The Brush Over of Negligent Sentinels
In mid January 1864, the Commissary General of Prisoners, Colonel William Hoffman inquired into the free hand that prison guards had been taking, shooting Confederate prisoners during the months of November and December 1863 at the Camp Chase Prison near Columbus, Ohio. Colonel William Wallace, of the 15th Ohio Volunteers, assigned his assistant commandant Lieutenant Colonel August H. Poten, then of the 7th regiment Invalid Corps to provide a full investigation surrounding these events.
One such shooting that occurred the night of December 19th, proved to follow an order shouted by sentinel, Private Frank Allen, of the 12th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, who after several attempts to have a lamp extinguished between the hours of 10 pm and midnight, fired a stray round into the building of mess No. 10, prison 1, wounding Henry Hupman of the 20th Virginia Cavalry. The soldier caught the round in the arm leaving the hospital surgeons to amputate the limb, which resulted in his death several days later. The unfortunate event, believed to have resulted in the death of an innocent prisoner, caused the continual disciplinary problems inside that camp to settle down.
At prison 2, the night of November 5, 1863; Private William L. Pope, of the 9th Tennessee Cavalry, Company A, had been shot in the presence of Captain William Smith, 15th Invalid Corps; Lieutenant Isaiah S. Taylor, the officer of the day, and the Assistant Commandant, Lieutenant Colonel August Poten. Between the hours of 8 pm and 10 pm, this Confederate prisoner was seen outside approaching the camp wall. The sentinel here, a member of the 15th Invalid Corps, ordered the man away from the wall and return to his quarters. A few quiet moments later, the order to turn back was barked again, when a shot rang out mortally wounding him.
On November 16, 1863; another light was found burning at prison 3, after orders had been issued to extinguish all lamps before tattoo. These particular barracks had been found troublesome as that digging operations had been discovered in the past. The windows of mess 49 had been illuminated that night between 10 pm and midnight when John White, having been disobeyed upon order to douse the lamp, fired into the building and killed Hamilton McCarroll of Welker's Tennessee Cavalry.
Two more incidents had been reported from prison 2, regarding disobedience to the prison guards. With the extractions of the reports received, Colonel Wallace wrapped up the investigation in what he felt was obedience to his orders from Washington. Ten days hence, the office of the Commissary General of Prisoners took a much different view. In the initial inquiry, Colonel Hoffman had ordered the commandant of Camp Chase to investigate alone into the facts surrounding the shootings. The statements provided by Lieutenant Colonel Poten, 7th regiment Veteran Reserve Corps, and Lieutenant Reber, 88th Ohio Infantry, were vague and without any evidence whatsoever to support them.
All Washington knew of this is that sentinels fired upon prisoners in disobedience to orders; and the colonel saw nothing for himself. Hoffman wished to know where the prisoner was; what was he doing; what was the reason for their continual disobedience; were they taken to the hospital or what disposition was made of the dead?
The sentinels firing stray shots into the barracks without identifying specific targets as well as officers investigating such facts, simply justifying the behavior, was appalling. Was the sentinel on duty during this shooting certain it was a lamp that was burning and not a glowing ember from the wood burning stoves? The commanding officer of the camp was to be held responsible for its good order and proper conduct in all the particulars. These responsibilities were not to be placed on the shoulders of subordinate officers unless, he, Wallace can prove that all proper orders were given and all necessary steps were enforced.
Before the new investigation could be carried out, however; Colonel Wallace had been relieved of command by Colonel William P. Richardson of the 25th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. In his report, he found there had been entertained fears of an attempt to break the prisoners from the stockade by disloyal citizens of Ohio, and an overall spirit of mutiny then prevailed over the prisoners being held there. Under these circumstances, he felt it wasn't surprising at all that orders regarding prisoner conduct would have been severe. After such warning from the sentinels on rule infractions, such as approaching the wall, these prisoners would be fired into. Such was also with the lamps in the barracks, that untrained shots would be fired into the buildings to drive home the point of the sentry's orders.
By that time, the facts on three of the five cases had been sufficiently justified, but the two regarding sentinels firing into the barracks, wounding and killing prisoners had not been so in permitting such harsh measures. In the case of Henry Hupman, he had to lie in his own bed one half hour before his mess mates were permitted to light a lantern and attend to him; and yet it wasn't until 11 o'clock the following morning before the federal surgeon in charge agreed to see him to dress the wound.
It was found that Doctor G. W. Fitzpatrick had been surgeon in charge during this incident and it became the recommendation of the Commissary General of Prisoners that the War Department bring the doctor, Lieutenant Colonel Poten, and the officer of the day, if he could be found to trial for misconduct. Furthermore, if it could be proved, he asked for the discharge of Doctor Fitzpatrick from the service of the United States Army.
The doctor reported that he found the patient the morning of the 16th pale and nervous from the effect of the gunshot wound. He was moved to the hospital where the path of the musket ball was traced having entered the forearm and passed through the elbow joint and up through the inner border of the bicep muscle. It was at that point that it could not be traced any further. Due to weak pulse and other symptoms it was the surgeon's opinion that the projectile came to rest somewhere within the thorax. Upon this observation, he elected neither to amputate at the elbow or the shoulder joint, which resulted in the death of the patient.
While Colonel Hoffman was attempting to get his orders understood regarding the personal investigation into the shootings by Colonel William Wallace, the commandant had been relieved of his post due to illness. Before having done so, most of those involved in the shootings or had knowledge of them had been transferred, leaving his relief with little power to correct the improper execution of the original order. Little could be accomplished beyond Camp Chase's knowledge that such methods of controlling the prisoners had been considered unacceptable by the authorities in Washington. Simply a tighter control was to be kept on such events, as that it was the commandant's business to keep those prisoners alive.
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