NP: March 31, 1865 The Roman Citizen (Rome, NY): 15th NY Eng Letter, March 18, 1865



in March 1865

SOPO Editor’s Note: Noah Andrew Trudeau found and transcribed this letter for the 15th New York Engineers page at the excellent New York Division of Military and Naval Affairs web site. I found the newspapers in question at the also excellent Old Fulton NY Postcards site.

Army Correspondence

FORT MCKEON, – CITY POINT, Va., March 18, 1865.

To the Editor of the Roman Citizen:

One week ago last Friday [March 10, 1865] another misguided man was ushered into eternity, whose only crime consisted in deserting, from one regiment in the United States service into, another, and from all the facts that I have been enabled to glean with regard to it, I make the following condensed statement:

It Seems that this man, whose real name is Wm. P. Griffin, (but who assumed that of Geo. Moulter prior to his desertion) enlisted some time during the year 1862, in Co. C, 8th Delaware Volunteers and that after remaining in the service two or three months, he deserted to a New York battery, (the number of which I was unable to learn) and after remaining in the battery a short time, he received a commission as First Lieutenant.

As matters stood at that time he would probably have remained unmolested, but for the fact that in an evil hour he determined to return to his home without permission; his determination was acted upon at once, and he went home, but he had been there but a short time when he was recognized by a member of the 8th Delaware as a deserter from that regiment. He was at once apprehended and delivered into the custody of the Provost Marshal at City Point, and was confined in the Bull Pen, (as it is called, from the fact that deserters and repentant repels are placed there, and who are almost constantly quarreling among themselves,) there to await his arraignment and trial by court-martial, which took place last February; The prisoner was charged with desertion, found guilty, and sentenced to be shot, to death with musketry at such time and place as the commanding officer should direct; and in a general order, Friday, the tenth day of March [1865] was designated as the day upon which the sentence would be carried into execution. The day itself was extremely chilly, added to which was a drizzling rain, which did not entirely cease before the time fixed for the execution had arrived. The 10th U. S. colored infantry, 8th Delaware, and a squadron of cavalry formed three sides of a square, spectators forming the other side, and kept within bounds by a detachment of cavalry posted as patrols. The place of execution was within a few yards of the gallows upon which the spy was executed a few weeks since, and it it [sic] seems has since been fixed upon as a place for the execution of all persons who have been condemned to death by courts-martial convened at City Point. The troops, a few minutes before 12 m[eridian, i.e. noon]. opened ranks, and at 11:55 the prisoner, attended by the Chaplain of the 8th Delaware, and preceded by the regimental band, two files of soldiers with loaded muskets, and four men bearing his coffin, commenced what proved to be his last march around the lines, the band playing the solemn yet sweet strains of the Death March. So soon as they had passed around the lines the procession filed to the right, at a point directly fronting the place of execution, and marched directly to the fatal spot. So soon as they halted, the coffin was laid upon the ground directly in in {sic} front of the grave. The condemned, with the Chaplain, stood beside it while the charge, specification, finding and sentence were being read by the officer entrusted with the execution of the sentence, at the close of which the prisoner made a few remarks in a remarkably clear and distinct voice, but as I was some distance from him I could only catch an occasional word or sentence, but I heard him make this statement with considerable force: “I die in defense of my country.” Upon the conclusion of his remarks, the Chaplain offered a very fervent petition, after which his overcoat was removed, the firing party were drawn up in line about twenty paces from him, the Chaplain took leave of him, and the officer advanced to place the bandage over his eyes, to which operation he objected, and the officer retired to a position near the firing party.— The prisoner then sat upon the end of his coffin, the orders “Ready, Aim, Fire,” were given, and the doomed man fell backward without a struggle or a groan into his coffin.

It may be well perhaps to state that his behavior throughout was characterized by the utmost fearlessness and composure. He was an exceedingly fine looking man, and apparently about twenty-six years of age, straight as an arrow, and to all appearances an unusually intelligent man. It seemed indeed a pity to condemn such a man to such an ignominious death, but, yet the strict observance of military regulations is required as indispensable to the safety and preservation of an army, and as a warning to would-be evil doers of every description.

Last Wednesday [March 15, 1865] we were ordered out to participate in a brigade inspection and review, which passed off very pleasantly indeed. The day was particularly adapted to the occasion, and that true friend to the soldiers who compose his command, Gen. H[enry]. W. Benham, never appeared in finer spirits. The troops passed in review before him once, and then marched to their quarters.— Thursday morning [March 16, 1865] we were ordered out upon battalion drill at 9 o’clock, and drilled until 2 p.m. Gens. Abbott and McKenzie, and Col. Spaulding, of the 50th Engineers, remained, upon the parade ground (as spectators merely) until the drill was dismissed.

This morning [March 18, 1865] two deserters were shot upon the grounds near our camp. They were brothers, and deserters from the 1st Maryland regiment, from which regiment they deserted, went North, received large bounties upon re-enlisting into the Federal service, secured citizens’ clothing, and were apprehended when attempting to escape a second time. Their youth and fair open countenances excited universal commiseration for their sad fate. After the charges, specifications, &c, had been read, the doomed men prayed earnestly for the space of a few minutes, and then sat upon their coffins. The bandages were fastened about their eyes and the order to fire was given, and such an irregular scattering volley of musketry I hope never to hear again upon a like occasion. The firing party were evidently wholly unused to the performance of such a task as [they undertook it with con]siderable trepidation. The men fell into their coffins, but death did not end their sufferings until about two minutes after they were shot. The scene was witnessed by Gen. [Rufus] Ingalls, Grant’s Quartermaster General, and Provost Marshal General [Marsena] Patrick.

Yesterday afternoon the 1st Maine sharpshooters were ordered to the extreme left of our lines, and to-day the 18th New Hampshire were also ordered off. The 15th [New York] Engineers have probably been ordered to the defenses of City Point permanently.

A day or two since we were apprehensive that we would be ordered off speedily, but matters have assumed a more cheerful appearance of late, and it has become evident that we are to guard the inner line of defenses, otherwise, known as the defenses of City Point.

This evening, after I had commenced writing this communication, I was aroused by the report of heavy cannonading. I ran out upon the parapet of our works, and could plainly discern’ shells bursting and signal lights displayed in Butler’s Lookout. And should the present favorable weather continue a few days longer, Gen. Robert E. Lee will be cut off entirely from every possible avenue of escape. But it is growing late, and I must close.

Yours for my country, D. C. P.

[Noah Andre Trudeau: “NOTE: Probably Darwin C. Pavey”]1

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  1. “Army Correspondence.” The Roman Citizen (Rome, NY).  March 31, 1865, p. 2, col. 3-4


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