1863: George W. Wallace to Morgan Henry Chrysler

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Man’s war, fought by boys—Despite parents’ protests & well-meaning military officials, young boys like this trooper still managed to find their way into the service.

It is a rather hostile letter from Maj. George W. Wallace of the 6th US Infantry (then serving as a leader with the N. Y. V. Recruiting Service) to Lt. Col. (later General) Morgan Henry Chrysler, accusing his staff of swearing in an underage soldier, Ira Beardsley (then 16), and—as this was a repeat offense—threatening to report Chrysler to the War Department unless the situation was rectified.

At the time of this letter, Chrysler was reorganizing the 30th NY Infantry (which had reached the end of its service) into what would become the 2nd NY Veteran Cavalry. As such Chrysler’s troops were likely involved in strenuous recruiting efforts. In the letter, Wallace states that Beardsley’s father had made it clear to the soldiers swearing in Ira that he forbid this to be done.

By 1863, enlistment in the Union army was officially only open to those at least 18 years of age. However, it was not at all rare for children, even those much younger than Ira, to be enlisted, generally by the youngster lying about their age, or even by frank falsification of age by the enlisting soldiers.

Surprisingly, despite his father’s efforts to intervene and Major Wallace’s firm letter, Ira was still enlisted in the 2nd New York Veteran Cavalry.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]

TRANSCRIPTION

Headquarters N. Y. V. Recruiting Service
Albany [New York]
4th October 1863

Colonel,

The father of Ira Beardsley ¹ will hand you this accompanied with his own affidavit setting forth that his son was but sixteen years of age on the 23rd of last month. He further states that he said to the individual who swore the boy in at your camp day before yesterday, “I forbid you swearing him in,” or words to the same effect.

This is the fifth or sixth complaint made at this office of boys under the proper age having been established into your regiment. I intend making a special report to the War Department on this subject unless you correct the evil immediately.

In conclusion, I request that on the presentation of the affidavit of John W. Beardsley setting forth the statement  herein made to me that you at once discharge his son Ira Beardsley from your regiment and report without delay the name of the officer who enlisted him and also the name of the medical officer who passed him.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant, — Geo. W. Wallace, Major, 6th U.S. Infantry, Superintendant

[to:] Col. M. R. Chrysler, 2nd Regt. Veteran Cavalry, Saratoga, N. Y.


¹ Ira Hinckley Beardsley (1848-1901) was born on 23 September 1848 in Plattsburg, New York, the son of John W. Beardsley (1821-1895) and Charlotte Fidelia Hinckley (1824-1853). In 1860, the family resided in Keeseville near Chesterfield, Essex county, New York. According to enlistment records, Ira was sworn into Co. I of the 2nd New York Volunteer Cavalry on 22 October 1863 which post dates this letter. His birth date was entered as 23 September 1847 on that record. Ira’s tombstone in Riverview Cemetery, Clinton, NY, states that he served in that unit. He apparently mustered out of the service on 8 November 1865 at Talladega, Alabama. Having not had enough of military service, Ira later enlisted in 1870 in the U.S. Army’s Co. G, 5th Artillery. After numerous desertions, he was discharged in 1874. Curiously, Ira’s life ended tragically in 1901:

“The funeral of Ira Beardsley of Clintonville was held this Sunday last, he having been found dead in his cutter on Friday. [Ira was a peddler tinner.] Deceased was a veteran of the late civil war and was known throughout this section, having peddled blueberries throughout here for several summers past. His wife, who survives was Miss Elizabeth Ritson, daughter of the late James Ritson Sr., of this town and sister of Hiram L Ritson of this village.” (Third column from the left near bottom published Thursday, Mar 28 1901)

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