Confusing no doubt!
Today's continuing blog deals with such a story. Portions of which have been in many an earlier blog at this site. The story, (not the blog) started back almost 120 years, involves the Rule of Law, and the famous volunteer infantry regiment called the 27th Maine. A regiment of just over 900 volunteers. Not one was drafted. All were men who stepped forward, at the call of their nation.
Like so many of the early regiments in the US Civil War, the 27th was a short term regiment, enlisted for nine months of service. Some regiments were 30 and 60 and 120 days and yet others were for longer periods of time.
But the government of the day often got itself in trouble with a regiment or more than one, who's terms were expiring just before major battles. Pleas would go out to them to stay longer, with some agreeing and others declining. This was the right of the soldiers. Many having business or personal commitments that had to be put on hold till they returned from duty. They had a contract and honoured it, expecting the government to act likewise.
This was not new to the military or governments of the day. General Scott, top commander of the Union Army, lost half his men in an earlier war in Mexico. Another famed General faced the same several times. His name was George Washington.
There are stories that some regiments would actually drop their weapons on the battlefield when their terms expired, a few resulting in mutiny charges. But often a regiment determined to go, was allowed to do so.
In the summer of 1863 an event would take place that caused subsequent ripples and ruffled feathers for decades and was not resolved (so they thought) until 1916.
Resolved in violation of the United States Constitution and the Rule of Law. This shall be commented shortly in this space.
The results of which have smeared the reputation of the 27th Maine and the Medal of Honor story to this very day. Such being as a result of sloppy record keeping and a passion of far too many to continue with their spreading of persistent misinformation. Matters that those in the very positions of protecting the image of the Medal, seem to have just sat back and covered their eyes and ears. Akin to the likes of the TV show show Hogan's Heroes, from 1965 to 1971. You may remember the character Sgt Shultz... "I know nothing" and "I see no evil... I hear no evil."
But our Shultz story took place back in the summer of 1863. When the Union and Confederates marched towards each other for the horrific battle known around the world as Gettysburg.
At Washington DC the President, Secretary of War and others started to panic. If the Union lost the battle, what would come of DC? In a scramble they sent clerks and other non-combatants out into the streets as a last defense of the capital. They also turned to two Maine regiments, the 25th and the 27th for help. But they failed to realize that the terms of service for both had already lapsed on 10 June. The men were actually waiting for the release process to start... days late.
On 28 June Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War wrote to Daniel Somes for help. He was a DC resident, but born in Maine and, as a former member of Congress representing Maine, had considerable influence in both states.
That letter asked that he approach the 25th and 27th and request that they stay in DC as part of its much needed defense. Stanton's letter included that the anticipated rendered aide "is of great importance to the Union which will properly be acknowledged by the government."
When Somes approached the 25th with the President's request, the regiment to a man, declined. They felt they honoured their contract and now it was time for the government to do the same. Many had other plans. Some even re-enlisted with other units and continued with the war effort.
Somes then approached the 27th late in the evening of June 29th. He pleaded with the regiment's Colonel to ask his men to stay to help defend the capital. The following day, 30 June he took not one vote... but two... by forming the men in a hollow square, explaining the urgent need and asking those willing to remain to take two paces forward.
After much very serious infighting, about 300 soldiers agreed to stay. The rest soon made their way back to their home state of Maine. The Colonel then traveled into DC to tell the Secretary of War that he could supply between 250 and 300 troops.
In a personal journal at the time, an officer of the 27th noted that when The Secretary learned that the defenses would be increased by these members of the 27th, the Colonel was then advised that... "Medals of Honor would be given to that portion of the regiment that volunteered to remain."
After the early July horrific battle at Gettysburg and the Union victory, the 27th were returned to Maine and joined the rest of the regiment as it mustered out of service.
About 18 months later the government realized that it had promised Medals of Honor to the 27th volunteers. Having scrambled to find accurate records of exactly whom stayed those extra few days in DC was problematic. Eventually on 24 January 1865 someone at DC had made the decision and medals were sent to Maine for distribution.
Trouble was, that, according to the stories, no one could agree to the lists that had been forwarded and thus, some 900 medals were sent off to the state governor, and from him in turn to the regiment's Colonel. Over 900 medals when only about 300 were promised the medal 18 months earlier.
Almost everywhere you go in search of this matter, you will learn... falsely, about two aspects of the case.
The first being that the volunteers only did so on a promise of a Medal of Honor. I question that.
Obviously the men volunteered BEFORE their Colonel went to DC to inform Secretary Santon that he could provide about 300 soldiers. It was AFTER that promise was delivered to the Secretary of War that the Secretary made the promise, and still later, upon the Colonel's return to his HQ that the men were told of the promised medals.
Regarding a 2nd point, most resources also tell us that there was some confusion in determining who actually stayed behind at DC for the extra few days. These sources tell us it was a mistake by some clerk in DC that instead of 300 medals, 900 or thereabouts were made and sent off to the Governor of Maine for distribution to the regiment.
Over the years I have scanned through literally hundreds of articles regarding the 27th, mainly because of the Canadian involvement in the story. After close looks at key dates around the story, I was stunned most recently with the following article. It is part of a full page article about the medal, and of course mentions the 27th.
But have a read... here is a portion of that article, though dated long after the event happened, it is still well over 100 years old and ought to be given more weight than the usual
contemporary accounts of the events at hand.
I have never in 20 years seen this point raised. I suppose it was always easiest to blame a clerk, and then let history do its usual by continuing to stick to its guns, wrong that perhaps they may be.
If the article is right, the President made a call that was well within the terms of the original legislation. Though most, including myself, would not approve of all getting the medal, it was so ordered and the law is the law. Not what we wish it should be.
But there is much more to this story. I may bring some of this to you on Wednesday. Failing this, I will bring another blog on Sunday.
In the mean time best to all over the Easter weekend, and during such troubling times across North America, and the world.