Sunday, December 14, 2014

Michael Wert

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January 6th, 1864. Went to see Michael Wert of the One Hundred and Eighty-fourth Pennsylvania shot for desertion."This was a most solemn sight. I did not go of my own volition, nor did any of the regiment, I presume. The whole division was ordered out to see the execution, that they might see the penalty for desertion.

We were marched to a large, open field, where preparations had been made, the grave dug, etc. A hollow square was formed, two ranks inward face. After we were formed the provost guard approached with the prisoner. First came the drum corps playing the dead much, with muffled drums, then a small squad of the guard followed by an open wagon, containing a coffin, on which the prisoner sat, then followed more of the guard, all in charge of a captain. They marched through and around the whole square, that every soldier could see, then to the open grave, where he and the coffin were taken out of the wagon, the coffin placed near the grave on which he was made to sit.

The guard then marched a few paces in front. When the captain gave the order : Ready ! Aim ! Attention ! Then again : Ready ! Aim ! Fire ! and that ended the life of one who had placed many, if not the whole army, in jeopardy. He fell over, pierced by as many balls as there were muskets, less one, for one musket was loaded with a blank cartridge. Neither one of the guards knew but that his was the loaded blank, therefore, it is always the other ones who did the execution.

I did not speak of the chaplain who accompanied the prisoner. Sergeant Tyler D. Phillips of my company ( G. ), now a prominent merchant at Menasha, Wis., who was sergeant of the picket. I wrote him to give me a detail of the circumstances of the capture. His answer follows herewith:

Mexasha Wis., February 25th, 1884.

Dear Sir and Friend : I received yours of the 6th inst. and beg your pardon for not answering before, but I could not get the time to look over my papers, referring to the matter you ask about, until this date. I find my records show that on the 7th of December, 1864, I took a deserter, while on picket, by the name of Michael Wert, a member of Company G, One Hundred and Eighty-fourth Pennsylvania. I had placed my vidette and returned to my regular post, when I heard the vidette halt someone. I went to him. I found this man  Michael Wert, We took him on the line.

He said (thinking he was in the enemy's line instead of his own) he was tired of fighting and thought he would get away from the 'Yanks' and come to us. I asked him if he was an en- listed man. He said he was not, that he was drafted and did not like the business, and was bound to quit it. He also said that they had placed him on vidette and that he had set his musket against a tree, and if we would steal out with a few men we could capture the whole picket line, as there were but a few of us, and that the whole army had evacuated the lines and gone to some other place, he did not know where. I find further that on Monday, December 17th, 1861, I was subpoenaed to appear at head quarters as a witness in the case of Michael Wert, and that on January 6th, 1861, at 10 o'clock a. m. he was shot by order of the court, etc., etc.

Yours truly, Tyler D. Phillips. Late Sergeant Company G, Thirty-sixth Wis.

He evidently did not know that the ''whole army" was massed in the second line of works and the rear, waiting for a weak point. The fellow miscalculated, when he started out for what he thought to be the enemy's line. This was the first and only execution I know of in our corps. Deserters from the enemy were coming in to us daily all through the winter of '61-'65, and a sorry lot of fellows they were.

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