and payments, hours for roll calls and duties, police regulations and prohibitions, returns to be made and their forms, laws and regulations for the Army, promotions and appointments, eulogies or censures, the results of trial by general courts-martial in all cases of officers or of enlisted men involving matters of general interest and importance, and generally, whatever it may be important to publish to the whole command. Orders eulogizing the conduct of living officers will not be issued except in cases of gallantry in action or performance of specially hazardous service.

This post led off with Article 65, paragraph 771 from the 1895 Army Regulations.  Examples of the categories referenced in the regulations are described below.

Hours for Roll Calls and Duties

Drums, bugles, and/ or trumpets regulated the daily routine of an Old Army soldier.  General orders announced the times of these signals.  Changes in the seasons, due to reduced hours of sunlight, necessitated changes in the schedule.

Time and Place of Issues and Payments

Troops, especially those serving in remote regions, often went months without receiving pay.  Payday was, therefore, a significant occurrence.  Formal inspections often accompanied pay activities.  General orders prescribed the order in which the troops received pay (i.e. by company letter, medical department, etc.).  These instructions often detailed the specific requirements for uniforms and equipment at inspection.

Police Regulations and Prohibitions

On April 29, 1873, Fort Laramie commander Colonel John E. Smith issued an order forbidding all persons from crossing the nearby bridge, across the North Platte River, “in a vehicle or on horseback at a gait faster than a walk.”   In another order, issued a week later, Colonel Smith forbid enlisted men from “peddling” at the post because it destroyed good order and military discipline.

Returns to be Made and Their Forms

Record keeping dominated much of the Old Army officer’s day-to-day activities.  Forms and reports accounted for weapons, uniforms, equipment, foodstuffs, animals, and a myriad of other items.  General orders provided instructions for the use of and/or changes to these forms.  For example, in General Order No. 76 (dated December 16, 1887) the Adjutant General discontinued the following returns, reports, and blanks furnished by the Medical Department:

No. 23 (Return of posts and stations)

No. 25 (Return of private physicians under contract)

No. 26 (Return of hospital stewards)

No. 27 (Return of hospital matrons)

No. 29 (Return of ambulance corps when in service)

Occasionally, general orders solicited detailed information from reports prescribed in the regulations.  The following order, from the Department of Texas requested that boards of survey report on a variety of information pertaining to the personal and service life of an enlisted man.

The Results of Trial by General Courts-martial in all Cases of Officers or of Enlisted Men

As noted early, we will discuss GCMO in a later post.

Laws and Regulations for the Army, Promotions and Appointments

Federal laws affected the pay, punishment, enlistment term, and a host of other subjects for the Old Army.  The task of disseminating information on laws and regulations fell to the Adjutant General.  Promotions of officers always came from the Adjutant General.  Conversely, promotions of enlisted men to staff positions within a regiment or at a military post typically originated at the unit or garrison level.

The subject matter of a large proportion of general orders issued at the department and division level dealt with the appointment of staff positions and aides-de-camp.  These appointments are especially useful in developing an experience matrix for Old Army officers.

Eulogies or Censures

As the subject heading implies, these types of general orders highlight the careers of deceased officers or, in the case inappropriate behavior, publicly reprimands officers.  These types of orders also designate the appropriate level of memorial observances for the deceased.  General Order No. 14 (dated November 9, 1872), issued by the headquarters of the Division of the Pacific reads:

In respect for the memory of Major-General George G. Meade, U.S. Army, whose illustrious services to his country have won for him imperishable renown and the enduring gratitude of his countrymen, it is ordered that, on the day of his funeral, Monday the 11th instant, the national flag be displayed at half mast at all the posts in the harbor of San Francisco, and from Alcatraz Island half-hour guns be fired from sunrise to sunset.

General Order Miscellany

Not surprisingly, each order included the source (general order number, date of issue, place of issue, and the name of the commander issuing the order).  Often orders also included the name of the adjutant.  As discussed in the previous post, orders emanated from a variety of Old Army commands and units.  Once written, the adjutant issued the instructions through intermediate commanders, in order of rank.  Depending on the issuing entity, a hundred or more copies of a single general order may exist.  For example, a general order issued by the Adjutant General in 1873 reached 5 geographic divisions, 11 geographic departments, over 153 posts or stations, and the army staff departments.

Whereas most general orders originated from the Adjutant General, subordinate commands and units issued fewer instructions.  The following illustrates the disparity in the number of general order issued by the Adjutant General, the four subordinate divisions, and two departments and military posts in 1873 (NOTE:  general orders often included the proceedings and findings of general courts martial.  In these instances, these documents were labeled General Courts Martial Orders [GCMO].  We will discuss these unique orders in a future post and, as a result, the tallies do not include GCMO):

Adjutant General’s Office:       112

Atlantic, Division of the :          21

Missouri, Division of the :         4

Pacific, Division of the:            10

South, Division of the:               9

Dakota, Department of :          10

Platte, Department of the:      19

Fort Fetterman:                        23

Fort Laramie:                            26

Often, a member of the staff read the contents of a general order, especially those issued by a post commander, to the entire garrison at parade.  Regulations stipulated that posts, and later units (i.e. companies and regiments), retain hard copies of all general orders they received.

Future posts will address three other types of written instructions: special orders, circulars, and general court martial orders.

Sources

Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Adjutant General’s Office, General Orders and Circulars
Department of Texas, General Orders, Circulars, and General Court Martial Orders
Division of the Pacific, General Orders, Circulars, and General Court Martial Orders
Division of the Pacific, General Orders, Circulars, and General Court Martial Orders
Fort Laramie General and Special Orders

Government Documents
Regulations for the Army of the United States (1895)
Annual Report of the Secretary of War (1873)