Captain William Pelzer
Volunteer Soldier

     The military career of Captain William Pelzer lasted a mere nine months. Yet during this brief and hectic period the Captain left a deep impression on all who were unfortunate enough to have been stationed with him.

     His spell as commander of a ramshackled army post on the Arkansas river was touched on in my article Fort Mann, Kansas: 1847-1848 [1] Pelzer however was not a man a writer could touch on briefly, and aspects of his time in service are, with the use of contemporary reports and letters, documented here in greater detail -- in particular the petitions drawn up against him by his fellow officers requesting his removal as commander of Fort Mann. These petitions and charges are not only of interest in their own right, but they carry an underlying feeling of isolation which tells much of the frustrations of the simi-professional soldiers of a make-shift army.

"Ungentlemanly and Unofficer Like Conduct"
     Enlisting at Fort Leavenworth into Lieutenant Colonel William Gilpin's Battalion of Missouri Volunteers in September 1847, Pelzer was elected to the rank of Captain and took command of Company C, the only artillery among Gilpin's five companies. [2]

     After some very basic training at Leavenworth the Batalion was ordered onto the plains to protect traders and military personnel. Three companies of the command, including Pelzer's were garrisoned at Fort Mann midway between Santa Fe and the American settlements on the Missouri. At this post Pelzer was placed in full command. Gilpin obviously had not noted anything lacking in the Captain's character of conduct. [3]

     Much of what occured during that winter I have dealt with in another paper: it is sufficient to say here that from the time Pelzer assumed command there was little or no discipline at the post and feuding between various factions devceloped alarmingly. A first hand description of the situation is vividly given in a letter written by a lieutenant who was acting assistant Quarter Master at Fort Mann, Lieutenant Edward Colston describes the actions of Capt. pelzer and some of the men during the winter of 1847-48.

     ". . . I have had to contend in the absent of Col. Gilpin with an officer left in charge of this post who has not enforced as strict discipline, as I should have wished."

     "Men have been allowed to run riot, and do very much as they please, and I have not been protected in my office." [4]

     By February 1848 military discipline had entirely disappeared and on the 20th of that month a stinging and unprecedented document was drawn up and signed by three officers, petitioning for the removal of Pelzer on the grounds of misconduct.

     This document, here printed in full, is a remarkable plea from men isolated in the wilderness.

Mann's Fort. Arkansas River.
February 20, 1848
Col. Wm Gilpin, Commanding
Battalion of Missouri Volunteers

     Sir. "We the Undersigned Officers attached to Said "Battalion" Stationed at this "Post" respectfully inform you that at a meeting held by them a Short time Since, Were by Circumstances, beyond their Control and for a just Considerstion of the Importance, of Correct Discipline and Subordination in the Service of our Country reluctantly Compelled to Submit to your attention & Consideration the following named "Charges" against "Capt. Wm. Peltzer" of Company C."

     Charge 1st Specifies. -- "That Capt. Wm. Peltzer of Co. C. Artillery attached to the "Battalion of Missouri Volunteers" did on the 1st day of February 1848 during an alarm Created at this Garrison by the Supposed appearance of "Indians" appear on this Ground in a State of "Intoxication" totally unfit for duty, and acting in an unofficer and unsoldier-like Manner, Creatin among the troops a Want of Confidence, and apparent neglect of duty. Which never Would have occured under other Circumstances."

     Charge 2nd. " Disobedience of Orders" That he did in direct Violation of Orders, understood to have been received from "Col Gilpin" for the punishment of Certain men returned with Lieut O'Harra Order Four of them as an Escort for an Individual going to the "States" and did also Suffer Several of them ordered by the Col. for punishment, to go on a Hunting Armed with "Carbine" Whereby one of the number named Mathew Armbuster, Was Accidently Shot Dead by one "Agustus Falbush". as appeared on Evidence at a Court of Enquiry held by the Officers of this Garrison.

     Charge 3rd. "That the Said Capt. Peltzer has since his appointment of Commander at this 'Post", made an unnecessary and Improvident Use of the "Public Property" and by a System of Arbitary Measure Rendered the Services of the "A. A. Q Master" almost unavailing and in Every Way Rendering his Situation disagreeable."

     Charge 4th. "Capt. Paul Holzechiter of Co.. D. Respectfully Says that on the Morning of 1st Feby 1848. He Commanded my men not to "obey my orders" but to respect his entirely he also threatened to Shot any of my men that did not comply with the above Orders. thereby Endeavouring to render me Contemptible in the Eyes of my Command, and limiting his Services in time of apparent danger."

     Charge 5th. "Ungentlemenly and unofficer like Conduct during the Entire period of his Command."
Capten Paul Holzeheiter.
Lieut. E. Colston. A. A. Q. M.
Lieut. F. A Schnabel. Co D.

     Although the document is heavy handed and lumbering in its use of English and the miss-spelling of Pelzer and various other words must be attributed possibly to the writers German origin, a tone of exasperation is still very mich in evidence.

     Two days later, on the 22nd, a second petition was drawn up this time carrying the names of 112 officers and men of Companies C and D. This second statement appears to be purely a show of support for the first, it is worded very precisely but has no list of charges.

Fort Mann. 22nd, Febry. 1848.
Petition of Comp. C. & D. -- To Col. Wm. Gilpin.

     We the Undersigned Non Com. Officers & Privates of Comp. C & D. Indian Batt. respectfully would petition you, to relieve Capt. W. Pelzer from his Duty as Commanding Officer of this Post & of his Company, he having lost by his Conduct all Confidence and Proving sufficiently that he is not capable to sustain military Order and Discipline.

     There then follows the signature of 59 men from Company C and 53 men from company D. [6]

     Both of these documents were sent to Lieutenant Colonel Gilpin who in turn forwarded them directly to the war department from his encampment further up the Arkansas River. [7] He was it appears too preoccupied organising an expedition against hostiles, to have concerned himself with events which were supposedly taking place at his headquarters. It was not until some months later, on May 30th after his campaigns were over, that Gilpin finally returned to Fort Mann to find the list of charges he had received the previous February were well-justified. [8] Immediately on the Colonel's return Pelzer submitted his written resignation to him. The Captains letter makes no mention of the situation which has developed at the post while under his command, his resignation had, he stated been brought about purely on personal grounds.
Fort Mann Upper Arkansas
May 30th 1848.

To the Honabl. Wm. C. Marcy.
Secretary of War.


     I the undersigned a Capt. of a Volunteer Company called the "Missouri Artillery" raised under a requisition from the War Department dated the 24th July 1847 beg most respectfully to tender my resignation. I have various reasons for taking this course having lately lost part of my family--and more of them in a very critical situation and my business generally requires my personal attention. a reply at your earliest convvenience would greatly oblige.
With great respect
I remain Sir
Your most obedt. Servt.
William Pelzer. Capt. Co. C.

     Unfortunately for him this letter did not stop Gilpin arresting and holding him on criminal charges. The Colonel had the situation at his headquarters under his control almost immediately. Events in Washington however were developing beyond his control: while he had still been on the plains Colonel John Garland at Jefferson Barracks had received orders from the Adjutant General's Office to travel to Fort Mann in company with Lieutenant Colonel Clifton Wharton and investigate the allegations made by the two petitions. Garland's own interpretation of his duties are very clear.

     "The President of the United States has heard with regret of some of the transactions inacted at and near Fort Mann and feeling a deep solicitude for the honor of the troops and properly to stigmatise departure from good military conduct has thought proper to send an officer to make a thorough investigation of the alleged outrages charged against them so that if any be proven guilty the corrective may be promptly applied."

     "This delicate service has been entrusted to the undersigned . . ." [10]

     After the two had left Fort Leavenworth en-route for Gilpin's command Wharton's health began to fail with the rigours of the journey and he was forced to return to Leavenworth where he died shortly after. Garland continued accompanied only by his small escort, to Fort Mann, where he arrived early in July. Following his introduction to Gilpin a thorough investigation of Battalion personnel was undertaken.

     Pelzer who was still under arrest was brought before Garland soon after his arrival. The Captain's "trial" was short.

     "Charges and Specifications, in the case of Captain William Pelzer, were placed in my hands on the 6th of July, and the Captain required, by letter, to appear before me at 4 oclock P.M. of that day--my instructions were in the first palce made known to him, and then a copy of the charges against him furnished . . . Captain Pelzer requested a delay of proceedings in his case until the next morning so that he might have time to advise with counsel before making his plea--the request was granted."

     "On the morning of the 7th July, I received by express the preparatory order for withdrawing our troops from Mexico, and entertaining no doubt of a peace having been construded, I was advised, reluctantly, to accept the proffered resignation of Captain Pelzer, and to order him forthwith out of the Indian country." [11]

     With the acceptance of Pelzer's resignation any further charges which may have been made against him died. With a piece of luck and a concidence of timing which would put a cheap 'B' film to shame the Captain was freed. William Pelzer's only punishment was his removal from the territory yet with the charges levelled against him and the witnesses available a long period in suspension would have been probable had he been brought to trial.

     Two years after these events Pelzer, who at this time was living in Chicago applied for and it would seem received bounty land under an "Act granting bounty land to certain Officers and Soldiers who have been engaged in the Military Service of the United States." In his application it is amusing to note Pelzer's statement seemingly unabashed by his record, that he was "honorably discharged at Manns Fort." [12]
Used With Permission of the Author:
Copyright by;
R. A. W.

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