What Flogging Was Like In 1854

From a 1854 entry in the previously unpublished journal of soldier James Stevenson, 1st Dragoons:

That winter a court martial was convened at the barracks to try a number of deserters, who were under guard, with ball and chains attached to their ankles.  They are found guilty and sentenced to receive fifty lashes each upon the bare back, to have the letter “D” branded upon the hip, and to be drummed out of the service.

When the day for the execution of the sentences arrived, the troops were drawn up in lines forming three sides of a square, to witness the punishment that might deter them from deserting.  It was the duty of the officer of the day to superintend the execution of the sentences.  A gun carriage was placed on the fourth or vacant side of the square so that all the troops could see, and each prisoner in his turn was lashed firmly to the wheel, having been previously stripped to the waist.  The drummer of the infantry and the buglers of the cavalry administered the stripes with a rawhide; and a more brutal exhibition I have never witnessed.  When a blow was struck which did not seem hard enough, the officer of the day would not count it, so some of the prisoners received sixty stripes instead of fifty.

When a man fainted under his punishment, restoratives were administered, and if the surgeon thought he could still stand it, he received his full allowance.  In one case, the surgeon pronounced a man physically unable to stand the punishment after being restored from a fainting fit, and he was led off with about thirty stripes.  When cut down from the wheel, their backs were rubbed with brine which, although said to be for their good, caused them dreadful suffering, if we could judge by their groans and cries.  After a few days’ medical treatment, the letter “D” was pricked into their skin with India ink, and, with shaven heads, they were marched around the parade ground, the soldiers standing in line to witness the performance.  The drums and fifes played the “Rogues’ March,” and a file of infantry, with bayonets at a charge, marched behind the culprits, and conducted them some distance beyond the limits of the barracks.  Thus ended the inhumane and humiliating spectacle; I can truly say that, instead of filling the hearts of the soldiers with fear and exercising a restraining influence over them, it only filled them with hatred for a service in which such brutal punishment was practiced, and produced a strong desire to get out of it in any way possible.  I do not blame the officers, for they were, as a rule, humane and gentlemanly in their treatment of the soldiers.  It was the fault of the system, and I am happy to say that it has since been done away with.

After the exhibition of cruelty, I was very anxious to get away from “garrison duty” and to enter upon the more dangerous, but vastly pleasanter duty, of “life upon the plains.”’

Soldier’s Story of Those Who Deserted Ft. Tejon For Gold

From the journal of soldier William Antes:

Arrived at Fort Tejon California on the 25th of June, 1855-we reached our destination-For Tejon, California. Here we encamped near company”A” first US Dragoons which we had come to join. In a few days we were joined to that company making it members 126 men. Our horses were taken care of and we had no duty to perform for three weeks. Lieut Sylvester Mowry and Lieut. Chandler left us to join their own proper commands. The officers at this post were Lieut. Col.Benjamin Beall, Captain John W.J Gardiner, Lieut Thomas Castor and B Second Lieut. John Pegram: Captain Kirkham, quartermaster and Doctor Tenbrock surgeon.Here the were building a large military post and most of the men were on extra duty. John Barry was put in the guard house upon on arrival here for pointing his gun at Lieut. Mowry. At this place desertions began in earnest.I have known as many as half a dozen to take French leave in a single night. The boys all seemed to have taken the gold fever. Some of the deserters were recaptured but many of them we never saw again. Those captured were generally punished by an imprisonment of a few days in the guard house. Our colonel did not want any prisoners and was once on the point of burning the guard house down. Our captain dissuaded him from this step.

Stanton to Love June 8, 1847: A Deserter is Captured

Company B left Ft. Leavenworth on 7 June 1847, under the command of Lt. John Love. He was under orders to take the troop to escort the paymaster and his wagons to Santa Fe. On that date, troopers John Stein and Albert House deserted from the company. They headed to the nearby town of Westport hoping to gain passage on a passing steamboat. On the evening of 8 June, trooper Stein was apprehended by a Dragoon detachment, brought back to the fort and placed in confinement. Prior to his capture, he had managed to sell his Aston Pistol and forage cap to a civilian He was charged the cost of these items (forage cap $.90 and pistol $8.00). Trooper House, recruited 9 April, 1847, in Lafayette, Indiana, by Lt. John Love, made good his escape and disappears from Army records.

Trooper Stein, who had been recruited by Lt. Leonadis Jenkins in St. Louis on 14 january 1847, was sent West to rejoin his troop. On 16 December 1847, the trooper was ordered by Major Benjamin Beall to report to his company in Albuquerque. Stein failed to report and also sold his Army overcoat. He was court-martialed on 16 January 1848, given fifty lashes, had his head shaven and ordered to perform hard labor.

More details on the background of Lieutenants John Love. Leonadis Jenkins and Henry Stanton as well as the 1847-48 military expeditions of Company B appear through out this blog.

Fort Leavenworth June 8th 1847

Dear Love

I have got this man Stein safely lodged in the Guard House with a ball and chain appending to his pedal extremity. I heard of his being held in Westport and sent a party after him just before Retreat to night. I learned that the other man was in or near Westport. I have accordingly dispatching a party after him and hope to have him by morning.

In looking over my Returns I find that I have omitted to put in the receipt you gave me for the 25 sets of Horse Equipage with 25 gun buckets and straps. I wish you would insert them in the Invoice I gave you. I will put it in the Receipts you gave me as I will not have time to wait for anything from you to do so. I hope you will update it. I have just got orders to go to Jef Bark to relieve Jenkins who will perhaps go to Galena. If he does not I am order to join my company.