Thursday, May 9, 2013

My Adaptation of "Court of Inquiry"

Adapted for Reenactment From the Record Published in the Washington Telegraph Newspaper, Washington, Arkansas, June 29, 1864. See Hewett, Janel B., et al, ed., Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1996, Vol. I, Part 6, No. 6, pages 399-421. The female characters and their dialogue are imaginary and some of the male characters are composites. Time has been abbreviated and consolidated. Though the spirit of the actual proceedings is preserved there has been some dramatic fictionalizing of what was actually said in the court.                                                                     

Male Characters:                                                         Female Characters:
Major General Sterling Price (major role)                   Mrs. Mark White
General Dockery                                                         Mrs. John Blevins
Colonel Dan Jones (major role)                                   Leela Jones (house slave)
Colonel Crockett
Lt. Gillespie (major role)
Pvt. Tom Jones
Sgt. Blevins

(Two white women in spring attire are arranging flowers on the judge’s desk in front center of the courtroom. They are having a heated discussion that, at first, is whispered and inaudible. Leela Jones, in house slave attire, is busily dusting, sweeping, and cleaning, in general readying the courtroom for the impending inquiry. She is obviously listening in with keen but sly interest on the conversation of the two white women. At an appropriate moment, after the audience is assembled and settled, Mrs. White speaks in a loud voice for all to hear.)

Mrs. Mark White: And so, you are pretty sure Dan Jones ran at Marks Mill? That’s not quite what I heard.

Mrs. John Blevins: My husband said Col. Jones ran and hid. Was scared to death. So scared he told his regiment to turn and run, but my husband didn’t run. In fact, he’s a sergeant and he led the men on forward in spite of Colonel Jones’s behavior!

Mrs. White: Well, I heard Colonel Jones was injured and had to be taken to the field hospital. Are you sure he wasn’t shot or something?

Mrs. Blevins: Naw. Pure coward.

Leela Jones: Humph!

Mrs. Blevins: Did you say something Leela?

Leela Jones: Nom’e. I just cleared my throat like this; humph. I was just listening to what y’all said about Colonel Danny, though, and it don’t sound right.

Mrs. Blevins: None of your business anyway. (Pause, curious look at Leela Jones) What don’t sound right about it?

Leela Jones: I raised that boy. He ain’t no coward. A little while back, he got shot over yonder in Mississippi. He wasn’t well from that when he was fighting at Marks’ Mill. He was just wore out and that old wound was bothering him. He didn’t run at all – he just gave out. It’s been mighty hot this spring. The day of that battle it was just like August.

Mrs. Blevins: You hush, Leela. He ran like a scared rabbit. I didn’t hear anything about a wound or any kind of injury.

Mrs. White: Hush, y’all, here comes General Price and them.

(Enter General Price and General Dockery, who sit side by side at the judge’s bench. Colonel Jones, who sits in the witness stand, and Colonel Crockett, Lieutenant Gillespie, Private Tom Jones, and Sergeant Blevins, who sit in the jury box. Mrs. Blevins tries to get the attention of her husband by waving, wanting everyone in the room to know of her connection to the witness.)

Price: (Pounding gavel) I am noting in the official record that we are beginning this inquiry at ten o’clock on the morning of May 23, 1864. General Dockery, will you rise and be sworn? (Dockery rises, raises his right hand) Do you swear, God being your helper, to tell the truth during this inquiry?

Dockery: I swear.

Price: Sir, were you at the battle of Marks’ Mills on April 25, 1864?

Dockery: I was.

Price: Did you see Colonel Dan Jones there that day?

Dockery: I did, at the time the brigade was first ordered into action.

Price: Did you send an order to Col. Jones to fall back?

Dockery: I did not.

Price: Did you see Col. Jones during the action there that day, and what his conduct was?
(During Dockery’s response, Col. Dan Jones remains stone-faced and calm.)

Dockery: I did see Col. Jones, as I said, at about the time the brigade was ordered into action. Some time after I had been pressing the enemy with the whole of my command, when the enemy’s fire was at its heaviest, one of my staff officers brought me information that the regiments on the left of my brigade were giving way. Being on the right of my brigade, I couldn’t see the whole line, so I immediately rode to the left until I met Col. Jones’ regiment; it seemed to be in some confusion and had fallen back. I demanded of the officers and men who gathered around me to know the cause of the confusion. They said Col. Jones had ordered them to fall back. I asked where Col. Jones was. Several said he couldn’t be found, or was absent, or to that effect. With the help of the officers, we rallied the regiment, and I conducted it in person to the right of the brigade. About that time, Col. Jones’ orderly came up and told me that Col. Jones wanted me to know that he had given out – had become exhausted from fatigue. I didn’t see or hear from Col. Jones any more on the field that day.

Price: Col. Jones, you may ask questions of Gen. Dockery.

Dan Jones: (Rising and facing the bench) General, do you not remember seeing me after the left wing fell back, moving towards the right wing with a portion of my regiment and the flag of it, together with Col. Crockett’s and Col. Witt’s regiments?

Dockery: (Kindly and meditatively) I have no recollection of seeing you with that portion of the regiment I met.

Dan Jones: Was that portion of my regiment with Col. Witt’s and Col. Crockett’s regiments?

Dockery: I don’t think so. Your regiment was rallied before I sent orders for Col. Crockett to move to the right of the brigade.

Price: Who commanded the regiment after the fight passed to the right?

Dockery: Col. Crockett.

Price: General Dockery, were you in command of the brigade which Col. Jones’ regiment composed a part at the battle of Marks’ Mills, on April 25, 1864?

Dockery: I was.

Price: Col. Crockett, please rise and swear to this oath. (Col. Crockett remains in the jury box, rises, raises his right hand.) Do you swear, God being your helper, to tell the truth at this inquiry?

Crockett: I swear.
(Crockett, as will all witnesses, remains standing for the questioning.)

Dan Jones: Col. Crockett, were you present at the battle of Marks’ Mills on April 25, 1864?

Crockett: I was.

Dan Jones: What was your position in line of battle at Marks’ Mills, in General Dockery’s brigade, at the time of the fight?

Crockett: On the extreme left.

Dan Jones: Did you see me during the battle at Marks’ Mills?

Dockery: I did.

Dan Jones: Please state what you know of my conduct during the action.

Crockett: During the charge, of course I had no time to notice the conduct of others. My command required all my attention. I first noticed Col. Jones when we reached the wagons and after the order had been given to fall back. I do not know who first gave the order, owing to my deafness and noise from the discharge of small arms. The men had fallen back in compliance with the order – I mean the men of Col. Jones’, Col. Witt’s and my regiment. I asked Col. Jones what he intended to do. I did not understand his reply, nor can I say whether he heard me. Finding that the men had given way or fallen back, I thought it prudent to follow suit and did so. Col. Jones, Col. Witt, and myself rallied and formed our men some forty to fifty steps from the train. About the same time, Col. Jones, using every exertion to get his men in line, and successfully, Col. Witt assumed command and ordered us to move by right flank across the road. Just at that moment General Dockery rode up, and I think Col. Jones said, “There is General Dockery; let us follow him.” General Dockery led us across the road and formed us in rear, and to support Col. Hill’s regiment. When we were ordered to charge, Col. Jones said to me, “Col. Crockett, I am exhausted; I cannot go any further.” I saw General Dockery at a short distance from us and replied, “Report to General Dockery, Colonel.” From all I saw, I can say that Col. Jones seemed to be doing his duty and was in his proper place and using his best efforts to carry on his regiment through the fight to the best of his ability. It may not be amiss to say that, owing to the fact of being for a long time on horseback, the want of pedestrian exercise, and the excessive heat, I was nearly exhausted myself and could not have held out much longer. I have, therefore, no doubt but that Col. Jones was really incapable of proceeding further.

Price: You may be seated. Lt. James Gillespie, please rise and swear to this oath. (Crockett is seated. Gillespie rises, raises his right hand) Do you swear, God being your helper, to tell the truth at this inquiry?

Gillespie: I swear.

Dan Jones: Lt. Gillespie, were you at the battle of Marks’ Mills?

Gillespie: I was not at the beginning of the battle but joined the fight as it was going on.

Dan Jones: Did you hear any member of my regiment speaking of my conduct there?

Gillespie: I did.

Dan Jones: What was his name?

Gillespie: It was Sgt. John Blevins.

(Mrs. Blevins, seated in a conspicuous place near the front of the assembly, flourishes and smiles proudly.)

Dan Jones: What did he say of my conduct there?

Gillespie: He said you ran or acted disgracefully.

Dan Jones: Did he say that he knew this from his own knowledge?

Gillespie: I asked him that – if he knew it first hand – and he said he did know it.

Dan Jones: From your position, did you see any stragglers from my regiment?

Gillespie: I saw several.

Dan Jones: Can you name those you saw? Who were they?

Gillespie: I saw Sgt. John Blevins.

(Again, Mrs. Blevins reacts with pride.)

Dan Jones: What was he doing when you saw him?

Gillespie: He was leaning against a large pine tree, not behind it from the enemy, but on the left of it.

Dan Jones: Was the fight going on at that time?

Gillespie: It was raging fiercely.
Dan Jones: Did you speak to him, and what was his answer?

Gillespie: I asked him how things were going on in front. His answer was, “Oh, hell! Things are not going on right,” or something like that.

Dan Jones: Did you move forward and join the fight after that?

Gillespie: Yes, sir, I did move up to support the right of the brigade. That was part of the battle strategy, for me to hang back and add support.

Dan Jones: Did you see me after this move was made, and under what circumstances?

Gillespie: It was during this move that I saw you.

Dan Jones: What was I doing?

Gillespie: As Capt. Meeks’s command was moving to the support of the right of the brigade, I saw your regiment coming up, and you were some six or eight paces in advance and motioning with both hands to your men, I supposed, to keep them in line, and they were in good time.

Dan Jones: Did you see any more of Sgt. Blevins?

Gillespie: I did, twice.

Dan Jones: Where was he, and what was he doing?

Gillespie: He was right in the rear of the brigade. I suppose about 300 to 400 yards out of sight of the brigade and near Blocher’s Battery.

Dan Jones: State what you know of his conduct, and any conversation you may have had with him at this time.

(Mrs. Blevins is progressively more crestfallen during the report, and Leela, dusting more or less inconspicuously in the corner, glares and smirks.)

Gillespie: The first time I saw him there he was standing on the ground looking at some wounded men, none of whom, in my opinion, belonged to Col. Jones’ detachment, and I asked him where Col. Jones’ detachment was, and he said it was on the right of the brigade. Then I left him and started to the regiment and captured a prisoner and carried him to the rear and turned it over to a guard and came back to where I saw Sgt. Blevins, near Blocher’s Battery, being about a half hour from the time I first saw him there. He was then on his horse, and I asked

him to go with me to the regiment, and he did not go, but told me to ride on, he would overtake me. I rode a hundred yards and looked back and he was still there. I rode on and left him.

Price: Did you see Col. Jones during the fight?

Gillespie: I did not.

Dan Jones: Did you see me after the fight, and, if so, where and under what condition?

Gillespie: I did: I saw you when you were brought to the hospital. I helped take you off your horse and carry you to the house. After we got in the house, Dr. Holcomb came and examined you and told me to go and get some toddy. You drank it and commenced to vomiting very soon afterwards. I left you at that time and came back late that evening, and you were lying in the position that I left you.

Price: At this point, I shall read a statement from Capt. Banks, which I know to be in his hand:

In the first charge we made, we moved forward until we came under crossfire. Some of the men commenced falling back. The Colonel, seeing them, asked why they were falling back, the men replying that they were under a crossfire, which caused the regiment to divide. A part of them turned to the right; those that turned to the right went with Capt. Stuart until we returned to the horses, the remainder going at left oblique with Col. Jones until we came up with the wagon train. There we halted. Col. Witt, then being senior officer, ordered his command back with his own and Col. Crockett’s regiment. I did not see Col. Jones as we turned back. The men, some of them, seemed to be scared and commenced breaking line and falling back. Then Col. Jones came up and told them they must keep in line and fall back in good order. After, we fell back until we came in a line with the remainder of the brigade on our right. General Dockery came and ordered us forward. We moved forward about 300 yards, after which I did not see Col. Jones anymore during the fight. General Dockery asked for Col. Jones. Some of the men replied he had given out. Some of the men said there was no officer to command the regiment. Seeing that he was absent, I assumed command myself, being senior officer. Shortly afterwards the firing ceased. I was very nearly exhausted myself, for the sun was so hot, and we had been mounted for some time.

Price: Pvt. Tom Jones, please rise and swear to this oath: (Pvt. Jones rises, raises his right hand) Do you swear, God being your helper, to tell the truth during this inquiry?

Pvt.: I swear.

Dan Jones: Where was your position in the fight?
Pvt.: I was ordered by you to remain with the horses as guard.

Dan Jones: Did I mention to you my reasons for leaving you with the horses?

Pvt.: You did, as I had no ammunition that would fit my gun; it being a small or light cavalry gun. The cartridges I had were too large.

Dan Jones: Did you see me during the day, and if so, under what circumstances?

Pvt.: I did not see you during the fight, but I was notified by a courier as I was going into where the wagons were that you were wounded, and I must go after you. I went back to where the horses had been tied and found a man hunting for me, and afterwards another with your horse, and we went into where you were lying. I found you lying on your back insensible and apparently paralyzed. I unbuttoned your coat and pants, and threw your breast and stomach as bare as possible, and sent after some water, and knowing that you had a small phial of whiskey in your pocket, I took it and endeavored to make you swallow some if it, but you could not drink it. I poured water on your face, heart and stomach, which seemed to revive you somewhat, after which, I succeeded in getting you to swallow a small draught of whiskey. You raised up with my help but was not able to sit up. We then put you on your horse, one leading and the others holding you on. We carried you to the hospital and placed you in charge of Doctor Holcomb. He gave you some toddy, which you vomited immediately. He then relieved you in some manner, and you lay in exactly the same position until nearly night, unable to move.

Price: This seems the appropriate point for me to read a statement from Doctor J. M. Holcomb, Surgeon of Dockery’s Brigade:

I saw Col. Daniel W. Jones at the close of the fight at Marks’ Mills. He was brought to the hospital and I found him in a condition of exhaustion, for which I prescribed stimulants. I knew that he had received a serious wound at Corinth. Because of that and the exhaustion, I gave him a certificate of disability for ten or fifteen days on the night after the battle.

Price: (Sternly and with lifted brow) Sgt. John Blevins, rise and raise your right hand to be sworn. (Blevins rises and raises his right hand) Do you swear, God being your helper, to tell the truth in the inquiry?

(Mrs. Blevins is extremely attentive, trying by her demeanor to let the audience know that she is the wife of the witness.)

Blevins: (Desultorily) I swear.

Price: Mr. Blevins, were you at the battle of Marks’ Mills?
Blevins: I was.

Price: What do you know of Col. Jones’ conduct there.

Blevins: I saw Col. Jones at the fight. I was on the right of the regiment, and the last I saw of Col. Jones was just before we went up to the wagons and he was near the center of the regiment, and I never saw Col. Jones any more during the fight. The colors moved to the left, and I moved to the right, Col. Jones with the colors.

Price: Were you with that portion of the regiment that moved to the right under Capt. Stuart, and joined Col. Reynolds’ command?

Blevins: I was with Capt. Stuart until there were some prisoners taken and went with them past the hospital.

Price: Col. Jones, will you question the witness?

Dan Jones: (With controlled anger) Sir, I shall not enter into any conversation whatsoever with this witness.

Price: This seems, then, to be an appropriate moment to read one final affidavit, this one from Assistant Surgeon M.M. Marcus, 20th Arkansas Volunteers:

I was with the 20th until 10 minutes after the firing on April 25 commenced. At that time Col. Jones commanded ‘halt,’ in consequence of the 20th being a little ahead of the immediate regiment on our right. At that time, or a few minutes later, my attention was called to a wounded man. I saw nothing more of Col. Jones or the regiment until they had fallen back after which time I was again with them about 15 minutes, and Col. Jones was then with his regiment. Afterwards, my attention was then required by the wounded, after which I saw nothing more of Col. Jones until I saw him at the hospital. During the time I was with his regiment, I saw nothing improper in his conduct, and at the time I was at the hospital, I did not examine him and know nothing of the character of his injury.

(Dockery leaves briefly and returns to hand documents to Price at this point and whisper to him – concurrently, Mrs. Blevins and Leela clandestinely glare at each other, Leela with a sardonic grin, anticipating the outcome of the inquiry. At length, Price calls for order.)

Price: Col. Jones will you rise, sir, and face the bench? The court is of the opinion, from the evidence adduced, that Col. Daniel W. Jones’ conduct at the Battle of Marks’ Mills on April 25, 1864, was honorable and soldier-like, and we respectively submit the evidence and opinion to the Major-General Commanding.

Leela: (Too loud to be in good decorum) Hallelujah!

Price: Order! Order until the court is cleared.

(All parties file out, leaving Leela and Mrs. Blevins glaring at each other.)

Leela: (More or less to herself as she straightens and dusts the bench) I think I know who the coward is.

Mrs. Blevins: (Unrestrained) Leela Jones! Shut your impudent mouth!

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