Taos Riot 1855. Johnston Court Martial

Following the 1855 Taos Riot by members of F Company, 1st Dragoons, the President of the United States ordered that two of the officers involved be court martialed. Lt. Robert Johnston was charged with not assisting in the suppression of the riot and tried in Santa Fe in February of 1856. A transcription of his court marial follows, after the jump.

Lt. Johnston, a capable officer, was acquitted and ultimately commanded a division in Longstreet’s Corps during the Civil War.

Johnston Court Martial, Case No. HH624

Santa Fe, New Mexico
11:00 O—™Clock A.M., Wednesday, February 6th, 1856

The Judge Advocate, having read the orders convening the Court, asked the accused, 1st Lieut. Robert Johnson, of the 1st Regiment of Dragoons, if he had any objection to any member named therein, to which he replied in the negative.

The Court was then duly sworn by the Judge Advocate, and the Judge Advocate was duly sworn by the presiding officer of the court in the presence of the accused.

The accused then moved the court to grant him the privilege of introducing the Honorable H.A. Smith as his counsel. Request was acceded to, and the Hon. Hugh A. Smith came into court and took his seat as counsel for the accused.

First Lieut. Robert Johnston of the 1st Regiment of the Dragoons, U.S. Army, was then arraigned on the following charge and specifications:

Charge and specification preferred against 1st Lieut. Robert Johnston, 1st Regiment of the Dragoons, United States Army, by direction of the Secretary of War, is charged — Violation of the Eighth Article of War.

Specification. In this, that First Liet. Robert Johnston of the 1st Regiment of the Dragoons, United States Army, being present at a mutiny in F Company of the 1st Regiment of Dragoon United States Army in the town of Don Fernando de Taos, New Mexico, on or about the Eighth Day of March, Eighteen Hundred and Fifty-Five, did then and there fail to use his utmost endeavor to suppress the _______________.
By Jno. Byrne
U.S.A.
Judge Advocate of the Court

To which the accused, First Lieut. Robert Johnson of the First Dragoons, pled as follows:

Not guilty of the specification.
Not guilty of the charge.

At the request of the accused, the Court adjourned to meet at 11:00 o—™clock to morrow morning, Thursday, February 7th, 1856.

Santa Fe, New Mexico
11:00 a.m., Thursday, February 7th, 1856
Present.
1. Colonel Thomas T. Fauntleroy, 1st Dragoons
2. Bt. Col. Dixson L. Mills, Lieut. Col. 3rd Infy.
3. Bt. Lt. Colonel Joseph H. Eaton, Capt. 3rd Infantry
4. Bt. Lt. Colonel Daniel L. Chandler, Captain 3rd Infantry
5. Bt. Major Governeur Morris, Major 3rd Infantry
6. Bt. Major Jefferson Van Horne, Capt. 3rd Infantry
7. Bt. Major William H. Gordon, Capt. 3rd Infantry
8. Bt. Major W. T. H. Brooks, Captain 3rd Infantry
9. Bt. Major Oliver L. Shepherd, Captain 3rd Infantry
10. Bt. Major William A. Thornton, Captain Ord. Dept.
11. Bt. Major John L. Sprague, Captain 1st Infy.,
Asst. Surgn. J. Byrne, Med., Dept., Judge Advocate

First Lieut. Robert Johnston, 1st Dgns, the accused, also present.

The proceedings of yesterday having been read over, the following testimony was adduced:

Private F. Vandevien of G Copy., 1st Drgns., a witness for the prosecution being duly sworn, testifies as follows:

On or about the 8th of March, 1855, cop F., 1st Drags was on an expedition against the Utah indians and entered Taos about eleven o—™clock. I was a corporal in copy. F. at that time. The company was halted in the plaza of Taos by order of Maj. Thompson. Orders were given that one-half of the company could be absent at a time for a period of about twenty minutes each. During that time, some of the men became so drunk that he could not mount his horse, when the —œto horse— was sounded. Myself and corp. Walsh of the same company were detailed to tie the man on his horse. At the time we were tying him on,, the first sergeant of the company, Fitzsimmons, struck the man in the face. Maj. Blake came up at the time and asked him why he did it. The sergeant replied that the man struck him first. Maj. Blake then said that the man had not struck him at all. Maj. Blake then requested Maj. Thompson to arrest the first sergeant of his company. Maj. Thompson refused doing it and said that he could not dispense with the services of the 1st segt. being on a march. Maj. Thompson told him that, if he wanted to arrest him, he could arrest him himself. Maj. Blake then arrested the 1st sergeant. About this time, there were a good many citizens crowded around where they were tying this man on his horse. Since 3 or 4 men of the company were mounted, charged over these Mexicans. There was a man of the company, who rode and told Maj. Blake that he could not march the company out. Maj. Blake was ________________ taking hold of the man when Cooper came up, and told Maj. Blake, he had been nigger-driving them long enough. Maj. Blake turned and replied that man was the da—d son of a bitch he had been looking for. They caught ahold of each other and fought for a short time, when I released Cooper from Maj. Blake. At that time, Steele came up and commenced fighting with Maj. Blake. There were five or six blows passed between them, and they fell to the ground. Myself and Segt. Fitzsimmons released Steele from Maj. Blake. About that time a man by the name of Stephens had a pistol, a revolver in his hand. I was ordered by Lieut. Johnston to take hold of him. Lt. Johnston took the pistol away from Stephens. After Maj. Blake was released from Steele, he walked around in front of the Company and said he could whip any man in it, from left to right, at which this man Stephens walked out with a Sharps—™ rifle in his hand and told Major Blake that he could not do it. Mr. Carson of Taos stepped up and took the rifle away from Stephens. The Company was marched five or ten minutes afterwards out of town by Lieut. Johnston.

Q. by J. A. How long was it from the time Cooper and Maj. Blake first engaged until Mr. Carson took the gun from Stephens?
Answer. It was more than ten to fifteen minutes.

Q. by J.A. What proportion of the Company was standing in their ranks during the fight, and what were they doing?

Answer. Nearly all the men were standing in the ranks doing nothing but more than four men were engaged in a mutiny, about eight were assisting in putting it down.

Q. by J.A. Were any orders given by Lt. Johnston to the company not engaged in the mutiny to come forward to put it down?

Answer. None that I heard, Sir.

Q. by J.A. Were any of the men of the Company injured by saber or by firearms during the mutiny?

Answer. Yes, Sir. Cooper was slightly cut on the arm and hand with a saber. Maj. Blake cut him. No other man of the Company that I know of, was hurt.

Q. by J.A. State all you saw Lt. Johnston do to arrest the mutiny.

Answer. Lt. Johnston came on the ground after the mutiny commenced. The first I saw of Lt. Johnston he had his saber about half drawn. I caught Lt. Johnston by the shoulders and told him not to draw his saber, that the men were in such a state of mutiny that they would kill him as sure as Maj. Blake, or words to that effect. I heard Lt. Johnston order men to keep in the ranks. I heard him also order Serg. Fitzsimmons, myself, and Corpl. Walsh to arrest these men, Steele and Cooper, who were engaged in the mutiny, and have them taken to jail.

Q. by J.A. Did or did not Judge Brocchus and the sheriff finally put down the mutiny by arresting the mutineers?

Answer. No, Sir.

Question by J.A. Was Maj. Blake—™s life in great danger from the acts of the mutineers?

Answer: I think it was.

Q. by J.A. Was there danger also to the life and property of the citizens during the riots?

Answer. There was.

Corp. examined by the accused. Was Lieut. Johnston present or near the company at the commencement of the riot?

Answer. No, Sir.

Q. After the riot commenced, and the people rushed together, did not Lieut. Johnston run to the crowd, and attempt to get into it, and half draw his saber, and did not you pull the Lieut. out of the crowd?

Answer. Johnston did enter the crowd and I pulled him out.

Q. After the scuffle between Maj. Blake and Cooper, did not Maj. Blake charge you with being one of the principal parties concerned in the riot, did not Maj. Blake acknowledge that it was a mistake upon the representation of Lieut. Johnston?

Answer. Major Blake did charge me, and acknowledged his mistake on the representation of Lieut. Johnston.

Q. When bugler Stephens drew his pistol on Maj. Blake, did not you catch his arm and Lieut. Johnston take the pistol from him?

Answer. I did catch Stephens by the arm and Lt. Johnston took the pistol from him.

Q. Did not Lieut. Johnston then order Stephens to take the three horses he had in charge and take his position at the far end of the portal, and did not Stephens obey, and stand there until called off by Judge Brocchus?

Answer: After the pistol was taken from Stephens by Lieut. Johnston, he (Stephens), was ordered by Lieut. Johnston to take his place with the three horses he was holding on the right of the Company in front of Peter Joseph—™s store. Stephens obeyed the order and remained at his place until Maj. Blake came around and challenged any man of the Company.

Q. Did you not hear Lt. Johnston give repeated orders to the men to keep their ranks and were not these orders generally obeyed?

Answer. I did hear Lieut. Johnston give the men orders to remain in ranks, and go into the ranks, and they obeyed.

Q. What officer marched the Company out of town, and how long after the arrest of Stephens before they marched?
Answer. Lt. Johnston marched the Company out of town about five minutes after Stephens was arrestred.
Q, During the scuffle between Maj. Blake and the different men, was not Lieut. Johnston between Maj. Blake and the Company and occupied in keeping the men in ranks and endeavoring to restore order?
Answer. At the time of the fighting Lt. Johnston was between Maj. Blake and the Company. He gave orders to some of the men of the Company to keep in ranks.
Q. What officers and non commissioned officers were immediately around Maj. Blake, and assisting him?
A. Lt. Johnston. Segt. Fitzsimmons, Corp. Walsh and myself.
Q. Do you know whether the pack mules and cannon did not leave town some time before the riot commenced, and who sent them out of town?
A. The pack mules and cannon left town an hour before the riot. They were ordered out of town by Lieut. Johnston.
Question by the Court. What was your object in preventing Lt. Johnston from entering the crowd?
Answer. To keep him from getting hurt. He was endangering hishis life there.
Maj, G. A. H. Blake, 1st Dgns, a witness for the prosecution being duly sworn testifies as follows.
A mutiny and riot occurred on the 8th of March last in Taos in Comp F, 1st Dgns. between three & four O—™clock in the evening. I was attacked by some of the men of the Company—”Prit. Cooper, the first, who seized me by the throat and struck at me. I was knocked down directly. After contending some minutes with the men, I was released from them by some of the men of the Company, and when I got on my feet, I saw Lieut. Johnston for the first time. I know not what assistance I received from him or any one else, as as I did not see above a man—™s waist from the time I was struck first until I got on my feet.
Q by J. A. Were you severely injured and was your life in danger?
A. I was severely injured and I consider that my life was endangered in the attack.
Q. Did you see Lieut. Johnston make any effort to stop the riot, did he arrest or confine any one, and how and when was the affair finally put a stop to?
Answer. I did not see Lieut Johnston make any efforts to stop the riot. He did not arrest or confine any one to my knowledge. It seemed to stop of itself. Not a word was said by a man that I heard after I got on my feet. I considered the affair ended. Judge Brocchus came up at about this time, and I pointed out to him those of the men, who I knew were guilty, and requested them to be confined.
Q by J.A. Did you try to use a sabre in your defense during the mutiny?
Answer. I did. At one time I rose to my foot & knee. I drew the sabre of Maj. Thompson from its scabbard. I struck Steele the last man, and the only one at that time that had hold of me with it two or three times. Finding that I could not use it from the position I was in, and the crowd around me, and that I was getting the worst of it, I put it away from me & relied upon my strength.

Q Was the riot of such a character as to endanger the lives and property of the citizens of Taos?

Answer. I can not say, as I was down. Ramon Bacca, a Mexican, who was assisting me, was seriously injured by the soldiers, and a horse, I think ran over a Mexican, and injured him.

Here the witness desired to explain and I said — I will state that after I got on my feet, and pointed out to Judge Brocchus the parties who had attacked me, I walked from the left of the Company across the plaza to Mr. Peter Joseph—™s house, where Bugler Stephens was standing. Whilst down, I had a recollection of him using some violent language I did not know what part he had taken in the riot. I spoke to him and told him I thought that he had acted badly. Judge Brocchus asked him to make acknowledgement to me of his error, whatever it might have been. I told him he could not make it to me, he could to the judge, and he must recall all he had said and done or something to that effect. I was then walking away from him, and but a very short distance, not over a yard or two, he made use of some remark, that he was as good a man as I was, that he would blow my damned heart out, or something of that kind, bringing down his gun, a Sharps rifle, cocked and capped. It was seen by Mr. Carson and Judge Brocchus. I asked to have him confined, and walked into Mr. Peter Joseph—™s store and washed myself, and when I returned the Company was gone.
Cross examination by the accused.
Q. Was Lieut. Johnston with Company F when it arrived in the plaza of Taos and on the morning of the riot?
Answer. No Sir. He came into town with me two hour before the arrival of the Company.
Q. Did you know upon what duty Lt. Johnston came into Taos in advance of the Company on that morning?

Answer. I cannot recollect particularly. I am satisfied he did come in on duty as his commissary and quartermaster accounts were kept in town.

Q. Did you not have a pistol handed to you and threw it away without using it during the riot?

Answer. I picked up a pistol, when I first got on my feet. I was very much excited and afraid I might use it against those, who were assisting me. I put it away.

Q. Do you not recollect that Corpl. of Vandener was assisting you during your fight with the men, or with some of them?

Answer. I do not, Sir, but I was satisfied when I got on my feet, that he had been assisting me.

Q. Did you not release Sergt. Fitzsimmons from arrest for the assistance he rendered you in suppressing the riot?

Answer. I did, Sir. I was told that he was assisting me, and I released him from arrest.

Mr. Wm. M. Ashurst, a citizen, a witness for the prosecution being duly sworn, answers to questions put by the Judge Advocate as follows:
Q. Were you present at the riot of Compy. F., Dgns., which took place in Taos in March last?

Answer. I was at the riot ______ sometime in March last, caused by Maj. Thompson—™s company of Dragoons.

Q. How many of the men were engaged in the attack on Maj. Blake, and what proportion remained in their ranks?

Answer. My impression is that the major part of the Company remained in their ranks about their horses, some on foot, and some on horse back.

Q. Did you hear anyone urge those men in the ranks to join the mutineers, and if so, state the circumstances?

Answer. I saw a soldier while the fight was pending between Maj. Blake and some of the soldiers, walk up in front of those that were on horse back. He marched up near the right of the Company. He called upon them and said he, are you men or are you dogs? Some of them replied that they were men. He said then follow me, as I understand it, to follow him into the fight against Maj. Blake. A sergeant spoke to the men and told them not to have anything to do with it. None of them followed the soldier, who first addressed them.
Q. How was the riot eventually quelled?
Answer. I can not state.
Q. Did you see Lt. Johnston in the riot.
Answer. I did.
Q. How long after its commencement?
Answer. When I first saw Lt. Johnston the fight was going on. I saw him there a very short time. It might have been one moment [minute].
Cross examined by the accused.
Q, What position and attitude was was Lt. Johnston occupying when you saw him and what did you hear him say?
Answer. The fight commenced in front of the left wing of the Company. Maj. Thompson and George Goukd were standing nearest to Maj. Blake. Lt. Johnston was standing between Maj. Thompson and some of the soldiers of the left wing of the company. The fight seemed to be going on towards that that way. At the tikme my attention was directed to Lieut. Johnston. I saw some six or eight soldiers coming up from the Company to where the fight was going on. I heard Lt. Johnston say to them, stand back men. He put his hand on his sword. My impression was that he drew it entirely, but I am not satisfied on that point. Some one however about that time struck one ofr two of the soldiers with the flat of a sword. I think Lt. Johnston also said in connection with his first remark to the soldiers, stand back or I will cut you through. I have stated where he was standing. His attitude was evidently that of moving about, keeping the men from going in to where the fight was going on. I will state by way of explanation, when I first saw Lieut. Johnston, he was moving about so as to prevent the men from coming up to the fight.
Q. Were not some of the men in ranks evincing an evident disposition to break ranks and get in the row, and were those the men that Lieut. Johnston was attempting to keep back?
Answer. AS I stated before, the men approaching the fight from the ranks were from the left flank of the Company. These were the men he stopped or attempted to stop. I didn—™t think he succeeded in stopping all of them.
The witness desired to add further that after the row, he heard Lt. Johnston say that if Maj. Thompson could not march the Company out of town, he could and would do it. He immediately called for his horse, went to the front of the Company, and marched them out of town.
Then the Judge Advocate stated to the Court that Mr. Carson, a witness for the prosecution had left town & gone to Taos although he had had summoned him both on the part of the prosecution & defense–but, he would not ask the Court to delay for the witness, as he had his doubts about his ability to procure his attendance.
The Judge Advocate then announced that the prosecution was closed. Whereupon the Court adjourned until eleven O—™Clock to morrow morning Friday February 8th 1856.

Santa Fe, N. Mexico
11 A.M. Friday, February 8, 1856
The Court met pursuant to adjournment. Present.
1. Colonel Thomas T. Fauntleroy, 1st Dragoons
2. Bt. Col. Dickson L. Mills, Lieut. Col. 3rd Infy.
3. Bt. Lt. Colonel Joseph H. Eaton, Capt. 3rd Infantry
4. Bt. Lt. Colonel Daniel L. Chandler, Captain 3rd Infantry
5. Bt. Major Governeur Morris, Major 3rd Infantry
6. Bt. Major Jefferson Van Horne, Capt. 3rd Infantry
7. Bt. Major William H. Gordon, Capt. 3rd Infantry
8. Bt. Major W. T. H. Brooks, Captain 3rd Infantry
9. Bt. Major Oliver L. Shepperd, Captain 3rd Infantry
10. Bt. Major William A. __________, Captain Ord. Dept.
11. Bt. Major John L. Sprague, Captain 1st Infy.,
Asst. Surgn. J. Byrne, Med., Dept., Judge Advocate
First Lieut. Robert Johnston, 1st Dgns, the accused, also present.
The proceedings of yesterday were read.
The Judge Advocate then on the part of the prosecution made the following admission—”namely—”that if Mr. C. Carson, a ciotizen, were present, he would say,
I was with Lieut. Johnston in Taos on the morning of the riot in F. Copy 1st Dragoons before the Company reached the plaza. Lt. Johnston had come into town in advance of the Company, on duty. He remarked to me if he had command of the Company, it should not be halted in town, because some of the men were drinking, and he was afraid they would get drunk. After the riot had commenced and while the fighting was going on, I saw Lt. Johnston between Major Blake, and the Company endeavoring to keep back the men, who were evincing a disposition to break ranks and join in the riot, and heard him say to them, stand back or I will cut down any any man, who advances. Some of the men separated and went around him. Others fell back into the ranks.
The Judge Advocate said he admitted the facts set forth in the above statement.
Private Robert Walsh, Copy G, 1st Drns, a witness for the defence being duly sworn, answers as follows, to the following questions put to him by the accused.
Q. Were you present at a riot, which occurred in F. Copy at Taos on or about the 8th of March last?
Answer. I was.
Q. Did you see Lt. Johnston there, and if you saw him, what was he doing?
Answer. I saw the Lieutenant there. I saw him walking up and down in front of the Company, and ordering the men to keep in ranks. I saw him seize his sabre, and say that the first man, who would leave the ranks, he would cut him down. I saw Lieut. Johnston march the Company out of town.
Q. Did Lt. Johnston use his utmost endeavors to suppress the riot?
Objected to by the Judge Advocate. The objection was sustained and the decision announced to the accused.
Q. Was any assistance made to Mr. Dephew, the deputy marshal, who arrested the men, was any assistance asked for by him, or any assistance requested to arrest the men?
Answer. I did not hear Mr. Depew asking for any assistance. I did not see any resistance made by the men to the arrest,
Q. About how many men were engaged in fighting with the Major Blake, and what officers & non commissioned were present assisting the Major and taking men off of him?
Answer. About four men were engaged in fighting with the Major. Lt. Johnston, Serg. Fitzsimmons, Corps Walsh & Vanderlien were assisting the Major. I saw Maj. Thompson there, but did not see him do any thing.
Q. Did you see Major Blake have a pistol in his hand during the riot, and if so, what did he do with it?
Answer. I saw the Major with a pistol in his hand, after the last man was turned over to me to be confined — it was Steele. I saw him holding it at first in both hands. He then took it in his left hand, and put it behind his back as though he were putting it in his pocket. I can not say that he put it in his pocket. I saw nothing more of the pistol.

Cross examine by the Judge Advocate.
Q. Did Lieut. Johnston at any time of the riot, that you saw, actually draw his sabre from its scabbard?
Answer. Yes, Sir.
Q. Were there not several men, who advanced from the ranks to join in the fight?

Answer. I noticed only one, at any time of the riot, a drunk from the ranks. Lt. Johnston ordered him to return & he did it.

Q. Was Corpl. Vandener arrested that day?

Answer. Not to my knowledge. He marched out of town on duty with the Company as a corporal.

Q. Did Maj. Thompson at any time of the riot, strike any soldier with his sabre?

Answer. I did not see him strike any one.

Q. From whom did Lieut. Johnston receive orders to march the Company out of town?

Answer. I do not know, Sir.

Q. by the Court. Who ended the riot— Did it stop, or was it suppressed by the authority of the officers, and noncommissioned officers of the army then present, or did it cease by the aid and interference of the civil authority?

Answer. It was stopped by the assistance of the officers and noncommissioned officers.

Here the accused informed the Court that he had no further testimony to adduce and asked the Court until to morrow morning at 11:00 o—™clock to prepare his final defence. His request was granted, and the Court accordingly adjourned until 11:00 o—™clock to morrow morning, Saturday February 9th, 1856.

Santa Fe N. Me.
11:00 A.M. Saturday February 9th, 1856
The Court met pursuant to adjournment.
Present.
1. Colonel Thomas T. Fauntleroy, 1st Dragoons
2. Bt. Col. Dickson L. Mills, Lieut. Col. 3rd Infy.
3. Bt. Lt. Colonel Joseph H. Eaton, Capt. 3rd Infantry
4. Bt. Lt. Colonel Daniel L. Chandler, Captain 3rd Infantry
5. Bt. Major Governeur Morris, Major 3rd Infantry
6. Bt. Major Jefferson Van Horne, Capt. 3rd Infantry
7. Bt. Major William H. Gordon, Capt. 3rd Infantry
8. Bt. Major W. T. H. Brooks, Captain 3rd Infantry
9. Bt. Major Oliver L. Shepherd, Captain 3rd Infantry
10. Bt. Major William A. Thornton, Captain Ord. Dept.
11. Bt. Major John L. Sprague, Captain 1st Infy.,
Asst. Surgn. J. Byrne, Med., Dept., Judge Advocate

The proceedings of yesterday were read over, when the accused 1st Lt. R. Johnston presented and read the written defence (Marked A) appended to these proceedings.

The Court was then cleared for deliberation, and having materially weighed the evidence adduced, finds the accused 1st Lt. Robert Johnston of the 1st Regiment of Dragoons U.S. Army as follows:
Of the specification. Not Guilty.
Of the charge. Not Guilty.
And does therefore acquit him.
(signed) Th. T. Fauntleroy Col. 1 Regt. Drag.

The Court, having no further business before it at present, adjourns until the second day of June, 1856 at 11:00 o—™clock A.M.

(Signed) Th. T. Fauntleroy Col. 1 Regt. Drag.
J. Byrne, Judge Advocate

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