Thursday, November 15, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Thursday, Nov. 14, 1861

The tasks of a commander of volunteers are many and varied, and range from the mighty purposes of battle to the sad problems of human frailty. An example of the latter appears in a letter Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Cairo, Illinois, writes on this date to Army Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas in Washington. Grant concerns himself with the case of one Sgt. William T. Morgan (a.k.a. William S. Morgan) who, Grant says, “has proven himself a worthless and useless soldier. I would respectfully suggest that Sgt. Morgan be dishonorably discharged from the service.”

Grant encloses a report from Morgan’s immediate superior, one Capt. William F. Brinck, who complained of Morgan’s “drunkenness and neglect of duty [and] on account of his drunkenness is totally unfit.”

Morgan, of Anna, Illinois, had enlisted in the 18th Illinois on May 30, 1861. He served as a sergeant until he was busted to private on August 1. Over the next few months he shuttled back and forth between the 18th Illinois infantry and the artillery, as if the army couldn’t decide what to do with him.

But did Morgan have political influence of some kind? Contrary to Grant’s recommendation, the record suggests that the poorly performing soldier was not discharged, because in April 1862 Morgan will file a complaint that he had not been paid in eight months. Then, within days, he will desert, only to return in a few weeks. Amazingly, instead of execution (a punishment occasionally employed for Union deserters) or even dismissal, he will be given detached duty as “post engineer” in Jackson, Tennessee—suggesting once again the army was trying to tuck him away instead of discharging him. Morgan will serve as “post engineer” until his luck runs out with terrible finality on June 15, 1863, when he is killed in a railroad accident.

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