37th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment

Descendants Association

 

An Undeserved Accusation:

The William H. Penrose Report

No. 107

Report of Bvt. Brig. Gen. William H. Penrose, Fifteenth New Jersey Infantry, commanding First Brigade.

Hdqrts. First Brigade, First Division, Sixth Corps,

April 5, 1865.

Sir: I have the honor to submit the following partial report of the part taken by my command—First Brigade, First Division, Sixth Corps—in the assault on the enemy’s lines, and subsequent engagements of the same day: On the morning of the 2d instant the brigade, was formed in four lines, its left in rear and right of the Third Brigade, First Division, Sixth Corps. Just before daylight the signal was given to advance, when the lines moved forward. They had gone but a short distance before the first and second lines became one, owing to the fact that the pickets which were to have advanced simultaneously with us did not, and the first line received the fire of the enemy’s pickets, which was very severe. The entire command pushed on, and in a few moments parts of each regiment had possession of the enemy’s lines. From some cause the entire lines took direction 200 yards to the left of the points designated, and I found my men had entered the works on the front intended to have been taken by the Third Brigade. At this point  two pieces of artillery (Rodman’s or ordnance rifled) were captured by Brevet Major Paul, acting assistant adjutant-general, and Capt. James W. Penrose, acting aide-de-camp, of my staff, with a few men. A guard was placed upon the guns. Some time after two companies of the Thirty-seventh Massachusetts Volunteers came up to the guns and wished to remove them, which Captain Penrose refused to allow them to do. They then formed around the platforms. Before those two companies came up Captain Penrose had loaded the guns, but could not find primers with which to fire them. In the meantime his attention was directed elsewhere, when the men of the Thirty-seventh Massachusetts drove my guard from the guns, claiming them as their capture. As this has occurred once before I am not disposed to allow it to pass this time without notice, as the command is entitled to the credit of the capture. One battle-flag was taken by a private of the Fortieth New Jersey Volunteers, whose name has been forwarded. It is impossible to state the actual number of prisoners taken, as they were sent to the rear without guards, but I think at least 200. But a short time elapsed before the lines were reformed, and the brigade was ordered to the support of the Second Division of this corps. They were marched in line of battle for two or three miles, when it was ordered to the right. On arriving near the point of assault I was ordered to form on the left of the Third Brigade, with the right refused. In this position we moved forward, gradually closing in around Petersburg. About 3.30 p.m. I swung my left forward, resting it on the Appomattox. During the afternoon’s advance we were constantly under a severe fire of artillery, but losing but few men. Moderate skirmishing. After reaching a point one mile from the city a slight change of position to the right was made, and an order to intrench received. Though the command was in some confusion in the assault, yet in the afternoon’s advance the men and officers behaved to my entire satisfaction, especially as two thirds of them were new men, and had not been in the army three months.

To the following-named officers I am greatly indebted for their gallantry, courage, and efficiency, and respectfully  recommend  them for the brevet set opposite their names: Bvt Maj. Charley K. Paul, acting assistant adjutant-general, as brevet lieutenant colonel; Capt. James W. Penrose, acting aide-de-camp, as brevet lieutenant-colonel (both of these officers, side by side, entered  the enemy’s  works, capturing a section of battery, and by their dashing gallantry carried the men with them); Lieut. William H. Bird, First Delaware Cavalry, personal aide, brevet major; Lieut. John B. McCauley, Fifteenth New Jersey Volunteers, slightly wounded, personal aide, brevet major; Bvt. Maj. William McElhaney, assistant inspector-general, brevet lieutenant-colonel; Lieut. J. Maguire, aide-de-camp, brevet captain (these officers, with the other two above-mentioned, led the charge on the enemy’s works, and by their magnificent conduct insured the final success). The conduct of all these officers during the entire day gave me the greatest satisfaction. Lieutenant-Colonel Huffy, commanding the Fourth New Jersey Volunteers, Major Fay, of the Fortieth New Jersey Volunteers, Major Davis, commanding Fifteenth New Jersey Volunteers, and Major McNeely, commanding Tenth New Jersey Volunteers, are all entitled to a brevet in a grade above their present commissions. They entered the works in the assault with their men, and pushing on drove the enemy, clearing the ground for the organization of the troops. Their conduct during the entire day met with my special approbation.

I have the honor to submit the reports of regimental commanders, which contain the account of the conduct of the officers and enlisted men of their respective commands.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

W. H. PENROSE, Brevet Brigadier-General Volunteers.

 

An Analysis By Frank E. White

 

This William H. Penrose report was frequently cited in an important Medal of Honor protest case that was prosecuted by the Secretary of War Department in the year 1897. It was cited to explicitly discredit the 37th Massachusetts Regiment and cast doubt on this regiment’s integrity. A key individual involved in this protest case boldly stated, in a legal affidavit, that the 37th Massachusetts Regiment “had a habit of trying to rob others, preferring to steal glory rather than earn it”. The author is a student of the 37th Massachusetts Regiment and has found this regiment’s integrity to be unimpeachable. This is particularly true of 37th Massachusetts Regiment’s long time commander, Archibald Hopkins. In an attempt to reconcile William H. Penrose’s accusatory report with the known exemplary character of the 37th Massachusetts Regiment, the author conducted in-depth research and now submits the following seven documents relevant to this incident.  In addition, the author offers an analysis of each of these seven documents. As a result of this analysis, the author vigorously tests the veracity of the accusations made by William H. Penrose in his official report dated April 5, 1865. The author then offers a probable resolution to this unresolved controversy. 

DOCUMENT ONE

Introduction: To analyze William H. Penrose’s report adequately, we first need to understand the battlefield positions of the Union troops on April 2, 1865. This can best be accomplished by examining the official report of General Frank Wheaton, who was commanding the 1st Division of the 6th Army Corp. General Wheaton’s Division consisted of three Brigades: 1st (William H. Penrose commanding), 2nd (Joseph E. Hamblin commanding) and 3rd (Oliver Edwards commanding). In addition to Wheaton’s description, please refer to the map at the conclusion of this article (map courtesy of the Civil War Preservation Trust). This map is an excellent pictorial of the initial troop positions and their subsequent movements.

No. 100 (2)

Reports of Bvt. Maj. Gen. Frank Wheaton, U. S. Army, commanding First Division.

Headquarters First Division, Sixth Corps,

April 15, 1865

MAJOR: I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of this division in the engagement before Petersburg on the 2d instant: …The brigades were formed in echelon, the left forward, in the following order: Third Brigade, Col. O. Edwards, in three lines, thirty paces in rear of the right of the Second Division; First Brigade, Bvt. Brig. Gen. William H. Penrose, in three lines, thirty paces in rear of the right of the Third Brigade; and the Second Brigade, Bvt. Brig. (Gen. Joseph E. Hamblin, in two lines, thirty paces in rear of the right of the First Brigade. At 4.30 o’clock, upon a signal gun from Fort Fisher, the division moved forward with its “guide left,” each brigade taking up the movement toward the enemy’s lines as soon as the troops on its left had gained their prescribed distance of 100 paces between brigade lines. We were received by a sharp musketry and artillery fire, from which our losses were comparatively small, considering the distance we had to pass over under fire and the line of abatis that had to be, cut away. During the advance in the dark each command became more or less disordered, the lines naturally merging in each other, on account of the enemy’s opposition and the natural physical obstacles—abatis, frise-work, &c.—encountered. An extra number of axes had been issued to the pioneers of each brigade, and directions given for these men to be deployed along the division front; and although from frequent previous inspections it was known that the works we were ordered to storm were well protected by lines of abatis, all were astonished to find these obstructions such serious obstacles and so difficult to remove; openings were made in them, however, under a severe canister and musketry fire, and all along our front officers and men pushed through and captured the enemy’s strong works in the most dashing and gallant manner. The Fifth Wisconsin and Thirty-seventh Massachusetts Volunteers formed the front line of the Third Brigade, which was the advanced echelon, and nearest the rebel works. Portions of these regiments had passed through the enemy’s intrenchments and camps, crossed the Boydton plank road, and fired into a train of cars moving on the South Side Railroad before day had fairly dawned. From its position the opposition encountered by the Third Brigade was much greater and its losses in the assault very much larger than in either or both the First and Second Brigades. They gallantly worked their way through the darkness and obstructions into the enemy’s works, capturing guns and prisoners, and the Second Brigade being on the extreme right deployed regiments and companies along the line of works toward Petersburg, occupying battery after battery of the enemy’s lines for more than a mile to the right of the point assaulted. A detachment of the One hundred and twenty-first New York Volunteers, after entering the works, ran forward to the Boydton plank road and cut the telegraph wire leading to Petersburg. The Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery and Sixty-fifth New York Volunteers formed the first line of the Second Brigade, and the Fortieth New Jersey Volunteers formed the first line of the First Brigade.

Analysis: Wheaton’s official report indicates that his 3rd Brigade (Oliver Edwards’ Brigade) that was positioned out in front of his other two brigades, (William H. Penrose’s 1st Brigade and Joseph E. Hamblin’s 2nd Brigade), at the start of the assault on the Confederate works. The 37th Massachusetts and 5th Wisconsin Regiments were positioned in the first line of the 3rd Brigade. Wheaton cites that his 3rd Brigade was the “advanced echelon” and “nearest the rebel works”. Wheaton also states that due to this advanced position, the 3rd Brigade suffered more severe losses when compared to his other two brigades. It would be safe to assume from Wheaton’s report that his 3rd Brigade was the first brigade within Wheaton’s Division to penetrate the Confederate works. It would also be safe to assume that the 37th Massachusetts and the 5th Wisconsin Regiments, within Wheaton’s Division, were the first regiments to penetrate the Confederate works. This is due to the fact that both of these regiments were  positioned in the front line of the 3rd Brigade at the start of the battle, and this 3rd Brigade was positioned nearer to the Confederate works when compared to the other two brigades within Wheaton’s Division. 

DOCUMENT TWO

Introduction: The next report to be examined is the official report of Captain Archibald Hopkins, commanding the 37th Massachusetts Regiment, within the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Division. His official report is dated April 15, 1865, which describes the actions of his regiment on April 2, 1865.

No. 115

Reports of Capt. Archibald Hopkins, Thirty-seventh Massachusetts Infantry.

Hdqbs. Thirty-seventh Massachusetts Volunteers,

In the Field, April 15, 1865.

Sir: In compliance with circular from headquarters Third Brigade, of April 14, 1865, I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by my command in the operations of the late campaign:

…In the assault on the enemy’s works at Petersburg on the morning of April 2 this regiment was in the front line of the brigade, on the right of the Fifth Wisconsin. In advance of the line of battle were deployed as skirmishers seventy-five picked men and volunteers from this regiment, who covered the entire brigade front and were commanded by Capt. J. C. Robinson, assisted by Second Lieut. H. A. Cushman. At the word of command the regiment advanced rapidly, with a cheer, forced their way through two lines of abatis, over the ditch into the enemy’s fort, where (after a brief but sharp conflict, the enemy’s gunners standing to their pieces and firing them two or three times after some of us were in the fort) we captured 3 guns, about 40 prisoners, and a battle-flag.

Captain Robinson, in command of the skirmish line, was one of the first to reach the abatis, and was wounded there. Adjt. J. S. Bradley and First Lieut. W. C. Morrill particularly distinguished themselves by gallantry and efficiency. Corpl. Richard Welch, Company E, knocked down the rebel color bearer, took his flag, and shot one of the gunners while in the act of discharging his piece. Corporal Kelly, of the same company, bayoneted the man who shot his commanding officer while ascending the parapet. Our loss in the assault was 3 men killed and 3 officers and 29 men wounded. The regiment was the first in the enemy’s works. After reforming the line, leaving Lieutenant Cushman and his company temporarily in charge of the captured guns, I joined the brigade, from which we had become separated, and moved with it toward the left…

Analysis: It would appear from Hopkins’ report that the 37th Massachusetts Regiment claimed the capture of one, three gun Confederate battery. It appears that this three gun battery was captured during a very active fight with the Confederate forces which occurred when the 37th Massachusetts Regiment first penetrated the enemy works. The reported actions of Corporal Richard Welch of the 37th Massachusetts Regiment, namely the shooting of a Confederate gunner while he was in the act of firing his cannon, validates that an active fight took place during the capture of this three gun Confederate Battery. In fact, Hopkins describes this event as a “brief but sharp conflict”. Hopkins’ report is substantially different from that of William H. Penrose’s report. William H. Penrose claimed that members of his brigade staff captured a two gun Confederate Battery when his brigade penetrated the enemy works. This event would have had to occur some time after the penetration of the enemy works by the 37th Massachusetts Regiment, which was in a more advanced position and nearer to the Confederate works when compared to the 3rd Brigade. This is validated by the fact that William H. Penrose states that some time later two companies the 37th Massachusetts Regiment positioned themselves around his Brigade’s captured two gun battery. William H. Penrose goes on to state that the 37th Massachusetts Regiment then pushed his guard aside, claiming the capture of this two gun battery for themselves. It is very evident that Archibald Hopkins, in  his  official  report,  was  not  claiming  the  capture  of  William  H.  Penrose’s  already captured two gun Confederate battery. Hopkins only claimed the capture of a three gun Confederate Battery. This three gun battery was captured by his troops when they first penetrated the Confederate works. This capture most likely occurred considerably before the 3rd Brigade penetrated the Confederate works and captured their own two gun Confederate battery.

DOCUMENT THREE

Introduction: It is useful to also examine the account of captured Confederate guns by the 37th Massachusetts Regiment on April 2, 1865, as recorded in their regimental history.

...Meanwhile the line of battle sprang forward with a rush and cheer. It gave little heed to the pioneers and obstructions on which they were engaged; into and through them it went somehow-no one could tell in the wild excitement just how-and right forward into the enemy’s works. A three gun fort was the objective of the Thirty-seventh-a strong work protected by a ditch. Company E led in the scramble up the parapet, Corporal Richard E. Welch and Private Ansel R. Cook being the first to spring inside, while the colors of the Thirty-seventh were the first to crown the rebel works. Corporal Welch knocked down the Confederate color-bearer and seized his flag, of which he subsequently received a Medal of Honor…Then the wave of blue poured over in resistless strength, such of the defenders of the fort as could  not  escape  surrendered,  and  the  Confederate  lines  were  broken. The regimental lines were reformed, Company E under Lieutenant Cushman-its only commissioned officer after the wounding of Lieutenant Waterman-was detailed to hold the fort and guns it had done so much toward winning, and the remainder of the column pressed on.

Analysis: Sometimes regimental histories are not reliable sources, with most of these histories being written many years after the Civil War. This narrative contained within the 37th Massachusetts regimental history is, however, very consistent with the account given by Archibald Hopkins’ in his official report on April 15, 1865. Fortunately, this regimental history narrative provides a little more detail concerning this incident. What is particularly insightful is the statement that overtaking a three gun Confederate Battery was the primary objective the 37th Massachusetts Regiment when they began their initial charge of the Confederate works. Also insightful is the fact that Company E was detailed to hold the Confederate fort and guns which they had just captured, while the rest of the regiment pressed on. There is no mention, either in the Hopkins official report or in this regimental history, of the 37th Massachusetts Regiment also capturing a two gun Confederate battery sometime after the capture of their initial primary objective, a three gun Confederate battery.

DOCUMENT FOUR

Introduction: A document worth examining is the official report of Baldwin Huffy, who commanded the 4th New Jersey Regiment within William H. Penrose’s 1st Brigade within Frank Wheaton’s 1st Division, on April 2, 1865. It should be noted that Huffy’s regimental report is the only surviving report of the four regiments that made up William H. Penrose’s 1st Brigade. The other three regiments within William H. Penrose’s Brigade, the 10th, 15th and 40th New Jersey Regiments, do not have surviving regimental reports published in the Official Records of the Civil War.

No. 108

Report of Lieut. Col. Baldwin Huffy, Fourth New Jersey Infantry.

Hdqrs. Fourth New Jersey Veteran Volunteers,

April 16, 1865.

Major: In compliance with circular, First Brigade, First Division, Sixth Corps, April 15, 1865, I have the honor to report the operations of my command since April 1, 1865.

…At about 4.15 o’clock on the morning of the 2d we received the order to advance. Owing to the darkness, &c., much confusion occurred, and the line became broken and mixed with the Fortieth Regiment, which was still further increased by the Tenth and Fifteenth Regiments. We soon reached the rebel picket-line, where a number of prisoners were captured. Here a portion of the regiment was halted and reformed; another portion, under my command, proceeded on through the abatis in front of the rebel works and struck the breast- works, meeting with very little opposition. I think I can safely claim my colors as being the first in the brigade to enter the works. In connection with a portion of the Third Brigade we cleared over a mile and a half of the works, capturing three batteries or redoubts — one of three pieces and two of two pieces each; the enemy being re-enforced obliged us to give up the two latter. The remainder of the regiment, which had been reformed, entered the breast-works, and with the remainder of the brigade struck to the left.

Analysis: Huffy feels that a portion of his regiment, particularly the portion that was under his direct command, were the first troops within Penrose’s 1st  Brigade to enter the enemy works. This account is in direct contradiction to William H. Penrose’s account, where William H. Penrose reports that members of his Brigade staff lead his Brigade’s charge and were the first to enter the enemy works. Also noteworthy is Huffy’s description of the Confederate batteries within the Confederate works, consisting of both two and three gun configurations. A point of interest in Huffy’s report is the statement that his regiment worked in tandem with the 3rd Brigade (Edwards’ Brigade) to capture a three gun and two, two gun Confederate batteries. William H. Penrose’s official report, by way of contrast, mentioned only the capture of a two gun Confederate battery by members of his immediate Brigade staff. It is unclear if William H. Penrose’s captured two gun Confederate battery is the same as one of the two gun Confederate batteries reported captured by Baldwin Huffy. It is also unclear how the two, two gun Confederate batteries recaptured by the Confederates, as reported by Baldwin Huffy, fits into this overall story. The more significant questions, however, that need answers are these two: (1) Why did William H. Penrose not mention in his official report the work that his 4th New Jersey Regiment did in capturing Confederate guns?  (2) Why did William H. Penrose not mention in his official report that his 4th New Jersey Regiment was the first set of troops from his brigade to enter the enemy works, as reported by Baldwin Huffy? Could it be that Huffy did not communicate the actions of his regiment to William H. Penrose before William H. Penrose composed his April 5, 1865, brigade report? Though this is possible, it is highly unlikely. Brigade reports are almost always a consolidation of the reports of the fighting regiments within a brigade. The more likely scenario that happened is that William H. Penrose deliberately chose to ignore the reported actions of Huffy’s regiment. Perhaps this was done so that William H. Penrose could showcase, and not water down or dilute, the crediting of his Brigade’s capture of a Confederate battery by the members of his staff and his younger brother James.

DOCUMENT FIVE

Introduction: From William H. Penrose’s official report, it is clear that Charles Rodman Paul had a leading role, together with James W. Penrose, in capturing the 1st Brigade’s two gun Confederate battery. It is extremely fortunate that Charles Rodman Paul kept a daily diary and that this diary survives today. Not every day has an entry recorded, but where Charles Paul does make an entry, these entries contain concise information that was important to either him or his troops. His diary entry for Sunday, April 2, 1865, is as follows:

SUNDAY 2

Charged the enemy’s works at 4 a.m. capturing their works. Swept down the enemy’s lines as far as Hatcher’s Run, when we returned and intrenched Petersburg. The Corp captured today 5000 prisoners and 40 pieces of artillery. 40th Rgt captured a color. Our Brigade captured 2 cannon.

Analysis: It is worth noting that Charles Paul kept a diary for most of his service in the Civil War. During the time of this entry above, Charles Paul was serving as his Brigade’s acting assistant adjutant general. An adjutant general served as a military secretary, amongst other important duties. Acting in this capacity, Charles Paul would have paid attention to recording details. The nature of his entry on April 2, 1865, clearly demonstrates this point. Most assuredly, Charles Paul would have recorded in his April 2, 1865, diary entry any serious attempt by the 37th Massachusetts Regiment to steal away the credit from him or his Brigade for the capture of the two cannons that he referenced. His diary entry, however, is totally absent of any mention of the 37th Massachusetts Regiment. It contained nothing of the incident mentioned in William H. Penrose’s official report. This is very strange, particularly when William H. Penrose exclusively attributed the main capture of the two gun Confederate battery to both Charles Paul and his brother James W. Penrose. Charles Paul would have had to been involved in any incident with the 37th Massachusetts Regiment and any attempt by them to steal the credit for the captured two cannons. An experience like this would have been frustrating and perhaps down right insulting for Charles Paul. Surely this kind of “credit robbing” incident, where his brigade guards were bullied and pushed aside, would have been an incident that he would have recorded in his dairy. But this is not all. In addition to his brigade’s guards being mistreated, this act would have also been a direct attempt by another regiment to steal away his own personal credit for a very heroic feat that he just performed. Once again, another very personal reason that he would have recorded this “credit robbing” event in his diary.

DOCUMENTS SIX AND SEVEN

Introduction: Lastly, it would appear that James W. Penrose encountered stiff resistance from some of his fellow officers while maneuvering to take command of the 15th New Jersey Regiment during the November, 1864, timeframe. It would also appear that James W. Penrose desired a rank promotion to that of a Major. These maneuverings took place at a time when his older brother and the former 1st Brigade commander, William H. Penrose, was out on medical leave and Baldwin Huffy was then commanding the brigade. 

…Hard feelings developed over who should command the 15th NJV, as Captain Ebenezer Davis claimed seniority over Captain Penrose. The issue was presented to General Wheaton, who did not seem to care. The officers disliked Penrose enough to write a letter to Governor Parker attempting to derail his promotion…

…Lieutenant Halsey, Chaplain Haines and Assistant Surgeon Hall sent a letter to Governor Joel Parker of New Jersey, recommending that Captain Penrose not be appointed to the vacant position of Major

Analysis: The dislike of, and opposition to, James W. Penrose by officers within his own 15th New Jersey Regiment, is an important point that should not be overlooked. When William H. Penrose re-assumed command of the 1st Brigade on February 17th, 1865, he quickly tapped his younger brother James to serve as his acting aide-de-camp. Could it be that William H. Penrose perceived that it would be difficult for his brother James to advance in rank as the commander of the 15th New Jersey Regiment? William H. Penrose was keenly aware of all the internal opposition that James faced within  his  own regiment. This  is poignantly highlighted by the fact that Halsey, Haines and Hall tried to torpedo James’ promotion to the Major. Could it be that William H. Penrose appointed James as member of his brigade staff so that James could now serve in a more “Penrose friendly” environment? Could it be that William H. Penrose made this move so that he could now be more directly involved in finding ways to promote his brother James? Could William H. Penrose have seized the opportunity of a complete Union Army rout at Petersburg to create glowing reports for James and other members of his Brigade staff, knowing very well that these glowing reports would go a long way in securing them promotions? Did William H. Penrose impulsively lash out at the 37th Massachusetts Regiment to safeguard his glowing reports against any counterclaim that the 37th Massachusetts Regiment might make, especially since the 37th Massachusetts Regiment was in the vicinity of his two captured guns?    

Author’s conclusion:

On April 2, 1865, the 37th Massachusetts Regiment captured a three gun Confederate Battery during an active fight with the opposing Confederates. This was accomplished when they initially charged the enemy’s works, leading their 3rd Brigade and the 1st Division in this Union army assault. This is the only Confederate Battery that the 37th Massachusetts Regiment captured, and indeed, the only one that they claimed to have captured in their official report. William H. Penrose’s 1st Brigade captured a separate and distinct two gun Confederate Battery. This was accomplished during their initial charge into the enemy works, which occurred some time after the initial charge of the 37th Massachusetts Regiment. It would appear that the 1st Brigade also had an active but separate fight with the Confederates when they captured their Confederate battery. This conclusion can easily be drawn for several reasons, namely: (1) The 37th Massachusetts Regiment had an active fight to capture their three gun Confederate battery with no mention of the 1st Brigade participating. (2) The 1st Brigade had an active fight to capture their two gun Confederate battery with no mention of the 37th Massachusetts Regiment participating. (3) Only after the 1st Brigade actively captured their two gun battery, and presumably only after the 37th Massachusetts Regiment actively captured their three gun battery, is when William H. Penrose claims that the 37th Massachusetts Regiment came “some time after” and tried to steal the credit of the 1st Brigade’s already captured two Confederate guns. This allegedly was done by the 37th Massachusetts Regiment driving off Penrose’s guards. It is obvious from the official reports that the 37th Massachusetts only claimed the credit of the capture of their three gun battery and never claimed the credit of the capture of the 1st Brigade’s two gun battery. In addition, the author has another issue with William H. Penrose’s April 5, 1865, official report. The author is highly doubtful that only the members of William H. Penrose’s Brigade staff lead their brigade’s charge and captured the two gun Confederate Battery. Based on Huffy’s report, the author is much more inclined to believe that the capture of this two gun Confederate Battery was the work of a combined effort of the regiments within William H. Penrose’s 1st Brigade. If these conclusions are correct, this then prompts the following important question. Why did William H. Penrose feel the need to lash out at the 37th Massachusetts Regiment in his official report, accusing them of being “credit robbing” and having a pattern of being so? The following are some points that might help answer this important question:

One could argue that William H. Penrose’s official report, dated April 5, 1865, was completely factual. The story would go like this: The 37th Massachusetts Regiment did try to steal the credit for capturing the two gun Confederate Battery that William H. Penrose’s 1st Brigade already captured. Archibald Hopkins, commanding the 37th Massachusetts Regiment, learning of William H. Penrose’s accusation in his official report dated April 5, 1865, made sure that his official report, which was dated April 16, 1865, contained absolutely no reference to the capture of this two gun battery claimed by William H. Penrose. This scenario, as intriguing as it might appear on the surface, is highly unlikely. One has to become familiar with the steadfast integrity of Archibald Hopkins. The author can not imagine that Archibald Hopkins, after learning of William H. Penrose’s derogatory accusation in his official report, would have allowed it to go unanswered in his own official report. The honor and integrity of his beloved 37th Massachusetts Regiment was at stake. His own personal honor and integrity was at stake. The author is convinced that William H. Penrose’s official report had no affect on Archibald Hopkins’ official report, even though William H. Penrose’s report was written approximately ten days earlier. It should be noted that the 37th Massachusetts Regiment was heavily engaged at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek on April 6, 1865, while William H. Penrose’s Brigade was not. Archibald Hopkins would have had very little time to discover, read and then react to William H. Penrose’s official report written on April 5, 1865. It is much more likely that the creation of these two official reports were mutually exclusive events. The author firmly believes that the William H. Penrose April 5, 1865, official report did not make its way into the hands of Archibald Hopkins prior to Hopkins writing his own official report on April 15, 1865. 

When examining the soldiers that William H. Penrose credits as leading his Brigade’s charge and capture of a two gun Confederate Battery, an interesting trend emerges. They were all members of his personal Brigade staff, namely: (1) Charles Paul, acting assistant adjutant-general and member of the 15th New Jersey Regiment, (the same regiment as William H. Penrose), (2) William McElhaney, assistant inspector general (3) J. Maguire, aide-de-camp, (4) William H. Bird, personal assistant, (5) John B. McCauley, personal assistant and member of the 15th New Jersey Regiment, (the same as William H. Penrose), and  (6) James W. Penrose, acting aide-de-camp, member of the 15th New Jersey Regiment, (the same as William H. Penrose), and the younger brother of William H. Penrose. James W. Penrose figured prominently in William H Penrose’s account. James captured the two Confederate guns with Charles Paul, loaded the capture guns, refused the 37th Massachusetts Regiment when they wanted to dismiss his guards and was then overpowered by the 37th Massachusetts Regiment when his attention was turned elsewhere. On the recommendation of William H. Penrose, all of these 1st Brigade staff soldiers received a two commission grade brevet promotion jump for their actions in capturing the two gun Confederate Battery. In particular, James Penrose was promoted from a Captain directly to a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel. James W. Penrose subsequently received a full promotion from Captain to Major on June 26, 1865. Could it be that the 37th Massachusetts Regiment did some late battle reconnaissance around William H. Penrose’s two gun trophy, which caused him to impulsively overreact and lash out at the 37th Massachusetts Regiment, accusing them of trying to steal his trophy? Was William H. Penrose’s trying to preserve an undisputed title to his trophy so that he could also preserve an undisputed promotion path for his Brigade staff, especially for his younger brother James? Did the Penrose brothers have a close relationship and William H. Penrose and was looking for an opportunity to “go to bat” for his younger brother and secure a promotion for him? The author believes all these scenarios are highly likely for two primary reasons: (1) The fact that William H. Penrose credits the capture of Confederate two gun battery only to his Brigade staff and his younger brother. Simply put, he gave credit only to those individuals that were either his immediate family or closest associates. William H. Penrose did not give any credit in his official report to Baldwin Huffy and his 4th New Jersey Regiment for capturing any Confederate guns, even though Huffy reported doing so. This type of behavior is very indicative of nepotism. (2) James W. Penrose was not liked by his fellow officers and they made a very concerted effort to block his command advancement in November, 1864. This occurred when Baldwin Huffy was in charge of the 1st Brigade. When William H. Penrose re-assumed command of the 1st Brigade in February, 1865, combined with the fortuitous Union rout of the enemy on April 2, 1865, these two events gave William H. Penrose the perfect opportunity to attribute substantial credit to his brother James for his participation in the Union rout. This credit could then go a long way in securing a long sought after promotion for his younger brother James. William H. Penrose might have felt the need to impulsively lash out at the nearby 37th Massachusetts Regiment to block any perceived counterclaim that they might make concerning his captured two Confederate guns and the role that James played in their capture. By proactively striking out against the 37th Massachusetts Regiment in his official report, William H. Penrose now had documented justification for recommending brevet promotions for his brother and members of his staff. These brevet promotions could eventually result in permanent promotions, which in the case of James W. Penrose, it did in June, 1865. The 37th Massachusetts Regiment never did claim, or counterclaim, William H. Penrose’s capture two gun battery. Regardless of this fact, however, William H. Penrose was ultimately successful in securing a promotion from Captain to major for his younger brother James.

NOTE: Baldwin Huffy assumed command of the 1st Brigade when William H. Penrose was wounded at the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864. William H. Penrose resumed command of the Brigade on February 17, 1865. During the time of Huffy’s command, James W. Penrose commanded the 15th New Jersey Regiment. On February 17, 1865, when William H. Penrose assumed command of the 1st Brigade again, he appointed his younger brother James W Penrose to his staff as an aide-de-camp. (8)The author is uncertain what William H. Penrose meant by his statement, “as this has occurred once before, I am not disposed to allow it to pass this time without notice”. Could William H. Penrose have meant that the 37th Massachusetts Regiment had tried to steal credit from his command before the Petersburg incident? Or, was William H. Penrose indicating that the general act of “stealing credit” from his command had happened to him before? The author believes that William H. Penrose was referencing the latter, as the 37th Massachusetts Regiment and William H. Penrose’s Brigade containing the 15th New Jersey Regiment had no interwoven battlefield opportunities that could have duplicated a “Petersburg like” credit stealing event.

Perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence is the Charles Paul diary entry of April 2, 1865, concerning the Battle of Petersburg. This freshly written and “unspun” account makes no mention of the 37th Massachusetts Regiment incident as recorded by William H. Penrose. Charles Paul was clearly in the middle of this gun capture event. If the 37th Massachusetts Regiment tried to steal his personal “credit of recognition”, surely he would have recorded this insulting event in his diary. Charles Paul’s diary contains many personal entries and an event like this would surely have made his list of things to write about. In addition, Charles Paul was also predisposed to accurate reporting, serving as the acting assistant adjutant general of the 1st Brigade. One would have to conclude from this diary entry that whatever happened between the 37th Massachusetts Regiment and the 1st Brigade, it was not noteworthy to Charles Paul. To Charles Paul, it surely was not anywhere near the “credit robbing” magnitude as reported by William H. Penrose. If some type of event did occur between William H. Penrose’s 1st Brigade and the 37th Massachusetts regiment, this event was minor and it should have never been recorded as a factual accusation by William H. Penrose’s in his official report.    

In summary, the author is fully convinced that the 37th Massachusetts Regiment got a false and undeserved accusation from William H. Penrose as recorded in his April 5, 1865, official report. This false and derogatory accusation is, unfortunately, now memorialized in Official Records of the Civil War. This in turn leaves the door open for its potential use by uninformed detractors of the 37th Massachusetts Regiment. This was truly the case in a Medal of Honor protest proceeding in the year 1897. It is the author’s sincere hope, as a result of this work, that the William H. Penrose accusation will never again be used to discredit or disparage the reputation of the 37th Massachusetts Regiment. The 37th Massachusetts Regiment, and the record of their unfailing and often bloodstained sacrifice to the cause of the preservation of the Union, deserves much better.   

 

Sources and Citations:

“OFFICIAL RECORDS: APPOMATTOX CAMPAIGN”, Volume XLVI - in Three

Parts.1864-1865. (Vol. 46, Chap. 58) Part one reports:  PAGE 927

IBID, PAGE 909

IBID, PAGE 945

“HISTORY OF THE THIRTY-SEVENTH REGIMENT MASS. VOLUNTEERS IN THE CIVIL WAR OF 1861-1865” by JAMES L. BOWEN, 1884, PAGES 410-411

“OFFICIAL RECORDS: APPOMATTOX CAMPAIGN”, Volume XLVI - in Three Parts.1864-1865 (Vol. 46, Chap. 58) Part one reports: PAGE 928

“CHARLES RODMAN PAUL DIARY, 1865-1866”, MANUSCRIPT, DUKE UNIVERSITY, RARE BOOK, MANUSCRIPT AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS LIBRARY (Note: Charles Paul’s diary entry for April 2, 1865, is very concise and to the point. It is strangely absent, however, of any self credit for leading the capture of two Confederate guns as described by William H. Penrose in his official report)

 “KEARNY’S OWN, THE HISTORY OF THE FIRST NEW JERSEY BRIGADE IN THE CIVIL WAR” by BRADLEY M. GOTTFRIED, 2005, PAGE 230 (this entry is based on the Edmund Halsey diary, 15th New Jersey Volunteers, US Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, PA)   

“THREE ROUSING CHEERS, A HISTORY OF THE FIFTEENTH NEW JERSEY FROM FLEMINGTON TO APPOMATTOX” by JOSEPH G. BILBY, 1993, PAGES 221,226 (Note: this entry is based on the Halsey Diary), 237

AUTHOR NOTE: The author examined the following published works and manuscripts, and there is no mention of William H. Penrose’s alleged event of the 37th Massachusetts Regiment attempting to claim credit to William H. Penrose’s captured two gun Confederate battery, by driving off his 1st Brigade guards during the assault on Petersburg, VA, April 2, 1865:

“The First Brigade, New Jersey Volunteers, from 1861 to 1865”, by Camille Baquet,  published by the State of New Jersey, 1910

“History of the Fifteenth Regiment, New Jersey Volunteers”, by Alanson A. Haines, published by Jenkins & Thomas Printers, New York, 1883

John Beach: (4th NJV Regiment) dairy entry, April 2, 1865: John Kuhl collection, Pittstown, NJ (“…we were up to and over their works in double-quick order, capturing the guns with quite a number of prisoners, without much opposition…”)

Stephen Gordon: (15th NJV Regiment) dairy entry, April 2, 1865: John Kuhl collection, Pittstown, NJ (“…charged works and captured a number of prisoners…”)

John Hoffman: (10th NJV Regiment) dairy entry, April 2, 1865: John Kuhl collection, Pittstown, NJ (Hoffman was in the Fort and not on the charging line)

 

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