Letter of Lt. William Greenwood, Co. H, To Governor Richard Yates, 5/17/1863

Headquarters, Chief of Cavalry
Dep’t of the Cumberland
Murfreesboro, May 17, 1863

Hon. Richard Yates,

Some time ago I forwarded to you an application for promotion to the captaincy of Company H of the 51st Reg of Illinois Infantry, thinking that the endorsements on it by Major Genls Rosecrans and Stanley would be sure to procure me the opportunity but as I hear nothing from it, I thought I would write you a few lines in regard to it.

Perhaps you will remember that I applied to you for a situation as an engineer soon after the call for the seventy five thousand men, and that you informed me by letter that you could not give me a situation.

After the next call, I started to enlist a company of engineers (or sappers and miners) to be a part of Col. McChesney’s Rock Island regiment. The trouble with Col. Wilson’s regiment caused many of my men to doubt whether we would be accepted as anything but infantry and as I was not sure that they would be, I did not urge the men to go into camp. A few of them went into camp at Rock Island and with the regiment to Chicago. They were transferred to the 51st in December. I was obliged to unite with Capt. Whitson and accept the position of 1st Lt. though I had been acting as Captain. I paid all of my expences for recruiting for which I have never asked any return. I received no pay until the 14th of Jan 1862 though my muster into the service was dated, if I remember correct, on the 28th of December, 1861, while most of the officers received their pay to the time that the regiment was organized in Sept.  I served with the regiment until the 19th of June 1862 when I was ordered to report to Gen Rosecrans for duty as an engineer.

I did not apply for the situation though I was aware that I had been recommended to Gen. Palmer by Col. Cumming of the 51st and Col. [Thomas J.] Henderson now of the 112th as an engineer. I was always on good terms with Col. Bradley until the 30th of May when he used some language – while provoked – that reflected on my company, on account of which I sent in my resignation, stating fully my reasons for so doing. Col. Bradley did not forward the papers and a few days after I was ordered to report to Gen. Rosecrans. Some four weeks after Col. Bradley asked me to withdraw my papers stating that he did not refer to my company in particular when he made the remark and made some very favorable remarks in regard to the company and for that reason I withdrew my papers. I considered myself responsible for the company and nearly always had command of it in the field. Capt. Whitson whose health was poor died in July and I supposed I should be promoted according to my rank. Col. Bradley forwarded the name of the 2d Lt. C. B. Whitson for promotion. Gen Rosecrans asked why he was recommended, and he stated as his reason that he thought the captain of a company should be with his company.

I care but little for the extra ten dollars a month, but I do consider it a dishonor to be passed in that way, for it is the natural conclusion for those who do not know what my conduct has been during my term of service to think that it is because I have not done my duty.

For my reputation before the war I would refer you to Gen Schenck, Hon. T.[homas] J. Henderson of Toulon, Olaf Johnson, Geo Farr, and W. B. Sweat of Galva, Mayor J. C. Stewart of Galesburg, Col. J. M. [illegible], former Chief Engineer of the C.B.&Q. R.R., R. G. Hennessey, former Chief Engineer of the American Central R.R., and any of the other officers of said rail road.

You have the statements of Genls Rosecrans & Stanley of this Department, and I would also refer you to Gen C. S. Hamilton and Capts. F. E. P[illegible] and H. R. Ulf[illegible], engineers on Gen. U. S. Grant’s Staff.

Excuse me if I have troubled you with too long a letter, for though a small matter to you, it is a large one to me.

My friends know that I received a military education at Norwich Vermont and that I have been successful as an engineer, and wonder why it is that I have not been more successful as an officer, and I dislike to keep telling that it is caused by the ill will of my superior officers, to say nothing of the breach of discipline by so doing. It makes but little difference to the interest of the government whether I receive the pay of Capt. or Lt. and I understand that it is not the intention to promote any more officers in the regiment; yet I would ask that you vary from the rule in my case. If others had not received promotion I would not ask it.

With much respect, I remain
Your obed. Servant
Wm H. Greenwood
1st Lt. Co. H 51st Ill Inf
Engineer Cavalry Comd
Dept of the Cumberland.

Administrative Files of Civil War Companies and Regiments, 301.18, Illinois State Archives, Springfield, Illinois.


  1. "Capt. Whitson" was Captain John Whitson, the first captain of Company H. He fell ill in the field and died in Chicago in July 1863.
  2. "C. B. Whitson" was John Whitson's younger brother Charles. Charles was promoted from second lieutenant to captain upon the death of his older brother, bypassing Greenwood for the promotion. Greenwood was at the time first lieutenant of Company H.
  3. For pictures and biographical sketch of Greenwood, see the Greenwood page on this site.
  4. Thomas J. Henderson of Toulon, Illinois was colonel of the 112th Illinois Infantry. He lived from 1824 to 1911. He served in the United States Congress from 1875 to 1895.
  5. John C. Stewart, a Galesburg lawyer and investor was three times (non-consecutive terms, before and after the Civil War) mayor of Galesburg.
  6. "The trouble with Col. Wilson’s regiment": A Colonel Wilson was in the process of raising a regiment of "Mechanic Fusilers", or "sappers and miners" like the company Greenwood was trying to raise. On January 3, 1862, the Rock Island Argus reported that Wilson's regiment, "about which there has been so much trouble, has been ordered to report to Gen. Jim Lane, at Fort Leavenworth." Lane at the time was at the head of the Kansas Brigade in Kansas. The Kansas Brigade was chaotic in its organization as was Lane. It consisted of mixed regiments of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. It had place in the Union order of battle for less than two years. The Mechanic Fusilers regiment, known briefly as the Fifty-Sixth Illinois Infantry, never got as far as Kansas. It came close fo full-scale mutiny in December 1861 or January 1862 while in camp at Camp Douglas. Men had enrolled in the regiment on the assumption that it was an engineering regiment, a regiment of sappers and miners, of "mechanic fusilers"—on the order, for example, of the First Missouri Engineers Regiment. The State of Illinois wanted infantry not carpenters, however, and set about forcing the regiment into an infantry mold. To the men, this was a bait-and-switch tactic. Orders from the War Department ended the existence of the regiment altogether. Benjamin Smith wrote in his journal, "A Regiment of Sappers and Miners, partially organized, was ordered to disband. A number of the men enlisted in other regiments, but some of them while unassigned, smuggled a lot of whiskey into the camp, and getting uncomfortably full, about 9:30 P.M. got in a row with some of the members of the 45th Lead Mine Boys, and very soon a small sized riot commenced. Sticks as well as fists were freely used, some of them taking advantage of the row, attacked the sutler store, and cleaned out the whole stock and ended by pulling the building to pieces" (Private Smith's Journal, Chicago, R. H. Donnelley & Sons Company, 1963, pp. 15-6. The Lead Mine Regiment, the 45th illinois, was in the latter stages of formation at Camp Douglas at the time. Greenwood and his squad of recruits came close to becoming part of one of the companies of the 45th. Since Greenwood started recruiting men specifically for a sappers and miners company, these events made the recruiting effort more difficult).