Saturday, January 18, 2020

"Worthless as an Officer, Useless, Unenergetic . . . and a Coward"

Some people are just not cut out for certain jobs. Either their personality does not fit the responsibilities of the job or they do not have the required skills to do the job well. In some careers a bad fit is not always critical, but in others it is. The military is one occupation where bad leaders often get weeded out quickly, especially in combat situations.

In reviewing the service records of white officers in the 5th United States Colored Infantry (USCI), I came across Capt. Carl Von Heintz, who commanded Company B, for a time. Von Heintz, a German immigrant, attended a military academy in Berlin and served in his native land's military. During the American Civil War he first served as a captain in the 108th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a predominately German regiment from the Cincinnati area. The 108th Ohio formed in the summer of 1862 and was captured by John Hunt Morgan's raiders in November 1862 at Hartsville, Tennessee. Held briefly as prisoners of war, the Buckeyes were released within a couple of months. Von Heintz resigned his commission in February 1863.

In the summer of 1863, Von Heintz accepted a captain's commission in the 5th USCI. White officers were required to receive certification from a board of review before being assigned to a regiment. Apparently Von Heintz passed his exam. He was 41 years old when he joined the unit.

Von Heintz joined the 5th USCI at Camp Delaware, where they trained. Other than a 15-day approved leave of absence in March and April 1864, Von Heintz's compiled service records show him as present for duty. However, his July-August card states, "Dishonorably dismissed the service July 29, 1864." Another card says "Dismissed for cowardice July 29, 1864." Interestingly, a document from a few months earlier, in March 1864, in Von Heintz's records mentions a recommendation "to major in one of the Regiments now being raised in Virginia accompanied by recommendations of his superior officers." The colonel of the 5th, James Conine, wrote "Approved and Respectfully forwarded. Capt. Von Heintz is fully qualified to fill the position of Major." Lt. Col. Giles Shurtleff had praise, too. "I take pleasure in endorsing the application the applicant has had a long experience in Military service and in my opinion would make a good Major," the lieutenant colonel wrote. So, what happened to change Von Henintz's superiors' opinions of his ability to lead?

A July 3, 1864 letter, written from Petersburg, Virginia, by Von Heintz serves as his resignation letter "for reason of physical disability. As my feeble constitution and advanced age render myself entirely unfit for the service. I have come to the conclusion that the interest of the service require that I should vacate my position in favor of an officer better able to endure the fatigue and hardships of the campaign." So, again, what happened to move Von Heintz from the point of asking for a promotion to major in March to resigning in early July?

On July 11, 1864, Brig. Gen. Martindale recommended that Von Heintz be dishonorably dismissed. Apparently an examining surgeon found Von Heintz "physically sound." Lyman Allen, surgeon for the 5th USCI gives us good insight. He wrote at length about Von Heintz's shortcomings:

"I certify that I have carefully examined this officer, and find that he has a constitution weakened by his manner of life before entering the service, and by advanced years, that he has little energy or endurance, that he has always failed to discharge his duty when the Regt has been actively employed, that, on the only occasion when he was with the Regt. under fire, he was brought to me on a stretcher, unable to stand, or to converse with common reason, while his sudden illness and rapid recovery made it probable that his sickness was the effect on his nerves of the excitement of the battle, that he is consequently, in my opinion, totally unable to perform the duty of an Officer in his position during the present campaign, and that he should leave the service."

Special Order 206, from Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, commander of the Army of the James states that he "finds no occasion personal hearing of his [Von Heintz's] case, but from the endorsements of all of his commanders setting for that he is worthless as an officer, useless, unenergetic, debilitated by his own course of life, and a coward, he is hereby dishonorably discharged the service of the United States, with forfeiture of all pay and allowance subject to the approval of the president."

Capt. Von Heintz was not the first man undone by the stresses of combat, nor would he be the last. However, it was probably for the best of everyone that he was dismissed from his leadership role or more harm could have potentially come to the enlisted men and non-commissioned officers in his company. 

No comments:

Post a Comment