“Conduct unbecoming” in Tony’s Saloon: Captain Michael Laux of the 2nd Missouri Artillery

Yesterday I gave you a bit of a teaser in the administrative section discussing the 2nd Missouri Artillery.  At the end of June, 1863, Captain Michael Laux, commander of Battery A, was under arrest and awaiting a hearing.  On the muster rolls, Laux’s status is simply – “Absent” and “Under arrest since February 27, 1863.”

Military things being what they were, when an officer is placed under arrest we are conditioned to expect some epic episode worthy of note… documented, of course, with a court marshal or other formal proceeding.  While there were all sorts of reasons for arrests, generally these fit into two broad categories – disobedience (not obeying orders) and misconduct.  And displays of misconduct more often than not are influenced by consumption of alcoholic beverages.  The case of Michael Laux fit into that latter category.

Laux was an immigrant, listed on the 1860 census as a carpenter originally from Bavaria, specifically the Rheinpfalz region.  At age 37, he lived in St. Louis with his wife Sibilla, aged 34.  They had two daughters, Margaretha and Mary, both born in Missouri and aged eight and six, respectively.

According to service records, Laux first joined the 1st US Reserve Infantry, Missouri Troops – a short enlistment early war formation – as a private.  He was commissioned a captain in the 2nd Missouri Artillery on September 26, 1861 and assigned to Battery A. The regimental book had Laux at five feet, 10 inches tall, with dark complexion, brown eyes, and dark hair.

Battery A’s service was mostly around St. Louis.  And it’s the winter of 1862 that we want to focus upon.  On February 5th of that year, Laux had… well… an incident:

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Transcription:

Headquarters, 2nd Mo. Art’y

St. Louis, Feb’y 1862

Charges and specifications against Capt. Michael Laux, Camp A, 2nd Mo. Art’y.

Charge. Conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.

Specification. In this that on Wednesday, the 5th day of February, he went into Tony’s Beer saloon, being drunk, and ordered the proprietor to shut up the saloon and also ordered the guests to leave, assuming the authority of the Provost Marshall and saying that he was acting under such authority – and that after he had ejected the guests from the place he himself remained to drink beer for over half an hour, thereby forcing the proprietor to act against the rules established by the Provost Marshall.  During all this time he having demeaned himself toward the proprietor as well as the guests in a very ungentlemanly manner. When he left the Beer saloon he went into the oyster saloon attached to Tony’s Beer saloon and there repeated the same treatment towards the proprietor and guests.

Henry Almstedt

Col., Commanding, 2nd Mo. Art’y.

Witnesses:

Captain F. Johnson, Comdg. Fort No. 4.

Theodore Kanfuian (?), Seinberger’s Hotel.

Dr. F. Tunghans (?), Seinberger’s Hotel.

Anton Niederwieser, Proprietor of Tony’s Tivoli.

Of the witnesses, those from Seinberger’s Hotel appear to be guests at the bar.  With the name, Niederwiser, we can trace the location of the incident to Tony Niederwiser’s Beer Garden and Billard Saloon, at 17 South 4th Street, between Market and Walnut Streets (according to the 1863 St. Louis City Directory).

No indication from the records what prompted Laux’s behavior.  He was taken into custody two days after the incident.  He was apparently released back to duty within a couple of weeks.  Then in May he was granted a furlough, then returned to duties.  Battery A was detached for service at Rolla, Missouri in July 1862, with Laux in command.  The battery returned to St. Louis in late January 1863.  Then on February 27, Laux was under arrest again.  It is not clear if this arrest was due to a new charge or related to the earlier incident.  But what is clear, Laux was in jail.

This time Laux remained in custody at least through September.  In July he was removed from the battery rolls.  In late September, his enlistment was up and, like others in the 2nd Missouri, was eligible for discharge.  In Laux’s case, it appears formal charges were never brought forward.  Instead, Laux was released, on September 28, 1863, to a board established to adjudicate those men from the 2nd Missouri then leaving service.  But Laux was not discharged, the department indicated there were accounts to settle.  This added insult to injury, as Laux was still formally IN the service but not being paid for being in service (since his term had run out).

In November, he wrote to the commander of the 2nd Missouri Artillery (which had essentially reformed), Colonel Nelson Cole:

It is now two months since I am waiting for the adjustment of my accounts by the Ordnance Department.  I am thereby in a bad situation.  Not discharged from the service yet, I am nevertheless restrained from accepting a citizen’s employment.  I would therefore most respectfully ask you to have me mustered out of the service at once, like my brother officers, who were under the same circumstances mustered out. …

Finally, on December 5, 1863, by orders of Major-General John Schofield, Laux was “honorably mustered out of service” with the proviso that his final pay would be held until all accounts were settled…. you know, the old “we’ll send you a check in the mail” routine.  Thus ended Laux’s military service.  He appears on the draft rolls for 1863, listed as a carpenter living on Carondelet Avenue (matching an 1864 city directory listing).

Post-war, Laux moved to 915 Shenandoah Street.  The 1870 census found him with his wife Sevilla, but now with two boys and a young girl – Jacob (9), Henry (6), and Phillipine (4).  Clearly Michael and Sevilla maintained a prosperous home.  What of Margaretha and Mary?  With both of age by 1870 (you know they married young back then), it is no big surprise to see them out of the house.  The oldest, Margaretha, died in Nevada in 1927.  But Mary is a mystery to me.

Laux applied, and received, a pension in 1887.  He was still at the Shenandoah Street address when he died of endocarditis on October 29, 1894.  Sevilla survived him and worked as a housekeeper until her death in April 1900.

Laux may have avoided major battles and thus lacks celebratory events in his service record.  There is little evidence for us to evaluate Laux’s ability or qualities.  Yet, there was honor attached to his service, even if clouded.  The weighty question is, what prompted the incident of February 5, 1863?

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