2nd U.S. Cavalry, Alfred Pleasonton, Benjamin Engel, Charles J. Whiting, Civil War, officer appointments
I posted quite a while ago about the sergeants major of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. Recently, however, I discovered that I missed one. Those who read the previous entry can see the missing time period in the list, but there was no record that I could find of whether there was anyone in the position during that period. Between Thomas Burton and the first entry for Daniel Mount should be an entry for Benjamin Engel.
Engel, born in Munich, Germany, originally enlisted in Company F, 1st Dragoons on February 11, 1851. He was enlisted in Rochester, New York, where he worked as a laborer, by Captain Hatch. His enlistment documents describe him as 21 years of age, with black hair, dark eyes and a dark complexion. He re-enlisted into Company D, 2nd Dragoons at the end of his enlistment in May 1856 at Fort Craig, New Mexico, then again in the same company at Fort Crittenden, Utah in March 1861. At this point in his career he was still a private.
Engel was appointed sergeant major of the regiment on November 1, 1861, technically the day before Burton’s appointment as a second lieutenant and vacated the position. Seeing the opportunity offered to Burton and others, he decided to try for a commission of his own.
“Headquarters 2nd Cavalry, Park Hotel, Washington, D.C., November 4, 1861
To the Hon. Secretary of War.
I most respectfully forward for your consideration the following application for a commission in the Regular Cavalry of the United States together with endorsements of the officers, under whom I have served.
I am a native of Germany, twenty-eight years of age, and unmarried.
I have served in the regular Cavalry of the United States, on the frontiers, since February 1851, where I have been taught the practical duties of a soldier under Generals Sumner, Cooke and Garland and other able Officers, with whom I have served in nine different engagements with Indians.
Benjamin Engel. Sergeant Major, 2nd Regiment, U.S. Cavalry.
Through the Commanding Officer of the Regiment.
1st Endorsement: I have served with the applicant since 1855. I served with the applicant during the arduous Utah campaign – during all this time he was always a most efficient soldier – I most cheerfully recommend him for a commission. G.A. Gordon, Captain 2nd Cavalry.
2nd Endorsement: I have served with Sergeant Major Engle since 1858, know him to be a god and faithful soldier and cheerfully recommend him for a commission. W.P. Sanders, Captain 6th Cavalry.
3rd Endorsement: I cheerfully endorse the within application. Thos. Hight, Captain 2nd Cavalry.
4th Endorsement, Hdqrs. 2nd U.S. Cav. Harrison’s Landing, Va. August 4th 1862: Approved and respectfully forwarded – concurring with the other officers in the recommendation. Chas. E. Norris, Captain, 2nd Cav. Commanding Regt.
5th Endorsement: Office Provost Marshal General Army Potomac, Aug. 4, 1862. Approved and respectfully forwarded. W.H. Wood, Major, 17th Infantry, Actg. Provost Mar. Genl.
6th Endorsement: Headqrs., Army of the Potomac, August 5, 1862. Respectfully forwarded to the Adjutant General recommend to favorable consideration. G.B. McClellan, Major General Commanding. S. Williams, Asst. Adjutant General.”
I was puzzled by the long delay between endorsements. Then-major Alfred Pleasonton commanded the regiment in November 1861 and through the majority of the Peninsula campaign. Why would it take nine months to get an endorsement, particularly when I have several others for company first sergeants submitted by Pleasonton before and after the date of this letter.
The regimental returns revealed a likely solution. He didn’t hold the position long. Sergeant Major Engel was reduced to private and assigned to Company K by regimental Special Order No. 35 less than a month later, on December 4th. At that point Pleasonton, a notoriously harsh taskmaster, most likely considered the matter settled. He was succeeded in command of the regiment by Captain Charles E. Norris, who was apparently much softer hearted. Engel is one of the very few soldiers assigned to the regiment not submitted for commendations or a commission in July and August, and this endorsement is likely why.
Unfortunately for Engel, even an endorsement by General McClellan wasn’t enough to do the trick. A number of now Brigadier Pleasonton’s recommendations received notice of their appointments in September 1862, but he wasn’t one of them. Engel, who had worked his way back up to corporal by this time, decided to revisit the matter.
“Office of the Provost Marshal General
Army of the Potomac, Camp near mouth of Antietam, Sept. 29, 1862.
The undersigned would most respectfully lay the following statement before the General:
In July last while at Harrison’s Landing, Va., the Officers of my Regiment recommended me among other Non Commissioned Officers of the 2nd Cavalry for promotion, said recommendation met the approval of the Acting Provost Marshal General, and the Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac and were forwarded to the War Department. Seven of the Non Commissioned Officers recommended as above stated, received their appointments as 2nd Lieutenants the other day, but nothing has been heard in regard to my application, which dated November 4, 1861 (“at which time I held the position of Sergeant Major of the Regiment”) but had not been forwarded until July last.
I would therefore respectfully request, that the General will use his influence in my behalf.
I have served the United States faithfully for twelve successive years, most of that time as a Non-Commissioned Officer, and all of that time on the frontiers, not speaking of services on the Peninsula and elsewhere, during all of said time I was never arraigned before a Court Martial, and always had the good will of my superiors. The General himself has known me for five months.
The General will please pardon the liberty I have taken in addressing him, but I would most respectfully call his attention to the fact, that as an enlisted man, I am denied the privilege of addressing the Hon. Secretary of War.
This statement is respectfully submitted for the favorable consideration of the General.
I am, General, Very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
Corporal 2nd Cavalry and Chief of Orderlies at Hdqrs. Provost Marshal General A.P.
To Brigadier General A. Porter, Provost Marshal General, Army of the Potomac, Harrisburg, Pa.
1st Endorsement, Oct. 3, 1862: Respectfully forwarded to the Hon. E.M. Stanton, Secretary of War. I recommend strongly the appointment of Corporal Engel, he is brave, industrious and energetic and I am satisfied would be an excellent commissioned officer if appointed. A. Porter, Brigadier General Pro. Mar. General Army of Potomac.
2nd Endorsement, AGO, Oct. 27, 1862: Respectfully referred to the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Cavalry. J.P. Garesche, Asst. Adjt. Genl.
3rd Endorsement, Hdqrs. 2nd U.S. Cav. Camp near Berlin, MD Oct. 30, 62: Respectfully returned with the enclosed copy of Major Pleasonton’s letter. As Corporal Engel’s name does not appear in the list of recommendations, I cannot at present recommend him for a commission. Chas. J Whiting, Major, 2nd Cav. Commanding Regt.”
Captain Norris was placed on sick leave before the battle of Antietam, and Major Whiting would have superceded him in command of the regiment in September anyway. I don’t believe they saw one another in passing, and it doesn’t appear that they discussed Corporal Engel’s situation.
Engel finished out his enlistment, then re-enlisted as an Ordnance Sergeant in Washington, D.C. on January 18, 1864. He was discharged as an ordnance sergeant August 1, 1865 by AGO Special Order #402, but re-enlisted again two days later as a private in the General Mounted Service.
Private Engel was discharged a final time on June 1, 1866, this time to accept an appointment as a clerk in the Adjutant General’s Office. He requested copies of his commission requests from the AGO on January 13, 1887, most likely for his pension file.
National Archives, Record Group 94, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, 1861-1870.
National Archives, Record Group 94, Letters Received by the Commission Branch, 1863-1870.
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Army Non-infantry Regiments, 1821-1916: 2nd U.S. Cavalry.