Three Dragoons on Trial

Much of all I know about U.S. Army historical research I learned from the late George Stammerjohan during our twenty-year-friendship. George had spent most of his adult life as a historian for the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Among the unique research skills George developed during his lifetime, researching enlisted personnel of the antebellum U.S. Army was his forte. The task was not easy for these men were barely educated, left only a few journals and letters, and were seldom mentioned in official reports. Yet muster rolls and Army court-martial records are often overlooked troves for military historians as they provide a solid view of the enlisted soldier’s life. For instance, Pvt. John Fullmer, a man who served in the U.S. Dragoons between 1848 and 1859. Fullmer’s court-martial, or, should I say, series of court cases, was one of George’s favorite stories.

John Fullmer (or Follmer or Fulton or Fullmore) began his military career innocently enough. In 1845, the under-aged Pennsylvania native enlisted at Pittsburgh in Company B of the 4th Infantry. His recruiting document lists his birthplace as in Germany and he was a laborer, standing 5 feet and 6 inches. Follmer had gray eyes, light colored hair, and a fair complexion. He served with the 4th at the Battle of Monterrey in 1846. The regiment, caught in a deadly cross-fire, suffered serious casualties in that battle, as a third of its troops were killed or wounded during an ill-advised charge. Although he may have not have been wounded in this battle, the private was left behind as sick in hospital as the regiment moved on. Follmer shortly returned to duty and was detailed to serve in the quartermaster department in Monterrey where he stayed until the Army evacuated the city at war’s end.

Upon reaching the Brazos Landing, Texas, Follmer apparently presented himself to Gen. John Wool and applied to be transferred to Company E of the 2d Dragoons, then about to march west. He arrived with this regiment in Los Angeles, California, from where he was transferred to Company A, 1st Dragoons, under the command of Lt. Cave Couts. The private participated in the international boundary expedition and was honorably discharged in May 1850 near El Centro, California.

An 1859 Ft. Tejon regimental court-martial panel composed of Lt. Col. Benjamin Beall, Capt. James Carleton, and Lt. Charles Ogle tried his case in 1859. They knew Fullmer, using the name Jacob Fillmore, enlisted in the newly formed 1st Cavalry in 1855, and was assigned to Company H, then stationed at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. From this post he deserted and headed west. Reaching San Francisco, he enlisted as John A. Fulton in K Company, 1st Dragoons, stationed at Ft. Tejon. Shortly after his arrival at Tejon he confessed to Captain Carleton he had deserted from the 1st Cavalry and was tried by court-martial in January 1859.

Fullmer admitted he was a deserter but pled for leniency. His defense was he was not supplied a horse and consequently was assigned but menial fatigue duty. He alleged he “left because the men of the Company were stealing clothing all of the time and selling it for Whiskey. I lost two overcoats and two Blankets.” The court-martial panel found him guilty of desertion and sentenced him to be drummed out of the service. It spared trooper Fullmer the usual punishment for desertion in the form of fifty lashes well laid on the following grounds:

John A. Fullmer of Co. H., U.S. 1st Cavalry, who has been tried before this Court, so much of the sentence in his case as relates to the infliction of stripes, be remitted, and more particularly for the reason that the undersigned are of the opinion that Fullmer is so stupid a man as hardly to know the magnitude of his offense.

The panel, serving three thousand miles from Army headquarters in Washington and New York, and not having access to their Army records, could not have been aware of his two previous desertions from the 1st Dragoons, or he had not served with the 2d Dragoons at the Battles of Palo Alto and Buena Vista.

A perusal of Army records now held by the National Archives reveals in May 1851, Fullmer enlisted (as Jacob Fullmore) in 1st Dragoons at Philadelphia. His given age was listed as 21, gray eyes, fair hair and skin. Six years older than his initial enlistment he gained an inch and one-half, standing 5′ 7 1/2″. Private Fullmore claimed to be born in Pennsylvania, and gave his occupation as a farmer in Chester County. The Army at this time assigned him to Company F, stationed at Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory. In July 1852, Fullmer deserted and was arrested in St. Louis on 5 May 1853. He was confined in Jefferson Barracks, but escaped custody on 18 May 1853, and headed west.

Army documents reveal one year later Fullmer showed up in San Francisco where he was enlisted by Capt. John Lendrum (this time as Johann August Fulmer) on 22 July 1854. The Army sent him to serve with Company A, 1st Dragoons, at Fort Miller, California. He immediately went on sick leave. It was soon discovered at the time of his enlistment there was an arrest warrant pending in San Francisco. Fullmer was detained in the post guardhouse, but twice escaped. He was captured, tried, and dishonorably discharged on 19 December 1854 by Standing Order no. 110, Headquarters Department of the Pacific. Returning to the East he would twice more enlist under bogus names.

In short, Fullmer might not have been “so stupid a man as hardly to know the magnitude of his offense.” Early in his soldiering career he learned to acquire the skill to avoid the dangers of combat his regiment faced throughout the war in Monterrey. He later escaped from imprisonment at Jefferson Barracks and then at Fort Miller. Fullmer’s frequent enlistments allowed him to crisscross the continent at a time when few people traveled more than fifty miles from where they were born. Finally, he cleverly spun a false tale of woe, which pulled at the heartstrings and hoodwinked the court martial panel at Tejon, all tough career officers who were not easily deceived by enlisted personnel.

Fullmer was hardly an honorable man, but he was not stupid in the way he worked the antebellum Army to his advantage: running about the county, deserting the Army on at least three occasions while avoiding serious punishment the antebellum Army was perfectly capable of imposing, and commonly did, to deserters. My mentor George, a former enlisted man, must been especially fascinated as he unearthed the exploits of this long forgotten soldier.

Another of George’s favorite cases was the court-martial of Farrier Morris Hurley of K Company, 1st Dragoons. He was recruited in Boston on 8 September 1857, by Lt. Arthur MacArthur and assigned to the 1st Dragoons. Hurley had been born in Cork, Ireland, and stood 5 feet 8 inches, with grey eyes, brown hair, and a fair completion. His civilian training as a blacksmith made him a perfect candidate to be made a farrier.

With the commencement of the Civil War, Companies B and K of the 1st Dragoons were moved from Ft. Tejon and stationed in Los Angeles at an encampment outside of town, known as Camp Fitzgerald. It seems on the morning of 23 May 1861, Lt. Benjamin Davis found Farrier Hurley drunk. Hurley got into an altercation with Davis who had a sergeant arrest him. While in the guard tent, Hurley became loud and ill mannered, telling the other prisoners to leave the tent. Hearing the commotion Lieutenant Davis entered the tent and told Hurley to stop making noise. Hurley called the lieutenant a “damn son of a bitch,” ordering him out of the guard tent and threatening his life. Davis testified the drunken farrier began to shove him, first with his hands and then threatening death by pointing the muzzle of a Sharps carbine at Davis.

Hurley denied aiming the muzzle at Davis or threatening to kill him. He admitted to using the butt of the carbine to strike the lieutenant and produced witnesses to give his side of the fight. Unfortunately, most of the disturbance occurred inside of the guard tent and the prisoner’s witnesses did not observe what took place.

The lieutenant claimed he left the tent and ordered a sergeant of the guard to take a file of men to the tent and secure Hurley, but they did not do so as they were afraid of the belligerent Hurley. A frustrated Davis stormed back into the guard tent and attempted to seize the carbine. He was not successful. The sergeant and his men were again ordered by Davis to secure Hurley. The prisoner once again threaten the guard, fought them, lost the struggle, was retrained, and then tied up and taken to the city jail.
The Army charged Hurley with conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline. Possibly, because it needed men to fight in the Civil War, Hurley wasn’t charged with a violation of Articles 7 and 9 of the Articles of War with mutiny and striking a superior officer, each of which allow for the imposition of the death penalty. On 5 July 1861, the general court-martial panel, headed by Capt. John Davidson, 1st Dragoons, found Hurley guilty of the specifications and charge. It ordered him to suffer a forfeiture of pay and to be confined under guard for six months. During his confinement the farrier was to carry each day in prison a pack weighing fifty pounds.

It is unlikely that Hurley served the entire sentence. Skilled farriers were difficult to come by, all the more so during wartime. Consequently, Maj. James Carleton testified Hurley, when sober, was a valuable soldier in his company. In the fall, Company K sailed for the East Coast and the war. Army records reveal Hurley served his full five year term enlistment and was honorably discharged in Mechanicsville, Virginia on September 8, 1862.

Ruination by drink is an unfortunate but common tale, and here is the story of a dragoon officer with a promising career ruined by alcohol. This problem oft repeated in all ranks of all the other regiments of the antebellum army or, for that matter, among any other army in history. Serving with the army out west was dangerous, living in a distant and hardscrabble land—far from friends and relatives; promotion it was slow, and living in close quarters with hard-drinking officers and enlisted men. Thus, it was not surprising that many a soldier would find solace in a bottle of whiskey. An officer on the frontier stated, “the soldier who will have whiskey can procure it,” and Ulysses Grant concurred stating, “soldiers are a class of people who will drink.”

Indeed, Felix Legit, a member of Co. K, 1st Dragoons, who got drunk while on occupation duty in Mexico City in 1847. He walked into a room, cursed, killed for no apparent reason, a Mexican stable hand, and then passed out dead drunk. Felix’s defense was that, while sober, he was a kindly fellow, a good soldier and because he was drunk, had no memory of the event. The Court martial panel convicted him of the murder and sentenced him to be strung up. Leggit was executed on January 5, 1848, becoming the only regular soldier to be executed for an atrocity committed against a civilian during the war. Or to quote Lt. Col. Benet,

“[e]xperience teaches us that drunkenness is the prolific source of most serious offenses committed in the military state, and the only way of eradicating the evil is not overlooking the cause in punishing the crime”

My interest in the matter originated when, after viewing an ambrotype of Second Lieutenant Charles H. Ogle and an unidentified first sergeant, him sharing a drink at a small table. This is not to say that antebellum officers never drank with non commissioned officers. They often did. But this image fed my suspicion of Ogle’s alcoholism. I thought it odd that a West Point-educated officer would have preserved this image recorded for posterity in which he is depicted sharing a drink with a non-commissioned officer.

I recalled hearing rumors of Ogle’s alcoholism during his service in the 1st Dragoons and decided to dig into his service record. The first hints of this officer’s alcoholism did not surface until late in his career. If anything, the first eleven years of his military service appear to be unblemished.
The only known written account of his addiction to spirits appeared in a book published long after the end of the Civil War. The author, former Lieutenant William Beach, who served with Ogle in the 1st New York Volunteer Cavalry, tersely noted that the Ogle was “a West Point graduate, a trained and competent soldier, but given to drinking habits.” Lt. Beach mentions but a single incident of possible intoxication in which Major Ogle, while in command of the 1st New York Cavalry, approached a campground. Suffice it to say, Ogle was in no condition to be civil and lost all control.

As the companies had arrived the sergeant had directed each to its place, and had received a respectful “Thank you,” especially from the German officers. But Major Ogle was in no condition to be civil. In response to his question as to where his companies were to go, the sergeant, referring to his plan of the camp, pointed to a tree and some stakes that marked the place for his companies. With a perfect torrent of oaths and abuse, and with a violent motion of his arm that indicated the way in which he would have liked to take off the sergeant’s head if he had had his sabre in his hand, said, “I don’t want anything of your — paper! Mount your horse and show me where to go !” The sergeant mounted his horse, and rode to the head of one of the lines and called to the major that there was the line of his first company.

Charles Ogle, the son of Alexander and Charlotte Ogle, was born in 1826, and grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania. His father, who had served in Congress as a representative of Pennsylvania, died at age 32 when Charles was but six years of age. The lad, upon graduation from West Point in 1848, 29th in his class, received a temporary 2nd lieutenant’s brevet in the 1st Dragoons and, on August 3, 1848, gained a full promotion to 2nd lieutenant.

On the 22nd of October, within slightly more than a year of his promotion and in command of a Company B patrol of twenty men out of Fort Kearney, Ogle became engaged in combat in western Missouri Territory. The troop came into contact with an estimated one hundred Pawnee warriors at the Little Blue River. Ogle ordered his men to draw their sabres and charge. In the ensuing charge two dragoons fell, mortally wounded and four others were injured. The Pawnees fled into a deep ravine. The lieutenant, although wounded by an arrow that grazed his mouth, managed to rescue one of his fallen men who was about to be scalped.

The Army in 1852 transferred Ogle to Company A where he served at West Coast posts at San Diego, Benicia, Fort Redding and Fort Lane. While serving in Oregon, on October 23, 1853, Ogle fought at the Battle of the Illinois River, a desperate struggle in which Company A was nearly overwhelmed by the Rogue River people.

This proficient officer, on January 7, 1855, this proficient officer became the regimental adjutant of the 1st Dragoons, and in the same month, gained a promotion to 1st Lieutenant. This promotion required his transfer to dragoon headquarters at Fort Union, New Mexico Territory. In the winter of 1856, Ogle led dragoon headquarters to its new post at Ft. Tejon, California. A bright future seemingly awaited him.

In the antebellum army, a regimental adjutant, a prized staff officer position, usually a 1st lieutenant, served at headquarters directly under a field grade officer and was responsible for the day-to-day administration of the regiment. General August Kautz described the position as follows:
The Adjutant is the official organ of the Regimental Commander through whom he communicates with the subordinates in the Regiment. He has charge of the books, records, and papers pertaining to the Regiment. He superintends the machinery and workings of the Regiment. He communicates the orders of the commander, and sees that they are obeyed, and that the regular returns and reports are made. He keeps the roster of the officers, makes the details that are called for from the Regiment, and forms and marches on the guard at guard mounting.
It was hardly a position that can be maintained by an irresponsible alcoholic. Ogle held this important position for five years.

After serving a year as a dutiful adjutant Ogle was granted leave to return to visit his home in Pennsylvania. To secure passage for the return trip to his post, Ogle, as did most other officers of the period, secured orders to attach him to a westward bound column. While serving in this capacity the lieutenant again ran into armed combat—this time against an enlisted man in his detachment, whom Ogle shot and killed. Following this tragedy, Army provided Ogle with a court of inquiry. The following facts were adduced at the hearing.

On June of 1856, Lt. Ogle was returning to Santa Fe following his leave in Pennsylvania. He was serving with a detachment under the command of Major Enoch Steen traveling on the Santa Fe Trail. In this detachment was James Flood, an infantry private. Flood was a troubled individual who had previously tried to kill another soldier. The post surgeon at Ft. Leavenworth had warned Major Steen of Flood’s dangerous and erratic behavior.

On the night of June 3, 1856, the detachment encamped at Big Cow Creek, 250 miles from Ft. Leavenworth. It seems that, on the day before, Corporal William McBride had mistakenly taken Flood’s blanket to own his tent. Flood went to McBride’s tent, found his blanket, and took it back. McBride later testified that initially Flood did not appear to be angry. All so far appeared to be calm.