Sunday, June 24, 2012
Murder in the Cavalry?
I found proceedings from a third court martial from the regulars in 1864, and found it even more interesting than the first two. Regrettably, I didn’t find this one in time for the book. Our manuscript is already in the editing process, so we won’t be able to add this to our history of the 6th U.S. Cavalry. It just goes to prove that there’s always another piece of information out there.
I have the relevant portions of the order for this case, but omitted the data for the other four courts martial included in the order. All four were volunteers tried for desertion, and all four were sentenced to be shot dead by musketry.
“Orders No. 67. War Department
Adjutant General’s Office
Washington, February 22, 1864.
III. Before a General Court Martial, which convened at the Headquarters, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, September 30, 1863, pursuant to Special Orders, No. 169, dated September 29, 1863, Headquarters, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, and of which Colonel GEORGE A.H. BLAKE, 1st United States Cavalry, is President, was arraigned and tried ---
Private Edward Brandingham, Company “G,” 6th U.S. Cavalry
Charge I. – “Murder.”
Specification – “In this; that he, the said Private Edward Brandingham, Company ‘G,’ 6th U.S. Cavalry, did strike and stab with a knife Sergeant Frank Schurzzers, Company ‘K’, 6th U.S. Cavalry, thereby causing the death of the said Sergeant Schurzzers. This at Headquarters, Cavalry Corps, near Culpeper, Va., on the evening of September 29, 1863.”
Charge II. – “Drawing and lifting up a weapon, and offering violence against his superior officer, being in the execution of his office.”
Specification -- “In this; that he, the said Private Edward Brandingham, Company ‘G,’ 6th U.S. Cavalry, did draw and lift up a knife against his superior officer, Sergeant Frank Schurzzers, Company ‘K’, 6th U.S. Cavalry, while in the execution of his office, and did therewith offer violence against the said Sergeant Schurzzers while in the execution of his office, and did with the said knife strike and stab the said Schurzzers while in the execution of his office, thereby causing the death of the said Sergeant Schurzzers. This at Headquarters, Cavalry Corps, near Culpeper Court-house, Va., on the evening of September 29, 1863.”
To which charge and specification the accused, Private Edward Brandingham, Company “G,” 6th U.S. Cavalry, pleaded “Not Guilty.”
The Court, having maturely considered the evidence adduced, finds the prisoner, Private Edward Brandingham, Company “G,” 6th U.S. Cavalry, as follows:
Of the Specification, “Guilty.”
Of the Charge, “Guilty.”
Of the Specification, “Guilty.”
Of the Charge, “Guilty.”
And the Court does therefore sentence him, Private Edward Brandingham, Company “G,” 6th U.S. Cavalry, “To be hung by the neck until he is dead, at such time and place as the Commanding general may direct: two-thirds of the members of the Court concurring therein.”
So who were these fellows, and what was going on in Culpeper?
The victim, Sergeant Frank “Schurzzers,” was actually Sergeant Frank Schweigus, a farmer from Germany who enlisted in Co. K, 6th U.S. Cavalry in Rochester, New York on August 15, 1861. Regimental returns list him as mortally wounded at Culpeper, Va., on September 29, 1863.
Edward Brantingham was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1839. He worked there as a laborer, and was 22 years old when he was enlisted into Company K, 6th U.S. Cavalry there by Lt. James F. Wade on July 21, 1861. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’5” tall, with blue eyes, light hair and a ruddy complexion.
The 6th U.S. Cavalry was not a part of the Reserve Brigade, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac at the time of the incident. As a result of heavy losses during the Gettysburg campaign and subsequent pursuit, they were assigned to duty at cavalry Corps Headquarters in late July 1863.
I have found no other mention of this incident anywhere, so we don’t know what actually happened. Sgt. Schweigus died that day, and Pvt. Brantingham was accused of killing him. The evidence wasn’t totally compelling, as only two-thirds of the court’s members concurred with the sentence. Two-thirds was the minimum necessary, but one of the other four courts-martial was unanimous in the sentencing.
So what happened?
Pvt. Brantingham was in confinement at the regimental camp on the equivalent of death row from the date court martial on September 30th to the date the order was published on February 22, 1864. To say that it was a miserable winter would probably understate the situation. The apropos portions of the order continue below.
“VI. The proceedings of the Court in the case of Private Edward Brandingham, Company “G,” 6th U.S. Cavalry, have been submitted to the President of the United States for his action thereon. The findings of the Court upon the first charge are disapproved by the Major General commanding. The sentence awarded the accused is disapproved by the President. The prisoner will be released from confinement and returned to duty.”
Come again? Returned to duty?
The rest of the story is that none of the five were executed. The commanding generals in each case (our old friend Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton in the case of Pvt. Brantingham) recommended clemency, and President Lincoln’s policies concerning capital punishment for soldiers has been discussed elsewhere. Of the five accused, one was discharged, two were sentenced to confinement at hard labor on Dry Tortugas, Florida during the war, and Brantingham and one other were returned to duty.
Regardless of one’s views concerning capital punishment, the return to duty is mystifying. Also mystifying is that I’ve not been able to find a mention of it in letters home from several collections of letters from officers of the regiment during this period. Apparently the evidence against Brantingham simply wasn’t compelling enough to convince the general and the President of his guilt.
Edward Brantingham continued to serve in Co. G, 6th U.S. Cavalry until his discharge at the expiration of his period of service at the regiment’s camp on January 25, 1865 as a private. He returned to Columbus, where he worked as a stableman and teamster and lived the rest of his life. His wife Martha submitted a claim for his pension on October 26, 1889.