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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Before The Wilderness, Punishment for Offenses in the 9th Massachusetts Infantry

by Gordon Thorsby

Officers of the Ninth Massachusetts, Fall 1861, just across the river from Washington

The weather began to clear, temperatures warmed, Spring was coming to northern Virginia and everyone knew 1864 was certain to be bloodier than 1863.

The 9th Massachusetts Infantry was a Summer 1861 regiment, mostly Irishmen, many "fresh off of the boats" and new to the Boston neighborhoods. For Patrick Robert Gainey the regiment’s Colonel, he had to ready his regiment. Winter had brought lax discipline and Maj. Gen. Meade, demanded the greatest levels of disciplinary punishment to eliminate desertion.

Guiney was the second commander of the regiment. The first, Col. Thomas Cass, had been mortally wounded at Malvern Hill in 1862. The Ninth had performed well in all of the battles beginning in 1862 and suffered heavily in the battles of the Peninsula. Guiney was a fellow recently arrived Irishman and Roxbury lawyer and saw himself as a fellow neighbor to many. The enlisted men did not share his attitude. The veteran soldiers deserved to have their fun but Guiney had to get discipline and his action began in March.

First, all leaves and passes were stopped and everything in camp tightened up. Then violations began to be issued:

On March 15, Pvt. James H. Gallagher had been absent without leave. He was sentenced to forfeiture of 20 days' pay and confinement in the Guard House for three days. Hopefully, the harshness of the punishment would discourage soldiers wandering about without authorization.

Pvt. Lawrence Cassidy of Co. G (shoemaker) was caught for drunkeness on duty and not his first offense. He forfeited an entire month’s pay and was to be tied to a tree for a day exposed to the weather followed by “48 hours” in the Guard House.

March 22 Pvt. Patrick Jones of Co C (bootmaker) was caught drunk on duty but only lost four days pay.

March 22- Pvt. Conrad Weimar of Co. H was brought up on charges for drunkeness on duty. His sentence was the forfeiture of ten days pay. Weimar was one of the few German immigrants who lived in Boston.

Apparently, the 22nd was a banner day for punishment as Pvt Martin Sheehan of Co. B (shoemaker) was tried for the drunkeness and received the sentence of forfeiture of 15 days pay and confinement to the guard house for 24 hours.

Pvt Michael Barry of Co. K (bootmaker) also found guilty of drunkeness on the 22nd lost ten days pay.

As the month progressed, the severity of the punishments worsened.

The worst sentence on this day, the 22nd, went to Pvt James Hogan of Co K , absent without leave from roll call lost a month’s pay and four days tied up but with intervals for food and rest. The punishment would have been tortuous, exposed to the elements, and urinating and soiling himself; most degrading. Other reports described the Hogan was a “rough fellow.” At 44 as a civilian, he was an unskilled laborer, working day to day for food and a roof. He was possibly forced to enlist in 1863 and didn’t muster out with the regiment. He was dishonorably discharged in July 1865.

On March 29, Pvts. George Gordon and James Nole (a drafted resident of Philadelphia, PA) of Co. E were found guilty of being absent without leave. They forfeited one month’s pay and to be tied up 48 hours allowing proper intervals for food and water.

Pvt. Lawrence E Deery of Co. K (Bootmaker) didnt get the lesson from his comrade Barry and he too was found guilty on April 5 for drunkeness receiving a forfeiture of five days pay. His penalty was light in comparison to the others.

On April 5, 1864, Col. Guiney summarized in a report, this series of punishments handed out in a short period of fourteen days. The Army of the Potomac broke camp and crossed the Rappahannock where they proceeded into the Wilderness and one of the bloodiest battles of the war. On May 5th and 6th, the "Fighting" 9th Massachusetts entered some of their heaviest fighting they would experience. Many of the above violators redeemed themselves.

Pvt. Sheehan was killed instantly while fighting on May 5.

Pvts. Cassidy, Barry, and Gordon were wounded. Gordon was promoted Corporal for meritorious conduct.

Pvt. Gallagher was noted for gallantry and promoted to Sergeant.

At the Wilderness, the Ninth suffered 138 casualties and Col. P.R. Guiney was severely wounded in the face.

At Spotsylvania a few days later, Pvt Nole was killed and Jones was wounded. Unfortunately for Weimar, though not a casualty of either battle, he was accidentally shot and killed in Baltimore one month later as the regiment was trooping home to muster out.

Of the men punished in the two weeks, only Gallagher, Hogan and George Deery survived the Spring of 1864 unharmed.


National Archives, Washington DC. Fold 3, Digital Copies.

Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War, 9th Massachusetts Infantry, Massachusetts Adjutant General Office, Norwood Press, 1931.

Captain J.E. McCafferty, Co. I

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