Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

This is My Rifle; This is My Gun. . . .

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 22, 2011

I’m in the middle of Benton McAdams’ Rebels at Rock Island: The Story of a Civil War Prison. It’s a good read, and reinforces what I’ve long understood: there’s nothing funny about Civil War military prisons, North or South.

But I did laugh out loud at this passage, describing the tenure of one of the Union units assigned as guards at Rock Island, the 133rd Illinois. The 133rd was a regiment of “hundred dazers,” men who’d enlisted for a short, 100-day term, had little training, and still less interest in becoming professional soldiers. An inordinate proportion of them were teenagers, which compounded the discipline problems within the regiment. Here, after discussing the very real, and very serious, problem of guards from the 133rd firing into the prison compound with little (or often no) provocation, McAdams continues:

When no other targets presented themselves, the soldiers in the 133rd shot each other. William Sutton accidentally shot off two of his own fingers. He was luckier than George Lowe. While going on guard one morning, one of the men being relieved engaged in a bit of horseplay, bringing up his musket and making as if to attack his relief. Unfortunately, the hammer of his weapon caught on the strap of his cartridge box, cocking the weapon, and when the man untangled it the musket discharged, killing Lowe. In light of these activities, it had been wise of [Commissary General of Prisoners William] Hoffman to deny [Camp Commandant Colonel Adolphus ] Johnson artillery.

The men had other bad habits as well. One of them was losing their equipment. The regimental files show a phenomenal number of pay stoppages for lost haversacks, gun tools, canteens, and other equipment. To replace at least some of this equipment the men turned to theft, raiding the hospital for whatever they needed. Colonel Phillips despaired of apprehending the offenders because, as he told Surgeon Watson, “of the difficulty which generally attends the ferreting-out of the parties perpetrating these depredations.” Phillips also tried to ferret out the men stealing commissary, stores and selling them to citizens, but he could conclude only that it must be enlisted men, not officers, and they were probably not aware it was illegal.

Women were another hobby of the hundred dazers. Although Johnson had ordered all laundresses to live in Laundressville, a set of buildings erected especially for them, at least some of the 133rd’s women moved into the men’s quarters with them, prompting an order sending the women to their proper place. Shortly after being deprived of the women’s company, Corporal George Brown was reduced to the ranks for “committing an offense calculated to bring infamy and disrepute upon the command.” Corporal Francis Woodcock was also reduced, not for masturbating, but for persuading another man “through misrepresentation to engage in an unlawful act which would and did result in pollution, disease, and misery.”

What a bunch of fools. But pity the unfortunate descendant of Corporal Woodcock, hot on the genealogy trail, jumping at the discovery of his or her ancestor’s name in McAdams’ index. . . .

3 Responses

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  1. Matt McKeon said, on January 23, 2011 at 11:53 am

    It would make a fascinating series of paintings by Don Trioliani

  2. Dick Stanley said, on January 23, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Oh, I don’t know about any shame. Finding a horse thief or other criminal can liven up a boring recitation of names and dates. Especially if it’s sufficiently far behind in the past to disclaim any surviving trait.

  3. Johnny Joyner said, on January 24, 2011 at 10:38 am

    I suppose people are the same no matter what time period. That sounds similar to some letters I got from a captain in the 5th USCT. Luckily, the person who donated the papers did not go through the letters too well and didn’t edit much. Lt. Elliot Grabill was married in March of 1865 in Ohio and was stationed in North Carolina in May. While I don’t have his wife’s letters, there is little doubt from his letters, what happens when she thinks of him in a “social way”. He then proceeds to talk about the dreams he has at night of her and his physical reaction to the dreams. I would love to see the face on a descendant of Lt. Grabill and his wife while they were reading that.

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