Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Historical Thinking, Curiosity, and Frustration

You won't find a more enthusiastic advocate for teaching students historical thinking skills than me. Being able to analyze information, understand context, and draw conclusions based on evidence are tools that invaluable for college and career readiness. But, I must admit that at times my historical thinking mind causes me a great deal of frustration. That frustration usually comes from the inability to access additional information to satisfy my curiosity, which is yet another product of historical thinking.

Case in point is the regimental company lithograph partially pictured above for the 108th United States Colored Infantry, Company H. This piece is quite intriguing. It lists the regiment's officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates. At the bottom it also includes a brief regimental history. The 108th USCI was organized at Louisville, Kentucky, and spent a good deal of the war guarding Confederate prisoners at Rock Island, Illinois. After the war they were sent to Mississippi for Reconstruction duty. 

At the end of the list of privates, there is an enumeration of those from Company H that died during the unit's service. While looking over those men's names and their dates of death something caught my attention. Listed fifth from the top of that group is John Hardin. It shows that he was killed at Vicksburg, Mississippi, on July 9, 1865. My historical thinking mind automatically caught that that date was after the war - which them made me wonder who or what killed this soldier after the belligerent shooting had stopped. Was he killed by a fellow soldier in his company in an accident? Was he killed by a disgruntled citizen of Vicksburg that was upset being under occupation controlled by black troops? I had to find out more.

Looking up Hardin's service records provided some additional information on the man and the incident that ended his life. 

Hardin was born in Oldham County, Kentucky, and enlisted in Louisville on July 12, 1864. He was described as black, 28 years old, and was 5 feet 5 and a half inches tall. The only offense that Harding apparently committed while in service was that he was charged for a canteen and haversack in the winter of 1865. However, one card (pictured above) states clearly that he was shot by Lt. O. E. Babcock of the 10th Indiana Cavalry.

What? Someone on his own side killed him? It appeared so. What caused Babcock to shoot Hardin? Did they get into an argument? Did one soldier say something to the other that caused offense?  Or, was it just an accident?

Yet another card (pictured above), provided even more information. It states in the "Remarks" section, "Killed at Vicksburg, Miss by an officer while taking apples from an orchard, July 9/[18]65."

What? Killed for taking apples? Was that cause for being shot? Surely there is more to this story!

Here is where the frustration set in. No more information was included in Hardin's service records.  A "Casualty Sheet" was included, but offered little additional clues as to what truly happened. It just shows Hardin's name, regiment, company, and "nature of casualty." "Cause of casualty" states, "Killed by Pistol Gun Shot wound," and then who certified the death, the date of death, and place of death.  

My curiosity by now was running wild. Was Lt. Babcock court martialed for this shooting? Was he ever punished? What punishment did he receive? A search for the service records of Babcock came up empty. All I was able to find was a listing in a book from the Indiana Adjutant General's report that said Babcock was mustered out with the rest of this regiment in Vicksburg on August 31, 1865. That was about a month and a half after the shooting incident. Does that mean that he was not court martialed and punished? Was his offense waived due to its victim being African American? 

Is there more information to this incident that is out there? Would there be a report of this in Vickburg's records? Or, since it was a military matter, would those town records be mute? Is there something on file at the National Archives? Or, was the matter totally dropped since Babcock was mustered out so soon after the shooting?

So, there you have it. More questions than answers - a curse of a historical thinking mind.

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