Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Reason Why a Company of Militia Failed to Eat Their Dinner

“The Reason Why a Company of Militia Failed to Eat Their Dinner,” National Tribune, March 10, 1892

Editor National Tribune:

When I left my home in Brunswick , Mo. , in 1861, to join the 18th Mo. , there were only 12 families of pronounced Union sentiments living in that community, and excepting the German farmers who resided in Chariton County , loyalty was prominent by its absence. Upon my return from rebel prison in 1863, I found a whole regiment of Chariton County citizens stationed at Brunswick who were wearing the blue.

I learned that every able-bodied man except aliens, who resided in the County, had been compelled to enroll himself either as loyal or disloyal. If he enrolled as loyal, he was subject to be ordered into active military service, and if enrolled as disloyal, he was liable to special assessment. Under these circumstances it made but little difference to a majority of our citizens which horn of the dilemma they chose, as it was a losing game in either case whether they served in the militia or paid assessments.

However, there was some calculating minds who conceived the idea of enrolling as loyal, and when ordered out for duty to furnish a substitute, and in consequence of this expediency, militia substitutes soon became in great demand, so that their price ranged from $200 to $400 each. It seems that the Adjutant of a militia regiment was charged with the duty to pass upon the qualifications of these substitutes, hence, those who were ready to become substitutes reported themselves to him, and by the liberal application of division and silence, many physical defects were covered up and the fellow accepted as sound and qualified. When the supply of substitutes ran short, he managed to have some one to be discharged or relieved from duty and then re-enter him as substitute for another man. The oftener this process was gone through with, the more money was realized by these individuals.

Among those who were accepted as substitutes was an old wagon-maker by the name of Frank Henneberg. Physical defects (hernia) entitled him to exemption papers, but he answered as a substitute because he made a liberal division with the officer, who kept the lion’s share of the bonus. In fact, Frank had, in a very short time, been entered for three different persons, and found the life of a militia man to be both pleasant and profitable.

However, Frank was somewhat of a philosopher, and had ample time to reason to his own satisfaction that his services were worth as much as that of the Adjutant’s, who got the largest part, hence, when he was again in demand as a substitute(having been relieved from duty for that purpose), he put the $300 which he got for his last entry into his pocket, and refused to give more than $50 to the officer who had managed the business thus far. The result of Frank’s actions proved disastrous to him, as instead of being permitted to remain in camp, doing little or nothing, he was required to stand guard night after night, something that Frank did not relish at all, and which gave him much concern.

Frank sought a remedy, and he found it. One night while on guard in front of the camp he noticed his tormentor, the Adjutant, in company with his Colonel, approaching the entrance. He immediately challenged them, and they replied: “Why, Frank, this is me,” and proceeded toward the entrance. But Frank said: “I don’t know ‘me,’” and commanded them to halt. The officers took it for a joke, and proceeded, when bang! went Frank’s old musket, and a bullet whistled over the heads of the badly-scared officers.

The alarm brought out the Sergeant of the Guard, and the trembling militia heroes were admitted. A consultation between them resulted in reaching a conclusion that Frank was a dangerous guard, as they frequently were out late at night, hence they directed that he should no longer be placed on guard duty, but should be detailed as cook. Frank did not like the idea of taking the place of some colored man, and declared that he knew less about cooking than about standing guard, but his protest was in vain, he was doomed to don the apron and to be ready to cook the next dinner.

When the Commissary Sergeant brought a supply to him he sent word to the Adjutant requesting instructions what to do with it, whose reply was, “---it; tell him to cook it in the big kettle.” Frank said, “All right, I’ll obey orders,” and, filling the kettle with water, he emptied the entire commissary stores, including unground coffee, candles, and soap, with the bacon and potatoes, into the kettle and kept up a good fire till dinner-time.
At the usual signal the men marched into the dining-room and the contraband waiters began to serve boiled bacon and soup, but no sooner had the men tasted the broth than they began to look for Frank, but Frank was gone, no explanation could be obtained from him, hence the kettle was explored, and candle-wick and other ingredients which were found soon disclosed the incipiency of Frank’s culinary attainments.

After some days search for the “cook” he was found, but claimed that he suddenly had taken sick; but, sick or not sick, Frank was placed in the guard-house, a court-martial was summoned, and his trial resulted in convicting him of conduct unbecoming a militiaman, etc., and his punishment was fixed, first, that his head be shaved, and, second, that he be marched by the music of the Rogue’s March through the principal streets out of town.

This sentence was carried out to the letter, and to the great amusement of the boys who furnished the escort or were spectators of the procession, with Frank as the principal attraction. Frank not only reached the suburbs of the town but continued his march till he found a more hospitable shelter with a friendly farmer some miles away from town.

After the war was over Frank delighted to tell of his exploits, and, after detailing the particulars as to the amount of money he made, would say, “By golly, I did not care to be a substitute any longer and got a free shave, but kept my money.” --L. Benecke, Co. H, 18th Mo. , and Co. I, 49th Mo. , Brunswick , Mo.

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