Friday, April 26, 2013

The 48th/150th: Stealing Liquor and Other "Mischievious Mischief" ??

150 years ago, the officers of the 48th Pennsylvania and 6th New Hampshire--another of the regiments in General James Nagle's 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 9th Army Corps--were trying to get to the bottom of what was universally described as an "outrage" committed at Spruce Creek, Huntington County, Pennsylvania, as the men made their westward journey to Kentucky.

It all started on March 28, 1863, a cold and snowy day. . .the trains carrying the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania and 6th New Hampshire stopped for a only a few minutes at the Spruce Creek Station.  Spruce Creek, in Huntington County, Pennsylvania, lays along the Juniata River about twenty miles west of State College.

It was there where all the trouble began.

As it turned out, several soldiers hopped off board and rummaged through the house belonging to a Mr. R.F. Haslett, and made off with quite a haul of alcohol. . .
That night, and quite steamed, Mr. Haslett wrote directly to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton:

“Sir—This day about ten O’clock a Train Load of your Soldiers passing this place Came into my House with an officer at their head & Commenced Robbing my house & Carried off quite a lot of my Goods Which I don’t feel like Loosing.  We have to pay the Government there (Revenues) & Taxes & When Such things occur I have a right to be paid for whatever they take from me. As you have the power of taking it off the (Perpetrators)  Part of them is Said to belong to Baltimore. Some of the 6th New Hampshire & Some of the 48th Penn. The Penna. men Said that those Maryland men would Steal Anything they got there hands on.
“Another thing to be considered I have always treated the Soldiers with the best respect gave them what I could to both Eat & Drink ever Since they have been traveling over the road. I have two Sons now in the Army one in the 2nd Illinois Cavalry under General John A. Logan & the other one belongs to the 125th Penna. Regt. under Col. Jacob Higgins & I should be verry Sorry to hear of them Acting So. I will give you Some of the Items Stolen Hoping you will See to having it paid. If not I will Publish in the papers with the affidavits of Six or Eight good men So that people can on there guard when such men travel the Road.

“Ten gallons alcohol @ 1.50=$15.00
            Keg               @ 1.50=$  1.50
 Eleven Bottles Champagne @2.50=$27.50
 1 [...?...] & Contents 5.50=$5.50
 Destroying things, Breaking Lamps
 Tramping Candles, Wasting Liquors & Ale
 & Mischievous Mischief=$25.00
                            Total: $74.50

 “Above I give you a statement of what I have lost & then All is not inclosed as there was a great many Small items that I did not mention. You will please give the above your attention.

                                                                                    “Respectfully Yours
                                                                                                R.F. Haslett
                                                                                               Spruce Creek,
                                                                                                Huntington Co., Penn.”

The Spruce Creek Tunnel

About a month later, Mr. Haslett's complaint made its way to the officers of Nagle's Brigade.

Nagle demanded answers, but both Col. Joshua Sigfried of the 48th and Lt. Col. H.H. Pearson of the 6th New Hampshire denied their men's involvement in the outrages:

Col. Joshua Sigfried denied that any of the 48th were involved

Said Sigfried:
“Sir: Being personally in command of the regiment at the time it passed through Huntington County Penn., I made a close and thorough investigation myself into the inclosed complaint. I find that none of my regiment was engaged in the outrage. The train stopped but a few minutes at that station, and we left no stragglers there.
“Permit me to say that no Officer of my regiment was or could be guilty of such an outrage.”

In support of his own men, Pearson, in turn, responded:

“I commanded this Regt. during its passage from Va. to Ky. & was absent from it not a moment. I have questioned every Officer of the Reg. as to the enclosed complaint & they all state that they never heard of it before.
“I have required them to question the non-commissioned Officers & Privates & have made careful enqueries myself.
“I enclose the statements of three non-commissioned Officers which include all the intelligence I have been able to process in relation to this outrage.
“I am quite confident that no Officer or soldier of this Reg. participated in it.
“I do not think that any such occurrences could happen in this Regt. without it coming to my knowledge.
“Throughout the passage, sentinels were pasted the car doors & my men were not permitted to get off & on at pleasure.”

To lend further credence to his claim of the innocence of the 6th New Hampshire, Pearson included the following statements made by three of his soldiers, who each claimed it was, indeed, soldiers of the 48th who were guilty of stealing Mr. Haslett's liquor and creating other "mischievous mischief," their brass "48"s on their caps revealing their culpability:

Statement of Cpl. Charles H. Willey, Co. C, 6th NH: April 26, 1863:

“While we were stopping for a few minutes at some station on the Penn. R.R. (the name of which I did not notice) I saw four men belonging to the 48th Penn. carry a new half barrel from a building which stood within a short distance from the R.R. track. and bring it to the train. They rolled it under the car in which I and my company were and then carried it toward the rear of the train and put it into the 4th or 5th car. I should think. My company rode in the car next to the rear one of our Regiment. And behind that came the 48th Penn. I know the four men carrying the half barrel belonged to the 48th Penn by the figures on their caps. It had a faucet in it and it was not closed. Some kind of liquor was running out.”

Statement of Sgt. Frank Flanders, Co. G, 6th NH: April 26, 1863:

“I was sergeant of the guard in the car containing my Company on the passage through Penn. I got off the car for water at a station where we stopped for a few minutes; do not recollect the name of the station. While filling my canteen with water from a pail which a lady had brought out of a house, I saw a number of soldiers belonging to the 48th Penn. coming out of a door near me with large quart bottles, which I took to be brandy bottles.
“I heard it said by the bystanders that the soldiers were “cleaning out a bar-room” I did not go into the bar-room myself or see any one of my Regt go in or come out. I looked in particular for me of the 6th NH but saw none.
“As soon as my canteen was filled the engine bell rang and I ran for the cars. I know the soldiers belonged to the 48th Penn by the figures on their caps.”

Statement from Sergeant James C. Smith, Color Sergeant, 6th NH: 4/26/1863:
“While looking out the cars at a certain station on the Penn R.R. where we had stopped for a few minutes, I saw some soldiers belonging to the 48th Regt. Penn. Vols. go by my car carrying a Keg. I heard some of the “48th” who were coming up from the opposite direction ask them “what they had there?” and their answer was “it’s whiskey” – “it’s about half full.”
“I know they belonged to the 48th by the figures on their caps. I should think the keg would hold Ten Gallons. Four men carried it.
“I saw Sergeant Flanders of my company get off the cars and go to a pail which a lady brought from a house, fill his canteen and return. I don’t recollect the name of the station. It was snowing at the time and the windows were closed. I had shoved mine [window] up to look out.”

Then-And-Now Photos of the Railroad Passing Along the Juniata River at Spruce Creek

Despite these statements, it appears, at least from the existing records, that poor Mr. Haslett did not receive compensation and that the culprits were never positively identified. 

The only "resolution" that appears in the records in this brief note, penned by an unknown/unnamed person:

“The within papers exhibit such a conflict of testimony that an intelligent answer to Mr. Haskell cannot be formed. The Col. of the 48th Pa Vols says that no persons under his command committed the outrages alleged. On the other hand three non-commissioned officers of the 6th NH Vols affirm that said outrages were perpetrated by persons wearing the number of the 48th Pa on their caps.”  

What's your verdict?

1 comment:

Steve Taylor said...

I'm afraid all evidence points to the 48th pvi being the culprits.I imagine they had a nice party that night! Nothing has really changed in 150 years, has it? I honor these great Americans and brave patriots. Considering what they had been through, and what they were to endure over the next few years, I can't imagine anyone more deserving of a good stiff drink than they. God bless them.