General Orders No. 19.
Adjutant General’s Office
Washington, January 12, 1864.
I. Before a General Court Martial, which convened at the Headquarters, Cavalry Reserve Brigade, near Culpeper Court-house, Virginia, November 25, 1863, pursuant to Special Orders, No. 66, dated October 31, 1863, and Special Orders, No. 70, dated November 5, 1863, Headquarters, 1st Cavalry Division, and of which Major H.C. Whelan, 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, is President, was arraigned and tried —
2. Private Walter Sheets, Company “B,” 2nd U.S. Cavalry
Charge – “Desertion.”
Specification – “In this; that the said Private Walter Sheets, of Company ‘B,’ 6th U.S. Cavalry, did, on or about the 10th day of July, 1863, at or near Funkstown, Maryland, willfully desert the service of the United States, with his horse, arms, and accoutrements. All this at or near Funkstown, Maryland, and remained absent until apprehended at Lewistown, Maryland, October 27, 1863, by Captain Smith. For his apprehension was paid thirty dollars ($30).”
To which charge and specification the prisoner, Private Walter Sheets, Company “B,” 2nd U.S. Cavalry, pleaded “Not Guilty.”
The Court, after mature consideration on the evidence adduced, finds the prisoner, Private Walter Sheets, Company “B,” 2nd U.S. Cavalry, as follows:
Of the Specification, “Guilty, except the words ‘at Lewistown, Maryland, October 27, 1863, by Captain Smith. For his apprehension was paid ($30) thirty dollars.’”
Of the Charge, “Guilty.”
And the Court does therefore sentence him, Private Walter Sheets, Company “B,” 2nd U.S. Cavalry, “To forfeit all pay and allowances that are now or may come due him; to be indelibly branded on the left hip with the letter D, one and a half inches long, in presence of his Regiment; and to be confined at hard labor, with a ball and chain attached to one of his legs, for the period of (10) ten years. The place of confinement to be designated by the Secretary of War.”
The disparity between the two sentences is interesting. Two years of desertion is worth five years of hard labor, but three months of desertion with all equipment is worth branding and ten years of hard labor.
So who was this fellow?
Walter Sheets was born in Salem County, New Jersey in 1843. He worked as a blacksmith before the war. He initially enlisted into Company F, 5th New Jersey Infantry on August 22, 1861 at the age of 18. This regiment was commanded during the Peninsula campaign by Samuel H. “Paddy” Starr, on detached service as a colonel of volunteers while a captain in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. On October 26, 1862, Private Sheets was discharged to join the Regular Army.
On October 27th, Walter Sheets enlisted into Company B, 2nd U.S. Cavalry at Alexandria, Virginia. His enlistment documents confirm his age and birthplace, as well as describing him as 5’ 5 3/4” tall, with gray eyes, brown hair, and a dark complexion. The officer who enlisted him? Captain Samuel Starr, who had resigned his volunteer commission and was serving on recruiting duty for his regular army regiment.