|Last update 13 Sept 2012
The Case Against Colonel John P.W. Amerine
The circumstances, complexities and personalities that once swirled around the arrest, court martial and dismissal of Col. John Porter Warner Amerine of the 54th/57th Alabama Infantry Regiment are explored here along with what is known of his appeal to Confederate President Jefferson Davis to be reinstated to command – or allowed to make good on his offer to re-enter the service as a conscript.
Today, precisely what offense he was accused of is completely lost and hidden from examination.
In early 1862, Amerine had recruited an infantry company in Pike County, Alabama,1 where he lived and practiced medicine at Troy.2 The company he personally raised, "Capt. Amerine’s Volunteers," mustered into the army as Company K of the 37th Alabama Infantry Regiment under Col. James F. Dowdell. Amerine was soon elected as the 37th Alabama’s original Major in May 1862.3
By July 1862, Maj. Amerine resigned his regimental post at Columbus, Miss., and served (however briefly) on the staff of Brig. Gen. Henry Little 4 – until Little was killed in the Battle of Iuka, Miss. (Sept. 1862).
Firsthand accounts from within the 37th Ala. discuss Amerine admiringly.5 These also refer to his departure from the regiment as being designed for him to return home to raise additional troops, though there is no mention him joining the general’s staff.
Amerine himself declared that he was “… ordered to my home in Alabama, to raise a battalion of ‘Sharp Shooters’… .” 6 Evidently, this order came down after Little had been killed. In any event, Amerine did return to Alabama and ultimately raised another entire regiment, the 54th (later 57th) Ala. Infantry, and earned the colonelcy of that particular command.7
It is in relation to his service with the 54th/57th Ala. that the mysteries in the case against Col. Amerine manifest themselves.
A Case for Mutiny?
A roster of the regiment shows that during the period of September-October 1863, both ranking officers of the 57th Ala.: Col. Amerine and Lt. Col. James W. Mabry were arrested.8 (However, Amerine was still listed in command of the 57th Ala in Brig. Gen. James H. Clanton’s Brigade until at least 10 November according to the organization of Maj. Gen. Dabney H. Maury’s Dept. of the Gulf.9 He signed some paperwork as late as October 31, 1863 as “Col. commanding”).
Both officers were summarily “dismissed” from the service by court martial on the 19th of December 1863.10
Some have concluded that Amerine and Mabry were likely purged from the army due either to their direct participation - or some other complicity - in the run-up to the “Peace Society” mutiny11 within Clanton’s Brigade (in which the 57th was implicated).
The leadership of the Confederate army, including the Secretary of War, and its commander-in-chief, President Davis, were made aware of the Peace Society’s plans. And although the army was careful in its official correspondence discussing the situation in relative secrecy and broad vagaries,12 it seems, had Amerine been arrested in relation to the Peace Society, more documentation of that fact should have survived and surfaced.
Certain evidence suggests it is possible that Amerine and Mabry were not removed because of these seditious activities within their own brigade, but were instead somehow tarnished by another scandal that bubbled up prior to the exposure of the Peace Society plot, and that Amerine, later attempting to clear his name, was perhaps caught up in the otherwise well-documented vindictive nature of Gen. Braxton Bragg, who was then advising President Jefferson Davis.
The fact that either Mabry and/or Amerine were under arrest, possibly as early as September 1863, is the first clue.
Peace and War.
The plot by the secret society of “Peace Men” inside Clanton’s Brigade to lay down arms and walk away from military service was devised to occur on Christmas Day 1863.
By most accounts, it was uncovered and understood13 by high ranking members of the Confederate government by November 1863 – a considerable amount of time after both Amerine and Mabry were reportedly “absent in arrest” from the command. In fact, military court proceedings were well underway by the middle of November.
According to vouchers signed by the Judge Advocate trying the case (E.L. Fitzpatrick), two of the regiment’s subordinate officers spent the week of November 6-12 in Mobile offering testimony against Amerine. These officers, Major C.J.L. Cunningham, a Pike County lawyer,15 and Capt. W.C. Bethune,16 a physician from Newton, Dale County, eventually replaced Amerine and Mabry, respectively, as the regiment’s ranking officers.
Second Lieutenant George W. Dees, Co. F, offered his testimony "in behalf" of Col. Amerine during the same week of November.17
Another Pike County officer, Capt. James N. Arrington,18 (Dees' company commander) of the 57th Ala., also testified against Amerine on December 1-2, and quickly resigned his own commission a few days later on December 13.
The Case for Conspiracy?
Before the war, Arrington,19 himself a lawyer, lived in the Murphree Hotel at Troy alongside William R. Arnold, a judge’s clerk. Arnold later earned a captaincy in the 57th (and, like Bethune was killed at Peachtree Creek in 1864). Another nearby resident who operated a livery stable, James K. Murphree20 (presumed relative of the hotelkeeper), also became a captain in the regiment and served as assistant quartermaster where he issued and witnessed huge quantities of paperwork and interacted with the entire officer corps of the regiment.
Why Arrington would resign so quickly after his testimony draws suspicion that he, too, somehow may have been implicated in the mysterious goings on, especially given the fact that his resignation preceded any verdict and therefore cannot be construed as some sort of “protest” against a court’s decree to dismiss Amerine that, at the time, had not yet been reached.
The mystery may come down to yet another officer: First Lieutenant Barton H. Thrasher, then-Adjutant of the 57th Ala.
Whether Thrasher was also a witness, a whistleblower for justice, a scapegoat in a cover-up, some sort of co-conspirator or criminal mastermind remains to be discovered. Based on available circumstantial evidence, he could have conceivably played any of those roles. The fact that there is zero remaining documentation to support any firm conclusion only deepens the mystery.
On 7 August 1863, Lt. Thrasher unconditionally resigned his post, effective immediately, as Adjutant of the 57th Ala., and Lt. Col. Mabry was the first endorsement to his resignation, accepting it and forwarding it to Col. Amerine, who also accepted it and forwarded it to his superiors with a notation: “He [Thrasher] is inefficient – the place can be much better supplied ... ”21
Perhaps less than a month later, and still several weeks before the mutiny was uncovered, the first two officers who’d endorsed Thrasher’s resignation were under arrest. On December 19, still a week before the planned mutiny was to come to fruition, both had already been dismissed from the service by a military court, and Arrington had resigned – for some reason.
As early as January 1864, Amerine began through channels to appeal the court’s decision and stated that whatever charges had been filed against him were done so by his brigade commander Clanton in a General Court Martial convened at Mobile, Ala.22
The Richmond Two-Step.
President Jefferson Davis apparently agreed to review Amerine’s case.23 If he had been convicted as a mutineer, such a prospect seems almost unthinkable. The trial documents were collected for the President’s review and sent to Major Charles M. Lee, Assistant Adjutant and Inspector General in February 1864 where they, like Amerine, remained in a state of legal limbo for the next several months.
In early February, from his office in Richmond, Gen. Samuel Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector General, issued orders to Maj. Gen. Dabney H. Maury to officially “stay” a court martial then underway against Thrasher – citing that the court had no jurisdiction, as Thrasher was a civilian – having resigned from military service in August 1863.24
Like so many others involved in this case, Thrasher was a resident of Troy, Alabama. In fact, his home was very close to Amerine’s; however, he had not enlisted in the original company of men from Pike County that Amerine had organized (Co. K, 37th Ala.).
Thrasher was a lawyer, born in Georgia.25 He also lived next door to the county probate judge, Bird Fitzpatrick, a most influential man during the war who was responsible, among other things, for overseeing the distribution of families’ claims involving deceased soldiers. Coincidentally, the Judge Advocate supervising the prosecution against Amerine’s was attorney E.L. Fitzpatrick.
In March, Thrasher’s case flared back up. He’d been arrested by order of Clanton and brought to Mobile to appear before a court martial. A pair of guards transported him on charges that he’d somehow been “ … defrauding the Confederate States government.”26 This is where it gets interesting. Powerful individuals inside the Confederate government then interceded in the apparently intertwined cases of Thrasher and Amerine.
It's Who You Know.
On March 1, Gen. Cooper received a telegram advising him that the court at Mobile was then holding Thrasher for trial in direct violation of Cooper’s earlier orders that Thrasher was off limits.27 The telegram was from Lucius J. Gartrell, a member of the Confederate Congress from Georgia.
Gartrell not so subtly reminded Cooper that President Davis was already fully aware of these developments.
Cooper’s earlier position that Thrasher was “out of the army” and could not be tried in a military court momentarily crumbled. In rapid succession, telegrams flew back and forth to and from Richmond and Mobile, always careful to include Gartrell. At first, it appeared Thrasher had rejoined the Army, but Gartrell ultimately prodded Cooper to order Thrasher released to let him go back “to the field” (which utterly contradicted the original argument that as a civilian he was no longer bound to active field service).
Aside from his being arrested on the vague charge of “defrauding” the government, the only clue as to why Thrasher had been brought to Mobile seems directly related to Amerine, and possibly to his ongoing appeal.
In a telegraphed response from Maj. Gen. D.H. Maury to Gen. Cooper on March 5, 1864, Maury justified Thrasher’s arrest referring to: “Proceedings of military court in case of Col. Amerine … he [Thrasher] implicated in the substitute frauds at the instigation of Amerine he deserted … he has never been tried, he is now confined.”28
What exactly the poorly worded, run-on accusation contained within Gen. Maury’s comments meant is open to any number of interpretations: Perhaps it implied that Amerine’s statement about Thrasher’s “inefficient” performance had changed and Amerine had accused Thrasher of fraudulent activities – or perhaps it meant the opposite, that Thrasher claimed Amerine had coerced him to participate in a fraud – or Amerine had falsely claimed Thrasher had deserted his post as some sort of cover-up attempt …. In any event, it is an exercise in pure speculation. (Upon reflection, if someone were deeply and busily involved in perpetrating a scam, one might become seriously “inefficient” and neglect performing his other official duties)
The practice of "substitution" was incredibly unpopular in the army by this time. In fact, it was halted entirely in December 1863. Before that date, the hiring of a "substitute" to serve in one's place was a benefit wholly enjoyed by the well-to-do who could afford the price tag of paying another man to serve the hardships and hazards of army life. Exactly how one could benefit from a fraud involving possible "speculation" involving those serving as substitutes is beyond the scope of this inquiry. The only clarity Maury achieved (perhaps for his own benefit, based on the status of the individuals looking over his shoulder) was that, despite evidence to the contrary, Maury insisted that Thrasher’s August 1863 resignation was unknown to him until Cooper brought it to his attention in February 1864 (having had Gartrell bring it to his – as well as the President’s – attention, simultaneously).
The final outcome in the Thrasher case is unknown. What motivated Gartrell’s interest and involvement on Thrasher’s behalf is also unknown. That said, the lawyers Barton Thrasher and Lucius J. Gartrell both enjoyed prominence as contemporaries in Atlanta.29 Thrasher went on to live and practice law in Alachua County, Fla., and his name appears – oftentimes as a defendant – on numerous Florida legal proceedings until his death in 1882 at the age of 45.
The Powers That Be.
On April 12, 1864, the dismissed Amerine wrote to Maj. Charles Lee in the Inspector General’s office. In this letter30 from his home at Troy, Amerine asked for an update in his case, understanding through his lawyer (George N. Steward of Mobile), that Maj. Lee had issued an opinion in his case to the President. If he received a reply from Lee is doubtful based on Amerine’s later correspondence.
In reality, Lee had sent the case files to James Seddon, Confederate Secretary of War, in February.
Secretary Seddon had been intimately involved in a semi-covert investigation of the Peace Society.31 Like many others, he’d also been a vocal participant in the sharp criticisms pointed at Clanton’s Alabama command.
On May 5, the presiding officer of the military court at Mobile sent a letter to Brig. Gen. Clanton that fully exonerated Clanton of any and all responsibility in the Peace Society's December mutiny. In fact, that letter praised the brigadier in virtually every aspect of his handling of that incident and of those involved.
Almost as an aside, a single sentence in this same letter, heaping additional praise upon the brigadier, potentially sheds light on the cases of Amerine and Mabry (and possibly Thrasher). Essentially, it commends Clanton for “… ferreting out and having prosecuted and punished officers of your command who had been guilty of speculating in illegal substitution transactions.”32 Unfortunately, the offending officers were not named.
By May 9, Clanton, perhaps feeling vindicated by the court for accusations that his command was filled with disloyal mutineers and was not to be trusted (and having had it systematically taken from him and broken apart), wrote a long and vitriolic letter to Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk33 in which his bitterness toward his former commander Gen. Braxton Bragg practically drips from page after page. Clanton also singled out the new commanding officer of the 57th Ala., the promoted Col. Cunningham, [who’d testified against and replaced Amerine], as having had no desertions when that regiment was moved to the front where it later suffereda punitive fate as so much cannon fodder.34
Among his grievances, Clanton pointed out that the Peace Society that he’d previously been accused of allowing to breed under his watch had been active in other [Bragg’s] commands long before it found its way into his. The fact that such widely circulated bad blood existed between Clanton and Bragg now possibly infected Amerine's appeal.
On May 31, Braxton Bragg, then serving as a special advisor to President Davis, officially requested the original court marital documents of Mabry (and presumably of Amerine, that had been in the possession of Maj. Lee). Bragg’s request for these papers35 is the last known destination of these court records. The fact that Amerine and Mabry had once been associated with such a publicly frustrated and disgruntled Clanton probably didn’t help them obtain the most objective review from Bragg.
By July, Amerine’s own frustrations had grown quite large. In a lengthy letter sent directly to President Davis, he openly expressed them.36 He wrote that he had heard nothing from Richmond about his status since the middle of February.
To Davis, Amerine proclaimed that the facts of his case were the only things of any importance. He did not boldly profess his innocence, nor did he seek forgiveness for any guilt. He stated that he should be restored to command, or allowed the honor of serving as a conscript. He claimed that he knew how to obey orders as well as give them. In this revealing personal correspondence, Amerine stubbornly insisted that the President needed only to refer “the facts” of his case to make his final decision, and apparently, those facts – whatever they were – were then in Braxton Bragg’s hands.
Undoubtedly, Bragg made some sort of a recommendation to the President about Amerine.
Davis decided to do nothing.
In a report of proceedings of courts martial,37 the names of Lt. Col. Jas. W. Mabry and Col. J.P.W. Amerine were returned to Gen. Cooper from the President “without interpositions” – his silence allowed the judgment of the court for their dismissals to stand – for whatever reasons they had been rendered in the first place.
The facts to support a verdict of mutineer, profiteer, or simply “fall guy” are missing. Though clearly convicted of something, the case against Col. John Porter Warner Amerine seems far from settled.
Jump to biography page for: J.P.W. Amerine (includes full text of his letter to President Jefferson Davis)
1 Compiled Service Records of JPW Amerine – Co K, 37 Ala., National Archives M311
2 1860 Federal Census of Pike County, Ala., District and Post Office: Troy, pg 38; HH of 36 year-old John P.W. Amerine, occupation: Physician
3 Amerine – 37 Ala., NARA
5 Diary of TJ Carlisle – 37 Ala., published in The Weekly Enterprise, Enterprise, Alabama, 1902; Unpublished diary of Joseph Henry Harris – 37 Ala.
6 Amerine to Davis; Amerine – 54/57 Ala., NARA
7 Amerine – 54/57 Ala., NARA
8 Compiled Service Records: JPW Amerine/Jas W Mabry – 54/57 Ala., National Archives M311
9 Official Records, Series I, Volume 26 (Part II), pg 402
10 Amerine/Mabry – 54/57 Ala., NARA
11 O.R., Series I, Vol. 26 (Part II), pp 548-555
12 Ibid - pp 548-551
13 Tatum, Georgia Lee; Disloyalty in the Confederacy, University of Nebraska Press, 2000
14 Complied Service Records of CJL Cunningham – 54/57 Ala., National Archives M311
15 1860 Federal Census of Pike County, Ala., District and Post Office: Troy, pg 34; HH of 30 year-old Columbus Cunningham, occupation: Lawyer
16 Complied Service Records of WC Bethune – 54/57 Ala., National Archives M311; 1860 Federal Census of Dale County, Ala., Post Office: Newton, pg 107; HH of 27 year-old Wm C Bethune, occupation: Physician
17 Compiled Service Records of GW Dees – 54/57 Ala., National Archives M311
18 Complied Service Records of Jas N Arrington – 54/57 Ala., National Archives M311
19 1860 Federal Census of Pike County, Ala., District and Post Office: Troy, pg 35;
25 year-old James N Arrington, occupation: Lawyer, appears one line above
28 year-old WR Arnold, occupation: Judge’s Clerk in the hotel of Wm H Murphree
20 Ibid - pg 34.
21 Compiled Service Records of BH Thrasher – 57 Ala., National Archives M311
22 Amerine to Davis; Amerine – 54/57 Ala., NARA
24 Cooper to Maury; Thrasher – 57 Ala., NARA
25 1860 Federal Census of Pike County, Ala., District and Post Office: Troy, pg 39; HH of 23 year-old Barton H Thrasher, occupation: Lawyer
26 Reese Receipt; Thrasher – 57 Ala., NARA
27 Gartrell to Cooper; Thrasher – 57 Ala., NARA
28 Maury to Cooper; Thrasher – 57 Ala., NARA
29 Pioneer Citizens’ History of Atlanta, 1833-1902, Byrd Printing Co., 1902, pg 131
30 Amerine to Lee; Amerine – 54/57 Ala., NARA
31 O.R., Series I, Vol. 26 (Part II), pp 548-549
32 O.R., Series I, Vol. 39 (Part II), pp 589-590
33 O.R., Series I, Vol. 26 (Part II), pp 555-557
34 Brewer, Willis; Alabama, Her History, Resources, War Record, and Public Men: From 1540 to 1872, Barrett & Brown, 1872, pp 668-669
35 Sale to Cooper; Mabry – 54/57 Ala., NARA
36 Amerine to Davis; Amerine – 54/57 Ala., NARA; Endorsements date the letter to July 1864
37 Personal Papers; Compiled Service Records, CW Shull – Co K, 49 NC, National Archives M311; Mabry and Amerine – 54 Ala. mentioned among the many following Shull
37th Alabama Regiment of Volunteer Infantry CSA
2300 Cottondale Lane Little Rock, AR 72202
© Copyright 2007 C.C. (Chip) Culpepper