The Court-Martial of Dugald Hammonds (part 4 of 5)

Articles of War

ART. 7. Any officer or soldier who shall begin, excite, cause, or join in, any mutiny or sedition, in any troop or company in the service of the United States, or in any party, post, detachment, or guard, shall suffer death, or such other punishment as by a courtmartial shall be inflicted.

On September 6, Dugald Hammonds was assigned to guard duty from 2:00 to 4:00 a. m. He was stationed amidships on the starboard side of the riverboat Effie Deans. The Corporal of the Guard, William Shoot, instructed Hammonds to shoot any soldier who jumped over the side. Not long after the watch began Private Hammonds spoke to Corporal Charles Angel and told him, “If I was you and a man wanted to jump overboard, I would let him, I wouldn’t say a word to him.”

Sometime between 3:00 and 3:30, Lieutenant Jeremiah Cronan, Company H, heard the sound of something heavy splashing into the water on the starboard side, near Private Hammonds’ post. He assumed a man had leapt into the river and immediately checked that two men who had been trying to desert were still on board. The men were still present, but Cronan was convinced that a soldier had deserted. Cronan reported his suspicions to the Officer of the Guard, Lieutenant William Backerman.

Backerman investigated, interviewing the guards on deck. He confronted Private Hammonds, asking what he had said to Corporal Angel. When Hammonds replied, “Nothing,” Backerman placed the private under arrest. Corporal Shoot relieved Hammonds of his post and locked him in the guard house.

At morning roll call, Private Nathan Murdock of Company K was absent. The officers aboard the Effie Deans assumed Murdock had been the deserter who jumped overboard during the night. Colonel Dimon convened a General Court Martial and Private Hammonds was tried for violating the 7th Article of War and for aiding and abetting desertion. Hammonds pled guilty to the first charge and not guilty to the second.

After hearing a statement from the accused and testimony from five witnesses, the court found Private Dugald Hammonds guilty of the first charge. But because no one actually saw Private Murdock jump overboard, the court found Hammonds not guilty of the second charge. For violating the 7th Article of War, Hammonds was sentenced to “be shot to death by musketry.” Shortly after the Court Martial, Colonel Dimon commuted Hammonds’ death sentence to six months hard labor and forfeiture of pay for the term of the sentence. Private Hammonds returned to the guard house.

On September 27, 1864, the Effie Deans ran aground. The river was too shallow for the boat to proceed further upstream. The 1st Volunteers left the boat and began a 272-mile forced march across the Dakota plains. Three weeks later, On October 17, the exhausted men reached Fort Rice. Harsh conditions and poor rations at the fort soon began taking a toll on the weakened soldiers. Scurvy and dysentery were widespread among the men. Forty-six of them died during the winter.

Dugald Hammonds remained a prisoner. Hard labor, unsustainable on prison rations, soon killed him. He died on January 12, 1865, of “chronic diarrhea.” Hammonds was buried in Fort Rice’s graveyard until 1905, when his remains were transferred to Custer National Cemetery in Montana.

Note: I read two books about the Galvanized Yankees while gathering information for this post. The first was Dee Brown’s The Galvanized Yankees, which covers the service of all six U. S. Volunteers regiments. The second, Galvanized Yankees on the Upper Missouri: The Face of Loyalty by Michele Butts, deals almost exclusively with the 1st U. S. Volunteers. Both are excellent books. Brown is easier to read; Butts is more thoroughly researched.

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