THE COMMANDER OF THE COMPANY REFUSED TO PREFER CHARGES
By S. C. Turnbo
To show how fearless some officers were in war times in protecting the rights of their men, we will give an instance of the kind which occurred in the month of February, 1863, while our regiment, the 27th Arkansas, was in winter quarters two miles south of Little Rock, Arkansas. When our company (A) was first organized, the men were sworn into service for 12 months only. Soon after this orders were received from the confederate government by the recruiting officers to cease taking in men for one year and swear them in for three years or during the war. When the time of the 12 months men had expired, they expected to receive an honorable discharge. They were disappointed, however, for they were told that they must remain in the army until the close of the war. No doubt if any other officer except Colonel J. R. Shaler had been in command of the regiment, these men would have re-enlisted and remained with us, but as it was a number of them refused to stay and left camp. Among the 12 months men whose time had expired were three brothers of the name of Tom, John, and Jim Wood, sons of Johnie Wood who lived on the old Belfonte road five miles west of Yellville, Arkansas. These three men were not so fortunate as the rest for a few days after they had left Little Rock on their way home, they were arrested on the road by some cavalry men and brought back to camp as prisoners and put under guard. Shaler went to work at once to work up a scheme to have the men court martialed and shot for desertion. Lieutenant Curtis Rea, who died at Oakland, Arkansas, the 29 of March, 1907, was in command of our company when the boys were brought into camp, and after Shaler had them placed in the guard house he sent for Lieutenant Rea to report to his quarters. When the officer arrived, the Colonel informed him that he must prefer charges against the Wood boys as deserters, which Rea, refused to do, giving as a reason that the men were good soldiers, that their time of service had expired, and that they were under the impression that they had a right to go home, and ought to receive an honorable discharge from the army. The Colonel grew angry at these words and told Rea that he would not tolerate such language from one inferior in rank to him and bluntly informed the commander of the company that he must prefer charges against them as he was ordered to. At this Rea says, "I cannot do this under the circumstances. If they were real deserters, it would be my duty to do this, but I do not consider it my duty to do so in this case, and gave his superior officer to understand that he would not bring charges against the men. "Well, Lieutenant Rea," said the Colonel "if you dont bring charges against them willingly, I will compel you to do it." It was now that Reas temper was rising and he looked at his Colonel in the face and says, "How will you compel as you threaten to do?" And Shaler replied "I will have you court martialed for contempt and disobedience of orders." This last threat by the Colonel made Lieutenant Rea more defiant than before, and he replied immediately, "Colonel Shaler, court martial me and be damned if you want to. I will not bring charges against them boys." and turned on his heels and walked back to his quarters. The Colonel, finding that he was not able to frighten nor drive Rea to have the Wood boys punished, decided that it was the best policy for himself to release the boys, and the prisoners were set at liberty in less than an hour afterward, and for the friendship that Rea had shown them, they remained in the company until the end of the war.
Springfield-Greene County Library