Diary of a Yankee Engineer: The Civil War Story of John H. Westervelt, Engineer, 1st New York Volunteer Engineer Corps

By John H. Westervelt; Anita Palladino | Go to book overview

Diary of an Engineer During the
Rebellion

No. XL

June 18 1864

continued. 1 P.M. started for B. Hundreds where we arrived at 5 PM. Most of the boys took their tents and went on shore but I stayed on board till next morning. 19th As we left the captains tent and horses with a guard of 3 men we found on our return everything as we left it and all I had to do was to pitch my tent over my old bunk and I was all right again. Most of the men are unloading the bridge but I did not feel verry well and got off. 20th A negro was shot here to day under peculiarly serious circumstances. He belonged to a company of contrabands enlisted to do cavalry duty, but their services not being required in that capacity just at present they were ordered to take arms and act as infantry for the time. This they demurred against and when their cavalry arms were taken away and infantry substituted they refused to receive them. They were then given so many minutes to consider the matter and informed if they still refused they would be shot. At the expiration of the time they all complyed but one who was given three minutes more but as he resolutely refused he was shot where he stood and thus the matter ended.1 There are those who insist that an officer has no right to punish with death unless the offender refused duty immediately in front of the enemy. This is my opinion but it is not my province to judge in such matters so I will say no more about it. Another shooting affair occurred yesterday. It seems that a

1. Black soldiers were far more likely than their white counterparts to be charged with mutiny. Comprising just one out of every 13 soldiers, a disproportionate 80 percent of the men executed for mutinous behavior were black. In many instances the officer in charge overreacted or took action without bothering to bring formal charges. Black soldiers were even known to be shot for nonviolent, legitimate protests, as when they refused to work without receiving the pay they had been promised. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle, pp. 115–16.

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