Civil War enlisted men on both sides were responsible for the proper care and maintenance of arms, equipment, and munitions issued by their respective governments. The cost of items lost, damaged, or otherwise unaccounted for was to be deducted from the offending soldier’s monthly pay. In addition, this accountability was shared with the responsible commanding officer, as stated in Article #40 of the Articles of War: “Every captain of a troop or company is charged with the arms, accouterments, ammunition, clothing or other warlike stores belonging to the troop or company under his command.” The incident described below exposes the plight of a single Federal infantry lieutenant in this regard. It is presented as an instance of when adherence to the regulations was sometimes taken to the extreme. Consider the case of Lieutenant Michael Vreeland of the hard fighting 4th Michigan Infantry.
In the bloody fighting in The Wheatfield on the second day’s battle at Gettysburg, the 4th Michigan was surrounded on three sides and lost its colonel and its colors in a vicious hand-to-hand melee. This action has been memorialized in modern artist Don Troiani’s vividly graphic painting “Saving the Flag.” Also among the casualties was Lieutenant Vreeland of Company “I,” who suffered gunshot wounds to the left breast and right arm and was clubbed in the head with a musket. Only timely intervention by a Confederate officer prevented him from being bayoneted to death. In addition, all 22 men of Vreeland’s company were either killed wounded, or captured.
Vreeland fortunately survived his wounds after a lengthy hospitalization. He was even commissioned Brevet Brigadier General in 1865 for his gallantry at Gettysburg. But then further troubles began, courtesy of the Federal government he had so faithfully served. Because of his infirmities, Vreeland was physically unable to complete the appropriate Form 1, listing quarterly ordinance and property returns for his company. Regulations required these reports to be filed “within twenty days after the quarter.” Inasmuch as all of his men were casualties, Vreeland was charged $370 for the cost of his men’s lost equipment!
It was deducted from his future pay. In his defense, Vreeland later sought to explain: “I certify on honor that on the 2nd day of July 1863 at Gettysburg Pa. The stores enumerated below were lost under the following circumstance; The right wing of the regiment to which my company belonged was surrounded by the enemy; of my company five killed, ten wounded, and the remainder taken prisoners. The arms and accouterments carried by these men were left on the field and not recovered.”
The gallant Michel Vreeland passed away in 1876. Until his dying day he sought to recover the $370 from the U. S. government. His wife maintained the effort until 1900. They were unsuccessful. In more ways than one, Lieutenant Vreeland paid a heavy price in the service of his country.
By Bob Williams