Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Arrest of General Stone

Wherein the provost guard carries out an order

On February 8, Brig. General Andrew Porter received the following order from the general-in-chief, Maj. General George B. McClellan:
You will please at once arrest Brig Genl Chas P Stone U.S. Volunteers & retain him in close custody, sending him under suitable escort by the first train to Fort Lafayette there to be placed under charge of the comdg officer to await trial [sic]. See that he has no communication with any one from the time of his arrest.
Porter was the Provost Marshal for the Army of the Potomac, the officer charged with enforcing regulations and maintaining martial law in the area of the army's operations. He had served in the position since McClellan had taken command of that army, and was largely responsible for the vast improvement in discipline by the troops around Washington (though getting most of them out of the city and into the Virginia countryside had helped). He was also responsible for carrying out unpopular actions against local civilians, including the arrest of Washington City's mayor for conspiring against the government and the imprisonment of Rose O'Neal Greenhow and the other female secessionists.

Porter was a Pennsylvanian with the American army baked deep into his DNA. His father had been an officer in the War of 1812, and his grandfather had been a general in the American Revolution. Porter had only spent six months at West Point before dropping out to fight in the Mexican War, but he was nevertheless a consummate army professional. With the U.S. Mounted Rifles Regiment he was promoted to captain and won brevets to major and lieutenant colonel for prowess in battle. When Fort Sumter surrendered, Porter was chosen to be colonel of the new regular regiment the 16th Infantry, the only one of nine new colonels for the new regiments that had not graduated from West Point.

But before Porter had even seen his regiment, he was commanding a brigade in the Army of Northeast Virginia, whose commander, Irvin McDowell, had decided with such inexperienced troops a regular army colonel was needed to keep them under control. His division commander was the new colonel of his old Mounted Rifles, David Hunter, and the other brigade was commanded by Colonel Ambrose Burnside of the Rhode Island militia. Hunter was wounded on Matthews' Hill and, after the battle, Porter and Burnside argued publicly about which of them had led the division and helped out most in the battle.

McClellan was closer to Burnside personally, but also fairly clear-eyed about his friend's faults. He was temporarily spared deciding between them when Burnside returned to Rhode Island with the 90-day militia, but since he always intended to bring him back for the duration of the war, he needed something to do with Porter without losing his considerable abilities. So he named Porter provost marshal and promoted him to brigadier general of Volunteers (the fourth ranked, well ahead of Burnside), a job at which he excelled.

Porter had at his disposal all of the regular army units that were part of the Army of the Potomac, consisting of the entirety of the 2nd, 4th, and 6th Infantry Regiments, a battalion of the 3rd Infantry, and two companies each of the 8th Infantry and 4th Cavalry. Regular troops were kept sequestered from the Volunteers primarily to provide discipline. If a regiment of Volunteers mutinied, as in the case of the 13th New York, the Army policy was to surround them with Regulars to subdue them, by force if necessary.

It was a handful of these men that Porter sent to arrest Stone. Lieutenant Dangerfield Parker led a group of 15 men from Company B of the 3rd Infantry, with the assistance of Lieutenant James A. Snyder and Sergeant C.B. Heitman. Parker had been made a second lieutenant in April in the District of Columbia, possibly as part of Stone's efforts to secure the capital, and he would spend the next 35 years of his life in the U.S. Army, retiring as a colonel, but being promoted by an act of Congress to brigadier general in 1904. But in February 1862, he was a first lieutenant leading a party of men to arrest someone just an hour before midnight.

It's unclear how much Lieutenant Parker knew about his target, but Porter sent Major George Sykes, commanding the brigade of Regulars, along to communicate the arrest to Stone. Sykes was wearing the star of a brigadier general of Volunteers, even though the Senate had yet to confirm him in that position. He had led the regulars at Bull Run and McClellan had put him in for promotion, but his nomination had been slow-walked. Porter probably also hoped Sykes could help avoid an unpleasant confrontation, since both men had served together in the old Army and now held commissions in the 14th Infantry together, Stone as its colonel and Sykes as his major.

Sykes led the men of Company B to H Street and the home of Lord Lyons, the British Ambassador [let me know if you know its location] and asked them to wait while he went in. There was clearly a party going on inside the house, but Stone was not there. Sykes emerged and the soldiers set off again for their next location.

That this arrest was even going to take place probably surprised old Army officers like Porter and Sykes. Certainly over the previous months since the Ball's Bluff debacle in October there had been a steady drumbeat of criticism among some Republican politicians and newspapers, but the West Point educated officer corps had assumed that with George McClellan as general-in-chief, they were still firmly in control of the war effort. Within the army it was conventional wisdom that the well-meaning, but untrained Volunteer colonel, Edward Baker, had been to blame himself for his fate and that of his men. There had been an almost universal poor experience with Volunteers during the Mexican War, so it surprised none of the old Army officers that such a catastrophe could happen.

McClellan shared this belief, and had been shocked when the new Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton,
ordered Stone's arrest at the end of January. McClellan tended to believe all intelligent, good people saw the world as he did, and anyone who did not was malicious or ignorant. Since he had had positive experiences with Stanton, he assumed the secretary shared his views about Regulars and Veterans, and asked that Stone be allowed a second chance to testify. Stone presented again to the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War his professional military opinion that amateur volunteer mistakes had doomed Baker and his men, and the Committee again presented Stanton with their finding that the West Point old boys club was unwilling to prosecute the war the way it needed to be in order to be won. Stanton happened to agree with the Committee.

McClellan almost certainly knew of all of this before February 8. For once, the self-absorbed general-in-chief seemed to understand that political forces were beyond his ability to control, and that Stone was being used by the Committee and their allies as a proxy for him. McClellan had asked Allan Pinkerton, his spymaster, to investigate whether Stone was a traitor, probably intending to use it in his defense, but the report he submitted on February 6 was instead used as a pretext for arresting him. A man that Pinkerton had found to be unreliable had told him that while hiding out in Confederate held Leesburg, he had heard that Stone was conspiring with the rebels, relating corroborating accounts of the circumstantial evidence presented to the Committee. The most damning evidence he provided was that he claimed to have heard Confederate general Nathan "Shanks" Evans declare that Stone was a "brave man and a gentleman." McClellan seized the life line and submitted Pinkerton's report to Stanton as his reason for deciding to comply with the order to arrest Stone.

After Sykes and company left Lord Lyons' house, they proceeded down H Street to 17th Street, where they turned and walked halfway to Pennsylvania Avenue. Sykes again entered a house, then returned out again and waited impatiently for a few moments. He was then joined by Brig. General Charles P. Stone. They chatted in the darkness for a few minutes and then Stone came away from the house with Sykes and turned himself over to Lieutenant Parker.

Their query secured shortly before midnight, the little group marched back past Lafayette Park to the "Chain Building" between 13th and 14th Streets where the part of the provost guard dedicated to Washington City was stationed. Stone was locked up under the supervision of Lieutenant Snyder and a private for the night. When morning broke, he wrote a quick note to McClellan, who he still supposed was his ally, asking for the specific charges against him so he could build his case. He would never get them. In the afternoon, Lieutenant Parker reappeared and escorted Stone to the B&O Station [site of Union Station] and the two boarded a train for New York.

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