Col. John Lemmon – A Colonel at War with his Men – Part 2

Just 12 days after Lieut. Luther Barney filed his case against Col. John Lemmon on February 4, 1863, Lemmon retaliated, charging Capt. John Ordner with signing a fraudulent pay voucher and receiving $86.67 for the use and risk of a horse which Ordner did not own.  Lemmon termed “Capt. Ordner’s conduct as an officer [as] very exceptionable being habitually intoxicated.  The soldiers are knowing to the fraud and feel very much mortified that they are under the command of such a man and complain that the Government does not pay the soldier his honest due alleging as a reason that the officers rob the Government.  Will you please bring the case before the proper tribunal,” Lemmon asked Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, “that an unworthy officer may have justice done him?”  Captain Ordner, you will recall, had killed the sutler’s clerk [Lemmon’s son, William, being the sutler] and signed his name to Lieutenant Barney’s complaint.

Then, on February 16, Lemmon, intent on exposing fraud and corruption, contacted Col. Timothy Andrews, Paymaster General, regarding the pay records of Maj. Matthew Avery, captains Wilkerson Paige, Delos Carpenter and Ordner, as well as Lieutenant Barney.  “I am informed,” Lemmon told Andrews, “that the above-named officers have been collecting fraudulent bills for use of horses and for the subsistence of troops before” the men had been mustered into service.  “If you will give [this information your earliest attention] …I think we will be able to detect a species of fraud quite [prevalent] in the army of volunteers.”  Of the five men targeted by Lemmon, four [Avery, Ordner, Paige and Barney] had signed their names to previous complaints against the colonel.

Four days later, Major Avery asked Gen. George Stoneman, commanding the Cavalry Corps, to order four officers, including Captain Carpenter, Company G, and Lieut. John Hart, Company B, before an Examination Board to determine their “capacity & efficiency.”  Carpenter, who had yet to declare his allegiance to either side, now found himself targeted by both factions.

Then, on February 26, Lemmon suddenly submitted his resignation, citing his “continued ill health.”  Lemmon’s irritable-bladder and “general constitutional debility,” may all have been legitimate, but his ailments offered him an escape from the looming liability of several potential courts-martial.  Lemmon sent his request directly to Secretary of War Stanton, rather than through his chain-of-command, leaving his superiors, including his division commander, Gen. David Gregg, in the dark.  Thus, two days later, Gregg sent the following letter to the army’s adjutant general.

“It is not known at the Head Quarters of the regiment where Col. [Lemmon] is, or what duty he is performing.  It is asked that he may be ordered to join his regiment for the following reasons – The 10th Regiment is perhaps the most undisciplined regiment of cavalry in the field, notwithstanding its date of organization is Dec. 12, 1861.  The officers serving with the regiment are gentleman of intelligence, eager to learn their duties, and if properly instructed will well perform them.  The same soldierly spirit is exhibited by the enlisted men.  Since the regiment came into the field Sept. 13, 1862, Col. Lemmon has been in actual command but thirty-two days.”  Lemmon, in Noble Preston’s opinion, “put in an appearance just often enough to ‘keep the pot boiling.’”

“The incompetency of this officer,” Gregg continued, “has been most manifest to all commanders with whom he has served, and repeated efforts have been made to have him discharged the service that his place might be filled by a competent officer who would soon bring the regiment to the state of efficiency it should occupy.

“Charges against Col. [Lemmon] were referred to me by the War Department – these charges were directed against his character as a gentleman, therewith a report upon the same was sent to the [War] Department.  Charges preferred in his regiment against him for incompetency, and for conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, were forwarded to these Head Quarters, and from here to Corps Head Quarters, that a court of sufficient rank might be ordered for his trial.  If Col. [Lemmon] be as entirely incompetent as I believe him to be, and as is asserted by his officers, (he has acknowledged his incompetency to me) and if his moral character be such as three-fourths of his officers express themselves willing to testify to, then do the interests of the service require his dismissal from it[?]  If these charges are unfounded, then should his innocence be asserted, and his regiment have the benefit of his command[?]

“The time is approaching when his regiment, with the others of the Division, will be called into the field, and unless…it receives the attention of a competent and efficient Colonel, who will permanently command it, but little can be expected of it…”

Lieutenant Barney served on Gregg’s staff for several months during the late-winter and spring and may have fueled Gregg’s growing disdain for Lemmon.

General Stoneman approved Gregg’s request, adding, Colonel Lemmon’s “case is sufficiently notorious to warrant the above [request.]”

On February 28, the day Gregg penned the above letter, Paymaster Andrews responded to Lemmon’s request regarding the possible fraudulent pay vouchers submitted by officers of the regiment.  Andrews cleared Avery, and failed to say anything regarding either Carpenter or Paige, but he added six additional names to the investigation; Capt. Norris Morey and 2nd Lieut. William Snyder of Company E, 1st Lieut. Henry Field and 2nd Lieut. John Hart of Company B, 1st Lieut. Aaron Bliss of Company D and 2nd Lieut. Theodore Weed, Company A.  Three of these men, Field, Snyder and Weed had signed Lieutenant Barney’s complaint against Lemmon.

A month later, Lieut. Ira Allen, formerly a member of the 10th New York, and now serving with the 11th New York, wrote to Lemmon regarding a recent conversation he had had with Maj.  John Kemper.  When discussing Lemmon’s pending resignation, Kemper had vowed “it was only a question of time as they (meaning the officers) were determined you [Lemmon] should leave the regiment and further stated that if they could not get you on a military point they could from perjury against you.”  Allen, a staunch supporter of Lemmon during his time with the regiment, “asked Major Kemper why it was that he and a number of the officers [had] used their influence against me [Allen].  He told me they (and you know who they are) had made up their minds to break every officer in the regiment who was friendly to you, and that they considered me one of that class.” [Emphasis is Allen’s]

On March 24, Stanton ordered Lemmon to return to his regiment as the complaining witness in the pending case against Major Avery, Lemmon’s chief antagonist.  Instead, Lemmon submitted a doctor’s certificate that he was “broken down, and entirely unfit for military service.”  Stanton then asked Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, commanding the army, “Is there any reason why he should not be mustered out of service?”  To which Hooker replied, “No reason is known why Col. J. C. Lemmon’s resignation should not be accepted at once …he should be allowed to leave the service of the U.S. as soon as possible.”  On April 3, the War Department accepted Lemmon’s resignation, but he did not go quietly.  He remained at his home in Georgetown, from where he continued to hound his enemies and foster discord within the regiment. [Emphasis is Hooker’s]

Lemmon’s latest complaint against Avery dated to an incident in September 1862 and involved a captured horse and a threat from Avery to shoot a sergeant if he obeyed an order given by Lemmon.  A court had been convened but the case must have been dropped when Lemmon refused to appear.

Lieut. Col. William Irvine, who had recently been on medical leave himself, now took command of the regiment.  Irvine had remained relatively quiet during Lemmon’s contentious tenure, though he had declared his allegiance by signing Lieutenant Barney’s complaint.  He eventually received a colonel’s commission in 1864, but the War Department never mustered Irvine as colonel.  The reasons for the omission remain unknown, but Lemmon’s machinations and manipulations behind the scenes continued to create turmoil within the command and Irvine’s reputation may have been tarnished as he vigorously defended his subordinates against Lemmon’s attacks.

Within days of being officially discharged from the army, Lemmon had already convinced nearly 70 members of the New York legislature to support Maj. Alvah Waters, of the ‘Pro-Lemmon’ faction, for the colonelcy.  But Lemmon needed to draw Waters into his scheme.

“I have been to Albany and the Governor will appoint anyone for Col. that I recommend,” Lemmon told Waters on April 14.  “I am satisfied if you can get one half of the officers [to] sign a petition for you I can get it through.  You can get up a petition for you for Lt. Col. and get all the officers you can to sign it and then …[take] off the caption and put a caption on for you for Col and [Capt. John] Pierce for Major and I will go in person and see the Governor and I will get the thing done to suit you… Now for God’s sake let us have the whole damned passel of black hearted scoundrels…I have spoken [with] Carpenter, [Lieut. Stephen] Dennie and [Lieut. John] Hart, they will sign in favor of you.  Date back your petition to the 6th day of April and that will entitle them to be heard.”

Back dating the petition mattered as both Carpenter and Hart had resigned rather than face an examination board.  Irvine approved both resignations, stating of each man, “he is incompetent and unfit to retain his position.”  Major Avery had earlier said of Hart, “the service will lose nothing by his being out of it, all acquainted with him…regard him as the weakest officer in [the regiment] …  even [if] he had the ability he has not been and will not be anything more than a dead weight to his company.”  Lieutenant Dennie, Company I, had also submitted his resignation, and all three became effective April 9.

Now out of the army, Carpenter quickly signed on with the Pro-Lemmon faction and agreed to aid Lemmon as an informer and co-conspirator, even though the colonel had filed a complaint against him weeks earlier.  On April 13, Lemmon sent Carpenter to see Levi Turner, with the Judge Advocate General’s Office, seeking to revive the case against Major Avery, which had been dropped when Lemmon refused to appear.  Lemmon also provided information regarding Avery’s travel plans and urged Turner to arrest him before he returned to the regiment from Washington.  “I will furnish you with all the evidence you want to convict him,” Lemmon promised.

Lemmon and Carpenter followed their actions against Avery by lodging a complaint directly with Judge Holt on April 21.  In separate statements, the two men broadened Lemmon’s complaint of February 16, by naming nine additional officers who they claimed had knowingly signed fraudulent pay vouchers for the use and risk of horses not owned by the men at the time.  Their allegations included the officers previously named, as well as Capt. Layton Baldwin, Company E and Capt. Henry Pratt, Company A.  A total of 10 officers, seven of whom had signed Barney’s complaint, now found themselves under investigation, due either to being named directly by Lemmon and Carpenter or by Colonel Andrews after he investigated Lemmon’s earlier complaint.

Lemmon and Carpenter accused Captain Baldwin of accepting $24 he was not entitled to, captains Morey, Ordner, Paige and lieutenants William Snyder, Aaron Bliss and Barney for accepting $86.80 each, Lieut. John Hart for accepting $87.20 he was not entitled to and Lieut. Theodore Weed for accepting $110.80.

Completely taken in by Lemmon and Carpenter, Holt told Stanton, “The parties thus deposing have personal knowledge of the matters to which they have sworn; they are, so far as I know or believe, of unimpeached character, and without motive to misrepresent.  It is very clear,” Holt continued, “if these allegations are true, the officers named should be at once dismissed the service.  The number of officers implicated and the correspondence in the amounts drawn from the treasury would seem to indicate the existence of a combination among them for the guilty object which it is averred has been accomplished.  The fraud charged belongs to a class which the records of the service show to have been extensively perpetrated.”

Stanton acted quickly, summarily and dishonorably dismissing captains Pratt, Paige and Baldwin, and lieutenants Snyder, Bliss, Barney, Field, Hart and Weed effective May 5, 1863.  Documents related to Captain Ordner carry both April 17 and May 5 as the date of his dismissal, though April 17 is probably the correct date.  As John Hart had already resigned, the War Department amended his record to reflect a dishonorable discharge.  Three days later, Judge Turner leveled another allegation against Lieutenant Bliss, charging him with submitting a fraudulent voucher for, and receiving, $232 for expenses incurred while recruiting men in 1861.

To be continued

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