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Against the Grain: Colonel Henry M. Lazelle and the U.S. Army

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Henry Martyn Lazelle (1832-1917), born in Enfield, Massachusetts, the son of a farmer, orphaned at the age of four, and raised by a succession of relatives and family friends, was the only cadet in the history of the U.S. Military Academy to be suspended and sent back a year (for poor grades and bad behavior) and eventually return as Commandant of the Corps of Cadets. After graduating from West Point in 1855, he scouted with Kit Carson, was wounded by Apaches, and spent nearly a year as a "paroled" prisoner-of-war at the outbreak of the Civil War._ Exchanged for a Confederate officer, he took command of a Union cavalry regiment, chasing Mosby's Rangers throughout northern Virginia. The early days of Reconstruction brought him to the Carolinas. Later he represented the U.S. at British Army maneuvers in India and commanded units and posts in the Far West and the Dakotas during the relocation and ravaging of the American Indian nations._ Due in part to an ingrained disposition to question the status quo, Lazelle's service as a commander and senior staff officer was punctuated at times with contention and controversy. In charge of the official records of the Civil War in Washington, he was accused of falsifying records, exonerated, but dismissed short of tour. As Commandant of Cadets at West Point, he was a key figure during the infamous court martial of Johnson Whittaker, one of West Point's first African American cadets. Again, he was relieved of duty after a bureaucratic battle with the Academyگs Superintendent._ Lazelle retired in 1894 as Colonel of the 18th U.S. Infantry at Fort Bliss, Texas, where his Army career had begun 38 years earlier. Along the way, he authored articles on military strategy and tactics, took up spiritualism, and published two books on the relationship between science and theology.

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Chapter 1: A Five-Year Man

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Against the Grain

Like so many New Englanders in the early nineteenth century, Henry came from “fighting” stock. His great-grandfather, William Lazell, had served in the French and Indian War in the 1750s. And his grandfather,

Jacob Lazell, a tenant farmer, was a private during the Revolutionary

War in Col. David Brewer’s 9th Continental Regiment, mustered in Ware in 1775. Still, Henry questioned this next step in what had already been a somewhat turbulent first 17 years.

Henry and his twin brother, George, were born in Enfield, Massachusetts, on September 8, 1832. Four years later, their father died at the age of

43, followed soon after by their mother. At the time of his parents’ deaths,

Henry’s brothers and sisters ranged in age from 19 to two. The youngest orphans were sent to be raised by older siblings, relatives, or family friends. Henry initially went to his 19-year-old sister, Mary Ann, newly married to John Hurlburt. Later, he moved in with another older sister,

Priscilla, and her husband Calvin Brooks, and then, for 15 months while in high school, with the Newton family of Worcester, Massachusetts.

 

Chapter 2: Operations Against the Apaches

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Chapter 2

Operations Against the Apaches

When Cadet Henry M. Lazelle graduated from the United States

Military Academy and was commissioned a Brevet (Bvt) 2nd Lieutenant of

Infantry, officers were appointed to specific positions, carrying a specific grade, in specific units (e.g. 2nd Lieutenant, B Company, 1st Infantry

Regiment). Academy graduates went into limbo status, as “brevetted” 2nd lieutenants, while awaiting “commissioning” as regular lieutenants in a unit with a vacant position. (Bvt) 2nd Lt. Lazelle, thus, was posted initially

“in garrison” at Fort Columbus on Governors Island in New York Harbor.

For many years, Fort Columbus was the closest major Army post to

West Point and served as a first posting or departure point for newly graduated cadets shipping out to posts along the Atlantic or Pacific coasts.

Late that summer, Lazelle was assigned to the 8th Infantry Regiment and posted to Fort Bliss, Department of Texas, with a promotion date of

October 9, 1855, as 2nd Lieutenant of Company “I.” He did not formally join his regiment until March 18, 1856. Until then, he was officially

 

Chapter 3: From Prisoner of War to Prisoner Exchange Agent

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Against the Grain

I sank back in deep disgust as I thought what part I was playing in this mighty but fearful drama;—I for once, wished for that period to come, when swords should be beaten into plough shares and spears into pruning hooks, and when men should learn war no more.

While Lazelle abhorred slavery in the abstract, he still held and expressed views, typical of his times, which today would be considered extremely racist. He saw no redeeming qualities in either native American Indians or in the Mexicans he encountered, referring to the latter at one point in his journal as “dirty, wretched blanketed thieves” and

“the most miserable portion of all the lowest most degraded and ignorant races of mankind.”

Although he didn’t explicitly reveal his opinion of blacks in his journal, he undoubtedly lumped them in with the Indians and Mexicans with whom he came into contact in the Southwest, considering all to be inferior races. He also probably shared the prevalent view of white Northerners that blacks could not and should not be assimilated into white society, and he may well have agreed with those who favored “resettlement” in Africa.

 

Chapter 4: Defending Washington

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At the same time, it was clear he was more than pleased to be leaving

Colonel Hoffman and the Office of the Commissary General of Prisoners, as he wrote to Sprague:

I cannot say how glad I am to be removed from the command of an officer, who is selfish and ungenerous in the extreme; and who has never failed to absorb my individuality whenever it suited his interest, so to put me forward as the scapegoat of his own official blunders. Such a man is, and has been, Col. Hoffman. But he cannot say that I have not ever been faithful and attentive notwithstanding this.1

In his journal while in Texas, Lazelle had penned many disparaging words regarding a number of his peers and superiors, but those were private thoughts. His letter to Sprague, on the other hand, was formal correspondence that could find its way into the official record. At the least, he was risking embarrassment; at the worst, formal rebuke. Such was his dislike of Hoffman.

By the fall of 1863, Lazelle and Ann Rebecca Hollingsworth had set a wedding date, and on September 23, while in Hagerstown visiting his fiancée’s family, he again wrote to Sprague, requesting a delay in reporting to his regiment. Citing official Army policy that he could not be officially mustered in as Colonel, or receive a colonel’s pay, until the regiment was filled to its minimum required strength, he also pleaded on a more personal basis2:

 

Chapter 5: The Pride of Mecklenburg County

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Against the Grain

with the notation that “Capt. Lazelle will be ordered to join his regiment,” then located at Hancock Barracks in Baltimore, Maryland.2

Sometime in October or early November, Lazelle suffered a flare-up of a rheumatic condition that had struck him early in 1862 and would plague him for the rest of his life. On November 23, he wrote the Adjutant

General to explain that he was unable to rejoin his regiment because he was bed-ridden in Washington and under the care of an Army surgeon for severe rheumatism “contracted in the field during the past year.” The doctor confirmed Lazelle’s medical condition in a separate memorandum and endorsed his request for a duty assignment in the Department of the

Gulf, where the warm weather would be more conducive to his recovery.

Provost Marshal Duty

As he prepared to leave Washington, however, he made yet one more attempt to secure a staff job, again presenting his name to Brigadier

General Thomas, Assistant Adjutant General, as “an applicant for the appointment of Assistant Adjutant General in the Regular organization of the United States Army.”3 It was not to be. On December 1, Lazelle was ordered to report “in person, without delay” to the Commanding General,

 

Chapter 6: Indian Territory

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Chapter 6

Indian Territory

On July 5, 1872, Capt. Lazelle and his company, along with the regimental headquarters and five other companies, departed David’s Island, en route by rail to Sioux City, Iowa, arriving on July 9. From Sioux City, the regimental headquarters and band left for Omaha Barracks (Fort

Omaha) on July 11. Lazelle and the six companies—now a “battalion” commanded by Lt. Col. Henry D. Wallen—boarded the steamer Mary

McDonald for a 630-mile trip up the Missouri River to Fort Rice, located south of Bismarck, arriving there on July 21.

Although ranked as a brevet major at the time, Lazelle was still serving as Captain of Company H. Lazelle family records give no indication of where Rebecca and the young boys were from July 1872 to July 1874 when he was operating in the field. However, the regiment’s Monthly

Return from July 1872 indicates that the “officers’ wives” of the regiment accompanied the headquarters element to Omaha Barracks. It is quite possible that this included Lazelle’s family, as there were sufficient quarters for officers’ families on post.1

 

Chapter 7: West Point—A New Battleground

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West Point—A New Battleground

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Schofield, like Lazelle, had achieved some notoriety for antics as a cadet, and, in all likelihood had participated in hazing Lazelle during the latter’s plebe year. In one notable incident of deviltry, Schofield succeeded in sneaking off campus, making his way down to New York

City, and returning undetected between the morning and evening roll calls. As he later remembered:

A discussion arose as to the possibility of going to New York and back without danger of being caught, and I explained the plan I had worked out by which it could be done. … I cared nothing for a brief visit to New York, and had only five dollars in money which

Jerome N. Bonaparte 2 loaned me to pay my way. But I went to the city and back, in perfect safety, between the two roll-calls I had to attend that day. Old Benny Havens of blessed memory rowed me across the river to Garrison's, and the Cold Spring ferryman back to the Point a few minutes before evening parade. I walked across the plain in full view of the crowd of officers and ladies, and appeared in ranks at roll-call, as innocent as anybody. It is true my up-train did not stop at Garrison's or Cold Spring, but the conductor, upon a hint as to the necessity of the case, kindly slacked the speed of the express so that I could jump off from the rear platform. 3

 

Chapter 8: A New Challenge—General Howard Takes Command

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In an analysis published shortly before his arrival at the Academy, the New York Times speculated that one of Howard’s principal concerns was the strictly military relationship maintained between instructors and cadets, the latter treated primarily as privates rather than students. While this “hardens the lads and makes them self-reliant,” the Times contended,

“its most marked result, has been to make the corps of Cadets maintain their own code of unwritten law and social discipline. Its most severe weapon, and the one used most mercilessly, is that of ostracism.” General

Howard, according to the Times, believed that it was time to “cultivate a closer relation” between the cadets and the officers instructing them.

Another of his goals was to eliminate the practice of ostracism and

“the caste spirit,” fostered by “pro-slavery influences,” which tended to encourage it.3

General Howard himself, while a cadet, had been ostracized for well over a year by members of his class, both for associating with his guardian’s son, then a sergeant in the corps of sappers and engineers stationed at West Point, as well as for being an outspoken abolitionist.

 

Chapter 9: First to Purgatory, Then to India

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south road in the Rio Grande Valley, part of a 1,200-mile-long Spanish colonial trail—the El Camino Real—from Mexico City to Santa Fe.2

Following the Civil War, there were persistent rumors that Fort Craig would be closed, and, in August 1878, it was deactivated and abandoned.

Continued raiding by local Apaches, however, gave it new life, and it was formally reestablished in November 1880. That same month, the post commander described the buildings as “very much dilapidated, the roofs and walls badly washed, and in some cases they had fallen entirely to the ground.” He noted that doors and windows had nearly all been carried away (probably by locals), and the drain spouts were “gone or spoiled.”3

Three years later, just a few months after the Lazelles arrived, a local journalist described the “antiquated fort” as “merely a Mexican plaza, surrounded by adobe buildings” and “almost deserted.” Those who lived there “wished to make it as presentable as was possible,” and the Army officers there expected it soon to be expanded to ten companies.4

 

Chapter 10: Back to Washington and Controversy

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Compilation and preparation of the Civil War records for public use had begun under a Congressional Resolution in May 1864. Work in earnest, however, did not start until 1874, when Congress provided the funding.

The effort had progressed slowly under various War Department officials until late 1877, by which time the Secretary of War G. W. McCrary had become “painfully aware that the war publications undertaking would take years to complete.” Just the Confederate records thus far collected

“filled a three-story building, and a single collection of Union telegrams amounted to more than two million entries.” All in all, there were tons of records yet to be exploited.2

In December 1877, McCrary detailed Lt. Col. Robert N. Scott, 3rd U.S.

Artillery, to “take charge of the bureau and devote himself exclusively to the work.”3 Scott, who had studied law before joining the Army as a second lieutenant in 1857, approached his task of collecting, selecting, and organizing the vast amount of material with “a legal concern for documentation and evidence.” Scott’s most significant contribution to the compilation of the records was to establish a set of criteria for selecting and authenticating records and documents to be included. First, the authenticity of any material obtained from private individuals must be certified in writing by the source. More importantly, each record must be

 

Chapter 11: Fort Clark, the 18th Infantry and Retirement

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The fort was virtually abandoned during the Civil War, and permanent quarters for the troops were not completed until 1870. By 1872, the post quarters, built of locally quarried limestone, included barracks for two hundred men; seven officers’ quarters—three of stone and four of wood with thatched roofs—and a variety of offices and storehouses. The only arable land around the post was bottomland subject to flooding. The post was supplied with water from Las Moras Spring, which Horace remembered was similar to springs in Florida: all limestone with very clear water. Horace also remembered going fishing at Devil’s River, near Del Rio, and on the Nueces River. The climate was described as

“mild, seasonably dry,” and health conditions as “average.” Indians in the vicinity were identified as “Lipans, Mescaleros, Apaches, and Kickapoos, who depredate on the herds of the stock raisers.”2

The Commanding Officer’s Quarters in which Colonel and Mrs. Lazelle set up house in the fall of 1889 was an imposing structure, built according to Army Plan No. 4, prepared by the Quartermaster General, Montgomery

 

Chapter 12: A Lost Soul

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Against the Grain

At the time, there was a good deal of controversy over spiritualism and the legitimacy of “mediums” who claimed to be able to contact, and act as a communications link with, the dead. While acknowledging that there were “rational, law-abiding men and women among spiritualists and sympathetic investigators,” one book published in 1892 went to great lengths—and detail—to expose the frauds perpetrated by “vile creatures” in the Boston area who “under the mask of mediumship, have been coining money from the most sacred feelings of the heart” and who had “plied their wiles to victimize and demoralize heart-broken mourners seeking knowledge of their beloved dead.” Among the charlatans “exposed” in the booklet were George T. Albro, who sponsored séances, and Dr. and

Mrs. C. B. Bliss, mediums used by Henry Lazelle in his attempts to reach

Rebecca in the afterlife. (These Blisses were not related to Lazelle’s fellow

8th Infantry officer, Zenas Bliss.) 2

The American press tended to treat spiritualism as a valid news story, but often focused on attempts to root out charlatans and fakers who made considerable profits taking advantage of naïve believers. The Boston

 

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