The military service record of 19th century U.S. soldiers frequently included brushes with army justice. Enlisted men convicted of serious offenses faced imprisonment and their case proceedings often included the statement “the Leavenworth Military Prison, Kansas, is designated as the place of his confinement.” Alcatraz Island held soldiers serving in the Division of the Pacific. However, between 1875 and 1895, Leavenworth became the official prison for most military convicts.
Leavenworth Military Prison Inmate Reception
Upon entering the prison, the convicted soldiers received a unique number and relinquished all personal property. The prison adjutant took responsibility for money. Presumably, a safe held the money. The remaining property, clothing, jewelry, personal grooming items, etc., were kept in a storehouse. Upon completion of their sentence, the inmate received their property. Entries for about 4,000 convicts are in the register kept by the adjutant at the Leavenworth Military Prison between March 1877 and December 1888.
The prison adjutant, detached from an active military unit, acknowledged each entry with his signature. The prisoners also signed the entry, or left his mark. The register, therefore, is a good indicator of the literacy of the inmates.
Personal Items From Money To a “Citizen Hat”
Most prisoners had few, if any, personal possessions. However, for those who turned over items the list was diverse. For example, Private Patrick J. Rourke, member of the 22nd Infantry band, deserted from Fort Wayne, Michigan in May 1877. He surrendered at Fort Porter, New York. There he stood trial by general court martial. Upon being received at Leavenworth on October 5th Rourke (Prisoner #457) brought with him 80¢ and a memo book.
On January 16, 1882, Charles Taphner, Company F, 1st Infantry deserted from Fort Davis, Texas. He was apprehended two days later. The private was found guilty in a subsequent general court martial and received a harsh sentence, which included a three-year prison term (later reduced to two years). Taphner (Prisoner #442) arrived with three other prisoners at Leavenworth on May 29, 1880 with a gold ring and silver watch.
Other examples of personal property of inmates include:
John Rust (Prisoner #170) turned over 2¢ and a corn husker.
William McClain (Prisoner #209) turned over 60¢ and a Grand Army of the Republic Badge.
James Guy (Prisoner #282) turned over $14.75 and a “citizen hat”.
William Campbell (Prisoner #305) turned over $8.00 and a “Photo Diary”.
Edward Barton (Prisoner #509) turned over $3.50, a banjo, and a package of books.
John J. Miles (Prisoner #514) turned over 5¢ and an Indian pipe.
From Little Bighorn to Leavenworth Prison
Several veteran 7th Cavalrymen and survivors of the Battle of Little Bighorn served time at Leavenworth Military Prison. On May 19, 1878, enlisted men Frank Howard (Prisoner #174) and Joshua S. Nicholas (Prisoner #343) turned over personal items at the prison. Both men fought at the Little Bighorn. Howard, formerly of Company F, turned over $1.25, while Nicholas, who served in Company H, had a watch and chain and $34.60. In a previous article, I discussed Private Thomas Seayers (aka Sayers) from Company A. Seayers worked at the Fort Abraham Lincoln bakery before and after the Custer Battle. Seayers deserted in June 1878 and surrendered three months later. In February 1879, he arrived at Leavenworth Military Prison, was assigned ID # 255 and turned over $2.03 and a watch.
As Private Seayers demonstrates, the military service record of 19th century soldiers was complex. More importantly, the U.S. Army bureaucracy documented the service history. Old Army Records is systematically identifying, digitizing, and indexing those documents. What details do your U.S. military ancestors have? Contact us to uncover their complete military service record.
Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Department of the Platte, General Orders (1877)
Department of Texas, General Orders (1882)
Division of the Atlantic, General Orders (1877)
Prisoner Book, Department of Texas (1872-1886)
Register of Prisoners Received, Leavenworth Military Prison
Army Regulations Regulations for the Army of the United States (1895)
Other Source Index of General Court-Martial Orders, Adjutant General’s Office, 1880 (GPO 1881)
Regular army sergeant Charles T. Bowen confessed the following in a letter to his wife. “I think I should as soon be in action as not if there were no artillery used. I dont [sic] fear musket balls a bit & a fellow has some chance with them for may only give slight wound, but if a shell strikes a man it is sure to carry away the part hit anyway & he has no chance.” Perhaps no other 19th century weapon struck terror into soldiers more than artillery. The military service record of nearly every Union Civil War soldier involved exposure to cannon.
The Civil War artillery branch was a complex organization. In addition to the guns, artillerymen required a varied supply of ammunition and hundreds of pieces of equipment. Horses, by the thousands, were required to move the guns impedimenta. Old army Records recently digitized and indexed several detailed returns of artillery men and equipment lost and ammunition expended in the Army of the Potomac. The following summarizes some of the data tabulated for the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30-May 6, 1863).
Complex Plan Foiled by a Bold Response
The winter of 1862-63, following yet another unsuccessful Union attempt to capture Richmond, found the Army of Northern Virginia, under General Robert E. Lee, well entrenched at Fredericksburg, Virginia. In the spring of 1863, Major General Joseph Hooker, newly appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac, devised a bold plan to circumvent the Confederate defenses at Fredericksburg and capture Richmond.
Hooker’s plan was complex. He sent about 10,000 cavalrymen on a raid towards Richmond in an attempt to sever Lee’s communications. Simultaneously, Hooker deployed his infantry, supported by artillery, to spring a classic pincer movement. Part of his forces attacked Fredericksburg from the east. Meanwhile, Hooker and the rest of his command crossed the Rappahannock River swinging west and behind Lee’s troops.
By May 30, Hooker was in position behind Lee, beginning the Battle of Chancellorsville. Hooker had the upper hand. However, Lee made the bold and risky move to divide his smaller force to counter both Union wings at once. Lee’s move, executed brilliantly by his number one subaltern, General Stonewall Jackson, stymied Hooker’s plan. Over the next seven days the shaken Union commander struggled to regain the momentum only to lose ground. The slugfest finally came to an end on May 6 when the Army of the Potomac crossed to the north side of the Rappahannock in yet another aborted attempt to capture the Confederate capitol.
Union artillery units were in the middle of fighting and suffered steep losses, both in equipment and personnel. This article will not delve into the specifics of the battle. Those wishing to read a detailed account of the battle should consult John Bigelow, Jr.’s The Campaign of Chancellorsville: A Strategic and Tactical Study.
Representative of Civil War Artillery (Light to Heavy Guns)
The Army of the Potomac artillery included 57 batteries assigned to seven army corps (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 11th, and 12th). Eleven additional batteries comprised the artillery reserve. Regular army and volunteers from Connecticut, New York, Ohio, Maine, and other states manned the guns (the Union order of battle at Chancellorsville is available through the National Park Service).
The Army of the Potomac artillery at Chancellorsville included a wide range of light and heavy guns, both smoothbore and rifled. The smoothbore workhorse was the bronze Light 12-pounder, known as the Napoleon. Light rifled guns included the 3-Inch Ordnance (3-inch Rifled), and 10-pound Parrott. Heavier cannon included the 20-pound Parrott and the 4.5-inch Ordnance Rifle.
Each gun fired a fired a variety of ammunition. Each type had a specific purpose:
Shot or solid shot
Destroy opposing artillery carriages and support vehicles. Antipersonnel capabilities by rolling or ricocheting off the ground or objects
Heavy walls of the projectile explode dispersing shrapnel to personnel and equipment. Fused versions could detonate on time (aerial burst) or percussion (impact with the ground or object)
Antipersonnel. Filled with lead or iron balls that disperse on detonation.
Antipersonnel. Filled with lead or iron balls that disperse on detonation much like a shotgun blast. Typically used at short range.
Rifled ammunition had various designs and configurations. At Chancellorsville, common designs included Schenkl and Hotchkiss.
“Their ammunition was soon exhausted…”
Artillery from three corps and the artillery reserve reported the amount of ammunition fired during the 6-day engagement. The four units reported expending 15,491 rounds of various types.
The fury of the battle is exemplified by the amount of ammunition expended by Battery A, Massachusetts Light Artillery (composed of six 12-pound Napoleon’s). On May 3rd, the unit took up position to the left of Bowling Green Road. Two of the guns “were engaged in driving back small bodies of the enemy’s infantry” while the remaining four guns of the battery fired at Confederate guns about 1,300 yards away. In a few hours, the battery fired 299 solid shot rounds, 253 case shot rounds, 85 shells, and 48 rounds of canister; 685 total rounds! Amazingly, most of the canister was fired within 75 yards of the battery demonstrating how close and intense the fighting was at times.
On May 6th, Battery B, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery moved north of the Rappahannock River and covered the Union retreat. In just one hour, the battery’s four 3-Inch Ordnance Rifles, unleashed 73 rounds (10 Hotchkiss timed fuse, 12 Schenkl percussion shell, and 51 Hotchkiss case shot).
Government property of all types and sizes was required to transport and service artillery guns. Mobility was crucial and mobility meant horsepower. Union artillery lost 438 horses, including 371 animals killed outright (a previous article discussed the monetary cost of purchasing horses). That essentially rendered 24 guns, or 4 batteries, immobile. In addition, hundreds of other items, ranging from axes to water buckets, formed an artillerist’s outfit. The Battle of Chancellorsville was especially costly for government equipment. According to a detailed inventory of losses incurred by Army of the Potomac artillery units lost nearly 5,000 items in the 7-day engagement. Topping the list was horse-related equipment (nose bags, brushes, curry combs, and whips).
The Human Cost
The loss of guns, horses, and equipment obviously paled in significance to loss and injury of artillerymen. Chancellorsville was especially detrimental to the Army of the Potomac artillery personnel. Fifty-six men were killed (6 officers and 50 enlisted men).
Those killed included First Lieutenant Frederic Dorries, Battery L, 1st Ohio Light Artillery. The 36-year old German native and former Stove Merchant died on May 3rd. An artillery shell, presumably fired from a Confederate gun, broke both of Dorries’ hips and penetrated his chest. He died instantly leaving behind a wife. Six enlisted men from the 5th Maine Battery, including Corporal Benjamin F. Grover and Privates Timothy Sullivan and James P. Holt.
In addition to the dead, over 280 artillerymen sustained wounds during the Battle of Chancellorsville. Injuries ranged from scrapes and bruises to severed limbs. Three privates from the 5th Maine Battery, for example, suffered the latter: Charles M. Kimball lost an arm, Edward A. Stuart a leg, and William N. Nason a hand.
Descriptions of battles often focus primarily on the main commanders and tactics. Lost in these studies are the roles of the subalterns and enlisted men. Thanks to Old Army recordkeeping, we can expand upon the roles of 19th century U.S. soldiers in key events and tie those experiences to the equipment, minute episodes, and comrades that complete a military service record.
Unpublished Sources (Old Army Records)
Approved Pension Application File for Charlotte Erth Dorries, Widow of Frederic Dorries (RG 15)
Consolidated Return of Losses and Ammunition Expended by the Army of the Potomac Artillery at Chancellorsville
Published Sources The Campaign of Chancellorsville: A Strategic and Tactical Study (Bigelow, Jr., 1910) Dear Friends at Home: The Civil War Letters and Diaries of Sergeant Charles T. Bowen, Twelfth United States Infantry, 1861-1864 (Cassedy, 2001). Letter to the Members of the 5th Maine Battery Association (Stevens, 1890)
Government Documents The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Volume 25 (1889)
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.
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.
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.
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)