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LaForge Civil War Diaries and Correspondence: February1865

Wednesday, May 3, 2017 - 13:00

It's a sobering reminder, every time Abiel's letters to and from home focus on the details of people's health, how easy it could be for a loved one to sicken and die in between letters. Also sobering is to know, in hindsight, how close the end of the war is, and yet there are still ongoing casualties as the two sides juggle positions.

We get some interesting details of the court martial duties, especially now that Abiel is appointed Judge Advocate. Particularly interesting is the interaction he records on the 15th when he is gently pressured to "go easy" on a defendant "in the name of friendship" and responds that he's required to act without "favor or affection." Abiel presses on with the course he feels is right even when the rest of the court decides in contradiction to the evidence (as Abiel sees it). Although Abiel doesn't say so directly, one suspects that the others may have received the same under-the-table pressure to "go easy" that he did. This interaction bears strongly on interpreting the most interesting aspect of this month's events--even more interesting in its absence from the diaries themselves. The following note is included in my mother's transcript:

In the early 1940's the originals of LaForge's diaries were borrowed by Ralph M. Hower when he was preparing his book History of Macy's of New York 1858-1919. When the diaries were returned to Rose LaForge Maxson, four pages were missing.  According to the letter written by LaForge on June 12, 1865, which is given below, Roland H. Macy, Jr. became a member of LaForge's company on March 3, 1865 and had previously been tried by a General Court Martial.  Presumably the missing pages included mention of the case.  If the missing sections are found later, they should be inserted here.

Informal family gossip has tended to draw a connection between this event and the fact that, ten years later, Abiel T. LaForge became a partner of Rowland H. Macy Sr. in his famous department store, after being employed there in various capacities (and after marrying Macy's cousin Margaret Getchell). The implication in the family speculation was that there was some sort of after-the-fact quid pro quo involved. But in doing the close reading of these diaries, I find it extremely difficult to connect the Abiel who stood fast in the face of his entire Court Martial team against deciding for "favor or affection" and a man who would decide a case on the off chance of some future benefit from the defendant's father. Here is my take on the matter.

I consider it quite probable that the diary pages referring to the court martial of Rowland H. Macy Jr. were deliberately "lost" by Mr. Hower, perhaps in an attempt to erase any shadow of scandal from the Macy name. Though it couldn't have been that much of a scandal, given that Macy Jr. continued in the service. I consider it likely that Abiel's eventual contact with Macy Sr. was not utterly coincidental with respect to having had Macy Jr. in his company during the war. (I believe the later diaries will elaborate on how they connected.) But I think it isn't purely irrational family loyalty to conclude that that's as far as the matter goes. Even aside from matters of morality and ethics, there would be no reason for Abiel to think that "going easy" on this particular soldier would be of more benefit to him than the other pressures on him "in the name of friendship." And although Macy's flagship store in New York City had been an ongoing concern for seven years at this point, I doubt that it was yet a significant enough enterprise to tempt a moral man to stray from his duty. So whether one views Abiel as the upright moral man he presents himself to be, or considers the possibility that his self-image was overly rosy and that he was subject to temptation, the idea that his judgment on Macy Jr. came under undue influence strikes me as highly unlikely.

The Diary and Letters of Abiel Teple LaForge 1842-1878

Transcribed, edited, and annotated by Phyllis G. Jones (his great-granddaughter)

Copyright © 1993, Phyllis G. Jones, All rights reserved

February 1865

Wednesday February 1st 1865

Last night, a little past midnight, an order came to have the men ready to move at short notice.  I sent my orderly Sergeant Wood to have the company pack their things and I laid quiet and took a good sleep.  We did not move, but expect to tonight.  I was told at Division Head Quarters tonight that, if certain things were found out, we wold move onto the enemy's Right and try to set him back. If other certain things transpired, we should not move at all.  The Board met today,  I was made Recorder of the Proceedings. [Note: this does not appear to be related to the court martial. In any event, the context makes it clear it is to decide furloughs.] After we had selected men for furloughs, we adjourned sine die. I made a record of the proceedings and gave them to the Brigade Commander.  I am detailed as Judge Advocate of a Court Martial to meet at 10 A.M. tomorrow, if we don't move.  Major Wood of the 9th U.A.N.Y. is President. [Note: It's unclear to me what U.A.N.Y. stands for, though the end is almost certainly "New York".]  My duties are to instruct the Court on points [of] law, to conduct the Prosecution on behalf of the U.S., and record the proceedings and hand them in to the Commanding General.  I got a letter from Uncle John and one from Miss 3.3'.1.9'1- 3.9'.1.5'.1.3'.3'. [Note: following Abiel's cipher, this would be "Clara Cranall", i.e., Crandall.]

Thursday 2nd

Entered on my new duties.  This P.M. rode over to the 2nd Corps to see the great lookout tower they are building there. It is now 109 feet high and they intend to build it 30 feet higher.  I learned that I should have been detailed as Aide-de-Camp on General Seymour's Staff, if there had been officers enough with the regiment so that I could have been spared. I heard quite a compliment paid me yesterday when I was over at Brigade Head Quarters, but as the officer did not know I heard it, I think I shall not state what it was.  I have a case of Grand Larceny to try tomorrow.  [I] find my duties as Judge Advocate quite interesting.  Have $1.25 per day extra while on this duty.  There is one Major, two Captains, four 1st Lieutenants, and 3 2nd Lieutenants on the Court, besides myself.  I have to prepare the cases for trial, summon the witnesses, examine them, and am what is called the organ of the Court.  My title is Judge [...missing text...]thing for smooth face.

Friday February 3rd 1865

A Peace Commission from Jeff[erson] Davis has been allowed to come through our lines and go to Fortress Monroe to meet commissioners from the U.S. Government to treat for terms of peace.  I have not much faith in the results being what we all desire.  We have been favored with a long spell of tolerably fine weather. A storm has commenced tonight which I fear may be the ending of good weather for some time.  We tried a man for Grand Larceny today.  None of the members of the court are allowed to state what the sentence is until it is published. [Note: I find it interesting that even with the discretion of his cipher, when Abiel notes that the members of the court aren't allowed to state something, he doesn't record it even here in his private diary.]

Saturday 4th

The Peace Commission is still at the Fortress.  Heavy cannonading commenced just at dusk and still continues. It is towards Petersburg, I think at Fort Hell. [Note: possibly "Hill"?] Contrary to all expectation, the storm of yesterday ceased last night, and the air during the day has been mild and balmy, more resembling spring than mid-winter.  Up North a very hard winter is in progress.  I received my commission as Captain, for gallant services during last year's campaign.  I did not get mustered, as the Mustering officer had his wife up here and wanted to go with her to City Point this evening.  Wrote to father.

Sunday 5th

Pleasant day.  We were ordered to be ready to move at a moment's notice at 4 o'clock this A.M.  The 5th Corps moved out to the left, but we did not move.     The 5th struck the enemy about three o'clock and some pretty heavy cannonading issued. We appeared to drive them until sundown, when the Rebs evidently made a stand, for there was very rapid firing.  It is now 9 P.M. We have just received orders to draw and issue four days rations and to be ready to move.  The 1st Division is now moving and we expect to follow them, but can't tell yet.  I have just written a letter to sister and think--notwithstanding the probability of moving--I shall go to bed.  I also got a letter from my sister.

LETTER   Head Quarters Companies "A" & "I" 106th New York Volunteers

Anglo-French Hotel  Before Petersburg Virginia,  February 5th 1865

My dear sister,


Your very kind and welcome letter of January 29th I have just received.  Although it is a greeting from the frozen North, the letter bore none of the peculiarities of the climate except perhaps being rather late.

I need not tell you that I was glad of the generally good health of our people, for you are already aware of the fact.  I am rather amused, as well as grieved, that you cannot get the idea out of your head that "your letters are uninteresting".  If you will only allow me to be the judge, I think we shall have no trouble about the matter.  I am always glad to hear from you, under any circumstances. Please remember that, and don't delay on account of having "no news to write".

It seems strange to hear you speaking of so much snow when we are having such pleasant weather here.  I hardly think we have had but three snow storms this winter.  The heaviest of those was not more than two inches or so, and lasted but three days.  We have not had any snow for more than a month, I believe.  The ground is just frozen enough to make good traveling.  A slight thaw takes place nearly every day, so that the surface is a little muddy, not much.  The sky is clear and very blue.

Last night the colonel sent word around to us to have our companies ready to march at once.  A movement was anticipated.  We did not move, however.  But the 5th Corps did, and struck the enemy on our left flank about noon. They were some five miles from here.  They appeared to drive them back slowly until tonight when, from the sound of the cannonading, they must have met with fierce resistance!  The report came up here that we had captured Thachers Run and held the position. How true this is, I cannot tell.  I should not be surprised if we were ordered out to assist the 5th tonight.

I am now the Judge Advocate of a General Court Martial, sitting at our Brigade Head Quarters.  While I hold this position (which terminates if we move or have no more cases to try), I receive in addition to my present pay $1.25 per day.  My duties are numerous, and the cases take up most of my time.  I have to prosecute in the name of the U.S. and also have to defend the prisoner.  I have to examine all the witnesses on both sides, keep a record of the proceeding, swear the court and witnesses, argue the case, hunt up the law on each question, summon witnesses, direct the prisoner to be brought before us, and direct the whole of the proceedings of the Court.  Enough business for any reasonable man to want on his hands.  When the court adjourns for the day, I have to do what they call "making up a case" for the next day.

In addition to all this I am a Captain.  I got my Commission yesterday as such, for gallant services last summer in the Valley.  I have not been mustered as such yet, but expect to be tomorrow!  The reason I was not mustered yesterday was this: the mustering officer had been home and got married. When he came back, he brought his little wife with him up here, and was riding around with her showing the sights.  He had to take her back to City Point tonight, as no woman is allowed to stay all night at the front.  I heard her say to an old friend, who was congratulating her on her fine appearance, that she was "happy, very happy, more so than she could express." The dear little thing, how pretty she was!

The officers call sounded just now.  We all went to Head Quarters and our orders are to be ready to move at once.  The 1st Division is moving now and we expect to have to follow them.  Four days rations are being issued to the men.

So good night and sweet dreams, dear Suse.

            Your Brother Bijou.  Captain 106th New York Volunteers

[postscript] Monday February 6th 1865

Dear Friends,

We did not move last night, so this morning I opened this envelope to write some more.  The 1st Division moved.  It is now 1/2 an hour after sunrise, but no fighting has commenced yet. Perhaps there will be none today.

Sister, I can't get any socks worth a darn here.  Will you send me a good pair or two of woolen socks? Buy them and charge the same to the account of your         Brother Bijou

[Note: "Worth a darn" is, of course, a softened version of "worth a damn" but it's tempting to see Abiel's love of word play in the use of it, since he doesn't normally use strong language in his letters home.]


Monday 6th

Warm. Did not move as expected to.  I understand that the 5th Corps threw up works on the ground they won and will probably remain there.  Our 1st Division are coming back here.  We captured a few wagons, some prisoners, and also lost quite a number in killed and wounded.  The 2nd Brigade of our Division moved to protect the ground vacated by the 1st Division so we had no court, as most of the members belonged to that brigade.  I was over to see the General Commanding our Division today.  Had quite a long talk with him in regard to Courts Martial.  Was mustered as Captain from the 4th.  Wrote to Annie.

Tuesday 7th

Commenced raining before daylight and has rained all day.  A bad day to get wounded, but many of our poor fellows have been. It is one of those sleet storms which freeze as fast as it falls.

The 5th Corps and 1st Division of our corps has been fighting in some of the worst part of the day.  Heavy cannonading and musketry has been kept up to our left all day.  We could hear the Rebs make a charge tonight, although they are some five miles to our left.  The 5th Corps was driven back some, but the 1st Division of the 6th went in and saved the day by their gallantry.  Received a letter from Annie of Swampscott this evening.  She is lovely.  Got a copy of the New Lisbon Argus this evening.

Wednesday 8th

Very muddy.  Can not hear anything reliable from the left, although it is so near us.  The 1st Division came back to its old position this morning.  We finished another case of desertion and I took it over to Division Head Quarters. Tomorrow, if we stay here, we shall have a very serious case which I have already prepared.  The man is a substitute deserter.  Three of them deserted at the same time.  One has been tried and sentenced to be shot next Friday. The other two are still to be tried before us.

Charley Snyder is getting pretty drunk tonight.  Captain Robertson, Cox, and myself had a fine game of Old Sledge.  I forgot to mention that, in accepting my commission as captain, I lost the chance of being Aide-de-Camp on General Seymour's Staff, which I should probably have had last week.

Thursday 9th

Pretty cold.  The 2nd Brigade moved two miles to the left.  We had orders to move also, but did not go.  No court today.  I rode over to where the 2nd Brigade went this afternoon.  They have no houses or anything to sleep in.  They will have cold comfort for a day or two.

This evening I went over to see Major Daymon,  when, strange to say, I bolted right in upon a party of officers on a spree. "Holloa!  There's LaForge!" says Daymond.  I would have backed out, but before I could make good my retreat I was caught and held prisoner.  I found I was in for it, and so tried to make the best of it.  The officers from Brigade Head Quarters came in, and we had a great time.  I got away a little before 3 oclock.  Woke up Cox by my stumbling over a stool, which he had set just inside the door for that purpose.

Friday 10th

Very pleasant day.  The man who was to be shot today has been allowed a respite by the president. Poor fellow, how the blood must have quickened in his veins when it was read to him last night.  It seems to me, if I was sentenced to be shot and was pardoned in order to make me a reckless dare-devil, I would be the bravest man in the army.  I think by my feelings now that I shall go to bed pretty early this evening, thanking the Lord that I am not to be shot soon in any dishonorable way.  Of course we all have to run the risk of being shot some time.  I am to remain in command of "I" Company.  1st Lieutenant Mours has been assigned to me, to command the company during the time that I am on extra duty.

Saturday 11th

Warm and pleasant.  Captain Robertson got a Leave of Absence for fifteen days.  Cox has applied for one four times, but has not succeeded in getting one yet. It is too bad. We had some pretty warm debates in court today, but always agreed in the end. We could not finish the trial of the prisoner before us, as one important witness was gone.  That puts me in mind that winter is going and another campaign will soon be commenced, which will call loudly for more blood to be shed, all right.  I wrote to Miss 4'.4. this evening. [Per Abiel's cipher, this is "Miss M. D."]

Sunday 12th

No much to occupy me today. Rather idle.  This evening a letter came to the Commanding officer of the regiment from John Clemence, asking if Lieutenant LaForge was alive, and stating that he had written me and, not getting an answer, he feared that I had been killed. And ended by requesting an immediate reply as he felt a deep interest in LaForge.  Colonel Mc[Kelvy] sent the letter to me and I wrote to John at once.  I have written him before and could not account for not receiving an answer.

Monday February 13th

Have been very busy. Tried two cases, then galloped out to the 2nd Brigade to make up another.  The case of an officer was handed me this P.M. with the request that he be tried tomorrow.  I can not do it, however, as I have the cases I wish to try already made out.  I will try the Captain day after tomorrow.  Very cold. Hard to keep warm.  Wrote to Miss 3.3. [Per Abiel's cipher, "C.C." and so probably "Clara Crandall"] this evening.

Tuesday 14th

Pretty cold.  I rather think peace is a thing to be won, not by talking, but by fighting. A great many thought that the Peace Commission from the Rebs would really result favorably, but it appears that we must depend on cool heads and stout hearts for a permanent peace.  I am already to try Captain Hebener tomorrow.  I rode over to Fort DuChene this eve to see him.  He is a fine looking fellow.

Wednesday 15th

Commenced the trial of Captain Hebener.  Just before I commenced, the Inspector A.A. [note: I'm not certain how to expand this] General 2nd Brigade called me out to request me, in the name of friendship, not to bear too hard on the Captain.  I told them that I must do my duty to the U.S. without "favor or affection."  "Oh! Well," says Brigade Inspector, "You can do that and give a fellow a chance too.  Every thing depends on you.  You need not prosecute so very hard."

Cox started off on a 15 day leave of absence before daylight this morning.  He has applied five times for one and at last has got it.  An officer with a commission as Major of this regiment was down here a day or two ago.  How thunder-struck he was when he found we already had a major! He went away again the same day.

Thursday 16th

Commenced raining along in the night sometime.  Very disagreeable day.  Finished the case of Captain Hebener.  The court insisted on finding him not guilty of either the charge or Specification. They even would not find him guilty of the facts which he acknowledged to have been guilty of himself.  I remonstrated until I found that I should soon be mad and then ceased, after telling them that I thought the court ought to be dissolved.  When I took the case over to the Division Judge Advocate, I was much surprised to find that he rather thought the court was right.  I told him if the General thought so too, that I had expended considerable eloquence without avail.  He said that he would submit the case to the General.

I wrote to Uncle John tonight.

Friday 17th

Still rainy.  The case of Captain Hebener was returned to the court today for its reconsideration.  He [note: presemably the General in the previous entry] was surprised that the finding of the court should be so contrary to the evidence brought forward by the Judge Advocate, and he fully seconded my views in regard to the matter.  The Court reconsidered the case and made a finding partly in accordance with the evidence adduced.  I knew the way it was done would not be satisfactory. I took the case over to the General. After he had looked the case over, he directed me adjourn the court sine die which I shall do tomorrow.

I wrote to Colonel McKelvy this evening.  Hedge of company "E" got mustered as 2nd Lieutenant today and I was glad of it, for he is a fine boy.  He has had a commission as 2nd Lieutenant ever since we have been here, but has not been able to muster, and therefore has carried a gun all the time.

Saturday February 18th

Adjourned sine die today and then I went over to see the General. He told me that he was perfectly satisfied with the manner in which my duties as Judge Advocate were performed, but he was very indignant with the manner in which the court had performed its duties as judges.  He said that he had a strong notion of sending all the members of the Court before the Board of examination sitting at Army Head Quarters to see if they were fit to be officers. (Sending the members of the Court does not include me.  I am not considered a member, more than a Judge is a part of the Jury.)  I was just getting ready to go to bed when some of the Division and Brigade Staffs and the 10th Vermont officers came over partly drunk.  We had to have an oyster supper and spree.  Did not break up until 2-1/2 o'clock. [Note: If "spree" means "drunken party" then I'm once again bewildered to tease out Abiel's relationship to alcohol. I also sometimes wonder if "oyster supper" might not be a slang term for something else. How easy would it be for them to acquire fresh oysters for an event of the literal sense? Especially on short notice? If anyone has references on this point, I'd love to see them.]

Sunday 19th

Beautiful day.  The General sent me word to convene my court again, as he wanted to give it a chance to reconsider its sentences in three cases.  I rode over to the second Brigade and notified the officers to attend at the usual hour tomorrow morning.  We had religious services in the open air. Not at all uncomfortable.  I noticed in riding by it this P.M. that the great tower of the signal Corps had been finished.  It is on an elevated piece of ground a mile left of our camp.  [It] is one hundred and fifty feet high, ascended all the way by ladders.  Makes ones legs tired to go up and down it, I should judge.

Monday 20th

Very pleasant.  Court met and, by dint of argument and other persuasion, succeeded in getting sentences more in accordance with the evidence adduced.  Kelly, a substitute deserter, is to be ...t [Note: illegible. The word seems to have been erased and may have been "shot".]  the other cases were loss of pay and corporeal punishment.  Daymon and Lyman of 10th Vermont were over tonight.  I played chess with the first a little while, then went up to Head Quarters. The Colonel and Major were in bed. We made them get up and kicked up a row generally.  I had all I could do to keep Daymon within bounds.  They did not go away until just now. It is half past four and Reveille.  I shall go to bed and try to get some sleep.

Tuesday 21st

Still fine weather.  I learned today that the old court had been broken up and a new one appointed, of which I was to be Judge Advocate.  I had ten cases to be tried handed me.  The Court will not meet until Thursday probably.  I forgot to state that I had received a letter from Annie the 19th. Annie of Lawrence. I have felt pretty sleepy all day, or rather dull at any rate.  There was an inspection of our brigade yesterday by General Wright. I understand that there is to be a review of the Division tomorrow.  A salute of 100 guns was fired this P.M. in honor of the capture of Charleston and Columbus South Carolina.  Sherman has occupied them with his forces, it appears.

Wednesday 22nd

Pleasant.  Washington's birthday. One hundred guns fired in honor of the event, by our batteries.  A review of our Division by General Wright.  I rode over to look at it. T'was splendid.  Charleston and Columbia South Carolina have been captured by Sherman.  I have my detail as Judge Advocate of another General Court Martial.

[Note (the following is as given by Phyllis G. Jones): In the early 1940's the originals of LaForge's diaries were borrowed by Ralph M. Hower when he was preparing his book History of Macy's of New York 1858-1919. When the diaries were returned to Rose LaForge Maxson, four pages were missing.  According to the letter written by LaForge on June 12, 1865, which is given below, Roland H. Macy, Jr. became a member of LaForge's company on March 3, 1865 and had previously been tried by a General Court Martial.  Presumably the missing pages included mention of the case.  If the missing sections are found later, they should be inserted here.]

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