Letter Written by
near Alexandria Va
December 14 / 61
I received that box on Thursday last, containing the flasks to, and had expected to have a letter from you but am disappointed. Many thanks for your trouble; have drunk your health with the contents of one of the packages. On the day we left Philad- I think I obtained a dollar from you to make change when settling with the carman; it might have been more that I obtained; if so let me know. I now enclose Seven dollars to settle this debt of Dumnig's bill.
I perceive by the newspapers that Governor Curtin persists in styling our regiment the 95th, thus numbering us after regiments that are even not yet organized, and also learn that he is going to present us with a flag so numbered. Orders from Headquarters are always addressed to us at the 54, which will be the number we will continue to bear until the powers that be decree otherwise. We had yesterday a military execution in the field where you witnessed the review. There was no doubt of the scoundrel having been guilty of the crime charged "Desertion". He exhibited the most abject fear when he approached the place of execution. Our division was formed in two lines on three sides of a square, each line being four men deep and twenty paces apart, facing each other while the culprit and his escort were driven between them from right to left, the band playing funeral dirges as the procession past along the front of their respective battalions. He sat in a cart with a Catholic clergyman by his side, and kept his head & shoulder drooped, with a felt hat drawn down over his eyes and shading his face also with his hand. As soon as he had passed to the shooting spot (on the fourth side of the square) the order condemning him was read by the adjutant of each regiment. He was then placed on his coffin in a sitting posture, but cowered and trembled so much that the officers around him had to drive their swords into the ground to form a support for him. 8 men were to constitute the first firing party, 4 more being held in reserve in case the first fire did not prove fatal. After the first fire it was deemed best to order the reserve to fire also, which they did, preceded by the sergeant who put a pistol shot in his forehead the ball coming out at the temple. This last discharge was made while he lay stretched upon the ground. At the first fire his head & shoulder drooped very low and he swung in that position for fully 30 second, and then dropped over sideways. There can be no doubt that this fire killed him, as two balls believed (from their direction) to have been discharged at that time cut pieces almost as large a walnut out of each side of his heart. At the post mortem examination it was found that six balls had taken effect five of which remained in the body. He had eaten nothing since the previous day and I believe was not stimulated; the stomach and intestines were entirely empty though the bladder was full.
It is charged that two out of the eight men detailed as first firing party had not discharged their pieces and had removed the caps to conceal their flagrant dereliction of duty. They are now in irons and will be court-martialed. It is probable I will sit upon their trial, as I am a member of a general court now sitting in their division.
Do you recollect the anecdote of Napoleon who found a man sitting in his lighted tent after "taps", and asked him why do you burn a light after the hour at which my order decree they should be extinguished? The soldier replied "I was writing to my wife - Sire - and have just finished". "Take pen & add a postscript" - "I die tomorrow morning at 8 o'clock for disobedience of orders". The sentence was carried into effect and through that sort of discipline the Emperor had an army, and not an armed mob. I think I see the signs that the "powers that be" realize the fact that we can win victory only through thorough discipline, and the two men referred to stand in a very ticklish position.
We have had one resignation among our Second Lieutenants and will probably have another. The first one was Jno* Soughlin, and as I write the result of an election to fill the vacancy is being announced, the lucky man being Sergeant Major Harper who beat his opponent 3 votes in a poll of 85 his competition being a member of the company voting.
Remember me to all hands and let me hear from you and Lidy soon.
Dr. Joseph R CoadYours truly
*Jno is an abbreviation for John
**Sadly, Lt. Col. Hall was killed at Salem Heights, Va. about 1 1/2
years after the letter was written.
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