Thursday, July 2, 2015

The 48th/150th: Off To Mexico?

150 years ago. . .the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania remained encamped at Alexandria, Virginia. Lee, Johnston, and a number of other Confederate leaders had long since surrendered their forces; Richmond had long since fallen; and Lincoln long since dead. Even the Grand Review of May 23, in which the 48th had proudly marched, seemed like a distant memory. The war was all but officially over. And so the officers and soldiers of the 48th bided their time as best they could, waiting to be discharged, the regiment mustered out, and simply longing to return home. 
Yet 150 years ago, there were a good number of soldiers in the regiment who were convinced that they would be retained in the service and sent off to a new, developing theater of operations: Mexico!
In 1862, with the United States deeply mired in its own civil war, French forces arrived in Mexico and drove Benito Juarez from power. Soon enough Maximilian I of Austria arrived and proclaimed himself Emperor. In Washington, Lincoln and the administration had spoken out loudly against this action, but with their own war to wage and to win, little was done. However, now that the Civil War was drawing to an end, some50,000 U.S. soldiers, headed by General Philip Sheridan, were assembled in Texas, in the hopes that such a strong show of strength would convince the French to leave. Ultimately the French would leave but not until the following year.
Mexico and Texas

With this developing situation and with the 48th remaining essentially inactive in their camps at Alexandria, it was not long before a rumor began to spread that they had been designated to be sent south and attached to Sheridan's force in Texas. Not only that, but the rumor also was that several officers of the 48th had actually petitioned the War Department to select the 48th to take part of this pending action. Soon, this rumor grew its proverbial legs and raced all throughout the camp. The enlisted men, waiting to go home, were outraged and very adamantly opposed to any such notion. So convinced were the men of the validity of this rumor that they, too, drew up a petition, one that was very quickly signed by the sergeants of each of the companies, stating that they represented the wishes of all the men. They did not want to go to Mexico. Period. They just wanted to go home. With the senior officers of the regiment entirely unaware, this petition was sent off to Harrisburg, to the attention of Governor Curtin. Not quite sure what he was supposed to do with this document, Curtin forwarded it to Headquarters, Army of the Potomac. From there, it traveled down the chain of command: to 9th Corps Headquarters, to Second Division, 9th Corps Headquarters, to brigade headquarters. . .and finally, to the attention of Colonel Isaac Brannan, the commanding officer of the 48th. Brannan had assumed command of the regiment in early April, following the death of Colonel George Gowen at Petersburg. And now, surprised, embarrassed, and angry, Brannan attempted to find out who among his soldiers was to blame for first spreading this rumor and for writing up this petition. After interviewing several of the men, it was somehow determined that it was Corporal John Cruikshank, of Company H, who was the principal culprit. For his part, Cruikshank--nicknamed "Crooky,"a 25-year-old machinist from Pottsville--neither admitted nor denied that he was. So Brannan had him arrested and, in an effort to get the truth out of him, ordered Cruikshank to be strung up by the thumbs. . .a most painful punishment. Brannan continued to press but Cruikshank remained obdurate; he would not say anything. Frustrated and embarrassed by the whole situation, Brannan ordered him released.
Cruikshank returned to his quarters, the culprit never positively identified, and the 48th never ordered off to Mexico. . .
Illustration of Being Tied Up By Thumbs


The Grave of Corporal John Cruikshank
Shamokin Cemetery
Whether or not he was the main culprit in the spreading of the rumor that the 48th's officers wanted the regiment to go off to Mexico, Cruikshank would never admit. The old soldier died in Shamokin in 1915 at age 75.

No comments: