Monday, November 26, 2012

November 27, 1862 (Thursday): The McDowell Court of Inquiry

General Irwin McDowell

November 27, 1862-11 a. m.
* * * * * * *
The court was cleared.
The court was opened, and its decision respecting a plan of investigation announced.
The court, having carefully considered the foregoing proposition of Major-General McDowell, decide to proceed to the investigation in accordance with the following, making hereafter such modifications or amplifications as may be suggested by the course of the proceedings and be deemed necessary:
To examine and inquire into any and all accusations or imputations of treachery or disloyalty on the part of General McDowell, and to examine and inquire into his whole conduct as a general officer since August 24, 1861, being the date on which General McClellan assumed command of the Army of the Potomac.
For the convenience of the investigation the aforementioned time will be divided as follows, being the periods of time when General McDowell commanded:
1st. A division in the Army of the Potomac, under Major-General McClellan, from August 24, 1861, to March 13, 1862.
2nd. The First Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, under Major-General McClellan, from March 13, 1862, to April 4, 1862.
3rd. The Department of the Rappahannock, under the orders of the President and the War Department, from April 4, 1862, to June 26, 1862.
4th. The Third Army Corps, Army of Virginia, under Major-General Pope, from June 26 to September 6, 1862.
With a view to a statement of facts and an expression of opinion the court will-
1st. Examine the correspondence of General McDowell with the enemy's commanders or with any one within the enemy's lines.
2nd. Examine and inquire into the conduct pursued by General McDowell toward the inhabitants of the country occupied by United Stattes forces with reference to themselves or their property.
3rd. Inquire whether General McDowell has fulfilled his duty as a commander to those placed under him and as a subordinate officer to those placed over him, giving heartily, and to the extent of his capacity all the support in his power.
4th. Inquire whether General McDowell has or has not failed to go to the aid of, or send re-enforcements to, a brother commander; and, if he has so failed, for what reasons.
The attention of the court was called to an article in a newspaper of which the following is a copy, and the recorder was directed to summon the writer as a witness to appear before the court:

New York, September 24, 1862.
SIR: I have recently noticed in the New York Herald your modest request, by letter, that the President would cause a court to be instituted to investigate charges brought against you by a "dying officer," &c.
In your letter you also send forth the following challenge:
"That this subject of my alleged treachery or disloyalty may be fully inquired into, I beg that all officers, soldiers, or civilians who know, or think they know, of any act of mine liable to the charge in question be allowed and invited to make it known to the court."
Now, sir, I don't know what frame of mind you was in when you wrote such a defiant letter. I cannot say you were then under the influence of liquor, as I have seen you at other times, both in the field and out, but that you are one of those brazen-faced Christians who did defiance to truth I have not the least doubt.
And as I have no greater hope than yourself that any such court will be called, I will take this opportunity of making a few brief statements of facts, which you may also deny.
    On the 3rd of July, 1861, I was in Ellsworth's camp; I there visited and heard the sad stores of many sick soldiers-sick, paged, and vomited from living on musty crackers, salt far junk, and bad water. This was all the food allowed them. They offered to pay for vegetables, but the rebels of Alexandria would not sell them. One man was complained of for plucking an ear of corn. You, as a general, instead of seeing to the wants of your army, issued an order to the rebels, authorizing them to shoot any man who would trespass upon their property; but you did not make any provision for the health of your troops. These same men were constantly being shot at while on picket duty, but your peremptory orders were not to return fire upon the rebels.
     A negro servant, owned by Richard Windsor, went to Ellsworth's camp, and informed against his master as being a colonel in the rebel army and then about to go to his regiment. The captain in command went with a squad of his men and overtook Colonel Windsor on the road. He had his carpet-bag, containing his uniform, a brace of pistols, dirk, &c., with him. He offered the captain all his money ($500) if he would let him off, but the captain was one of those who would not be bought. The temper of the rebel then gave way, and he declared that he was a secessionist, and would never be anything else; also that he would soon be out of the scrape. He forthwith wrote a letter to you, general, when you promptly sent orders for your friends's release, at the same time ordering the brave captain into confinement because he had done what he thought was his duty, but whom you never brought to trial.
These, with others, where the causes of mutiny in the regiment, as some may remember. The men declared they would not stand up to be shot whilst they were not allowed to defend themselves.
Is this what you call loyalty? If this alone be true (and I do believe my many authors, both officers and men), I wonder you have escaped hanging.
    If a drunken man is incapable of holding office I am satisfied you are, for I have seen the proofs at Fairfax Court-house and in Washington, and I am sorry to say there are more of the same sort in command of our army, whose time would be short if we had not such a good-natured man for President.
    We have the bravest soldiers the world ever saw, and I wish I could say the same of their leaders; "but it is a long that has no turning."

Your obedient servant,
Colonel R. D. GOODWIN.

The court informed Major-General McDowell that it would receive the depositions of the witnesses named by him on the charge of drunkenness.
    The court instructed the recorder to address a communication to the assistant adjutant-general, Headquarters of the Army, requesting that the following-named witnesses be summoned to appear and give evidence before this court, viz: Major-Generals McClellan, Pope, and Sigel; Brigadier-Generals Ricketts, Roberts, Hartsuff, Haupt, Wadsworth; Cols. E. Schriver, Key, aide-de-camp, morgan, aide-de-camp, Lyle, Nine-teeth Pennsylvania Volunteers, Biddle, Ninety-fifth New York Volunteers, Ruggles, assistant adjutant-general, Buchanan, U. S. Army; Lieutenant-Colonels Myers, assistant quartermaster, Smith, First Ohio Cavalry; Majors. J. C. Willard, Sanderson, commissary of subsistence, S. Breck, assistant adjutant-general, S. F. Barstow, assistant adjutant-general, Tillson, Maine Artillery; Captains Krebbs, Jewett, Cutting, and Hodge.
    The court adjourned to meet to-morrow, the 28th instant, at 11 o'clock a. m.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 12, Part 1, Pages 43-45.

After Second Manassas the public had lost confidence in McDowell.  He was still a favorite of the administration, though, and President Lincoln sent word to McDowell he should request a court of inquiry into charges which had been made against him.  Lincoln believed he could not appoint McDowell to command a large body of troops again without him receiving some sort of public vindication.  The court eventually clear him of all charges, but his reputation was damaged further by the proceedings and he eventually was sent to command the Department of the Pacific. 

Godwin, writing here alleging McDowell's drunkeness was a New York City crackpot who had attempted to raise a regiment and was rebuffed based on his having served time in New York State as a confidence man.  Despite his record, he still held petty posts in the 22nd Ward through the war, including a stint as a supervisor of recruitment in the ward.  It gives something of the tenor of the times that he was held credible by the court.  McDowell was also plauged by allegations he was too sympathetic to Southerners within his lines, had protected the personal possessions of Robert E. Lee's wife when his headquarters were in his home in Arlington, had returned slaves to their masters, and had failed to come swiftly to the aid of Pope at Second Manassas (for which Fitz John Porter was being court martialled).


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