The Killing of Sergeant Major Whitmer
Chapter 68 (March 13, 1865 – April 9, 1865)
At this time the regiment was about ready to move and the boys were scattered around town. All were ordered to report at once. Sergeant Major Whitmer had been sent over on the opposite side of the square where part of the regiment had been, previously detailed to help extinguish the fire. On his way back he passed General Beard’s headquarters of the 14th corps when two citizens from the opposite side of the street accused the Sergeant of being one who helped steal a barrel of flour. The guard called out “Halt!” When Whitmer replied that he was a member of the 20th army corps, that he had nothing to do with the flour, for some reason unknown to any of us, Whitmer did not stop. The guard again called “Halt!” but he passed on, when the guard raised his gun and fired, the ball entering the back part of his head, passing thru and coming out just back of the forehead. (The guard who shot him was a member of the 105th Ohio regiment, Beard’s brigade, 14th army corps.) The boys of the regiment were so worked up and fearing a riot the Colonel moved the regiment across the river, leaving a detail to take charge of the corpse and give him a decent burial.
The funeral took place on the night of the 13th, or rather early on the morning of the 14th. The detail was as follows: Lieutenant B. T. Parks, Sergeant A. M. Eby, George D. Griggs, Jacob Garman, and the writer. We had a good deal of trouble in getting material for making a box. Thirty-two pieces of boards were used to construct it. We had been refused hatchet, nails, etc., by the citizens, but we took the liberty of looking for what we needed. When finished, a small bunch of hay was put in the box upon which to lay the head, a web of muslin was secured and several layers were put into the box, then the corpse was tenderly lifted off the ground, where he had been lying since he was shot, then several sheets of muslin was spread over him.
This was the first and only corpse the writer ever prepared for burial and we did the best we could. This was all done in the dark hours of the night.
After taking a last sad look upon our dear friend and comrade, the box was nailed shut and we waited for the morning. When at last dawn appeared we inquired of two darkies, who were passing, whether they knew where the cemetery was and they said they did. We told them we wanted them to go with us to the burying ground, but they said they had business for their master, and could not go.
We told them they must. We saw a buggy in an alley but could not use it, as the box would not fit either way we might fix it. The only way we had was to tear off the top and place the box on the springs; then with a darkey in the shafts and the other pushing we moved out to the cemetery. When there the colored fellows left us and we dug a grave. After depositing the corpse, Sergeant Eby placed a headboard and upon it inscribed the deceased’s name, and the regiment, rank and company to which he belonged.
While we were digging the grave a little boy came, sat down and watched us. A new grave had just been made near the one we had dug. When this little fellow said: “You bury your man better than this one right here was buried.” We asked him why, and he said: “You put yours in a box, the other was just thrown into the hole like a brute.”
The guard who shot Whitmer was relieved at once and another placed on his post. Later he was tried by military court martial and acquitted. After the burial the detail left the cemetery, crossed the river and marched hard to catch up to the regiment.
A division of the 14th corps was left as a rear guard in the town until the arsenal could be completely destroyed. Fire was applied on the 14th, and the arsenal was a thing of the past.
March 15, Wednesday, struck tents, marched all day and all night. Continued marching on.
Thursday, the 16th, crossed Moore’s Creek, traveled 24 miles.
Friday, 17th, remained in camp.
Saturday, 18th, marched only six miles and went to camp.
March l9th, Sunday, broke camp, marched all night to reinforce our first and third divisions, who with the 14th corps, were fighting at Bentonville. This was the last battle fought by Sherman’s army. Traveled 18 miles.
Colonel Rhett, who it was said, had ordered the first gun to be fired upon Fort Sumpter, was captured at Bentonville. Before the war he was editor of the Charleston, S. C., Mercury. A saucy looking and independent fellow he was. The boys of Company G went to see him, while he was under guard at General Kilpatrick’s headquarters. He felt very much humiliated and the boys poked fun at him until the guard ordered it stopped.
After the battle we lay in camp on the 20th and 21st.
On Monday, 22nd, marched to Goldsboro, traveled 18 miles.
March 23rd, Thursday, struck tents, crossed the Neuse River at Neuse bridge and encamped, traveled 10 miles.
Friday, 24th, broke camp, passed thru Goldsboro and encamped just beyond, marched eight miles. Saturday, 24th, changed camp about a mile and a half.
Sunday, 26th, in camp.
Monday, 27th, the regiment went out foraging.
From the 28th of March until the 10th of April we remained in this camp at Goldsboro, making preparations for another forward movement. On April 1st, Sergeant F. H. Knight was promoted to Sergeant Major of the regiment, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Sergeant Isaac Whitmer. Again Company G was highly honored. On the same date following promotions were made in Company G: F. W. Wallace and the writer from corporal to sergeants; also Jacob Leided to corporal, and Solomon App to corporal, on April 6th.