The “Horrible Assassination” of Captain Otto Schwarz, June 1, 1863

Another teaser from Tuesday’s posting … or shall I say “sordid details”… of the 2nd Missouri Artillery involved Battery E and its commander, Captain Otto Schwarz.  On the June 1863 returns for the regiment, the remark “Killed by unknown persons” appears to the right of his name.  Such a declaration, particularly for a battery not engaged in active campaigning, is interesting to say the least.

Schwarz, like many others in the 2nd Missouri, was an immigrant, having come over from Prussia.  His name appears in records as Schwartz or Swartz.  Here, I will stay with the spelling from the official documents, and drop the “t.”  I don’t know when he arrived in the United States.  But in 1860, he lived in St. Charles, Missouri (the “old” state capital, just north of St. Louis), working as a merchant.

At age 31, he enlisted in the 2nd Missouri Artillery in October 1861 (though I cannot claim any specifics, there are indications he served in the militia before the war and of course in those formations when called up in 1861).  The regimental book described him as five feet, 6½ inches tall, dark complexion, grey eyes, and light hair.  Schwarz was commissioned a second lieutenant in Battery I.  Then in October 1862 he was promoted to Captain and transferred to command Battery E.

Of course, the regiment had not, nor would in its initial enlistment period, see any significant campaigning.  Battery E was stationed at St. Louis.  But detachments of the battery were involved with skirmishes at Blomfield, Missouri in September and October 1862.  So they might claim to have seen some small part of the elephant.  Still, one might think this easy duty, guarding St. Louis.  But most of these men were recruited from the St. Louis area.  The inactivity must have given room for mischief.  Not just Battery E, but the 2nd Missouri Artillery as a whole.

Spring 1863 found Battery E manning Forts No. 7 and 8, in the defenses of St. Louis.

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A couple IX-inch Dahlgrens and a pair of 32-pdrs all in barbette pivot mountings. (Forts No. 6 and 7 had the same plan.  Fort No. 8 had one Dahlgren, two 32-pdrs, and three 12-pdr guns.) A lot of iron to throw about.  Just one of a chain of forts guarding the gateway to the west.  For all appearances, Battery E had a quiet garrison posting.

All that change… well for Schwarz, came to an end… in the early morning hours of June 1.  The Daily Missouri Democrat of St. Louis reported on June 2:

Horrible Assassination – Capt. Otto Schwartz Murdered by Soldiers – The Perpetrators Unknown.

Captain Otto Schwartz, of Company E, 2d Missouri Artillery, stationed at Fort No. 7, was murdered at one o’clock yesterday morning, in the most deliberate and cold-blooded manner.

A few moments before that hour he was in front of the residence of Lieut. Aaron Schenck at the junction of Grand and Franklin avenues, conversing with that gentleman and with Lieut. Leistner.

It was bright moon-light and the party felt disposed to enjoy the coolness and beauty of the hour.  Finally Leistner bade the Captain good-by and retired with Schenck to his room, while Capt. Schwartz moved off to return to Fort No. 7. Soon after entering their room, Schenk and Leistner heard the reports of two pistol shots, but paid little attention to them. In a few moments a groan and cry were heard in front of the house, and on opening the door they found the Captain lying mortally wounded on the pavement.

He was borne into the house, and Dr. Pondrom, Surgeon of the Second Missouri Artillery, was summoned. The patient was suffering intensely and evidently in death agony.  The Doctor could do nothing to save him.  The victim was asked who shot him.  The reply was, “I do not know; they were three soldiers together.”  He was again asked, “Were they any of your company?” He answered “No, none of my boys,” and shortly afterwards expired.

One of the balls entered the left side below the spleen, passed through the abdomen, and out above and near the right hip.  The other only passed through the calf of his right leg.  The death resulted from rapid and copious internal hemorrhage consequent upon the first wound.

A woman in the vicinity was yesterday at the Coroner’s inquest in view of the body, and testified that on hearing the pistol firing she looked out and saw three men run.  They were dressed in soldiers’ clothes. Capt. Schwartz, when shot, was at the corner of Page and Grand avenues.  He ran thence some one hundred and sixty or more yards to the spot where he was found.

No clue has yet been found to the perpetrators of this diabolical deed. By some the cause is traced to “mutiny” prevailing among certain of the 2d Missouri Artillery, and in consequence of which 3(?) score of arrests have been made within about three weeks past.  The murder is involved in mystery.

Captain Schwartz was a resident of St. Charles, was some thirty-five years of age, and unmarried.

Newspapers as far away as Ohio picked up the Democrat‘s report and ran the article.  Some newspapers apparently mistook Schwarz for a different officer of a similar name, offering the name, date, and place but mistakenly indicating the officer was in a Wisconsin regiment:

OttoSchwartz8thWis

I’m sure Otto Schwartz of the 8th Wisconsin was OK…. though his wife might have had a bad day.

I’ve not located any other accounts of the incident.  And more importantly, there are no follow up stories to provide any sort of closure.  No leads.  No suspects.  Though I’ve not exhausted every source just yet.

But this claim of mutiny in the 2nd Missouri is worth further examination.  Looking at the regimental returns, specifically at the number of soldiers in custody, there is a trend:

  • April 2: Two officers, 15 enlisted.
  • April 30: Four officers, 32 enlisted.
  • May 10: Five officers, 38 enlisted.
  • May 31: One officer, 65 enlisted.
  • June 10: One officer, 114 enlisted.
  • June 30: One officer, 195 enlisted.
  • July 10: Two officers, 176 enlisted.
  • August 10: Two officers, 105 enlisted.
  • August 20:  Three officers, twelve enlisted.

Of course, we know who one of those officers held in confinement was, but as to the rest, particularly all those enlisted men?  We can wonder about trends here and speculate something stimulated a rise in confinements starting in April, increasing in May, then peaking in June.  Keep in mind, during the five months sampled the regiment’s strength varied from 550 to 630 men.  So at the end of June, a third of the regiment was confined. Mutiny might well be the word for it.

But let us look at that “spike” in more detail.  A return from June 30 breaks out the confinements by battery:

  • Battery A:  One officer (Captain Michael Laux, who we know).
  • Battery B: 10 enlisted.
  • Battery C: 12 enlisted.
  • Battery D: No report.  This battery was at Cape Girardeau, Missouri
  • Battery E: 5 enlisted.
  • Battery F: 26 enlisted.
  • Battery G: 5 enlisted.
  • Battery H: None.
  • Battery I: 6 enlisted.
  • Battery K:  43 enlisted.
  • Battery L: 15 enlisted.
  • Battery M: 73 enlisted.

Recall the summary listing from earlier this week.  Batteries K, L, and M were actually not at St. Louis, but rather serving as light artillery in Southeast Missouri.  Such may help explain the number of confinements.  And may not necessarily be confinements due to mutinous behavior – infractions or missing movements, for example.

But looking through the newspaper’s articles that spring, it is apparent 2nd Missouri soldiers were involved with numerous altercations.  There are reports of stabbings, shootings, and fights.  And several appear in the weekly list of prisoners, identified as from the regiment.  A particularly bad incident occurred on July 4, with numerous – numbering above two dozen – members of the regiment arrested for questioning.  We might attribute that sort of behavior to disciplinary problems… but again… maybe not mutiny.

But most interesting among the “troubles” appearing for the 2nd Missouri occurred at the front end of this bulge of confinements. On April 23, the Daily Missouri Democrat reported:

Fort No. 8, St. Louis, April 21, 1863

A word from the detachment of Company E, 2d Missouri, referring to the President’s proclamation:

An order was received at this post yesterday, from Col. Almstedt’s headquarters, to furnish a certain George Hays with a safe-guard, to proceed to a certain house to recover his property, the said property being a runaway female slave.  When upon the men refusing to be used for such a duty on the plea that they had not enlisted as negro catchers, they were all ordered under arrest.  We support the above needs no comments.

[List of eleven soldiers, by name, who refused the assignment]

Some of the soldiers refusing were non-commissioned officers, indicating this was not some privates revolt against doing work.  This was a considered stand to make.  The next day, the paper walked this back a bit, claiming they intended to print the notice with some commentary.  But those comments had been inadvertently left out.  Concluding on the matter, the editor wrote:

It most clearly is the duty of the soldier to obey his superior officers, leaving responsibility of his consequent action upon the authority commanding it. If, however, he feels that is conscience or manhood will be outraged by yielding obedience to any particular order, then it is equally his duty to accept arrest and punishment without complaint.  But, as to the order referred to in this instance, our information leads us to conclude that the circumstances under which it was issued perfectly justify it, and that the disobedience was itself as unpardonable as the subsequent complaint was unsoldierly and wrong.

First, recall that Missouri was listed among the exemptions in the Emancipation Proclamation.  So Mr. Hays may have been a legal slaveholder, at least at that moment in time.  The question here is really if the military commander had an obligation to assist Hays, under his authority.  And that, I would submit, opens a larger can of worms.

But this brings up yet another possible reason for mutinous behavior.  And specifically from the men of Battery E.  Implied in the situation is Schwarz was the officer issuing the order to these men, as they came under his direct control.  I have looked through the records of six of the eleven, and find no indication of punishment or arrest.  Though a short period of confinement, say a few days, would slip go unrecorded in the service records.  But I would point out that two of these men went on to promotions and to reenlist in the regiment later in the fall.  Not graces normally accorded to those punished for disobedience.

So, we are left with Captain Schwarz killed by three soldiers, from the death-bead testimony of the victim, supported by one witness.  And we have a cry of mutinous behavior in the regiment.  Maybe we need to look deeper at the “climate” of the 2nd Missouri at this time.  The men were serving at home, literally for many.  They were given rather mundane garrison duty. They were close to the end of enlistments.  The city offered many distractions and “entertainment.”  And they were given orders that at least some found distasteful.

Any one of those factors… or all of those factors… might lead to a motive for shooting Captain Otto Schwarz.

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