Thursday, May 28, 2015

Regimental Mayhem

Occasionally, I come across a regimental history penned by a veteran that seems a bit more unvarnished than most. This appears to be the case with Charles P. Bosson’s History of the Forty-Second Regiment Infantry, Massachusetts Volunteers, 1862, 1863, 1864 (1886). The regiment was one of the many New England units that served in Louisiana, although the 42nd Massachusetts was mostly known for its participation in the battle of Galveston, Texas. In flipping through the book, Bosson praises his regiment’s service but also documents instances of regimental mayhem. His portrayal of the regiment’s personnel strikes me as considerably more honest than many other accounts written by veterans. Below are some examples:

“In Company B, Captain Townsend was very troublesome. In September he carried his supposed grievances so far as to remain away from camp, and order his men to keep away also.” (p. 5)

“A few bad men were enlisted, ‘tis true, but less than the usual proportion found in regiments formed and enlisted as this was. About one-tenth, or say nearly one hundred men, were of that disposition and temperament, in case of going into action the very best thing to be done with them, for the safety of the regiment, would be to hurl them into a ditch with orders to stay there until the fighting was over.” (p. 8)

In an unusual feature, Bosson included a table that listed deserters from his regiment. (pages 34-37)

Bosson described the case of Corporal Everett A. Denny who was reduced to the ranks and ordered to forfeit $10 of pay and be publicly reprimanded for writing and publishing “an article containing sentiments false and calculated to mislead the public with reference to the acts of Captain George P. Davis.” Denny claimed that there was an “indiscriminate distribution of whisky by even superior officers” aboard ship. (pages 145-147)

And then there was the sad case of Private John H. Cary whose death “was the result of hard drinking…Cary had been a hard drinker ever since his return from Texas, and shown such symptoms of delirium as to cause a watch to be kept on him…His body was found, badly decomposed, in the swamp by the roadside, not far from camp, on the thirteenth of May.” (p. 237)

It would be interesting to know what veterans of the 42nd Massachusetts thought about this book. I suspect that some were rather horrified at some of the episodes that Bosson chose to include in his history.

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