56th IL Infantry-Mechanic Fusileers

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The following copies of letters regarding the 56th Illinois Infantry ("Mechanic Fusileers") were part of Richard Rowe May's pension application. Richard had been receiving a pension for his service with Company F of this regiment, with a muster-in date of Oct 1861, mustered out February 1862. In 1907 he was dropped from the pension rolls due to the turbulent history of his regiment.

The excerpts below are from a letter in Richard's pension file sent by J. L. Davenport, Commissioner of Pensions, who wrote "from the country" in West Falls Church, Virginia the letter is dated 13 Aug 1913. Davenport notes that the letters excerpted are all copied from official records of the Department of the Interior.

Letters on Muster

It appears from the official records that in 1861 one J. W. Wilson was authorized to raise a regiment which was designated the 56 Illinois Infantry (Mechanic Fusileers) The authority was contained in a letter from this Department, of which the following is a copy.

(Trans.: The following appear on the same and one subsequent page as the above):

War Department
Washington City,
July 25th 1861

Colonel James W. Wilson,
Chicago, Illinois,

Sir:-The regiment of Illinois Fusileers you offer is accepted providing you have it ready for marching orders in twenty one days.

This acceptance is with the distinct understanding that this Department will revoke the Commissions of all officers who may be found incompetent for the proper discharge of their duties.

You will promptly advise the Adjutant General Thomas, at Washington, the date at which your men will be ready for mustering, and he will detail an officer for that purpose.

By order of the Secretary of War,
James Lesly Jr., Chief Clerk

Adjutant Generals Office
Sept, 5, 1861,

Major Sidney Coolidge,
Chicago, Illinois

Muster Col. Wilsons regiment When he reports to you.

Om (sic) Sept, 27th 1861, Capt G. T. Woodson/16th Infantry, who was also United States Mustering officer at Chicago Illinois, wrote this Department as follows:-

Chicago, Illinois
Sept, 27th, 1861

Sir:-I hope that you will pardon my frequent letters. I find in my inexperience that I am obliged to ask for information from you office which I cannot get elsewhere. I have been mustering in Col. Wilsons regiment of Fusileers in small detachments as they were presented to me. I may have done wrong, but it was the only way I could see to fill up the regiment. As yet there is but one Company full to the minimum standard. I desire to know how in this case the muster rolls are to be made out. Whether it is to be stated that each man was mustered at the day he was sworn in or whether the muster must be dated at the time the Company is full. When recruits are brought in are their names to be entered at the foot of the roll. Not in in alphabetical order (over to next pa... (sic) ... Be pleased, Sir, to have these questions answered at your earliest convenience.

I have the honor to be Sir,
Your Obedient Servant,
and Mustering Officer for
Col. J. W. Wilson's regiment,

(Trans.: Davenport writes the following):

In another letter addressed to this Department on the same date Capt. Woodson requested to be informed whether the regiment authorized to be raised by Colonel Wilson was to be put in the hands of the Governors of the State. In response to his question a letter was written him from this Department October 1st 1861, a copy of which is as follows:

Adjutant Generals Office
Washington, October 1st, 1861,

Captain G. T. Woodson
In reply to your two communications of the 27th ultimo, I am directed to say that all the Volunteer forces have been turned over to the Governors of the respective States and are now under their immediate controll (sic).

You are right in mustering Col. Wilsons men in Detachments. The muster of each man will date from the day upon which he was sworn in, and when mustering detachments, each name will be entered at the foot of the roll without reference to alphabetical order.

In subsequent rolls the names can be alphabetically arranged.

I am Captain,
Very Respectfully
Your Obedient Servant,
Asst, Adjutant General

H.R. Bill 18421) 60th Congress, 1st, Session the Secretary of War is authorized and directed to place upon the roll with Pensionable states the names of the members of this regiment. In view of the fact that the names of the members of this regimen (sic) are already on the files in this Department, and it is apperently (sic) the intention in the proposed legislation to give the former members of this regiment a pensionable status, it is sugested (sic) that the bill be so amended as to accomplish this purpose directly, eliminating all reference to the Secretary of War, who properly has nothing to do with fixing or determining the pensionable status of any one.

Respectfully submitted,
Asst, Adjutant General."

Incompetent Leadership?

According to Richard Rowe May's affidavit in his Civil War Pension File, dated 08 October 1917, the regiment had issues with incompetent leadership:

We had a drunken Colonel, who never gave a command, the Lieutenant Colonel had full charge of the regiment at all times, and that was the only complaint that I ever heard. We made a demand for a competant officer to command but failed, so we were mustered out of service by orders of the Secretary of War (so reads my discharge). Most of the members of our regiment reenlisted, my phisical (sic) condition was such that I could not enter the service.[1]

The Official Version

A letter from the Adjutant General F. A* (?) dated 12 June 1907 and addressed to Richard Rowe May states:

It appears from the official records that the members of the 56th Illinois Infantry (Mechanic Fusileers) were enlisted upon fraudulent promises that they would receive more than the usual compensation and were to perform only a special kind of service, as skilled laborers, mechanics, carpenters, etc., and that the members of the organization, upon learning of the deception and fraud practiced in their enlistment, became dissatisfied and refused to be mustered in. Upon consideration of all the fact in the case, directions were given by the War Department to muster the regiment and out (sic) of service as infantry, and in accordance with those directions, the field and staff and the companies of the regiment were mustered in and mustered out of service as infantry on various dates between January 28 and February 5, 1862.

It is further shown by the records that Richard R. May, Jr., was enrolled October 15, 1861, and was mustered into and out of service with Company F of the regiment February 1, 1862, but nothing has been found to show that he or any other members of the organization were armed or equipped or to show that they performed any military service.[2]

  1. Richard R. May affidavit, dated 08 October 1917, from Richard Rowe May's Civil War Pension File
  2. Richard Rowe May Civil War Pension File
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