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To Be Tried By . . . .A Comparison of Sentencing between 1870 – 1890 includin

To Be Tried By . . .

[* *

A Comparison of Sentencing

between 1870 – 1890


Articles of War Standards


Instructions to Courts


By Kenneth D. Andrews


M.A. Andrews



Copyright 2010 by Kenneth D Andrews

First printing 2010

Second printing 2014

Shakespir Edition 2017, edited by M. A. Andrews


Table of Contents




History and Setting




Reviews of General Courts-Martial

Comments on the Reviews






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The years of 1870 to 1890, covered in this piece, reflect the challenges of life in a newly-opened area, still struggling with the changes brought on by the Civil War. The railroad is being run, and herds of bison still roam the plains. This is a land of opportunity, and not always the opportunities that are shown in fiction.

Some of the young men who signed up to join the Army had a history behind them: possibly one of theft, or other crimes. Some were farm boys, who wanted the glory of the uniform. And others may simply have had a wanderlust that the many open acres of land in the West could satisfy.

To those of you who had the privilege of a personal acquaintance with my father, Ken Andrews, you know or suspect that he and I never saw eye-to-eye on the formatting of this book. In order for this text to reach the wider audience that the many years of research- selecting cases, reviewing the many spools of microfilm that these cases had been made available to him on, and the conclusions that he reached, in this and other works, I have restrained my editing only to format, and a very few words misspelled in the text.

Many of the misspelling you see here are as they were written in the actual courts-martial documentation. The wide range of education, even for officers, shows itself in the handwriting of these court reporters, and occasionally provided a problem in knowing exactly what the officer meant.

Enjoy the book, and the look back at a influential area in the treatment of the military in a environment that was not anything like most of them had seen, and its place in the history of the American West.



Desertion is one of the most heinous and disgraceful of military crimes: involving an entire loss of personnel and soldierly honor”

-Comment, 1871


What price the loss of a man? Only those whose lives depend upon the presence of everyone in a campaign in hostile territory can tell. Yet it is the problem of every military officer from the time of the very earliest military actions to the present day “modern” warfare campaigns. How do we put a value on men and equipment?


During the time of the Indian Wars there were great losses of both men and equipment, some from actual battle and more, it seems, from either the voluntary absence of the soldier or theft and sale of equipment and supplies issued for duty troops. What is the effect of those missing to meeting the needs of the Army and the goals of the field actions? How much of a loss can be taken without the value and moral of the troops being affected? How do we prevent the loss of equipment and personnel or punish those that voluntarily take the equipment and supplies needed to do our job?


The decisions of the General Courts-Martial show some of the actions taken to punish those that violated the Articles of War and how they were punished for those violations. How effective was the punishment? The desertion rate in the Army of this time seems to indicate that any punishments were not a major deterrent to desertion. If you were caught, you paid the price of leaving, if not caught, you got away with it and went onto other things in your life. The low pay of the enlisted man and the frequent isolation often led to “leaving of the Army” for a better life.


My thanks to the people who have encouraged me to write these commentaries about the Indian Wars era Army, the problems with military discipline during the period 1866-1890, and to review what consistencies there were in sentencing and confinement as reported in the various Courts Martial Orders in the Department of the Missouri. Most of the orders were executed and heard at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and there were sometimes more than one Court in session to hear the trials.

No acknowledgment would be complete without a special mention of a good friend and thought provoker of material to write. I spent many informative and happy hours with Don Rickey, Jr as we talked about life on the Western Frontier and the life of the soldier of the time and the enjoyment of his books.

To the personnel of the Wyoming State Library who have given me many hours of research tips and copies: Without them much of this would never be here.

To Barid Todd and Sandra Lowrey of Fort Laramie for the hours of help and their research assistance and Baird’s evaluation of this manuscript.

Special thanks go to the people at the National Archives Record Group 94 for the research and information given me and for the many copies they made.


Ken Andrews

July, 2010


The Articles of War are compiled of laws that govern all soldiers, both officers and enlisted men. These articles of War were most likely taken from the British rules on how the military should operate and, as revised and updated, were passed by the Congress in 1806 and remained in effect until the Manual for Courts-Martial was adopted in 1951. With new revision and updating of existing practices during the Civil War and the later Spanish-American War these 101 Articles of War guided the military in it operations and actions. Two major supplements to the Articles of War provided consistency in execution by establishing the three type of Courts shortly after the Civil Ware and the sentencing guidelines of 1890.


Of those Articles violations were specific and included the common article desertion, frequently the article most violated, but also such violations as insubordination, sleeping on post, and drunkenness. To cover many of the other violations that occurred the sixty-second article was established. This article was designed to cover those not specified in the Articles and was entitled “prejudicial to good order and military discipline.” Also by regulation, the articles were to be read to all members of the army each six months.


Discipline in the Army has nearly always been difficult, but in the Indian Wars era, the job was more of a challenge. The soldier was isolated, bored, harassed, and not well paid. The officers in charge of new recruits often did have neither the time nor the skills to train recruits properly, nor the ammunition to teach them to defend themselves.


Aside from hard, tedious labor needed to maintain the fort and its people, there was little to keep a man active and happy. Desertion and drink seemed to be the things that caused many problems for both the officers and soldiers.


Discipline in the Army was based on meeting the needs of the military; defining and enforcing conduct becoming the role of the officer and soldier; by properly recruiting and training the newly enlisted soldiers; and settling the West to “recover” the land from the hostile Indians currently occupying it.


As viewed by those responsible for setting standards and guidelines – primarily the Congress and the War Department – the requirements were to get soldiers into the country and then take, even by force, the land back from the hostiles; establish towns and outposts for the development of that vast open land; meet economic needs; and satisfy the increasing demand for new land and territory for a growing nation. The West was an undeveloped source of grazing, minerals, forests, and water that would be needed by the ever-expanding population of adventurers and speculators with new and different ideas of how the country should grow.


Many of the soldiers in the Indian Wars era army were veterans of the recently concluded Civil War who had entered the Army during the uprising between the States. They found a good life, full of adventure and possible danger, and – most of all – a source of excitement and challenge.


In this new Army they found a much different lifestyle, not like that of the hero of the nation defending our country (an attitude frequently found among those who were involved, directly or indirectly, during the conflict between the States).


Now there was a different kind of soldier emerging, not always liked by the people they came in contact with, and often mistrusted and looked down upon as “a less than desirable” members of society. The new style of soldier was from a different group of men, not “saving” our country but those that did not have an established life or those who were reported to be “to lazy to work” and were looking for any easy way to get by. Twenty percent of soldiers sent to the west were “buffalo soldiers.” They were often judged differently and received harsher sentences to satisfy local perceptions of black troops.


How different the soldiers’ lives really were could not be imagined by those making the remarks and comments about them by those remaining in the well-settled cities and towns.


The soldier’s life was not easy and it was not always filled with the comforts and necessities of life. More often, it was one of hardship and daily struggles for meeting the needs of mind and body. The living conditions were often primitive and sparse. Meals were not of the highest and most nutritional quality and often times were barely more than the minimum needed for existence. Few fresh vegetables or fruits, little fresh meat, fewer dairy products and days-old breads were the rule of the day in this army. Salt pork, hardtack, and coffee were the mainstays of the soldier’s daily rations. Sometimes it was possible to add jelly or jam to the offerings, occasionally fresh bread or other wild meat, and very rarely, when on campaign, were vegetables found in the meals, prepared and served.


Isolation from people was one of the major problems of the soldier, and monotony, especially in the outlying forts and posts, was the major causes of disciplinary actions for the soldiers. How to meet the needs of men who were away from family and friends, other than their Army friends, was to keep morale high and spirits good, were everyday problems for the officers of the time. With the low pay offered the enlisted man, the isolation, dangerous campaigns, the lack of good food, and the boredom that goes with these conditions, it is no wonder that desertion and drunkenness was the main problem with maintaining an active military force.


In his report to the Congress of the United States, one of the Commanding Generals said “up to one-third of the soldiers deserted the Army before the end of their first five-year enlistment, often taking with them the horses, arms, and other equipments (sic) issued them by the government.” This was a major loss to the Army and even more of a loss to the morale of those who stayed behind and attempted to remain loyal to the United States, and had to be met with strict and stern punishment. In an effort to stop the loss of men and equipment and to impress upon both those who left and those who remained the seriousness of the action, Courts Martial did little to offer sympathy to wayward soldiers who were captured and tried. Court Martial’s were equally firm in punishment of the violators of the Articles of War.


The confinement at hard labor wearing a ball and chain was common, as was marking (by either a hot branding iron or later indelible ink) with the letter “D” on the left hip, dishonorable discharge with a loss of all pay and allowances, and often times drummed out of the service were the final results of that time for desertion. Prior to 1872 it was not uncommon to have deserters branded or tattooed on the body with a large letter “D” followed by being drummed off the post. The reviewing officers of the Judge Advocate General’s office rarely disapproved sentences and the sentences were carried out in nearby large penal institutions. “Let the sentences be a lesson and constant reminder to those who plan to desert . . . “said one officer. The Army has a job to do and it must have the men and equipment to do it.”


Many of those soldiers tried by Court-Martial were very young and inexperienced in the ways of the Army. Although enlistment was restricted to men age 21 and over, without permission of the parents, many young men lied about their age in an effort to experience the life in the West and to try to recapture the glory and honor shown to the Civil War soldiers. Those honors were often seen by the young men during their growing up years and the flashy uniforms and style of dress was something to behold. These obvious differences were of great interest to the young man who had lived much of his life never traveling more than five or ten miles from home and living the same basic routine each day. What a glorious thing that uniform was!


Recruiters had to meet quotas for enlistments and sometimes those stationed in remote rural areas had problems in finding the men to fill their needs. Frequently, when a man asked about the Army, the recruiters filled their minds with all kinds of glorious misinformation and tales of glory in fighting with the hostiles and winning battles that often never existed. Salesmanship was the method to get a name on the enlistment papers and let things go on from there. What it took to get a man’s name on the enlistment papers was the prime factor in remaining stationed at the place. If someone got in underage, the training center could sort them out and discharge the underage soldiers. Some of those enlisting were of British or European ancestry and many of them had served in the armies of their home land bringing those skills and knowledge with them. Citizenship and a need to escape hardships endured in everyday life, recruits may have changed their name to avoid prejudice from their origin.


As soldiers many of the men in this era were seeking new adventures and challenges, and they looked upon the Army as being the best place to see new places and do new things. Many of these men entered the Army with skills not related to soldering and the transition to the military was, to some, a shock to reality. Harsh discipline and hard work were the order of the day for these men. Those recruits that had led less strenuous lives and life styles found that early hours, limited food offerings and lots of hard work was common and, again, not the glamour of the Civil War soldiers. How much different was learned early in the recruit’s new life. He was just one of many and his individuality was something of the past. He learned to live with other men in large open barracks, little other than the personal items of issue and the personal belongings in his footlocker were the only items of personality he had.


Those men who worked on the family farm were often times sought by the recruiters since they were generally in excellent physical health and used to hard work. A strong desire to see new places frequently made the difference when the recruiter visited them.


A chance to travel and learn new skills were one of the selling points of enlistment in the Army and “it was only for five years” then they could return home and tell those that stayed behind what life was like on the frontier. Frequently, if a man looked 21, the enlistment was processed without verifying the age or even asking too many questions when enlistments were few. After the enlistment was completed, the new soldier was given an examination by the surgeon or doctor assigned to the recruiting center and by the officer in charge of the center. Again, these physical examinations were not frequently detailed, and unless a man had an obvious physical defects, he was passed and the oath of enlistment was administered. In cases where careful examinations were given frequently many of those enlisting were rejected for unseen physical aliments. Diseases or deformities of the joints were common causes for rejection.


Each enlistee was supposed to be of sound health and good moral conduct. How often the recruiting officer agreed with the voluntary statement from that person was qualified in this restriction and generally no effort was made to verify the facts of the man’s statement. This is altered in many active units that had members who were not of the moral character sought by the Army. Drunks, thieves, murderers, and con men often enlisted in an effort to hide from the authorities seeking them or with assistance from the communities wishing them gone. Once in the Army they could disappear from the rest of the population and continue their ways with a new group of potential victims, even under a different name.


Early in the Indian Wars era military training for the infantry was not done in formal recruit training centers, but it was expected that the receiving regiment or company would train the new men. What training most new recruits did receive was of little or no use to them on the campaign trail. Some marching was done in the Infantry companies, some firearms training was offered, but generally it was left to the man to survive as best he could with the skills he was able to pickup from his fellow soldiers. Often, the new soldier went into battle with no fighting skills, poor marksmanship, and few if any survival skills. During this period there was little, if any, funding for rifle training, and with the need for men to carry on the duties of the Army, men were often sent on campaign without any training in the “soldierly skills” at all. With the responsibility placed on the non-commissioned officers to train and see to the care of the soldiers, many were not well trained and left to their own devises to survive. Most were also illiterate. The Chaplain’s often taught reading and writing.


With the Cavalry comes a different, yet similar, story. New recruits in the Cavalry needed to be trained in the use of the horse (unless they brought that skill with them into the army), the proper methods of using the saber, battle and dress formations for cavalry troopers, care and feeding of the horse and care of the equipments assigned to him. More time was spent in preparing the cavalryman for his job. Yet no great amount of time was utilized even here, for the fighting skills needed to do proper battle. Many of the soldiers were unfamiliar with how to use the carbine assigned them and even fewer of them had any practice in firing and caring for the weapon.


At some time in their new recruit training they were shown how to load and fire and how to clean it, but seldom were they given the opportunity to take it to a firing range for practice. Cavalrymen, like Infantrymen, frequently went into battle with nothing but the rudimentary fighting skills and this lack of skills sometimes led to needless loss of lives.


Proper leadership of the soldiers was the responsibility of the NCO’s and they, occasionally veterans of the Civil War, or foreign experience were excellent trainers of the new men. When other Post duties did not require the men, training was given in marching, and in the case of Cavalry, horsemanship maneuvers were taught. A cavalryman could not be any kind of force in battle, especially against the best in mounted warfare-the American Indians, if he could not control himself and his horse. When the cavalryman was in battle with the Indians he needed to have the skills borne of practice to be an effective fighting man. At times it was necessary for the horse mounted trooper to get down and fight as an infantryman would, taking advantage of cover and concealment offered by the ground and establishing firing positions to repel any attack that might come. The trained mounted trooper was an efficient fighting machine and could win on the ground. Efficient use of the carbine, and when issued, the rifle could turn the tide of the battle in favor of the soldier and an aggressive fight could be had with winning results. A lack of proper instruction and firing practice placed the soldier in a position when he had no idea how to properly aim and fire, and many times, in the heat of the battle, the untrained soldier would become confused and be unable to direct his fire to make the most of his weaponry.


A lack of proper basic training in fire control and discipline often was shown in the loss of men and equipment and sometimes the loss of a battle. In one of the accounts of Major Reno’s fight at the Little Big Horn it was reported that “…some of the men fired straight up into the air….”


With the frightful conditions of attack, confusion generally was rampant, and without the experience of combat, the soldiers were at a complete loss as to what to do. With the loss in battle of key officers and non-com’s, helping direct the fire and keeping the men calm and in control of their situation, the new soldiers had to depend on those experienced men around him – or on his own wits. Often with this lack of leadership in the face of fright, men would run away from the battle, occasionally directly at the enemy they were fighting. They would sometimes shoot at their own fellow troopers, as well. One instance was cited that a frightened solder, when his carbine jammed and he saw the Indians coming toward him, stood up, threw his carbine on the ground, and waited to be killed. A loss of life that might have been saved had the cavalryman had good basic skills, and surely good leadership.


Keeping the soldier in post or camp busy and “out of trouble” on duty was not hard to do in the years of the developing West. Where permanent forts were to be built, repaired, or expanded there was much work to be done and the soldier was the most available source of labor to do the work. With the skills, or lack of them, that the soldier brought with him, the work in building and maintaining the post must go on.


In the fall and winter wood for fires needed to be cut, and wood to make lumber for buildings, and buildings to be erected and finished. After the logs were felled, they had to be transported, normally by hand or dragged behind a horse-pulled wagon, to the post for conversion to lumber. Even with the power (steam) sawmills at established forts it was all hard labor and it took several men to cut these logs into usable boards, all part of a day’s duty, all dirty and back breaking work. With the normal kitchen duties, stable calls, scouting trips, and other routine duties, the added labor of constructing the many buildings for the post was just another job to do and little or no time was afforded for soldiering skills. One private said “that he joined the Army to fight Indians not to do common labor that paid more” and he threatened to desert if he “didn’t get to at least see one Indian all the time I am here.”


Ice cutting and preservation was another of the many duties that fell upon the soldier in the winter. Large parties of men were taken to frozen rivers and lakes and ice was cut and then carried to the post for preservation and cooling of food in the summer. Many cases of dead men frozen in the water or on the land were reported. While working on wet ice it was easy to fall into the very cold water. Dressed as they were for cold weather, it would be almost impossible for them to swim and when their clothing was waterlogged they could not float. It was then up to those on the ice flow or shore to attempt to rescue them and the possibilities of losing more men was ever present. The lack of proper cold weather clothing including gloves resulted in many cases of frostbite and frozen fingers or feet.


Unlike the cold weather activities of the soldiers, the summer work was done while still wearing the usual blue wool clothing issued at the time of enlistment or purchased later by the man. Hot temperatures seldom made any difference to the uniform of the day and rarely, if ever, there was any change in what was to be worn as normal duty uniform. Only the stable duties had a clothing change, and that was to the canvas stable clothing for the cavalryman, the infantryman wore the same old uniform every day and like it or not there wasn’t much variety while stationed at a camp or post.


Quite different, especially for the mounted soldiers, was the uniform while on troop march and scouting orders. It was often said that the wearing of the uniform, after leaving the post, was optional, not in a sense that it was not required to have uniform parts but that many of the officers and men wore cooler civilian clothing, retaining enough of the military clothing to help recognize that it was, indeed, a military operation. Generally insignia of rank was missing from the troops on campaigns as a safeguard that the officers and key non-coms could not be shot by the “hostiles” and thereby reduce the effective leadership of the column. Comfort was the reason for wearing cooler civilian type clothing the reduction of wear and tear on the issued uniform was reduced and the better quality civilian clothing would wear better anyway. This many have brought on more effective fighting units. Personal hygiene and personal appearance was generally overlooked while on the trail and with the lack of proper facilities for bathing, shaving, and hair cutting, as examples, the returning troops often looked like something from another world or from a strange country.


Long hair and long beards were common and, since many of the soldiers had frequent aversions to baths and clean clothes, they could be detected easily.


But whether the weather is warm or cold the duties of the soldier must go on. Either on post or on the campaign trail, the soldier must be able to fulfill his duties and permit the taking of that vast unconquered land and make it ready for settlement and development, safe from the hostile Indians and safe from those who might want to take it after the land had been claimed and ready for the ever growing population of the nation.



Any crimes that an officer felt required a trial were handled by court-martial proceedings. Unlike civilian courts, there was no permanent military court; rather courts were convened as needed. There are three levels of court-martial that could be convened, based on the severity of the crime, the General Court, the Special Court and, the Summary Court. Each of these courts have specific regulations regarding the type of hearings to be heard and the number of officers who are present. The regulations made some specific rules and comments about the courts and how they should be established and behavior of those in attendance.


Any general officer commanding an army or colonel commanding a separate geographical department may appoint a general court-martial whenever necessary”

Revised Army Regulations


The Articles of War currently in effect at this time and samples of violations and punishments in effect during most of this time period and of consequence to the rank and file soldier include:


16 Selling or wasting ammunition punishable by court-martial

17 Selling, losing, Government mounts, arms, clothes, etc. Offender to suffer stoppage of pay, up to one half the amount due or by courts-martial decreeing fine or imprisonment.

20 Disrespect to Commanding Officer, punishable by courts-martial.

21 Striking or threatening a superior, punishable by death, or as decreed by a courts-martial

22 Mutiny, same punishment as Art.21.

24 “Frays and quarreling, punishable by confinement.

25 Reproachful or provoking speeches, . . . who so offends shall be confined , and required to ask pardon of the party offended, in the presence of his commanding officer.

32 Absent over leave, punishable by courts-martial.

33 Absent from parade or other formation, punishable by courts-martial.

35 Failure to retire at retreat, same punishment as Art. 33.

36 Hiring duty, same punishment as Art.33.

38 Drunk on duty, courts-martial, but no branding, “marking”, or tattooing as in former times.

39 Sleeping on sentinel duty, death, or other courts-martial sentence.

40 Quitting guard, or leaving assigned station, punishable by courts-martial.

42 Quitting post in the face of the enemy, same as Art.40.

53 Profanity-officers were to be fined one dollar for each offense. Enlisted men to be fined one-sixth of a dollar, and if the offense was repeated, confined for twenty-four hours. All fines collected for profanity were to be used for the benefit of sick members of the offender’s company. (Rickey, Don, 1878 period)


The highest military court is the General Court which required at least five presiding officers but rarely convened. Summary and Special Courts could be called by a post commander. The General Court heard capital cases and cases that could warrant long-term confinement in a prison or penitentiary, such as murder or espionage. A death penalty, when ordered, was usually carried out by hanging


As such, the court-martial members for a General Court were detailed, from five to thirteen, as could be detailed without manifest injury to the units to which they were assigned. The officer of highest rank was to serve as the President of the Court and the lowest-ranking member would serve as Recorder.


All members of the Court were to attend all sittings of the Court and to appear in full uniform. The regulations also stated “ . . . they will maintain perfect order and decorum. All conversation between members of the court, letter writing, or other practice not consistent with the closest attention to the business of the court . . . ” was prohibited by the regulations. Other admonitions of the regulations included that the members of the Court cannot ask questions of the witnesses but questions shall be written and passed to the President of the Court for reading.


If a member of the Court became ill or had some other inability to attend the sitting, either before or after the trail commenced, the Court may adjourn on a day-to-day basis until the full Court can meet.


Witnesses were an important part of the trial and they were specifically addressed in the regulation. If a court has entered upon a trial which has to be suspended due to the absence of witnesses or other causes, the Court my take up some new cases and proceed with it to its termination and then resume the original trial. Again the regulations speak to the use of witnesses, “ . . . the judge-advocate shall summon the necessary witnesses for the trial, but he shall not summon any witness at the expense of the Government . . . ” (Source: Act of 1863) and officers so summoned shall receive “proper orders including his rank and regiment, in order that the quartermaster, who pays such accounts, may be possessed the requisite data.”


The next lower level of court-martial was the Special Court, presided over by at least three officers. This Court heard non-capital cases against Non-commissioned Officers (NCOs) and officers as well as enlisted men. The Court could impose such sentences as long-term confinement, up to one year, confinement of a bread and water diet, solitary confinement, hard labor, wearing of a ball and chain, significant fines, and dishonorable discharges. In cases involving officers or NCOs penalties could also include reduction in rank or dismissal. The Court officers must have a fair copy of the record of each day’s proceedings made, and to be sure that the record is accurate. “In ordinary cases the judge-advocate of the court will himself take down the testimony and make up the record.” Some small concession to this item is that if the judge-advocate is involved in a case of importance then an enlisted man may be detailed to serve as Recorder and make the record.


The lowest level is the Summary Court or Garrison Court. Summary Courts were not authorized until 1889. Due to the numbers of “petty” offenses and the time taken to convene a Court it was decided that another court, convened by local commanders for violations of these offenses and with the ability to hear and punish was needed. This new court reduced the time the court spent in session for seemingly minor offenses and quickly dealt with offenders.


This Garrison Court has jurisdiction over enlisted men only. Presided over by one officer the Court heard minor offenses against enlisted men and inflicted lesser punishments including short-term confinements.


Offenses heard by this Court would include drunkenness, gambling, unauthorized absence, stealing, and other relatively petty offenses. Also, the Court may meet on a day-to-day basis if there were not enough cases to be heard. Instead of pleading to the merits, the accused may plead in bar of trial; either to the jurisdiction, by denying the legal right of the court to try him; or he may offer a special plea in bar, presenting reasons why he should not be tried on each separate specification.


General Order 21, issued by the Adjutant General’s Office in 1891 made a newer definition to Summary Courts regarding the arrest of enlisted violators. It stated, in part, that soldiers who have charges against them for trial in a Summary Court will not be confined to the guardhouse, as previously done, but will be in arrest in quarters during the pre-trial time, the time of the trial, and before sentencing. This new definition relieved, to some extent, the exposure to prisoners who have been convicted of more serious violations and to the general crowded conditions of most guardhouses. If, however, the man awaiting trial is of a violent nature or one who might attempt escape from a minor crime they may, under this same order, be so confined.


Sentences may vary from light to very extreme at different forts and posts and did remain so, even if orders and regulations had been issued , in some form, to standardize them. Old time line officers often thought , and put into practice, their own versions of punishment, sometimes cruel and unusual to the most vicious possible, which may include flogging or whipping.


To finally meet the requests of army officers and members of Congress, insisting upon some standards, the Congress approved an Act of September 27, 1890 to implement firm and enforceable guidelines for officers of the Court. Though lengthy, their presence, as a source of reference and guidance, are included as an appendix. The standards start with the most prevalent offense: desertion.


It will be noted in the Review of Cases that the need for guidelines in sentencing were badly needed. The reports from the Department of the Platte, mostly Fort Laramie, show wide variations in sentencing and little consistency between forts in the Department.




One of the major offenses in the Western Army was desertion. Desertion was a capital crime in the army, and could and frequently was, tried by a General Court, but in practice the execution of deserters was relatively rare on the frontier. Deserters, if caught, were usually sentenced to a period of confinement before serving out the remainder of the enlistment. Sentences of confinement for as long as two years at hard labor were frequently imposed and after the completion of their sentence they were given a dishonorable discharge. This branding was outlawed in 1872 as a cruel punishment.


Desertion, as will be frequently mentioned, was a serious problem for the nineteenth-century army. Desertion reduced the army’s manpower but with it another serious problem was often created – the loss of property. Those leaving took horses, saddles, weapons, ammunition, food, and other equipments. The desertion rate, as often referenced, of up to one-third of the members of any one unit over a period of years was a problem to be dealt with and attempts to reduce this violation were many and varied. In the later years of the 1800s a study by military commanders suggested that there were several possible reasons for desertion. Among those cited were lax recruiting practices wherein the army became a place of alternative sentence for law violators. Pursuit of deserters was strongly encouraged by commanders with the intended idea that quick pursuit and arrest were factors in reducing desertion.


Rewards of $30 paid to those that turned in deserters had some incentive value but the citizens of nearby communities frequently looked at desertion as an alternative to serving out an enlistment and didn’t consider it a disgrace.


With this review we now look at some of the problems with the Indian Wars soldiers, and sometimes officers, and learn what they did wrong, how they were punished when caught, and most importantly, how consistent were the punishments handed out by the General Courts Martial. A review of the actions of the Courts will then give some indication as to how men were treated for violating those ever-present Articles of War.


The detailed review of Orders for the year 1870, Department of Missouri, was undertaken as an example time and Department. Many of the reports were received and posted with the Adjutant General Department and transcribed to more readable form from the hand written submissions of the early courts. The regulations made some specific rules and comments about the courts and how they should be established and behavior of those in attendance.


For the time period reviewed in detail it was shown that there were 170 GCM orders trying a total of 589 prisoners. Of that total there were seven officers, 67 non-commissioned officers, and 515 privates or recruits in the Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, General Service, Engineers, and Ordinance branches tried.


The range of offenses, as shown only by the first charge, was for desertion to violations of animal treatment.


A breakdown of the 23 charges, as to total violations, could be shown as:


Violation: Total Number


Theft: 60

AWOL: 53

Leaving his Post: 48

Drunk on Duty: 47

Disobeying Orders (as assigned): 34

Drunk: 31

Neglect of Duty: 31

Sleeping on Post: 23

Disobeying Orders (other): 15

Assault: 13

Threats: 11

Larceny: 7

Improper Language: 6

Robbery: 5

Forgery: 4

Animal Treatment: 4

Mutiny, Burglary, Disturbance, Escape, Perjury: 3

Fraud: 2


No easily identified trend was noticed as to branch of service having the most of any one violation with the exception of Desertion in which there were 98 Cavalrymen and 69 Infantrymen tried for the offense. Another interesting offense was Leaving his Post in which 32 Cavalrymen and only 10 Infantrymen were tried and convicted, also note the charge of Theft with 32 Cavalrymen and 20 Infantrymen convicted. Indicative of the harsh conditions and environment of the soldiers of the era, AWOL showed 22 Infantrymen and 23 Cavalrymen missing from a report some time during the period covered.


The rate of violations to the charge of Drunk on Duty indicated that 28 Infantrymen and only 13 Cavalrymen were convicted. Noticeable on the charges of Forgery and Burglary there were only Infantrymen charged no noticeable reason can be given.


The comment that about one-third of the men in the Army during this period of time deserted, although not all of those deserting were never caught and tried, is borne out by the above chart with, in this case, 34 percent of the cases tried for that offense (Rickey, Don Jr Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay ). Remembering that the statistic above is for only for the first charge, and many of the trials held had desertion as one of the other offenses (see trial comments). These numbers were only of those men who were captured, and that many more were absent that never felt the ire of the Court. For those that never were tried there was a resulting loss of equipment and horses that could harm the effectiveness and readiness of the military. Replacements were difficult to get and when they did arrive most if not all of them were not experienced in the way of the Army and did not have the skills for effective and efficient fighting. As often happened, new replacements were taken and learned their jobs with on-the-job training, sometimes under combat conditions, and quickly learned what was expected of them as members of the western army. New and different experiences often needed to be learned, new skills were taught by doing, and, most of all, the skills for survival were embedded in their minds. If not learned, they soon became casualties of the battle.



At the end of the Civil War the Department of Missouri was renamed to the Division of the Missouri but widespread usage continued with the original department name. Several departments were included in the Division and included the following departments and their territories:

Department of Dakota – Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and parts of Idaho and South Dakota and the Yellowstone portion of Wyoming.

Department of Missouri – Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Indian Territory, and Territory of Oklahoma.

Department of the Platte – Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming (except Yellowstone), Territory of Utah.

Department of Texas – Texas.


Division Commanders included such famous generals as William Tecumseh Sherman, Phillip Sheridan, George Crook, and Nelson A. Miles. The division would oversee many famous battles of the Indian Wars including the Battle of the Little Bighorn while under the command of Gen. Phillip Sheridan.


In a Report on Guardhouses and Hospitals dated 1870 and published by the Government Printing Office, the representatives of the Surgeons General’s Office made comments of inspections of various military forts in the Department of the Missouri areas of responsibility with recommendations for correction of errors and omissions.


The Surgeon General started his report with historical background of guardhouses in both the United States and England.


The places of confinement for prisoners in the Division of Missouri were not much different than those of a century before. Recognition of the need for adequate fresh air in cells wherein prisoners were kept in close confinement, a law was passed, in England, addressing this need. In 1779 the following became English law:


And be it shall further enacted, That such offenders as shall be sent to either of such penitentiary house shall, during their hours of rest, be kept entirely separate and apart from each other, and be lodged in separate rooms or cells, not exceeding 12 feet in length, 8 feet in breadth, and 11 feet in height, nor less than 10 feet in length, 7 feet in breadth, and 9 feet in height, and without any window within 6 feet of the respective floors . . .”


This law gives each prisoner 630 cubic feet of air per man. The Surgeon General further states “In these British prisons which are taken as models, such as the Prison Mazas, Pentonville, and the Philadelphia Prison, the allowance is about 1,000 cubic feet per man. Certainly, in our guard-houses, the allowance should not be less than in barracks, i.e., 600 feet per man . . . “


It will be found . . . that the guard-houses, and especially, the prison rooms and cells of our posts, are, in many cases, unfit for their purpose, and form one of the most frequent subjects of remonstrance on the part of medical officers.”(Source: 19th of George III, chapter 74, sec 33)


Comments continue as to his evaluation of forts listing good and bad to very bad instances with faulty construction and overcrowding with his opinion that these conditions are the rule and not the exception. He further states that conditions of construction, heating and ventilation of barracks apply equally to guard-houses. He also encourages that the prison room and cells be on the second story as an aid to heating and cooling.


Following inspections by Assistant Surgeons General their reports on the guard-houses are quite descriptive with added remarks on the construction and conditions, both good and bad, of numerous forts in the jurisdiction of the Division of Missouri. Reports are from the original report cited.


Assistant Surgeon Frank Meacham reports on conditions at Omaha Barracks, Nebraska as follows:

“The guard-house is 43 by 48 feet with a porch of 12 feet wide. A room 18 by 15 feet is present where the worst class offenders are confined. At the rear of another room are three cells, 7 by 4 by 12 feet high. The prison rooms are ventilated by three grated windows . . . these windows are kept open at all times, however there is no ventilation in the cells. The rooms occupied by prisoners are usually occupied by 30 men giving each man 330 cubic feet of air. With the exception of proper ventilation in the cells the guard-house is well adapted to its purpose.”


Acting Assistant Surgeon W. H. Bradley visited Fort Kearney, Nebraska and gave a brief complimentary mention of the guard-house there.

“The guard-house is a one-story frame building, with two rooms, 20 by 20 feet, one for the guard, the other for prisoners. The building is provided with a front porch, is well lighted, and built on the plan of the company quarters, and is well adapted to its purpose.”


No compliments were given by the surgeon at Fort McPherson, Nebraska about the conditions there. He states that the guard-house “is of log construction in the shape of a T 30 by 20 feet. Attached is a wing for the confinement of prisoners of a size 15 by 24 feet and has one large grated window.”


Fort Sedgwick, Colorado was reported upon by the two assistant surgeons posted there. Fort Sedgwick is a more isolated fort with frequent Indian attacks and threats there was otherwise little for the soldiers to do as the prisoner count will show. Their report tells more about he construction of the guard-house with the comment that there are no cells in the 28 by 48 foot prisoner room as all prisoners are held in common. The building is in very bad condition with a leaky roof and walls full of holes. Prisoner population total for the last three months was 82 confinees with the maximum at one time 16 and an average of 7.


Fort D. A. Russell was visited by Surgeon C. H. Alden and his very lengthy complimentary report was quite complete except for the guard-house. He stated that it was 40 by 40 feet and constructed in the same manner as other buildings, has windows ( 2 in all sides except the front), and is well adapted for its purpose.


The guard-house at Fort Laramie, Wyoming Territory, was described by the post surgeon in 1870:


“The basement room is [about twenty-five feet square] of rough stones, whitewashed, has one door and a window towards the river. This window is heavily barred with wagon tires and on the opposite side two small windows at the top are provided for ventilation. Two small cells are partitioned off, on the south side of the building, for difficult or troublesome prisoners. The prisoners are all kept in the basement room which contains no furniture. These cells are made of made of heavy planks and solid doors. This basement room is not warmed and the prisoners have no light.”


Two Assistant Surgeons, C. Maklin and F. Le Baron Monroe, visited the infamous Fort Fetterman. Their also lengthy report shows a detailed inventory of the guard-house and, at the end, an interesting observation on ventilation in the prison room. Described as a log building 50 by 20 feet and internally divided into three rooms. One 14 by 18 foot room is used as an office by the commandant of the post. The prison room is 17 by 7 by 7 feet and contains four cells, each 4 by 6 by 7 feet. The rooms are warmed by coal stoves, common in the era. No special ventilation is provided except by the windows in the guard room. In the prison-room and cells prisoners have knocked out the plaster between the logs, so that the result is attained. (Emphasis mine.)


On the open plains of Wyoming, Surgeon J. H. Frantz visited Fort Sanders, Wyoming Territory. His also lengthy report shows an interest in the guard-house with many details of it construction and arrangement. Opening with “the guard-house, erected in 1869, is a substantial stone building, admirably suited to its purpose.” His comments about the two cells, 4 by 6 feet, occupying adjacent corners with ample light and ventilation is followed by the remark that the average cell occupancy is 16.


Fort Fred Steele, Wyoming Territory, was visited by Assistant Surgeon J. K. Corson and Acting Assistant Surgeon R. A. Christian. Their comments about the guard-house were brief and lacked description of the facility. The guard-house, located between the barracks and on the edge of the bluff, consists of a log house 19 by 16 feet, without windows and covered with shingles. It is warmed by stoves.


Fort Bridger, Wyoming Territory, was the last stop on the inspection trip of this part of the Department of Missouri report. Assistant Surgeon W. E. Waters made a lengthy report on conditions of the fort located near the Utah Territory. Noting that the Fort was established in 1858 from and in an area established by James Bridger, it was in good condition.


It was the only report in which the guard-house was not mentioned and apparently it was of no major concern to Dr. Waters.




Commanding officers of posts and camps were given some leeway in the sentence pronounced with emphasis that such sentences should prevent recurrences. Some of the trials held will be reviewed here with some details of the trial, as reported by the Court. This review will include the entire trial with all specifications and charges listed and details of the charges as reported in the orders. Shown will be the branch of service, rank, the charges and specifications, the plea of the accused, the ruling of the court, the sentence, and comments from the reviewing authority. This will be a selection of 81 trials reviewed. Not all deserters from this time, 1868, and place, the Department of the Platte (DOTP), Special Order 115 from the Department Headquarters dated July 16, 1868 are tried.

2. Upon the recommendation of their Commanding Officer three Privates . . . now in confinement under charge of desertion, are hereby released and restored to duty without trial . . .


Soldiers awaiting trial might be placed in the guardhouse and, since the courts-martial boards were not regularly convened, it might be several months before a trial could be heard. During this time the time waiting for courts might exceed the amount of time in the sentence. Courts were prone to releasing a soldier after Court due to the long time in confinement prior to trial. With the enactment of the 62nd Article of War sentences from Summary courts were, at one Western Fort, variable with fines as large as two dollars to, in the case of NCOs, reduction in rank with a period of hard labor for his violations.


Punishments were varied at different forts and posts and until the 1890s no strict standards were established. Some punishments reported in the courts-martial files include the wearing of a barrel hung from straps over the shoulders; carrying a log of certain weight from reveille to retreat every other day; standing over a barrel for hours at a time such sentence be not cruel or unusual by the standards if the day. Interspersed herein are reports, for comparison,from the Department of the Platte.


Some prisoners sentenced to confinement were released, at the order of the Commanding Officer, to do police duties abut the fort while under guard. When a troop or company went to the field they were released for such duty. Western units of the army were often under manned and all available soldiers were needed.


Starting the reviews in 1869 and going into 1870.


A trial was held for a Private in Ordinance accused of conduct on January 8, 1870. The charge states the “whilst in his bunk he did make an unprovoked attack upon a non-commissioned officer (NCO) by throwing a stone with the intent to strike him.” His plea to the charges was not guilty and the Court agreed with the plea and did acquit and return him to duty.


Another interesting trial was held on January 12, 1870 of a Sergeant of Engineers who was accused of being drunk on duty on November 11, 1869 while acting as Sergeant of the Guard. His plea and the courts finding of guilty resulted in a sentence of being reduced to the rank of private and serving at hard labor for one month.


Yet another Engineer soldier, this time a Private, did, on September 21, 1869, desert until captured on December 18, 1869. His plea to this charge was not guilty but the Court found him guilty of the charge and sentenced him to forfeit all pay, be confined at hard labor for six months wearing, attached to his left leg, a 12-pound ball with a five-foot chain, marked with the letter “D” and 10 days thereafter his head shaved and drummed out of the service. The reviewing authority affirmed the sentence with the mitigation of forfeiting all pay for six months.


From the Department of the Platte (DOTP) and from Fort Laramie, Wyoming Territory (W.T.). comes an Infantry Private who also did desert and was marked with the addition of “ . . . to have the right side of his head shaved . . . The troops of this command will be paraded tomorrow at 8 A. M. at which time Private ___ will be drummed out of the service.”


Early in January of 1870 another Private did, on July 31, 1869, desert until captured on December 20, 1869, at which time a reward of $30 was paid for him. He was also charged with theft in that he took one horse, value of $165; one halter and strap, $2.40; one curb bridle, $5; one carbine, $100; one waist belt and plate, $1.90; one cartridge box, $1.43; one sling belt and swivel, $1.86; one complete saddle, $18.15; one saddle blanket, $4.25; one pair of spurs, $.55; one lariat and picket pin, $1.15. Total value of $301.69. His plea to these charges was guilty of desertion and not guilty of theft, the Court, however, found him guilty of all charges and sentenced him to forfeit all pay, dishonorable discharge, and to serve at hard labor for two years.


On November 20, 1869, a young Private of Infantry was charged with being drunk in quarters and refusing and resisting arrest and confinement while under the influence, and finally, challenging and inviting an NCO to fight. This young private pleaded guilty to the charges and was found guilty by the Court. His sentence was to serve at hard labor for 10 days, loss of all pay, dishonorable discharge and drummed off the military reservation.


Yet, again, on the same day we find another Infantry Private of being drunk in company quarters who then took a rifle, without authority, from his room while under the influence and appeared in front of his quarters and used language indicting that said rifle would be used if given the opportunity and he retained it until it was taken from him. His plea to these serious charges was guilty and so was the finding of the Court. His sentence was to forfeit $10 a month for five months and returned to duty. The Courts comment was that “the Court was lenient due to the extreme youth of the accused.”


On October 22, 1869, another Infantry Private was charged with being drunk. He entered the store of the Post Trader, demanded to be trusted for liquor and when he was refused he used improper language to the trader and when ordered away did threaten him. His conduct, as a result of this drunkenness and insubordination caused him to obtain and load a rifle and to discharge it at the door of the trader and therefore endanger the lives of the people in the store. His plea of guilty of being drunk and not guilty of the firing of the rifle was not supported by the Court and he was sentenced to forfeit $10 a month for six months.


A charge of theft was made against another Infantry Private who did steal and carry away and attempt to sell one pair of calf skin boots, value of $10, being the property of a citizen. This finding of guilty was not supported by his plea of not guilty and he also forfeited $10 a month for six months.


An interesting sentence of forfeiting all pay and marked on the left hip with the letter “D”, dishonorable discharge, and sentenced to five years, with no mention of hard labor, was given to a Cavalry Private for desertion from August 6, 1869 to August 17, 1869. Additional charges were for theft of one horse, value of $160; one halter and strap, $2.40; one carbine, $100; two Colts Army revolvers, $100; one carbine cartridge box, $1.43; one carbine sling and swivel, $1.86; one saber belt and plate, $1.90; one pistol belt holster, $1.80; one pistol cartridge box, $.60; one saddle, $18.15; one curb bridle, $5.00; one watering bridle, $1.50; one surcingle (saddle belt), $1.50; one nose bag, $2.00; one pair of spurs and straps, $.55; one link, $.32; one saddle blanket, $4.25; one curry comb, $.30; one horse brush, $1.00; one carbine screw driver, $.15; one thong and brush wiper, $.40; one pistol screw driver, $.20; one pair of hobbles, $.76; one knapsack, $2.00; one haversack, $.64; one canteen, $.43; one cross-saber, letter and number, $.03; for a total value of $409.17.


Another Infantryman, on February 24, 1869, while a member of the Post Guard in charge of a prisoner did aid and assist in removing the irons from the ankles and permit the prisoner, another Private, to escape. After this the Private deserted for one day before a $30 reward was paid for his capture. The charge also states that he “ . . . did castaway his arms and ammunition and in company with said prisoner did desert.” The plea and finding of the Court to these charges was guilty, and for the guilt he was to forfeit all pay, be marked with the letter “D”, have his head shaved, given a dishonorable discharge and to be drummed out of the service.


Reading the next report leaves much to be desired in the way of details, but on July 16, 1869 a Private of Cavalry was charged with assault with intent to kill. With a carbine believed to be loaded and when found unloaded did load it with powder and ball and discharged the contents at the victim. The accused plea was not guilty and the Court found the same. The accused was released and returned to duty.


Another Private of Cavalry did, on September 20, 1869, stand accused for theft. He took from quarters and converted to his own use one pair of boots. He then hid them under his bed. Also, he did take or steal one blouse for his own use. Later he did sell or otherwise barter or dispose of one Spencer carbine, and he did write a letter to his Commanding Officer threatening to steal and remove a horse. A plea by the accused of not guilty was not upheld by the Court and he was sentenced to forfeit all pay, be marked on the left hip with the letter “T”, given a dishonorable discharge and confined at hard labor for two years.


Still, the Cavalry comes to attention with another Private charged with several offenses of the Articles of War. He was charged with desertion of one day; also charged with theft – did steal and carry off another persons weapon; did steal, carry off and appropriate for his own use two government mules; and finally charged with advising and persuading another soldier to desert. His plea was guilty for the desertion and the theft of the mules and not guilty for the theft and advising, the Court, however, found him guilty and he was to forfeit all pay, receive a dishonorable discharge and be confined at hard labor for three years.


One Wednesday, on the eighth day of December, 1869, a Sergeant of Infantry together with a Musician decided that it was time to go to town and so they went. They were charged with AWOL and they did visit town without authority. While they were there they got into more trouble, according to the charges and specification by entering the house of a civilian and in a threatening manner and with a drawn and loaded revolver did demand whiskey and they used language to “threaten to kill” if he did not get it. Also added to the charge was that they “did disturb the peace by discharging a firearm at the victim and other citizens and their houses.”


Adding to the charges was that they participated in a disturbance in which another soldier was shot. To all these charges they pled guilty to the AWOL and not guilty to the remaining charges. The Court took a different view of it and found them guilty and sentenced them to forfeit all pay, a dishonorable discharge and confined for one year.


From Ft. Morgan, Colorado Territory (C.T.). an Infantry Private that was charged with AWOL, the specifications are not included in the report so details are missing. He was to forfeit $8 of his pay for one month.


Not so lucky was the Private tried at Ft. Laramie, W. T. He was charged with missing the Sunday morning inspection, without permission. The Court agreed with his guilty plea and sentenced him to be confined at hard labor for 14 days and to forfeit $10 of his pay for one month. These are similar offenses but surely the first must have been absent longer than Sunday morning.


Drinking, being one of the major offenders, found a Private of Infantry charged for drunk while on daily duty and conduct unbecoming in that he resisted and did strike or attempt to strike an NCO and other members of the guard while on duty on November 9, 1869. He plead guilty to being drunk and not guilty to the conduct charge but the Court did not agree with him. His guilty finding resulted in his confinement for one week “carrying a knapsack or bag weighing 50 pounds every alternate hour from reveille until retreat” and forfeiting $10 per month for two months.


A Private from Ft. Laramie, also charged with drunkenness, when found guilty was sentenced to confinement under the charge of the guard for four months, to forfeit $8 of his pay for the same period. In addition the first 15 days of his confinement was to carry a log weighing 26 pounds and to walk with the number one post sentinel from Reveille to Retreat two hours on and one hour off.


Perhaps to celebrate the day, on Christmas day in 1869 a Corporal of Infantry ran afoul of the Articles of War and was charged with drunkenness in that “ . . . he was so drunk as to be unable to properly perform the duties of his office.” The members of the Court “after mature deliberation” sentenced him to be reduced to the ranks and to forfeit $5 of his monthly pay for one month.


Officers likewise met the ire of the Court and one Brevet Captain of Cavalry found that his behavior was brought to the attention of the charging officers even if the Court did not uphold the charges. This officer was charged with being AWOL from March 9 until April 5, 1869 and was also charged with a conduct violation in that “ . . . he did strike and beat his wife causing her to cry aloud in the presence of officers and enlisted men to scandal of the service.” His not guilty plea was upheld and he was acquitted and returned to duty. One might wonder what extenuating circumstances might have been heard.


An Engineer Sergeant decided that some orders just do not make sense and he was charged, on December 31, 1869, with disobedience of orders in allowing prisoners to retain food after the meal time and allowed prisoners to have bread, coffee, and molasses in their rooms. He was also charged with neglect of duty for these actions and pled not guilty to them. The Court agreed and the acquitted him and returned him to duty.


Not so lucky was a Private of Ordinance who was charged with desertion from April 6 to October 28, 1869. While he was confined to a cell he escaped and continued his desertion from November 3 to December 22, 1869. The reward of $30 was paid for his capture and when tried, he pled guilty which the Court agreed was proper. His sentence was to forfeit all pay, be confined at hard labor for six months wearing a 12-pound ball attached to a five-foot chain, being marked on the left hip with the letter “D”, have his head shaved and drummed out of the service.


Another Cavalryman, with the rank of Private, found that his conduct was not what was expected of a soldier and he was charged for his actions on Sunday duty. Being regularly detailed he did refuse to obey his detail to stable duty and said that he would see the Commanding Officer. Upon being seized by an NCO he struck him twice in the mouth with his fist. Not guilty was his plea but the Court found otherwise and sentenced him to forfeit $12 a month for eight months, confined at hard labor for six months wearing a ball attached to his left leg with a chain three feet long. The Court was thus lenient in viewing the time of confinement before trial since the violation occurred on April 25, 1869 and he was tried on December 1, 1869. With the long period of confinement the sentence was reduced to time served.


Some orders don’t sit right with some people and a Corporal of Infantry when ordered to take charge of a fatigue party to haul hay for the Company bed sacks did refuse to do it, and said “I will not do it” or words to that effect. His plea to the Court was not guilty but the Court felt otherwise in their deliberations and found him guilty imposing a sentence of being reduced to the rank of Private soldier and to forfeit $10 of his pay for one month.


Another October 1869 happening was the desertion of a Cavalry Private. On October 19, 1869, this man did desert his troop and post when ordered to transfer to another troop. Testimony at the trial seems to be informative since his not guilty plea was upheld by the Court. Comment by the Court included that the sentence of forfeiture of $1.00 for one month was sufficient, and that “ . . . in consideration of the fact that it is with the knowledge of most of the members that the statement of the prisoner is true, and that he has already suffered corporeal punishment more than commensurate with his crime.” With the date of the offense being October 19, 1869 and date of trial January 3, 1870 there was a long period of confinement before the trial. The reviewing authority did not fully accept the comments or sentence of the Court and stated that the trial court should have imposed a sentence commensurate with the offense and left it to the reviewing authority to exercise clemency on account of the previous confinement, if it should appear to him proper.


Not only were privates tried and convicted but NCO’s had the same chances at trial for their violations of the Articles of War. One Quartermaster Sergeant, assigned to Cavalry, found that orders were orders and personal feelings had nothing to do with compliance. One Saturday in November 1869 the Sergeant was charged with disobedience of orders when he was told by this superior officer to go to his quarters. His response was “I have no quarters.”


He was then charged with disobedience again when he was again ordered to report to his First Sergeant for arrest he, again, did refuse and said “I have no First Sergeant and will not go.” To add to his woes he did use very disrespectful language to said officer and did call for a knife to cut his chevrons off and said “I am no longer a Sergeant.” The Court agreed with him regardless of his not guilty plea and reduced him to the ranks and further sentenced him to forfeit $10 a month for four months for his actions.


Forfeiture of $10 a month and reduction to the ranks was the sentence handed to a Lance Corporeal for his charge of being drunk while properly detailed to troop horses in which he became so much under the influence as to be unable to perform his duties properly. His second charge was that he told the First Sergeant that he got a bottle of whiskey, shared it with other privates on purpose, to get clear of the duty of Lance Corporeal. Neglect of duty was also added since he did allow herders to get under the influence much to the danger of the public horses being taken by the Indians.


A Captain, this time of Infantry, was tried for his actions on September 11, 1869. His charges included being drunk in his uniform wearing the insignia of his rank, and while so did fire his pistol in the trader’s store. Conduct unbecoming an officer was added at a second charge and it added further insight to the severity of the violation. He was drunk and did appear on the public street of Leavenworth and was driving a vehicle in a reckless manner and did assault a citizen by striking him with a whip. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and the court took the same view and acquitted him however the reviewing authority saw this in a different light and did not affirm the sentence of the trial court.


He commented that “ . . . the testimony showed that Captain Ayers was drunk while commanding officer of the post at Leavenworth. The guarded language of reluctant witnesses only leaving doubt as to the degree of drunkenness.” He is to be returned to duty or retired.


Yet again another officer is acquitted of charges for violation of the Articles. Later on we will find some officers that did not fair as well as these shown so far.


A Recruit assigned to the General Service of the U. S. found himself in a situation that he did not like and decided to change his status. He did, on August 29, 1879, desert and remained absent until November 5, 1869 when a $30 reward was paid for his return to custody. Recognizing the error of his ways he pled guilty to the charge in agreement with

the Courts finding and was sentenced to forfeit all pay, be marked with the letter “D”, receive a dishonorable discharge and be confined for one year at hard labor wearing a ball weighing 20 pounds attached to a chain of four and one-half feet. The reviewing authority thought that this sentence was sufficient and confirmed the sentence.


Not so was the sentence of another Recruit this time assigned to the General Mounted Service who changed his status to deserter for five days, and for which a reward of $30 was paid. His plea of guilty was agreed to by the Court but a much harsher sentence was given him. It included the usual forfeiture of pay, marking with the letter “D”, dishonorable discharge and confinement at hard labor while wearing the 20 pound ball and chain but at the end of the confinement he was to be trumpeted out of the garrison. Upon the recommendation of a majority of the members of the Court, however, based upon the mental deficiency of the prisoner, so much of the sentence as related to confinement at hard labor is remitted.


Still another Recruit of the General Mounted Service wanted a change of scenery and he deserted too. He left on October 20 and remained free until November 5, 1869, while gone, and added to his charges was the charge of selling his clothes, in violation of the 38th Article of War, in that he did sell or improperly dispose for his own benefit one blanket. His pleas of not guilty to the desertion charge and guilty to the selling of the blanket were in agreement with the findings of the Court and his sentence was to forfeiture of pay for one month. “Inadequate but confirmed” was the decision of the reviewing authority for this trial that was held on January 3, 1870.


Another Private of Cavalry got a favorable review from the reviewing officer when he was charged with desertion and remained absent until apprehended by a detachment sent in pursuit. His guilty plea was, again, in agreement with that of the Court and he was sentenced to forfeit all pay, be marked on the left hip, have his head shaved, given a dishonorable discharge and be drummed out of the service. The reviewer commented that “ . . . dishonorable discharge without other punishment, when a man has so long a time to serve, is not deemed proper punishment for desertion. He will be released and returned to duty.”


Heavier balls were used for some prisoners when they deserted and a Private of Infantry found that out when he was charged with desertion for 40 days, the government having paid $30 for his capture. Guilty was the plea and guilty was the finding of the Court and his sentence was to forfeit all pay, dishonorable discharge and confined at hard labor for one year wearing a ball weighing 24 pounds attached to a chain of three feet long.


One Tuesday night in September 1869 a Private entered the tent of the acting First Sergeant took off his blouse and in a boisterous and threatening manner did use abusive and improper language. What the cause of the action seems to be of interest. When tried for his actions his plea of not guilty was confirmed by the Court and he was acquitted. Comments from the trial officers indicate that the incident occurred as the result of a private argument.


Similar finding came from the trial of an Infantry Private who was charged with neglect of duty on January15, 1870. He was duly posted as a guard in charge of a party of prisoners and he neglected his duty by allowing them to obtain liquor and when they returned to the guard house one prisoner was under the influence. Pleas and finding of not guilty resulted from this trial and the prisoner was returned to duty.


A Recruit of the General Service did not fair as well from his trial in January 1870. He was charged with being drunk and disorderly in his quarters and with conduct in that he did assault with force and violent abuse of an NCO and did cut him with a knife while using abusive and threatening language. His plea to the drunk charge was guilty and to the conduct charge not guilty. The members of the Court didn’t agree with him and found him guilty on both counts sentencing him to be confined in charge of the guard and walking in a ring in front of the guard house carrying a log of wood weighing 30 pounds on his back every alternate two hours from reveille to retreat each day for 20 days, and to forfeit $10 a month for six months.


A Private of Ordinance was drunk on guard on that same Monday night and he was tried on the same date. His plea of guilty was affirmed and he received the sentence of confinement for 30 days and each alternate hour, from reveille to retreat, he got to carry a weight of 40 pounds.


Not so for this Infantry Private from the DOTP, who was charged with drunkenness on duty. Sentenced to forfeit $10 per month for two months and confinement under the guard for one month walking with the Sentinel while carrying a log of 25 pounds, two on and four off.


Theft was one of the major violations tried in this period of time and a Private of Infantry was one of those that stood before the officers of the Court to be tried on those charges. He was accused, while detailed as company cook, of taking from the warehouse 25 pounds of bacon and four pounds of coffee. He was also charged with disposing of company rations and of selling them to a citizen named French John. Not guilty was the plea of this Private to the charges but guilty was the finding. His sentence was to refund to the company the market value of the bacon and coffee and to forfeit $10 per month for six months. The reviewing authority affirmed the action with the part of refunding at market value being remitted since it is not sanctioned by law.


A Private of Cavalry also had charges of robbery and theft added to his initial charge of desertion when he appeared before the Court. He was charged with desertion for one day, July 12 to July 13, 1869, when a $30 reward was paid. More serious charges were added to his woes when robbery and theft were included stating that “ . . . he did take and steal one Spencer carbine, one mule, one saddle, one bridle.” Adding to his this he was also charged that “. . . he did administer drugs to a wagoner and while under the influence of said drugs did steal money, amount unknown.” His not guilty plea was not believed by the Court and he was sentenced to receive a dishonorable discharged, forfeit all pay, and be confined at hard labor for two years. The trial review concurred with the findings and sentence.


Artillery violators seem few in this group but one Private of Artillery found that he was charged. He did absent himself, no other details were reported, and then was charged with drunkenness. The statement in the charge was worded to show the effect of his drunkenness by stating “he became beastly drunk and entirely unfit to perform any duty.” Guilty was the finding of the Court and his sentence was confinement for one month at hard labor and to forfeit $10 per month for the same period. A strange period of time before this trial is noted here in that the date of the offense was May 22, 1869 and the date of trial was July 13, 1870. One wonders if he was confined during the entire period of time.


A Sergeant of Cavalry met the charge of drunk on duty for an offense on Monday, October 11, 1869. He was ordered to take “ . . . charge of a detachment and to patrol Cools Canyon . . . ”and while assigned he did become so intoxicated as to be unable to perform that duty-so much so as to be “utterly helpless.” Adding to this charge was another that his conduct was not that expected of an NCO, and the charge was ordered that “ . . . he did become helplessly drunk as to be unable to sit his horse and did fall off of his horse and did require that he be tied on his horse to enable him to return to his post.” “Not Guilty” he stated to the Court but they did not agree with him. He was sentenced to be reduced to the ranks and to forfeit $15 a month for six months, and to be confined at hard labor for one month. The reviewing authority did not agree with the sentence and mitigated it. They commented that “ . . . so much as related to the second charge, which is substantially the same and was therefore unnecessary and should have been thrown out by the court . . . so much of the sentence that related to a forfeiture of pay, being unauthorized, is void.”


Yet another Private of Infantry met with the Court on a charge of being drunk on duty, this time by being drunk at the drill of his company. His not guilty was not in agreement with the Court and he was sentenced to confinement for one month. Commentary by the Court stated that “ . . . the Court is lenient on account of the prisoner have been illegally punished for the offense charged.”


Infantry Privates come up again in a trial for an offense committed on September 16, 1869 when one of them was charged with desertion from September 16 until apprehended on September 17, 1869. The guilty finding and sentence of forfeiture of $10 a month for three months was conditionally upheld by the reviewer. His comment was that “the Court erred in the findings. The testimony show that this soldier absented himself from his company and post with the intention to desert: that he was pursued and arrested while endeavoring to make his escape from the party sent in pursuit and his return was involuntary. It matters not how short was the absence, the Court should have found guilt of the charge and specification.”


Another case in which the reviewing authority commented, and in this case, did not affirm the finding of the trial court. A Private was accused of robbery “ . . . in that he did feloniously and with force and violence rob or did aid and assist another to rob a discharged soldier, did take $64 and did threaten the life of the soldier if he disclosed the robbery.” The strange thing happens here in that the accused did not plead, but the plea was recorded as “in bar of trial” and the finding of the Court was the same.


No sentence was given since there was no trial and the case sent for review. Here the reviewing officer had comments to make too. There is no affirmation that the Court erred in accepting the plea ‘in bar of trial.” The 99th Article of War applies to all disorders and neglects and can be punished by a military court for the offense against military law and a civil court for the civil crime also.


High price to pay for a violation was the sentence of a Cavalry Private who was charged for theft and the carrying away of a pair of cavalry trowsers [sic] value of $3.93 from another soldier. Not guilty was the plea made to the Court but guilty was the finding. For his $3.93 theft he was sentenced to forfeit $10 per month for four months and to be confined at hard labor for the same period.


Another Private charged with theft of one pair of pants, the property of another, found his guilty plea acceptable to the Court and he was sentenced to be confined at hard labor for six months wearing a ball of 30 pounds and a chain four feet long and to forfeit $10 per month for the same period. Same dollar value, different Court officers, different sentences.


We “Honorably Acquit Him” was the Courts finding of a Second Lieutenant charged with conduct violations. This Cavalry officer, who pled not guiltily, was charged with a violation while having been placed in charge of a government train in that he did abandon the same leaving it in charge of an NCO. Also with this charge were additional charges including “that said Lieutenant did engage in a quarrel and fight with citizens in a public bar room while dressed in the uniform of an officer greatly to the scandal and disgraces of the military services”, and “when specifically ordered by his commanding officer not to go into town did disobey the order and did go to town,” and the final charge was that he “ . . . while in command was drunk.” The plea was accepted and the court made its statement.


Not so lucky was this Private of Cavalry who was also charged and tried the same day. His charges and specification were numerous and his not guilty to them was not the result of the trial findings. December 21, 1869, a Tuesday, was the beginning of the end of this enlisted mans military career for being friends with the liquor bottle. His conduct was the charge against him, with the first stating that he “ . . . did become so drunk as to not perform his duties.” Then on December 22 he “ . . . did become so drunk as to not perform his duties.” January 10, 1870 found him again with the same charge followed by the listing of January 29, January 30, February 3 and 4, 1870. In addition to the drunk charges he was also charged with while being detailed as an orderly on December 2, 1869 he did become drunk; while detailed as a stable guard he did become drunk; while on the sick report and excused from duty he did become drunk; and the final statement of his drinking habit was clearly stated in the last of the charges where the complaining officer states “ . . . being duly enlisted for five years has, since December 17, 1869,been unable to perform a soldiers duty by reason of drinking alcoholic spirits.” His sentence was to forfeit all pay, and the unusual marking of a man to be “ . . . with the initial letter of the ‘worthless’, and ten days thereafter be dishonorably discharged. The reviewer agreed with all of the sentence except the marking.


Another deserter, this time a Recruit in the General Services, left his post and command on September 17, 1869 and remained absent until November 24, 1869. His not guilty was not held by the Court and they sentenced him to forfeit all pay due until November 24 upon which time he returned to the recruiting office, to make good the time lost, namely 69 days, confined at hard labor for one month, forfeit pay of $10 per month for the same period. Comments of the Court were to the effect that the Court is thus lenient in consideration of the youth and inexperience of the recruit.


Corporals of Cavalry came next in the series of trials and one Corporal was charged with neglect of duty while being regularly detailed did allow the sentinel whose duty it was to herd the horses to leave his post and sit down under a tree with him. “This at a time when great vigilance was required to prevent the horses from being stampeded by the Indians.” Not guilty was the plea and finding of the Corporal and was in agreement with the Court who did acquit him.


Sleeping when detailed was the downfall of another Corporal who was charged with, while being detailed as Corporal of the Guard and being given charge of the third relief did lie down and go to sleep while his relief was on post. Later, upon being called by a sentinel to get up and receive the countersign from the officer of the guard, who had just been challenged, did advance towards the officer with his trowsers [sic] unbuttoned in such a manner as to expose his person and with his saber belt buckled around him under his blouse. Guilty was the finding even though the accused pled not guilty, and the sentence was such that he would not think again about sleeping on post. He was to forfeit $10 per month for three months and be reduced to the grade of private.


Unusual weaponry in his possession and larceny brought another Private of Infantry before the Court for trial. He “ . . . did feloniously take and carry away of saber belt and plate a value of $1.90.” His conduct was such that he had in his possession one “murderous weapon” known as a “slung shot” and did say to the officer of the day that “ . . . it was his pet that he had for a long time.” Disregarding his not guilty plea the Court found him guilty and a severe sentence was imposed: Forfeiture of all pay, dishonorable discharge, to be drummed out of the garrison and then to be confined for three years at hard labor. “We agree” stated the reviewing authority and the sentence was to be carried out.


Cavalry Corporals seem to be in number at the trials during this time, with another one charged with theft on January 12, 1870. Maybe he had musical talents that were not developed for he was charged with, in the first charge, the theft of a violin at the value of $3. Later he did steal from the tent of an NCO a pocket knife at the value of fifty cents. His musical talents maybe were not that good on the violin because he then stole from a Private one French harp the value of which was $1.50. Guilty on the charges of stealing the knife and harp and not guilty on the theft of the violin was the finding of the Court. For the chance to test his musical abilities he was sentenced to be reduced to the rank of Private Sentinel, forfeit $10 per month for four months and to be confined at hard labor for the same period.


This officer, a Second Lieutenant of Cavalry, deserves a special entry of his own. In the report of the trial four pages are given to his trial for violation of conduct standards and to the comments of the reviewing officer. This trial was held at Saint Louis, Missouri on March 29, 1870 from actions by said officer on or about December 6, 1869 at Fort Sill, Indian Territory. The first charge “In that Lt. Doyle did, in the private quarters of an officer, and in the presence of officers and civilians use insulting language toward Lt. Lebo saying you are a G– D--ed lying S–of a B---- or words to that effect.” He then went to another officer’s quarters, this time a Captain, and “did, in the private quarters of said Captain, use menacing and insulting language toward Brevet Captain Badge, saying Badge, you are a G– D----- stinking S– of a B---- and I will kill you before I sleep.” To aid in his threat to Captain Badger “ . . . having menaced and threatened Captain Badger did proceed to his (Doyle’s) own quarters and did then and there, with malice and evil intent, load a carbine saying, when asked by another Lieutenant, what he intended to do with said carbine “I intend to kill that G– D----Badger before I sleep.” Adding to his actions and threat he did make repeated threats saying “I intend to kill Badger on sight and you will believe it when you see his dead body laid out.” His anger continued, after the threat to Lt. Lebo, by his action and “Did provoke and enter into a quarrel with, and did draw a pistol and shoot it, with intent to kill, Lt. Lebo.”

His feelings of anger and resentment continued over into the next day for on Tuesday, December 7, 1869 he “ . . . did up braid Lt. Lebo for refusing a challenge saying ‘I offered you a pistol to go out and shoot with me at twenty paces and you did not dare to do it, you are a G– D—ed coward’.” This in the presence of several officers. Still the day was not good for Lt. Doyle as later, in his disagreement with Lt. Lebo, did again, “ . . . enter and provoke a quarrel, fray or disorder with Lt. Lebo and did draw a pistol loaded with powder and ball and did shoot at with intent to kill said Lt. Lebo.” His day did not end with his failed attempt to shoot and kill but continued into the quarters of another officer, Captain Gray, where he “did provoke and participate in another quarrel with Lt. Lebo” and therein did “draw his pistol, loaded with powder and ball, and did shoot with intent to kill Captain Gray while he, Gray, was in the execution of his duty in attempting to quell the fray or disorder.” Brevet Colonel Sanders then became involved by ordering Lt. Doyle to arrest in his quarters he “ . . . did, in violation of such order and without proper authority leave his quarters and did visit the quarters of Lt. Day” and his day ended with yet another charge of “violating his arrest.”

When tried his not guilty pleas were received by the Court but not upheld. With some minor variations to wording his findings were guilty and the sentence given was one that, to an officer and gentleman, should have been sufficient to prevent any further violations. The sentence was that he was to be suspended from rank and pay for six months, and to be confined to the limits of the Post at which his company may be serving for the same period. The reviewing officer could not let all of the findings stand and among his comments were “Lt. Doyle, as shown by the testimony, engaged in a disgraceful broil and fray, and used language and committed acts as clearly unbecoming an officer and gentleman as they were prejudicial to good order and military discipline-none the less – so the other officers named in the specifications were also culpable.” The sentence is approved and will be so ordered. The reader must wonder what caused all of the anger shown by the officer and how much he was provoked in continuing his act and attempts. The challenges of the Western Army commanders.


Disrespect from a Sergeant to an officer took place on February 23, 1870 when he, in a rude manner, did enter the office room at the guard house and in a peremptory and highly disrespectful tone of voice and manner of expression ordered the officer of the day to confine an enlisted man by orders of the commanding officer. A further show of his lack of military courtesy was given when the officer of the day asked if that was the way he was taught to address an officer and he did reply, in a rude manner, “yes it is.” He found out that that was not proper when his not guilty plea was rejected and he was found guilty with the sentence of being reduced to the ranks.


An Infantry Sergeant met with a similar finding after his guilty plea to being drunk on duty was received by the Court. His charge was, while serving as Sergeant of the main guard did become drunk. A much harsher sentence was given him in that he too was reduced in rank but he was to be confined at hard labor for the remainder of his enlistment and then dishonorably discharged. Another career ruined by the liquor bottle.


One Infantry Private apparently wanted to be remembered by those who came in contact with him and he left a lasting reminder of his presence. On a Wednesday in December 1869, according to the charges filed, he was AWOL from tattoo roll-call and he did visit town. Not so bad in itself but while in town his actions brought on several more charges. He entered the house of a civilian and with a loaded pistol demanded whisky and he threatened the life of the civilian and used abusive language toward him and he also threatened the lives of others in the house and he threatened to shoot them also. Not that this was enough but he discharged his weapon at citizens and their houses. He then did enter the house of a female citizen by breaking and entering, did enter her trunks and scattered her property about the house. Then to add further to his problems he did enter the house of another female and did steal a pair of pillow cases. One wonders what the value of having pillow cases might be after all these violent actions. He pled not guilty but the Court did not agree and he was sentenced to forfeit all pay, receive a dishonorable discharge and be confined for one year. Comments from the Court show how violent this private’s action might have been and the resistance he might have found by stating “the Court is thus lenient because of the sever punishment already dealt the prisoner by the loss of his eye in the fray.”


Items of food seem to be popular for the post. Like the earlier private who took flour this First Sergeant of Infantry was charged with “having borrowed one barrel of mess port, weighing 200 pounds” and when questioned about it did represent that it has been accounted for and a return ration order was given and it was not accountable to the company. Serious charge for a First Sergeant, who generally had in many years of service to reach that rank, and he pleaded not guilty to his conduct in accounting. The Court found him guilty and he was reduced to the rank of Private Soldier, to forfeit $12 per month for four months and to be confined for 50 days.


Thirst was the reason for the next case listed since this Private of Cavalry was, apparently, very dry and needed refreshment and it took money to get that relief that comes only from a bottle and he went about it in the only manner, at first, that he knew. He was charged with AWOL by being absent from tattoo roll-call on the night of April 4, 1870. He was then charged with a conduct violation in that he did pawn or leave in pledge one cavalry overcoat, “to be worn in his duty to the government, did pawn it to the keeper of a saloon for whisky purchased. Maybe on that Monday night in April it was cold for the next charge stated that after he pawned his overcoat he did enter the saloon after everyone was gone and did steal the overcoat and, to be sure of warmth during the night, did also steal one bottle of native wine and currency amounting to $33.50 and one Suttler’s check for 50 cents. He pled not guilty to being AWOL and guilty to the breaking and entering but the Court found him guilty on both counts and sentenced him to a dishonorable discharge and to be confined for two years.


Still another Cavalry Private was charged with AWOL, from 2 A. M. to 5 P. M. and for theft of a Spencer carbine, cal. .50. Not guilty was the plea and finding and he was returned to duty.


A long period of confinement already served released this Private after his sentence of confinement at hard labor for one day. He was AWOL from June 19 to June 21, 1869 at which time he surrendered. His plea and the Courts finding were guilty and he received hard labor for one day. The comments of the Court were “The Court is thus lenient on account of the prisoner having been already confined for nearly six months.” Slow to trial? I think this might also give some impression of early justice by the military. No speedy trial here.


Another Cavalryman came before the Court for his actions on March 20, 1869. He was charged with being AWOL with a plea of not guilty and he was then charged with unlawful arrest. Interesting charge for the actions of this man in that he, with others, did unlawfully arrest by force of arms and search two citizens. Adding to this charge was one of robbery wherein he, with others, did feloniously and with force and violence rob two citizens supplying vegetables and other necessaries and did take four revolving pistols and $200 for his own use. Guilty was the finding of the Court and his sentence seems appropriate to the crime. Dishonorable discharge, forfeit all pay, have his head shaved and bugled out of the garrison and to be confined at hard labor for 10 years. The reviewer mitigated the sentence to five years and affirmed it. Possibly this enlisted man did not like the kind of vegetable offered or liked the money that came with supplying them.


Another Sergeant found that the Court did not take lightly the charge of theft and drunkenness. He was charged with entering the quarters of an officer and did take one $5 gold coin, four silver $1 coins, and pair of gold sleeve buttons. After taking them he was charged with having them in his possession and presented them at the post trader and spent them. He then became drunk and when he was left in charge of the company quarters and a detachment, and during the absence of the troop commander while on a scouting trip, he became so drunk as to be utterly unable to perform any of the duties of a soldier. Again a not guilty plea was made by the accused but the Court found, on the theft charge, not guilty and on the drunk charge, guilty. Sentence was that he be reduced to the ranks and to forfeit $15 per month for one month. When the case got to the review stage a difference of opinion as to the sentence was heard and it was commented that “ . . . the trial court having found guilt of enough of the drunk on-duty charge should have found as well all of the charges laid. So much of the sentence that imposes forfeiture of pay for the drunk on duty charge is unauthorized and void.”


Over 90 days from the date of occurrence to the date of trial for this Infantry Private who was charged for a conduct violation. While he was employed on extra duty and ordered to work by an NCO, he refused to do so and used improper language toward him. When he was informed that he could be confined, he again used improper language in his comments. Then when the NCO attempted to arrest him he went to his tent, took down his gun, loaded it and took aim at the NCO and told him “that he would shoot him dead.” Guilty was to finding of the Court and his sentence was to forfeit $14 per month for six months, be confined at hard labor wearing a ball of 24 pounds attached to a chain of three feet for the same period of time.


Another Private of Cavalry found himself before the trial officers on an AWOL charge and of disposing of a pistol. He was absent from May 27 to reveille on May 29, 1870. The charge indicates that he did sell, lose, or otherwise dispose of one Remington pistol. Guilty was his plea and guilty was the finding of the Court and his sentence combined forfeiture of pay and confinement. The forfeiture was of $50 (for the loss of the pistol) to be made in weekly stoppages not to exceed one-half of his pay, to be confined in the post guardhouse for 40 days, with every alternate ten days to be in solitary confinement and on bread and water. The reviewing officer did not agree with the sentence of this Private First Class who was charged “ . . . while having charge of the guard mount on the morning of May 18 did leave said guard and go without the arsenal to a barroom.” Pleading not guilty to the charge, the Court found him guilty and sentenced him to a strange and different sentence of forfeiting $5 for one month and reprimand by his commander. “The Court is inexcusably at fault in imposing such a grave military offense with such an unusually slight and wholly inadequate sentence.”


Cavalrymen, in dealing with horses, sometime have a temper that is hard to control, or so this Private found out. He was charged in that he “did treat a horse in a brutal manner and did throw at and strike said horse with a picket pin inflicting a severe wound.” His not guilty plea was overruled by the Court and they finding him guilty sentenced him to forfeit $14 per month for three months and to be confined at hard labor for the same period.


This Captain of the General Service was charged with neglect while the senior officer of a detachment of recruits in that he failed to observe one of the basic tenants of commend, that being to take care of your men first. He failed to report their arrival; left his command before proper transfer; neglected to see that the men were properly cared for; and permitted himself and his officers to leave and went to a nearby town to return the next day. The next charge against this officer was that all men were present at roll-call before he and his officers left the command and none had been drinking; he left the command without an officer in control and when roll-call was taken the next day seven men were absent and thereby listed as deserters. The officer gave a false report as to the men’s presence, and upon roll-call the next day two more men were missing. He is guilty said the Court, even if he pleads not guilty and his sentence, unusual as it is, was to be reprimanded in General Orders. Court comments regarding these violations were “the commanding general thinks it unnecessary to add anything to the sentence which is in itself a sufficient reprimand to an honorable officer.”

A comment of note of this trial is that the violations occurred on May 6 and 7, 1870 and the date of trial was August 2, 1870. If he were an enlisted man, he probably would have been confined until trial. How this officer was treated is anyone’s guess, but he probably wasn’t confined to quarters until trial he should have been.


Some of the black cavalrymen, the “Buffalo Soldiers”, were before the trial courts for violations and this Private had many charges filed against him for his actions starting on a Tuesday in May 1870. The first charge was for insubordination when he responded to an NCO in an insolent manner “How the hell did I know what you falling in for?” The second charge was for mutinous conduct in that he called the First Sergeant “a damned black s– of a b----; did threaten to shoot him and did shoot at him using two cartridges of government issue and said “I will kill the black s– of a b----; a third charge of assault was made, reflecting on the specifications above, that he took up, loaded and fired two cartridges at the First Sergeant with intent to kill and said “ . . . I will kill the black s– of a -b---- if it takes me ten years to do it.” The Court had comments upon the sentence after a guilty finding in that they ordered a forfeiture of all pay, dishonorable discharge, confined for one year and commented that they were thus lenient in view of the harsh and unnecessary conduct of the First Sergeant of his toward the prisoner. The findings and sentence are disapproved” said the reviewing officers and lengthy comments were made about the trial and the treatment of the prisoner during his confinement. The date of the offense was May 31 and the date of the trial was August 9, 1870. The comments included remarks about the conduct of the First Sergeant, “The evidence of this case shows a reckless disregard of discipline and want of knowledge on the part of the First Sergeant, and the offense charged against the man, which under ordinary circumstance would be a most serious one, seems to have grown out of the illegal and inhuman punishment to which he was subjected by his superiors.”


The effects of drink took another Cavalryman down when he was tried and convicted on August 12, 1870 for an offense that occurred on May 29. His AWOL charge was followed by a charge of disobedience when ordered to dress himself and turn out for inspection that Sunday morning. He was also charged with habitual drunkenness in that he did become so addicted to the use of whiskey so as to become an habitual and confirmed drunkard rendering himself worthless and unreliable as a soldier. A sentence that seems to not conform with similar charges was given in that he was to forfeit $15 per month for three months and to be confined at hard labor for four months. One wonders if the confinement cured his drinking habit and if he was then a better soldier as a result of this enforced drying out period.


Guilty to being AWOL was the plea of another private when he was charged with leaving his troop. His conduct, when arrested, left a lot to be desired of a soldier of the U.S. Army. When arrested he behaved in an abusive and disrespectful manner toward an officer and “ . . . did refuse to move on a trot . . . ” and required force to compel him to join his troop. Many other charges were filed against this man and they included that he had in his canteen spirituous liquor and when it was emptied by an officer he said “You will to make that good” and it was said in a disrespectful manner while the troop was on the march. He was also charged with selling government property and to top off his actions while under arrest on the march he deserted the troop while a prisoner and until such time as he surrendered himself the next day. It was not stated in the trial review as to what property was sold but from the sentence is was of some value since he had a stoppage of $53.75 from his pay to be taken in sums not exceeding one-half his regular pay, then to be confined at hard labor for six months and to carry a loaded knapsack weighing 30 pounds every alternate hour from reveille to retreat one day in each ten for the same six months.


Yet another Cavalry Private was charged and tried on the same day for a violation that occurred over four months previous. His charge was theft in that he stole $10 in money from another private. The Court found this to be a very serious charge and upon finding him guilty they sentenced him to forfeit all pay, received a dishonorable discharge and to be confined for one year. The reviewer did not agree and disaffirmed the sentence with comments that the Court erred in receiving as evidence the confession or statement made by the prisoner while undergoing the torture he was illegally subjected to. The sentence being incomplete is disapproved. Another trial held over four months after the alleged violation occurred.


Mutiny was a rare occurrence in some parts of the army and in the isolated and lonely areas there was probably more chance of soldiers becoming unhappy with their lot. A Private Second Class, of Ordinance, knew about a mutinous plot and he also knew the intention of taking the life of a Captain, and he further knew that the person had a gun and cartridges to carry out his plot, yet he failed to report it. He also was charged with harboring and feeding the mutinous person, who he knew was a deserter, and he failed his duty to arrest him. Guilty was the finding from his not guilty plea and his sentence was, it seems, appropriate to the charge in that he was to forfeit all pay, get a dishonorable discharge, to serve at hard labor for two years.


A Private of Infantry seemed to be seeking better conditions when he deserted for 136 days who, upon his return, a $30 reward was paid. He was tried almost four months later for his crime and the guilty plea and finding got him a sentence with a Court comment. He was to forfeit all pay and receive a dishonorable discharge. The comment of the Court was that the Court was lenient in consideration of the prisoners’ age and infirmities, his lack or ordinary intelligence, and in their belief in the truth of his written statement, and also on account of the length of time to prisoner had already been confined. It would appear that an old soldier, exhibiting the results of Army life and possible battle, was held without speedy trial and his mental state was such that he could not continue to perform well as a soldier. This is another of the unusual sentences heard by the Court and may well reflect their feelings, in late September 1869, of some of the changes going on in the Frontier Army.


Dedication to duty and the Army brought this Cavalry Private before the Court and his action brought comment from both the Court and the reviewer. He was charged with contempt of court by forcing himself into the presence of a General Courts Martial and thereby disturbing the proceedings. He was a good man according to testimony given by defense witnesses and the Court was thus lenient. His guilty finding cost him $5 for one month. “From the testimony this breach of decorum seems to have resulted from an uncommon zeal in the discharge of his duty rather than an intention to do wrong” said the reviewer and the sentence was affirmed.


A good smoke seemed to be the desire of another Private who was charged with theft, in that he did steal one meerschaum pipe from the quarters of an officer and did hide it in his belongings until searched at the guard house. Strange finding, with having the stolen property in his possession, the Court found him not guilty and returned him to duty. It may have been of some influence to the Court that the trial was held four months after the alleged violation.


A charge of sleeping on post was made against another Private posted as a sentinel of the public hay stacks. He did not plead to the charges and the Court found him not guilty and thereby acquitted him. The reviewer did not affirm the trial court and commented that the record was defective since it does not show the accused was allowed to plead.


Another Buffalo Soldier was before the Court for disobedience of an order when he was ordered by the First Sergeant to get ready for inspection he “ . . . did positively refuse and did behave in an insubordinate manner.” Not guilty was his plea and guilty was the finding of the Court, with comments following the sentence of confinement at hard labor for one day. The comments included the statement of leniency on account of the severe punishment already inflicted upon the prisoner. The sentence was not affirmed by the reviewer and his comment was “ . . . the evidence in this case shows an utter disregard on the part of superiors of the right of the private soldier.” Five months from violation to trial.


Some other reports from DOTP indicate the variances in sentencing and the lack of variety of trials held in their jurisdiction.


Infantry Private Stanislaus Johnson had an interesting time with the Court and with the Army in a period of just over five months. Originally charged with theft, and Conduct for his actions in May of 1869, he appeared before the Court. His plea was not guilty to the charges. The Court, however, didn’t quite agree and found him guilty of the Conduct charge and not guilty of the theft charge. The sentence was, obviously, quite harsh in that he was to be dishonorably discharged and confined to a military prison for one year. The reviewing officer mitigated the sentence to forfeiture of all pay and allowances and confinement in the guard house wherever his Company may be serving for the same period. All this in July, 1869. An undated extract of orders showed that:

“Upon the recommendation of his Commanding Officer, the unexecuted portion of the sentence awarded by the Court-Martial of Pvt . Sigismund H. Johnson alias Stanislaus Johnson be remitted.”


Now comes October 16, 1869 under Company Orders 17 now Corporal Sigismund H. Johnson he is hereby promoted Sergeant of Company G, 4th Infantry. From Private/Prisoner to Sergeant in just five months. He must have been something special.


Desertion, being the curse of the Army of this period, brought another Infantry Private before the Court. The plea and finding of guilty with a sentence of forfeiting all pay and allowances that are now due him, except the just dues of the laundress, to be confined at hard labor for six month wearing a chain of six feet attached to his left leg and with a ball weighing 24 pounds. This Private deserted again and the sentence previously imposed was reaffirmed with the addition of a dishonorable discharge preceded ten days prior to the completion of his sentence to be indelibly marked with the letter “D” on his left hip: to have his head shaved and to be drummed out of the service.


A Private of Infantry liked his Sunday’s free and when ordered by his Sergeant to assist in policing the Company Quarters positively refused to do so and said “do you not see, I have something else to do. It is a damned petty not a man cannot get Sunday morning to clean up.” He pled guilty to the Charge and Specification and the Court agreed with him and sentenced him to forfeit $8 of his pay for one month.


Words and their effect got this Corporal of Infantry in trouble on October 7, 1869. The Charge was Conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline with the Specification telling us the he, Cpl. Samuel McLaughlin, was drunk and noisy in his quarters. Next, having been ordered to stop dancing and making noise by a Sergeant, he was referred to his First Sergeant and when spoken to did say, “I don’t give a damn for Major Powell or you either or words to that effect and did otherwise offer abusive language to said First Sergeant.” The Court heard his plea of guilty to the Charge and Specification and agreed with him. The sentence was that he be reduced to the rank of Private soldier; to forfeit $10 of his pay for one month; and to be confined in charge of the guard for seven days and to march with the sentinel from Reveille to Retreat two hours on and fours hours off, carrying a log weighing 25 pounds.

Bringing these reviews to a close, we report on the violation of neglect of duty upon a Sergeant of Cavalry. He seemed, by his actions, to not like being a Sergeant for when he was posted as a Provost Sergeant he failed to render prompt assistance to a sentinel struggling with a prisoner who was attempting to escape. The second charge was that he failed to pursue escaping prisoners committed to his care until ordered to do so, he also prevented the officer of the guard from using his (the Sergeants) horse, and he rode in the opposite direction of the escapees when a prompt pursuit might have captured them. Prompt trial for this NCO, just four days, brought a guilty finding and a reduction to the rank of private.


An Infantry Lieutenant while acting as quartermaster sold 16 cords of wood, 100 pounds of paint, five boxes of window glass, ten thousand pounds of corn, the property of the United States, and furnished for military service. His second charge was that he did dispose of the above items for money, shirts, drawers, blankets, and other articles which said Lieutenant was deficient in his accounts. Guilty was the plea and the finding and sentence was such as to be sufficient reprimand by an officer and gentleman. Not so said the reviewing officer and the case was returned “for reconsideration with additional comments from the Judge Advocate that the sentence is so inadequate that it seems to be improperly recorded. There are no mitigating circumstances whatsoever for the action of the officer. The sentence is disapproved and the officer will be released from arrest and restored to duty.”




It will appear to the reader that there was no common standard of punishment for most of the trials reviewed. Some of the accused were found guilty and given harsh punishment, other were not so harshly treated but were given the sentence that seemed most appropriate for the violation and the circumstances surrounding it as viewed by the trial officers. The author feels that there were no set standards of punishment for violations of the Articles of War and that the personal feelings of the trial judges were often times the only guide available for equitable sentence. Many of the old time officers could remember “ how it was when I was a ____” and based their sentences upon that, others, newer to the officer ranks and possibly more frequently conversant with military policy could offer and suggest alternatives to the sentence. Whatever sentence was imposed was to be reviewed by members of the Judge Advocate Generals office and approval or disapproval of it was reported. No sentence could be implemented without this review and if often saved the prisoner from punishment that did not fit the crime or was too harsh. As shown in some of the reviews the reviewer did not always agree with the trial court and made changes more appropriate to the established guides, as they were, in place. By having this review practice some consistency could be established Army-wide and the hopes that all accused and convicted received similar punishment for their crimes. Not subject to review, Summary Courts Martial (Troop or Company Courts), many of the men tried were subject to some of the most horrendous punishments heard of. Some officers had the opportunity to be sadistic in the punishment and took full advantage of it.


Long periods of time must have been spent in the guard house by those accused before trial for many of the trials were held from four to six months after the date of violations shown in the charges and specifications. With the shortage of available fighting men in the camps and on the campaign it would cause the careful reader to wonder if all those accused were held in confinement until trial. Only logically would it be that they were available for duty, yet it was a violation of the Article of War that prisoners be released for other than fatigue duty except when the requirements of the service demanded their presence.


It could be a safe assumption that those prisoners not awaiting immediate trial would be considered available for duty, and on campaign or while in field camps the violators were retained for duty even though they were under arrest.


Those confined for drunkenness should have had ample time to overcome the withdrawal effects of alcohol, yet many men, after serving their time, went back to the liquor bottle and let it control their lives. Deserters would have time to think about their “sins” and probably were planning how to escape the guard house, as did some solders, and to return to the world they left behind.


For further analysis on the Review of Cases see Appendix 1.




Analysis of Department of Missouri Trials


A review of selected random courts-martial reports, 1869-70, supplemented by reports from the Department of the Platte, seeking common denominators of violations in the reports. This analysis reviews the selected 168 cases reported. The review examines three titles of the Missouri Trials; Day of Week; Month of Violation; and Branch of Service. No attempt at matching charges and specifications was undertaken for this analysis. The dates of paydays, not available, contributed to the incidents without doubt.


From this review comments will follow the information for each title.





Monday: 20

Tuesday: 27

Wednesday: 27

Thursday: 19

Friday: 26

Saturday: 34


As can be seen the days of Tuesday, Wednesday, and closely followed by Friday are the most common days but far outranked by Saturday. The lack of activity on the weekend, after a week of hard labor in maintaining the fort or post buildings, grounds and surrounding areas the troopers and infantrymen, were ready for some relaxation time and Saturday is a good time to do it. Either on the post at the Sutler’s store, a nearby town, or even the area hog ranches are all offering something for the thirsty soldier. Not to be forgotten, however, is the remainder of the regular post duties that must be performed regardless of the day of the week or any other thing, duty requires men to fulfill them and it is required that you perform in an acceptable manner. Sundays had a required full inspection in the morning and the troops not required for other duties were released for that half day. Maybe the duties of the post got boring and not exciting or entertaining enough by Tuesday and a break was needed, if not Tuesday then the mid-week day of Wednesday was selected. Sunday inspections were significant and showed less than 25 reported.




Possibly some inference can be drawn from this review. The months varied from 7 violations to 25, as shown, and some definition of the reasons for the variation is attempted following the review. The Annual Report of the Secretary of War to Congress of this period breaks down to:


January: 19

February: 12

March: 12

April: 7

May: 10

June: 8

July: 13

August: 10

September: 12

October: 10

November: 25

December: 23


Beginning in order the following comments may seem relevant.


January – Cold and disagreeable weather was generally present and the discomfort associated with it may have caused numerous problems. Think of the lone sentry posted at the hay stacks, out in the cold and freezing temperatures, all alone and nothing of interest occurring. Lots of time to ponder his fate in the Army or getting sleepy on post. Some temperatures could be reported at -40 below.


February – Much the same conditions as January, snow, cold, winds howling, and alone again. The bunk in the barracks seemed awfully inviting when it was hard to keep awake on sentry duty. The whiskey in the nearby town was calling him to come for a visit if only he could get there and not be caught.


March – More of the same, maybe colder and more windy. Snow might not be as much of a problem but it certainly could be. Maybe this is the month that we got paid and had some time to raise Hell in the town before we got caught. Who knows what happened but it was time to do something.


April – The word was out that the companies or troops were going to the field, what a change from all this bad weather we have been having. At last, something to do and act like soldiers! There probably was still some snow on the ground and in the deep gullies but we can take care of that when we get there. Wind was sure to be a problem. The Indians we were to fight were getting out of their winter quarters about now and maybe we can get some of them. Anything to get away from the fort and do something.


May – The start of the field campaigns and long days and nights in the wilds. Possibly some of the troops didn’t want to leave the comforts of the fort and decided they didn’t want nights out in the field. Maybe, too, the wanderlust of doing something different crossed their minds and it was a good time to desert and seek greener pastures for their labors.


June – Warm days and nights, flowers and trees coming out, fresh clear clean water for man and horse, and the cavalryman’s horse could have early growth grasses. The Indians should be doing something and let’s see what it is. A challenge is offered and accepted.


July – Hot summer weather when man and beast suffered from the drying effects of the sun beating down. The grasses were suffering from a lack of rain, or the whole area was soggy from to much rain and travel was difficult. Every little gully had to be bridged if the water was running fast. “We’ve been out three months and I’m getting dry for some of that whiskey.”


August – The daytime temperatures might reach into the upper degrees and we are starting to show a lack of water and good grasses. Nights might get a little cooler but not enough to prevent our sleep. The ground is not the best place to sleep on and the rocks are making their presence known as we sleep. We haven’t seen many Indians and those we saw were mostly friendly. Our rations are getting slimmer each day unless we can kill fresh wild game or catch fish for our meals. Even the coffee is tasting badly and the bacon or salt pork, if any is left, has turned to all grease and we can’t eat it. Hardtack and coffee make a very poor meal when we are on the move. It’s about time to return to the fort anyway. Our clothes are tattered and worn and we haven’t shaved in months. We look like a bunch of wild men out here. Baths aren’t real popular and most of the men haven’t had one for a long time.


September – The nights are getting cooler and the blanket feels good some nights. Daytimes are not that bad and we can move without much effort. We need some fresh food and the horses need better food, we ran out of oats and grain a long time ago. Maybe it’s time for a change.


October – The fall weather is starting to come on us and we can see snow in the mountains around us. The nights are colder and the blankets welcome. We are seeing some of the fall flowering plants setting fruit and berries are welcome at the meals. Time to return to the forts was given and we move, slowly now since we are all tired, back the way we came. The old fort will look good one of these days. We wonder if it has changed any while we were gone. What kind of reception will we get when this rag-tag looking bunch comes in the front gates.


November – Were back and back into the daily routines, building, repairing, drills, make do work, and we’ve just about had enough of it, anyway, Thanksgiving is coming and it would sure be nice to be someplace else for it. Not long until the snow and wind start up again and all of the misery that goes with it. Long nights on sentry duty. “I wonder if I can get away from here and not be caught? Maybe I can find a job in town or move on to someplace else.”


December – The cold returned and sometimes with a vengeance with strong winds and blowing snow and poor visibility. It’s hard to work outside on the repair duties and since the river has frozen over some of us have ice duty to collect ice for the fort for next year. Christmas is coming, a time to be with family and friends and here we are, out in the West with nothing but wind and cold and rolling hills. No promise that Christmas day will be any different than any other day, maybe something different in the mess hall and half a day off but that will be about it. There must be something better than this Army and maybe I should try and find it. Nothing to do here but busy work and suffer from the cold at the daily retreat ceremonies.




The warriors of the Army, namely the Infantry and Cavalry, obviously compose the majority of members of the force. Being soldiers of adventure and liking challenges they are most active in their lifestyles. As shown in the rankings the range of violators goes from 77 to 1. This wide variation indicates that the support troops are somewhat less likely to violate some of the Articles of War but with those selected for review the following supports that theory.


Cavalry: 77

Infantry: 58

General Service (troops not assigned): 10

Ordnance: 9

Engineers: 6

Artillery: 4

General Medical: 1


The wild and hard charging Cavalry taking the lead in violators reflects on some of these members. Often the first to engage in warfare with the enemy and frequently suffering the greatest losses they are a unique breed of fighter. Due to their training they are often feared by those they face and when engaged in fighting they are always making their presence known with their fierce fighting tactics. More Cavalry were assigned to the Western posts than any other branch. Perhaps this is why they lead the list.


Infantry, or Walks a Heaps the Indian definition of them, march to their battles instead of riding and are known for their stamina and endurance of mind and body. On ground fighters they are generally well equipped to continue the fight after the cavalry has pulled back for regrouping. Strong of mind and body they enjoy their flings at doing something different or in a different way. Hard to control in their limited free time they take advantage of every opportunity to live life to its fullest for tomorrow they might be dead.


General Service troops are generally young men who have not completed any firm basic training experiences and are undergoing on-the-job training at the time. Youth has a wanderlust for adventure in a new and different land without parental supervision. The boy now living the glorious life of a soldier still does not fully understand his responsibilities as one and tends to stray from the path of approved behavior.


Ordnance, the troopers that deal with the ammunition and other explosive devises of the Army are more highly skilled in their profession and are more serious in their lifestyle. Some do go astray and wind up in a Courts-Martial for that act. Solid and stable can identify the Ordnance man.


Engineers are the builders and major repairmen of the Army. They are a hardy bunch that have great responsibilities for good work and deeds. They, too, make the mistake of drifting from the straight and narrow ways of the Army and find themselves answering to their sins of the ways.


Artillerymen, those that fire the ‘big’ guns that go a long way and, when loaded with the proper shot, do a lot of damage. They too are staples of the Army and yet, like other soldiers, do stray from the path. A rambunctious group sometimes that can make their presence known to those around them and enjoyer’s of good drink and food. They too must pay for their violations of the Articles and no leniency is given for their wanton ways.


With only one in the General Medical field we will look at what he did and how he paid for his violation. A Hospital Steward after an evening of drinking used foul and abusive language to a Non-commissioned officer and made threats to him. His guilty plea was accepted by the court and the sentence was to forfeit $10 per month of his pay for two months.


This brief analysis reports on the type of soldier that came before the Courts-Martial. Officers and enlisted men were tried by the General Court and experienced officers, often with many years of service, served on the Board.




During the period between 1890 and 1891, and with the encouragement of the Secretary of War and the Generals of the Army, a new set of standards of punishment were prepared, approved and published. The now newly issued Instructions for Courts-Martial including Summary Courts and dated 1891 contain the standards by which the Court should impose sentence. These lengthy standards were set to insure equal sentence(s) for violations of the newly revised Articles of War to insure compliance with other regulations and rules promulgated by the Secretary of War and the Congress.

Punishment, under the Articles of War, is either left to the discretion of a court-martial, or is made wholly or partially mandatory. If the article violated is mandatory, any other punishment than that described is illegal. “The legal punishment of soldiers which courts-martial may award . . . are death, confinement, confinement on bread and water, solitary confinement, hard labor, ball and chain,, forfeiture of pay and allowances, dishonorable discharge from service and reprimand, and for non-commissioned officers, also reduction to the ranks.”(Source: Para.1021, A. R.)


Additional limitations to punishments were found in the same paragraph where the bread and water diet is discussed as well as that of the ball and chain. “Solitary confinement, or confinement on bread and water diet, shall not exceed fourteen days at a time, nor be again enforced until a period of fourteen days has elapsed. Nor shall such confinement exceed eighty-four days in any one year . . . Punishment by ball and chain should be imposed only in extreme cases.”(Source: Para.1021, A. R.)


Previous trials and convictions may be properly inquired into after the court has arrived at its findings and before pronouncing sentence, to see if the prisoner is an old offender and, therefore, less entitled to leniency than if on trial for his first offense.


Quoting the above Act introduction and the standards were given as follows:

“. . . the following limits to the punishment of enlisted men, together with the accompanying regulations, are established for the government in time of peace of all courts-martial, and will take effect thirty days after the date of this order.”


I Subject to the modification authorized in subdivision 3 of this Section the punishment for desertion shall not exceeds the following -

In the case of a soldier who surrenders-

(a) When such surrender is made within thirty days after desertion, confinement at hard labor, with forfeiture of all pay and allowance, for three months.

(b) When such surrender is made after an absence of more than thirty days and not more than ninety days, confinement at hard labor, with forfeiture of all pay and allowance for six months.

© When such surrender is made after an absence of more than ninety days, dishonorable discharge, with forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement at hard labor for eighteen months, provided, that in case of a deserter who has not been more than three months in the service, the confinement shall not exceed ten months.

2. In the case of a soldier who does not surrender-

(a) When at the time of desertion he shall have been less than three months in the service, dishonorable discharge, with forfeiture of all pay and allowance, confinement at hard labor for one year.

(b) When at the time of desertion he shall have been three months or more but less than six months in the service, dishonorable discharge, with forfeiture of all pay and allowance, and confinement at hard labor for two years six months.

The foregoing limitations will be subject to modification under the following conditions:

(a) The punishment for a deserter may be increased by one year of confinement at hard labor in consideration of each previous conviction of desertion, and also by dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of all pay and allowance when not already authorized.

(b) The punishment for desertion when joined in by two or more soldiers in the execution of a conspiracy, or for desertion in the presence of an outbreak of Indians, or of any unlawful assemblage which the troops may be opposing, shall not exceed dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowance, and confinement at hard labor for five years.


Author’s note: “In the service has been defined, in this act, not only to the soldiers present enlistment, but to all previous enlistments as well, service in the Navy and Marine Corps included – in other words, to the aggregate of his service.”


II Except as herein otherwise indicated, punishments shall not exceed the limits prescribed in the following table:


Under the 17th Article of War

>Selling horses or arms, either or both – Three year’s confinement at hard labor; for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto. *

>Selling accouterments – Four month’s confinement at hard labor; for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto. *

>Selling clothing – Two month’s confinement at hard labor, for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto. *

>Losing or spoiling horse or arms, through neglect – Four month’s confinement at hard labor, for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto. *

> Losing or spoiling accouterments or clothing, through neglect – One month’s confinement at hard labor, for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto. *

In addition to the stoppages “Sufficient for repairing the loss or damaged: which the law requires.”


Under the 20th Article of War

>Behaving himself with disrespect toward his Commanding Officer – Six month’s confinement at hard labor and forfeiture of $10 per month for the same period: for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto.


Under the 24th Article of War

>Refusal to obey or using violence to officer or non-commissioned officer while quelling quarters or disorders – Dishonorable discharge, with forfeiture of all pay and allowance and Imprisonment for two years.


Under the 31st Article of War

>Lying out of quarters – Forfeiture of $2, corporal; $3, sergeant $4.


Under the 32nd Article of War

Absence without leave

>Less than one hour (not including absence from a roll-call) – Forfeiture of 50 cents, corporal, $1, sergeant, $2.

>Less than one hour (including absence from a roll-call) – Forfeiture of $1, corporal, $2, sergeant, $3, 1st Sergeant or non-commissioned office of higher grade, $4.

>From one to six hours – forfeiture of $3, corporal, $3, sergeant , $4, 1st Sergeant or non-commissioned officer of higher grade, $5.

>From six to twelve hours – Forfeiture of $3, corporal, $4, sergeant, $6, 1st Sergeant or non-commissioned officer of higher grade, $7.

>From twelve to twenty-four hours – Forfeiture of $5, corporal, $6, sergeant, $7, 1st Sergeant or non-commissioned office of higher grade, $10.

>From twenty-four to forty-eight hours – Forfeiture of $6 and five day’s confinement at hard labor, for corporal, forfeiture of $8, sergeant, $10, 1st Sergeant or non-commissioned office for higher grade, $12, or for all non-commissioned officers, reduction.

>From two to nine days – Forfeiture of $10 and ten day’s confinement at hard labor, for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto.

>From thirty to ninety days – Three months confinement at hard labor and forfeiture of $10 per month for the same period, for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto.

>For more than ninety days – Dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of all pay and allowance and three months confinement at hard labor.


Under the 33rd Article of War

Failure to repair at the time fixed to the place or parade

>For reveille or retreat roll-call – Forfeiture of 50 cents, corporal, $1, sergeant, $2, 1st Sergeant, $3.

>For guard detail – Forfeiture of $5, corporal, $8, sergeant, $10.

>For fatigue detail, dress parade, weekly inspection, target practice, drill, stable duty – Forfeiture of $ 2, corporal, $3, sergeant, $5.


Under the 38th Article of War

Drunkenness on-

>Guard – Six months confinement at hard labor and forfeiture of $10 per month for the same period, for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto.

>Duty as company cook – Forfeiture of $10.

>For extra or special duty, at drill, target practice, parade, inspection, inspection of company, guard detail, stable duty – Forfeiture of $6, for non-commissioned officer, reduction and forfeiture of $10.


Under the 40th Article of War

>Quitting guard – Six months confinement at hard labor and forfeiture of $10 per month for the same period, for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto.


Under the 51st Article of War

>Persuading soldier to desert – Six month’s confinement at hard labor and forfeiture of $10 per month for the same period, for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto.


Under the 60th Article of War

>Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and four year’s imprisonment.


Under the 62nd Article of War

>Manslaughter – dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowance and ten year’s imprisonment.

>Assault with intent to kill – Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowance and ten year’s imprisonment.

>Burglary – Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and five year’s imprisonment.

>Forgery – Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and four year’s imprisonment.

>Perjury – Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowance and four year’s Imprisonment.

>False swearing – Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and two year’s imprisonment.

>Robbery – Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and six year’s imprisonment.

Larceny or embezzlement of property

>If the value is more than $100 – Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and four year’s imprisonment .

>Of the value of $100 or less and more than $50 – Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and three year’s imprisonment.

>Of the value of $50 or less and more than $20 – Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and two year’s imprisonment.

>Of the value of $20 – Dishonorable discharge, for forfeiture of all pay and allowances and one year ‘s imprisonment.


>Disobedience of orders involving willful defiance of the authority on a non-commissioned officer in charge of a guard or party – Six month’s confinement at hard labor and forfeiture of $10 per month for the same period, for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto.

>Using threatening or insulting language or behaving in an insubordinate manner to a non-commissioned officer while in the execution of his office

>Absence from fatigue duty – Forfeiture of $4, corporal, $5, sergeant, $6.

>Absence from extra or special duty – Forfeiture of $4, corporal, $5, sergeant, $ 6.

>Absence of duty as company or hospital cook – Forfeiture of $10.

>Introducing liquor into post or camp in violation of standing orders -Forfeiture of $3, for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto.

>Drunkenness and disorderly conduct, causing the offender’s arrest and conviction by civil authorities at a place within ten miles of his station – Forfeiture of $10 and seven days’ confinement at hard labor, for non-commissioned officer, reduction and forfeiture of $14.

>Noisy or disorderly conduct in quarters – Forfeiture of $4, corporal, $7, sergeant, $10.

>Abuse any non-commissioned officer of his authority over an inferior – Reduction, three month’s confinement at hard labor and forfeiture of $10.

>Non-commissioned officer encouraging gambling – Reduction and forfeiture of $5.

>Non-commissioned officer making false report – Reduction, forfeiture of $8, and ten day’s confinement at hard labor.

>Sentinel allowing a prisoner under his charge to escape through neglect – Six month’s confinement at hard labor and forfeiture of $10 per month for the same period.

>Sentinel willfully suffering a prisoner to escape through neglect – Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and one year’s imprisonment.

>Sentinel allowing a prisoner under his charge to obtain liquor – Two month’s confinement at hard labor and forfeiture of $10 per month for the same period.

>Sentinel or a member of guard drinking liquor with prisoners – Two month’s confinement at hard labor and forfeiture of $10 per month for the same period.

>Disrespect or affront to a sentinel – Two month’s confinement at hard labor and forfeiture of $10 per month for the same period, for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto.

>Resisting or disobeying sentinel in lawful execution of his duty – Six month’s confinement at hard labor and forfeiture of $10 per month for the same period, for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto.

>Lewd or indecent exposure of person – Three month’s confinement at hard labor and forfeiture of $10 per month for the same period, for non-commissioned officer, reduction in addition thereto.


In passing sentence, the court should bear in mind that the object of the punishment to be awarded is not only to punish the offender, but also to prevent the repetition of the crime . . . and that it is generally conceded that this object will be best promoted by carrying into effect a system of discipline of a sever and stringent character such as will make men prudently resolve to keep clear of it if they can. With the intention of preventing repetition by giving punishment seems to be a dual purpose act that, as later reports show, not effective.




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To Be Tried By . . . .A Comparison of Sentencing between 1870 – 1890 includin

This short book takes a look at the American Indian Wars era Army, and the Courts-Martial that went on. Being a newly-opened area, there were few luxuries, and this would cause the recruits, and even some of the officers, to act in a manner that the Army simply could not tolerate. The Articles of War, updated during this period, allowed for Courts to be held more frequently, and to attempt to ensure the punishments meted out to the wrongdoers were not excessive. The attempt was noble, and we have the benefit of it today. However, during this time, we show that the punishments, even for similar crimes varies widely from fort to fort. We also take a look at the timing of the offences selected, and show some reasons that the crimes may have been spurred by factors other than boredom.

  • ISBN: 9781370234462
  • Author: Arlene Andrews
  • Published: 2017-01-18 23:35:09
  • Words: 25801
To Be Tried By . . . .A Comparison of Sentencing  between 1870 – 1890 includin To Be Tried By . . . .A Comparison of Sentencing  between 1870 – 1890 includin