- Historic Sites
“We Will Not Do Duty Any Longer for Seven Dollars per Month”
The United States had promised black soldiers that they would be paid as much as whites. Sergeant Walker believed that promise.
February 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 1
Lieutenant Wood was mysteriously absent from the court-martial, but Lt. Adolph Bessie testified for the prosecution in support of this charge. In doing so, however, he made it sound as though the quarrel had been started by Wood rather than Walker. “I was sick at that time,” Bessie said. “The accused came to my tent, and several others of the company. He complained of Lt. Geo. W. Wood as having maltreated him, of having threatened to shoot him, or something of that kind. I told the accused I would see about it. He left my tent, and shortly after I heard considerable noise in the company street. I went out and saw the accused with a gun in his hand, and heard him say he would ‘shoot Lt. Geo. W. Wood.’ He repeated it several times, in front of the tent of the Orderly… .”
Question, by the judge advocate (Lt. S. Alford of the 8th Maine Volunteers): What was his tone of voice when threatening to shoot Lieutenant Wood?
Answer: It was loud, and could be heard quite a distance. He seemed to be talking in a rage.
Capt. Edgar Abeel attempted to arrest Walker, according to the third specification, but Walker “did refuse to obey.” Abeel testified that he had ordered Walker to go to his tent under arrest. “He refused to go in arrest,” Abeel said, “and said he would not for any man… .”
Q: Where did he go after the order?
A: He walked up and down the street of his company, but did not go in his tent.
Q: What was the conduct of the men present at the time?
A: They seemed to uphold the sergeant. A number of them said they “would go to the provost with him.”
Abeel seems to have given up his attempt to arrest Walker, and the whole quarrel died down. That was in August. In October Walker got into another angry argument, this time with a Sgt. Sussex Brown. The troops were supposed to be lined up for inspection, Sergeant Brown testified, but Walker didn’t appear. “I went in Sergt. Walker’s tent and two men was there playing cards,” he said. “I asked them, ‘What are you doing?’ They told me they was ‘coming out now.’ Sergt. Walker said, ‘Let’s play on,’ and I told Sergt. Walker he must fall in. He cussed and said I was a ‘damned son of a bitch.’ I said, if you don’t fall in the ranks, I will have you arrested…. He told me he ‘didn’t care a damn’ about any man. He said if I didn’t mind he’d put a ball in his gun and shoot me… .”
Q: About how many times, if more than once, did he say he would shoot you?
A: Three times.
Walker subsequently denied most of this. He claimed that he and his comrades had each had only one more card to play and that he had said, “Play your card and get out.” He further claimed “that my threat of ‘putting a cartridge in my gun and blowing his brains out’ was only in answer to his threat that he would ‘smash my head in with the butt of his gun.’ ” By now, though, Walker’s insubordination was almost habitual, and he resisted discipline not only for himself but for other men. Drum Maj. William Smith testified that when he tried to arrest a man named Ranty Pope for refusing to go on fatigue duty, Walker intervened. “I told him [Pope] I would tie him up,” Smith said. “Sergt. Walker told me if I tied Ranty Pope up I would also have to tie him, Sergt. Walker, up.”
Q: What did you then do with the said Pope?
A: I did not do anything with him.
Q: Why not?
A: The camp was in a state of excitement and I did not like the looks of Sergt. Walker at the time.
Q: You say you did not like the looks of the accused. How did he look or act at the time?
A: He eyed me sharply. I was actually afraid of him.
Q: Did the words or looks of the accused prevent the arrest of Ranty Pope… ?
A: His words and looks both.
This all happened on the morning of November 19,1863, the day of the “mutiny.” The prosecution made no effort to establish any chronology, so it is not clear whether Walker’s rescue of Ranty Pope came before or after the equal-pay demonstration outside Colonel Bennett’s tent. The prosecution also made no effort to establish any reason for the “mutiny,” any background of grievances and arguments about pay or living conditions. Walker later stated that he had not received any pay at all since August, but we don’t know whether his regiment was another unit rejecting unequal pay or what the reason was. Clearly Walker was in a state of rage, and clearly he was not alone in that rage. The whole camp was described as “mutinous,” but nobody at the court-martial paid much attention to the reasons. On the main charge of stacking arms and refusing to serve without equal pay, the judge advocate simply asked Colonel Bennett whether he had seen Walker that day and then asked him to “state his conduct as far as it came under your observation.”