Charges and Specifications Against Colonel George R. Latham, 2d Regiment Va. Mounted Infantry.
February 10, 1864
Charges and Specifications Against Colonel George R. Latham, 2d Regiment Va. Mounted Infantry.
(Col. Latham having just been tried by general court martial, the following charges and argument will give an insight into the case.)
Charge 1 – Neglect of Duty.
Specification 1st – In this, that Colonel Geo. R. Latham, 2d Va. Mounted Infantry, when his regiment was about to march into the country occupied by the enemy, did neglect to inspect his regiment to ascertain that it was supplied with cartridges for an expedition.
This at or near Beverly, W.Va., on or about the 21st day of August, eighteen hundred and sixty three.
Specification 2d – In this, that he, the said Colonel Geo. R. Latham, 2d Va. Mounted Infantry, did neglect to inform himself of contents of General Orders No. 10, Headquarters 4th Separate Brigade, relating to the ordering of marched in the Brigade.
This at or near Huntersville, W.Va., on or about the 23d day of August, eighteen hundred and sixty-three.
Specification 3d – In this, that be, the said Colonel Geo. R. Latham, 2d Va. Mounted Infantry, allowed several officers of his regiment to be absent from camp, and to visit Beverly, W.Va., without proper authority, and did not report or punish the said officer for that offence.
This at or near Beverly, W.Va., on or about the 3d day of October, eighteen hundred and sixty-three.
Specification 4th – In this, that he, the said Colonel George R. Latham, 2d Va. Mounted Infantry, did neglect to have reveille roll call in his regiment.
This at or near Beverly, W. Va., on or about the 8th day of October, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, and at various other times. Specification 5th – In this, that he, the said Colonel George B. Latham, 2d Va. Mounted Infantry, did permit the horses of his regiment to be ridden to water in a disorderly manner, at a walk, trot, gallop or run, as best suited the rider.
This at or near Beverly, W.Va., on or about the 8th day of October, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, and at various other times.
Specification 6th – In this, that he the said Colonel George R. Latham, 2nd Virginia Mounted Infantry, has never, while in command of his regiment as Colonel, convened a council of administration to fix the tariff of prices of sutlers’ goods, but has allowed the sutler to charge for his wares such prices as he saw fit.
This is the different camps of the regiment, in Virginia and West Virginia, from the sixteenth day of June, eighteen hundred and sixty two, to the thirtieth of September, eighteen hundred and sixty-three.
Charge II – Insubordinate Conduct.
Specification – In this, that he the said Colonel George R. Latham, 21 Virginia Mounted Infantry, having been ordered by his commanding officer, Brig. Gen. Averill, U.S. Volunteers, to advance his regiment and try to turn the enemy’s left and gain the Anthony’s Creek road, did remark to another officer, “it is no use to obey this order, (referring to the order to turn the enemy’s left, which he had received), but let us keep up a brisk fire of skirmishers and make it seem that we have tried it,” or words to the effect.
This at an engagement with the enemy at Rocky Gap, near White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on or about the twenty-sixth day of August, eighteen hundred and sixty –three.
Charge III – Conduct Prejudicial to Good Order and Military Discipline.
Specification 1st – in this, that he the said Colonel George R. Latham, 2d Virginia Mounted Infantry, did address and forward an official communication to Headquarters, Department, West Virginia, without sending it through the Headquarters of the Brigade, to which he was attached, and with which he was serving.
This at or near Beverly, West Virginia, on or about the eighth day of October , eighteen hundred and sixty-three.
Specification 2d to Charge 3d. – In this, that he, the said Colonel Geo. R. Latham, 2nd Va. Mounted Infantry, has failed to enforce the orders of his commanding officer, and has failed to perform the duties imposed upon him as regimental commander by the Army Regulations and Articles of War, insomuch as to bring the military reputation and standing of his regiment into disrepute in the 1st Separate Brigade.
This at the different camps of the regiment in West Virginia, during the months of June, July, August and September , 1863.
Charge IV – Disobedience of Orders.
Specification 1st – In this, that he the said Colonel George R. Latham, 2d Virginia Mounted Infantry, having been ordered by Special Orders No. 75, Headquarters, 4th Separate Brigade, a copy of which had been furnished to him, to have reveille roll call of his regiment, did fail to obey said order.
This at or near Beverly, West Virginia, on or about the eighth day of October, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, and various other points.
Specification2d. – In this, that he, the said Colonel Geo. R. Latham, 2d West Virginia Infantry, having been ordered by Special Order No. 75, Headquarters 4th separate Brigade, a copy, of which had been furnished to him; to cause the horses of his regiment to be ridden to water in good order in charge of an officer, did fail and neglect to obey that order.
This at or near Beverly, West Virginia, on or about the eighth day of October, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, and at various times.
Specification 3d. – to this, that he, the said Col. Geo. R. Latham, 2d Regiment West Va. Infantry, having been ordered to prefer charges against Capt. Billingsley, 2d Va. Mounted Infantry, did fail and neglect to obey said order.
This at or near Beverly, West Va., on or about the 3rd day of October, 1863.
Wm. W. Averell
Brig. Gen’l Commanding.
The Colonel’s argument or summing up.
If the Court Please:
Although I do not deem it necessary for my acquittal to review the charges and testimony in this case, yet I beg your indulgence while I refer to them briefly.
The first specification to the first charge was abandoned by the prosecution upon the examination of their own witnesses.
There is no testimony before the court under the second specification to the first charge. General Orders No. 10, from Brigade headquarters, is in evidence, but I know not what for. My testimony before the general court-martial in the case of Chaplain Lyda is also in evidence, but is not connected with the case in any way, as there was not even an effort made to prove the furnishing of General Orders No. 10 to me, or my regiment. The attempt to prove the third specification to the first charge by Major Slack was too ridiculous to be gravely commented upon.
The only evidence to sustain the fourth specification to the first charge, and the first specification to the fourth charge, is the testimony of Major Lang. The delivery of Special Orders no. 75 to the regiment, in time to cover these specifications, is not proven; but, for the sake of the argument, grant it. By this order, reveille roll call was to take place at 5:30 A.M., and breakfast at 7 A.M. Between reveille and breakfast the horses were to be groomed one hour, and fed, and the men to wash and get ready for breakfast. The hour for stable call in the copy of the order in evidence is blank, and the order provides that it should be designated by the regimental commander. The hour so designated by me is not in evidence. The time between reveille roll call and breakfast is one hour and thirty minutes. To groom the horses one hour, feed in ten minutes, and wash in five, would require that stable call be at least fifteen minutes before six, A.M. But to begin at the other end of the equation: the order requires all the buglers to be kept together from reveille until stable call, while the reports of the company commanders are being received. Now it is reasonable to suppose that the stable call would be sounded as soon after reveille as practicable, that the buglers might disperse. Would these reports require over ten minutes? Working from either end of the equation we cannot place stable call later than forty, or at farthest forty-five minutes after five o’clock , A.M. Now Major Lang testified that he reached my camp at or about six o’clock, A.M., on the morning on the eighth of October, 1863, which is shown to be not only after the hour for reveille, but after the hour for stable call. Reveille at this hour would have been violation and contempt of the order, and yet he testifies that there was no reveille roll call in my regiment on that day; when the probability is that at the hour for reveille he was still in bed – my camp being as shown, only half a mile from Brigade headquarters! Truly, it must require a ready witness to testify to such facts under such circumstances. The witness did not state, neither have the prosecution shown, what the regiment was doing when he arrived – whether in bed or at their proper work. The latter must be presumed until otherwise proved I did not supply these omissions, by cross-examination, for the very simple reason that I never cross-examine such witness; and I did not call others for that purpose because it was unnecessary.
With regard to specification 5th to charge first, and specification 2d to charge 4th relating to disorderly riding, the evidence against me shows, that the horses of my regiment were watered in a disorderly manner on the afternoon of the 8th of Oct., 1863. First, in my favor, it is not shown that I was present; second, it was shown that I was much engaged about that time superintending the construction of defences on the front, and I endeavored to show to the court that all my men equipped for duty were absent, but the court decided the question improper, and it was withdrawn; third, it is shown that three months previous to issuing of Special Orders No. 75, by my accuser, I issued a stringent regimental order, which was subsequently republished in the form of a “circular,” covering this very ground; that I had enforced these orders rigidly, and the violators of them were pre-emptorily punished. I confess. I am at a loss to account for the disorder reported, and I think the legal presumption to be drawn from the facts is, that the most of the regiment and myself were absent, and that the Bummers had gotten loose!
The other matters contained in the report of Captain Rife, are foreign to the case, and, even if the report is evidence, are fully answered by the testimony for the defence.
The 6th specification to the 1st charge was abandoned by the prosecution without evidence.
In the second charge and its specification, I am charged with disobedience of orders, amounting to “insubordinate conduct,” on the field of battle at Rocky Gap, W.Va., on the 26th day of August, 1863. It is exceedingly ungenerous in my accuser for him to attempt to cast an imputation upon my conduct on this field, where my person was exposed to the musketry of the enemy at short range, for full eight hours. And what desperate efforts, without proper support, were made by me to to win the day let the record tell. I left too many good and true men on that field, stiff and cold, under circumstances which throw the responsibility somewhere else, for me to speak of it in this connection without feelings of the deepest emotion. I attempted to show by a witness that General Averill was drunk when is issued the order referred to in the specification; for the purpose of justifying myself for counseling with such sober officers of rank and merit as were within my reach, but this the court refused to let me do. I then proposed to show by another witness that I had preferred charges against General Averill prior to his preferring these against me; and that one of these charges was “Drunkenness on the field of battle , at Rocky Gap, August 2th, 1863.” I desired to put this in evidence for the purpose of showing to the court my opinion of his condition at that time. I claim that an officer, in all his official transactions, is upon honor, and consequently that when an officer prefers charges, his honor is pledged to their proof when he is called upon. (Heaven save the mark!) I preferred this charge against my accuser. I believed him to be drunk. I know, so far as knowledge could be acquired through the external senses, that he was drunk, staggering drunk, vomiting drunk, stupid drunk. The I claim that besides doing all that could be done by mortal man to win the day, in consulting with the sober officers around me, I did only what any sensible man or prudent officer would do under the circumstances.
The evidence under specification 1st to charge 3d was a complete failure. The copy of the letter and the certificate introduced do not so much as raise a suspicion that I wrote the original, and on this account I did not notice it. The letter also bears upon its face an unofficial character. Besides, it is no military offence to send some official communications direct.
The army regulations say, “As a general rule they must be sent through intermediate commanders.” The term “as a general rule, “ necessarily implies and justifies exceptions, and had the letter been official, if exceptions are lawful under any circumstances, surely this is one.
There is no evidence under specification 2d to charge 3d; and the failure of the prosecution to sustain the 3d specification to the 4th charge was complete.
Sirs, I am a soldier from principle, and not by profession. I entered the service of my country voluntarily, with no other purpose or motive than to save it, and the most pleasing anticipation of my heart, and most cherished desire of my nature, is for the day when I can return honorably to the quiet of my home, with my country at peace and saved. Then is it not most unreasonable to suppose that I should need prompting to my duty? And the facts show that it is my habit to be inquisitive to learn, and prompt to perform it. The evidence shows that I established regulations which were perfect for the government of my regiment, months prior to issuing of Special Orders No. 75 from Brigade Headquarters. This order looks really well on paper, and as a “literary curiosity,” certainly does much credit to its author; but I ask this Court, in all candor, to read its provisions through (if they have the patience) and ask themselves, if troops in active campaign almost continually on duty, were ever in their experience subjected to such a farce! Seventeen bugle calls per day in camp, and the troops all out of camp! – Rules for the government of regimental hospital where the regiment has no hospital! Directions for the government of the guard house, when there was no guard house! Two drill calls per day, and no men in camp to drill! Grounds to policed, while the authority ordering it deprives me of the means to execute the order -- and so on through all its weary length. While laboring honestly to enforce the provisions of this order (and I think I accomplished it whenever practicable) I am free to confess that, looking at the conspicuous copy posted near regimental headquarters, I was often reminded by it and the surroundings, of the picture of the battle of Philippi – representing the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry charging through the streets, with army overcoats and equipments all complete and new, while the fact is, they were dressed in suits of ragged home-spun, and carried their cartridges in their pockets. It is possible this order might be lived up to in garrison, or camp of instruction. I don’t know – I never did such duty. My place has always been in the field; on the out posts –often seeking the enemy and often finding him, consequently my men and myself may not dress so well, be so fair, nor prance so nimbly in a lady’s chamber” as some others, but if the object and end of discipline are efficiency in the service, that end and object are most surely attained by this regiment.
I have now vindicated myself of the special charges against me, and I think the Court will sustain me in the opinion that never before was an officer of equal rank arraigned on charges so frivolous and wholly false! And that never before did they witness in any charges brought before a General Court Martial such a betrayal of ignorance of military law and proceedings by the accuser, whether influenced by malice, whisky or black-eyed women; or whether descended from the chivalric caste of classic West Point, or ascended from the time-honored order of negro ministrels. I confess that I feel battered by the testimony in this case, and yet I declare that I conceive the charges themselves, considering their origin, to be the greatest compliment of my life – for by their frivolousness, my accuser, actuated solely by malice and personal ill will, acknowledges that in four months’ service and intimate connection he can find nothing more substantial against me. But I beg indulgence of the Court for a few moments while I refer to some other matters of most weighty consideration, involving questions and principals of as vital importance as those for which we all enlisted to fight. Constitutional liberty without them is but a hollow delusions – a name – a shadow without a substance. An effort has been made by my accuser, falsely, to intrigue my rights of personal security and of personal liberty, and to filch from me my good name – which are rights secured to me by the Constitution of the United States. Aye more – they are inalienable by an authority higher than the Constitution of the United States, and yet recognized in courts of justice – the law of nature and of Nature’s God! I know it is apparent to this Court that this prosecution is the offspring of personal malice and ill will. But that “Divinity which shapes all our ends” has so wisely disposed the moral government of the Universe, that disgrace, confusion and contempt, sooner or later, but as invariably, follow falsehood and corruption supported by authority, intrigue and malice, as effect follows cause. The war which was commenced for the perpetuation and extension of African slavery, must prove its over throw and rain; and _________was hanged on the gallows erected by himself, for his innocent victim.
By specification 6th to charge 1st, I am charged with failing or neglecting to do what, if done by me, would have been an offence; and which, not being done by my accuser, constitutes in him the same offence with which he has charged me, the law making it his duty and not mine to “fix the tariff of prices of sutlers’ goods.” But this specification convicts him of another crime, which is grave enough in his eyes, to constitute matter for a specification against me before a general court martial. It convicts him of “failing to inform himself of the contents of” – not a Brigade Order, but an set of Congress imposing duties upon him – while by his own showing, my opportunity for information has been only since August, 1863, but it has been his duty to “inform himself of the contents of” this set of Congress since March, 1862. Further, it is a matter of history that he reported the result of his late Salem raid direct to the General-in-chief, without sending it through the Headquarters of the Department to which he belongs – the crime with which I am charged in specifications 1st, to charge 3d, But further, he has charged me with “disobedience of orders,” and in specification 2d to charge 3d, with habitual neglect to enforce orders, army regulations and articles of war. Coming suddenly from the walks of civil life to a position of some importance in the army, could it be expected of me to understand my duty and enforce that discipline, which is reasonably looked at the hands of a professional soldier? If then I had been found to some extent, delinquent in the discharge of some of my minor duties, would it not be reasonable that some degree of charity to be exercised in making us your judgment against me?
But in all these charges and specification against me, he has failed to prove me guilty of the least offence. But what excuse can he, a professional soldier have, when from face of specification 6th to charge 1st, and the historical fact above alluded to, I am justified in turning upon him with the rebuke, “Thou art the man?”
But his indecent zeal for my prosecution has led him into other inconsistencies. – He has slandered the ____ _____at my regiment, by stating “that military reputation and standing are in disrepute in the 1st separate brigade.” The facts show that it was always first and foremost in the fight, that my accuser had more confidence in it than in any other regiment of his command, the day I left, and that for his reputation he is much indebted to the efficiency of this regiment.
Gentlemen – I can stand, with some degree if composure, to have my “hopes sapped, some blighted, and life’s life lied away,” because there is that within me which shall outlive them; but I cannot hear the good name of this body of scarred and war worn veterans slandered, without rebuking the slanderer. I know what services they have seen, what sufferings they have endured, what perils they have encountered. Behold them spending a winter among the snow clouds on Cheat Mountain, -- with McClellan, Rosecrans, Morris and Reynolds; with Dumont and Milroy, Schenck and Fremont; with Sigel and Pope, Moor, Kelley and Roberts, and last, with my first accuser, their first slanderer! Behold them at Rich Mountain, Laurel Hill, Currick’s Ford, Elkwater, Huntersville, Allegheny, Monterey, McDowell, Franklin, Cross Keys, Port Repulic, Rappahannock, Kelly’s Ford, Sulphur Springs, Waterloo Bridge, Gainesville, Bull Run, Beverly, Warm Springs, Rocky Gap, Droop Moutain, and last, but by no means least, the great Salem raid! Behold their scarred fronts and decimated ranks, pointing you to a hundred battle-fields for the bleaching bones of their fallen comrades! Think of this, and then believe that no commanding officer has ever called upon the regiment and found them not ready, or entrusted to them any duty wherein they have not met his most sanguine expectations! Think of this, and bet, believe that “the half is not told.” Think of all this, and then of him who is capable of speaking evil of their good name, falsely and without provocation.
Gentleman, I am done!
Geo. R. Latham,
Col. 2d W.Va. Vols.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: Undated: February 1864