Thursday, December 31, 2009

The General Court-Martial.

Extracts--From the proceedings. of Courts-martial, since the peace in 1815; on file in the Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office.

It appears, by the record of a general court-martial, held at Detroit, on the 11th of September that Lieutenant Dake, of the fifth infantry, was charged with, and found guilty of, “flogging John Meldrum,” a private of Captain Peiharn’s company, and sentenced to be “reprimanded in general orders.”

It appears, by the original record of a general court-martial, held at Montpelier, in April, 1817, that privates Samuel Dean and J. V. Mounce were both severely whipped, by order of their commanding officer, after having been brought in from desertion, for having fired on the party sent in pursuit of them; the fact of which was substantiated. by evidence. The general takes this occasion to observe, that the punishment of a prisoner, before trial, beyond what may be unavoidable, in putting on irons and keeping him in close confinement, is irregular, and cannot be tolerated.
[They were found guilty of desertion, and sentenced to hard labor.]

Thomas Coles, a matross of company “F,” regiment of light artillery, was tried by a general court—martial, in December, 18l7, on the following charge, viz: “Making a false and malicious complaint against Captain George N. Morris, regiment of light artillery, to Lieutenant Colonel Abraham Eustis, on the 22d of November, 1817.” To, which the prisoner pleaded not guilty. The findings of the court: The commanding general disapproves the proceedings in the case of Thomas Coles, a matross of the regiment of light artillery, and directs that he be released from confinement, and returned for duty.

It appears, from the records of a general court-martial,. convened at Plattsburg, New York, for the trial of Brevet Major George McGlassin of the sixth infantry, on the 23d, of February, 1818, that said Major McGlassin was charged with, and found guilty of, “unnecessarily and cruelly whipping soldiers, of his company, and sentenced to be “cashiered,” which was approved by the President.

It appears, by the original proceedings of a general court-martial, held in the harbor of Boston, in November, 1818, that Joseph Ham, a private of the fifth infantry, was arraigned on a charge for desertion, and pled as follows, viz.: The prisoner pleaded guilty. The prisoner pled in justification of the crime, that he had been compelled, by crte1 and illegal punishment, to desert, and called on Sergeant William Kelly to prove the fact; who was accordingly cited before the court and duly sworn.

Question. Do you know any thing of the prisoner’s receiving, proof to his desertion, severe or cruel punishment?

Answer. Yes. The prisoner, a short time previous to his desertion, being suspected of writing some observations relative to the soldiers not receiving their pay, was severely flogged for two or three mornings in succession; he was flogged with a raw hide, fifty or sixty lashes at a time, and was threatened with a repetition of the punishment until he would acknowledge the offence; during which time he was kept in close confinement,
From which he at length escaped.

Question by the court. By whose order was he thus punished?

Answer. By orders of Captain Foster, of the fifth infantry.

Question. Were you then stationed at Detroit’?

Answer. I was, and was quarter-master-sergeant of the regiment.

Question.. What was the prisoner’s character before this?

Answer. His character was very good.

The court, after mature deliberation in the case of Joseph Ham, find him guilty, and do sentence him to hard labor, with a twelve pound ball and chain attached to his leg, during his term of enlistment, and make good the lime lost by desertion. But in consequence of mitigating circumstances appearing to the court in. favor of the prisoner, the court recommend him to the commanding general for a full pardon.
General Porter, on the foregoing case, to viz.: The sentence of the court in the case of Joseph Ham is remitted; he will return to duty.

It appears by the record of a general court martial, held at Trader’s Hill, Georgia, in August, 1819, that John Best, Claudius Thornton, Benjamin Brandige, Jacob Betiz and Hiram Atkins, all privates of the United States army, were severally tried by said court, for desertion, and proved on trial that they had been flogged (after being apprehended,) for desertion, without a trial, and severally pled that they “had once been punished and should not be punished twice for the same offence.
They were severally found guilty of desertion, and sentenced to hard labor.

Extract-from the order of Major General Gaines, in which he approved the sentences in the preceding cases.

The commanding general is constrained by a sense of duty to protest against the gross irregularity which is evident from the testimony in the cases of the prisoner, previous to their trial. It appears that they were severally flogged by the orders of commissioned officers, without the least shadow of authority, in open contempt and defiance of law, and who have not only usurped the powers of courts-martial, which alone have the authority of awarding punishment, but have ordered the infliction of punishments which no military tribunal has power to award. A prisoner in actual confinement may, if disorderly, be ironed, and even chained to a block, but no conduct of his can justify his receiving a blow, nor can he be otherwise punished until regularly tried and convicted. A repetition of such unauthorized punishments will be immediately followed by the arrest of the officer ordering it.

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