The Second Mass and Its Fighting Californians
A Reference site of images, articles, artifacts of the Second Massachusetts Cavalry including the Cal 100 and the Cal Battalion.
The Execution of a Traitor
The following diary entries tell a story.
Private Ormsby was admittedly a traitor but there are several extenuating circumstances in his case. Some months prior to his desertion he was arrested and confined to the regiments jail. The charges were that in the course of returning to camp with two prisoners he accepted a bribe from one of them to release the prisoner. He denied the charges and was finally released.
He was convicted by a drum head court martial, a type of trial that was illegal under Army Regulations. If a unit was in touch with headquarters they were required to call a general court martial. Lowell was aware of the regulation, a fact his wife commented on in "Life and Letters of Charles Russell Lowell." Lowell was a strict disciplinarian, who had shot a soldier who refused to obey his orders. Desertions in the regiment were high particularly among the new recruits from New England and New York. Perhaps he felt he needed to set an example. Perhaps he feared that a regularly constituted court might result in an easier sentence or even a pardon. At any rate he went ahead with a drumhead court martial where the sentence was not subject to review.
In spite of the number of Harvard graduates among the officers who would have far more capable, Chaplain Humphreys acted as Ormsby’s defense attorney. In the course of the trial Humphreys mentioned another consideration, Ormsby had fallen in love with a local southern woman. One wonders how Ormsby’s execution would have "played in the press" if this item had been seen by the public.