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Defiance of Eagles
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Fort Ellis, Montana Territory
The officers who were to hear the general court-martial filed in and took their seats. Because Boyd Ackerman was a major, the jury was made up of his peers, majors and lieutenant colonels.
The chief witness against him was his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Hamilton. Edward was sworn in and the trial counsel, a captain, began to question him.
"Colonel Hamilton, you are the one who brought charges against Major Ackerman, is that correct, sir?"
"That is correct."
"And would you tell the court what position you held, relative to the events of this trial?"
"I was commanding officer of a detached element of the Third Cavalry, under the command of General Fielding during the Battle of Crooked Creek."
"And, for the record, that would be the campaign in which General Cahill, and all who were with him, were killed?"
"And what was Major Ackerman's position?"
"Major Ackerman commanded two troops of the Third Cavalry, two hundred men."
"So he was subordinate to you?"
"And would you state for the court, Colonel Hamilton, what charges you have filed against Major Ackerman?"
"I will. I have filed charges against Major Ackerman to the effect of dereliction of duty and willful disobedience of a direct order. He was ordered to proceed with his two cavalry troops, with all due speed, to join with Colonel Cahill in the campaign to force the hostiles back to their reservation. His failure to repair resulted in the annihilation of Cahill and all the men with him. I could have charged him with cowardice had I so wanted."
"Objection," the defense said. "If the charge of cowardice wasn't made, it has no relevance in this testimony."
"Objection sustained," the trial judge said. He looked over toward the panel of officers who made up the jury. "The panel is instructed to disregard any consideration of cowardice, as that is not a part of the charge."
The trial judge turned his attention back to the trial counsel. "You may continue with your examination."
"Colonel Hamilton, you have accused Major Ackerman of willful disobedience of a direct order. Are you certain that the disobedience was willful, and not caused by something beyond Major Ackerman's control? By this I mean did he try to effect a junction with Cahill's troops, but was unable to do so because of circumstances?"
"It was willful disobedience."
"And why are you sure?"
"Major Ackerman made a statement, overheard by two other officers who will testify in this trial, that he had no intention of risking his life to save the life of, and I quote—that arrogant bastard—end quote, referring to Cahill."
"Your witness, Lieutenant," the trial counsel said, walking away from the witness chair.
The defense counsel approached.
"Colonel, is it not true that if Major Ackerman had led his men into Crooked Creek valley on that fateful day that he, and all his men, may also have been killed? Shouldn't he be credited with saving his command?"
"Anytime you commit troops to battle, you run the risk of sustaining casualties, sometimes very heavy casualties. It is my belief that had Major Ackerman carried out his orders, it would have saved lives, specifically those brave soldiers who were with Colonel Cahill. If you don't commit your command to battle when ordered to do so, it isn't a question of saving the men, it is a question of failing to carry out your duty."
"Do you actually believe that if Ackerman had joined Cahill, that the outcome would have been different?"
"Colonel Cahill had two hundred and ten men with him. Had Ackerman joined him as ordered, it would have doubled his strength. Military strategists have made the observation that an additional two hundred men would have changed the outcome of the battle."
"With all due respect, Colonel, those so-called strategists weren't there. I was," Ackerman called out from his position at the defendant's table.
The trial judge struck the table with his gavel. "You have not been given permission to speak," he said.
"I have no further questions of this witness," the defense counsel said.
"Your Honor, prosecution calls to the stand Falcon MacCallister."
Falcon approached the witness stand.
"Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" the trial counsel asked, administering the oath.
"You may be seated."
Trial counsel waited until Falcon was seated, then he began the examination.
"Were you present during the battle at Crooked Creek?"
"How is it that you, a civilian, happened to be there?"
"You hit on it. I just happened to be there. I was in the area, totally unaware of any Indian unrest. When I heard all the shooting, I knew that it had to be a battle of some sort, so I rode to the sound of the guns."
"And, as I understand, you wound up with Captain Rawlings's command, did you not?"
"In your opinion, and based upon your firsthand knowledge of the battle, could Major Ackerman have reached the battlefield? Or were the Indians so positioned that it would have been impossible for them to do so?"
"All of the Indians were either engaged with Cahill, or were keeping Captain Rawlings's command pinned down. A relief element from the north could have reached Cahill."
"And had that relief element united with Cahill, do you think it would have made any difference?"
"I think it would have made a great difference," Falcon said. "It would have greatly increased the numbers, and they would have approached the Indians from a side they weren't expecting. I believe it would have broken the Indian attack."
"Thank you, no further questions."
The defense council approached Falcon.
"You were with Captain Rawlings. Did you attempt to relieve Colonel Cahill?"
"And what happened?"
"We were forced back by the Indians."
"No further questions."
"Redirect?" the trial judge asked.
The prosecutor rose, but did not approach the witness. "From which direction did Captain Rawlings try to effect his relief effort?"
"From the south."
"And were there any Indians between you and Colonel Cahill?"
"Yes, the entire Indian force was between Captain Rawlings and Colonel Cahill."
"And from which direction would Major Ackerman's relief column have come?" the prosecutor asked.
"From the north," Falcon said.
"Were there Indians between where Colonel Cahill and his gallant troops made their last stand and any relief element that would have approached from the north?"
"There were none."
"So, in your opinion, a relief element from the north would have been able to reach Cahill?"
"There is no doubt in my mind."
"Thank you, Colonel MacCallister. I have no further questions.
The case for prosecution and defense was concluded by the middle of the afternoon, then the jury retired to reach their verdict. They came back in in less than half an hour and when called up by the trial judge delivered the verdict of guilty.
"Would the defendant please stand?" the trial judge said.
"You have been found guilty of dereliction of duty, willfully disobeying a lawful order, and failure to repair. You are hereby sentenced to be stripped of all rank and U.S. Army accouterments, and to be dishonorably discharged from the service."
Immediately after the court-martial proceedings were adjourned, an armed escort was assigned to Major Boyd Ackerman, and he was marched out into the middle of the parade ground where the entire complement of the post had been called to formation. Ackerman, by order of the commanding officer of the post, was in full dress uniform, complete with sash and saber. Colonel Hamilton, Ackerman's commanding officer, made the first cut, snipping off both epaulettes. That was followed by other officers of the regiment, until not one gold thing remained on Ackerman's uniform, but lay instead in pieces around him. The last thing to be taken from him was his saber.
"Sergeant Major!" Colonel Hamilton called.
Because a noncommissioned officer cannot be in command of a detail that contains commissioned officers, when the sergeant major was summoned, those officers who were standing in front of their commands quickly left their formations. Their places were taken by the various first sergeants.
The sergeant major came to the front of the formation and saluted sharply.
"Sergeant Major, dismiss the command and escort Private Ackerman off the fort."
"Yes, sir. Private Ackerman, you will remain in position," the sergeant major called. "First Sergeants, dismiss your troops!"
"Troop!" the first sergeants called. "Platoon!" came the supplementary commands of the many platoon sergeants.
The formation broke up quickly, and as the men returned to their duties, many looked over toward Ackerman, who, until he was escorted off the post, was still in the army, and still standing at attention. But he was no longer a major. Now, he was a private, and all those he had once ranked now outranked him.
Major Ackerman had been an overbearing, and much disliked, officer who was routinely cruel to his men. Now, "Private" Ackerman was jeered by most of the men who passed by him.
"Hello, Private Ackerman!"
"Too bad you're about to be kicked out of the army, Private. I'd love to see you on stable duty."
"Hey, Ackerman, you want to inspect me now?"
The derisive remarks continued, to the laughter of the men who were gathered around to watch the degradation of the former major.
After several minutes of the mocking, the corporal of the guard then took charge.
"Ackerman, until we reach the front gate, you are still in the army, and you are a private. At my command, forward, march!"
With the entire post laughing, and shouting insults, Private, formerly Major, Ackerman was marched to the front gate, shoved through, then the gate closed behind him. The moment he stepped off military property, he became a civilian.
One week after Ackerman had been dishonorably discharged, he returned to Fort Ellis in the middle of the night. Although Fort Ellis had a front gate, it was not surrounded by a high stockade fence, but was an open installation. Its security was maintained by a detail of sentries who walked a prescribed route along their guard post. Ironically, it had been Ackerman's duty to establish the routes the sentries would take, so he knew exactly when he could be at certain parts of the post undetected. He slipped in behind the stables, then, waiting for the sentry to pass, moved from the supply room to the post guardhouse. There were three men in the guardhouse, Sergeant Jay Casey, Corporal Clyde Jones, and Private Marv Boyle. All three men had been tried and convicted for the murder of a saloon keeper in nearby Bozeman. They were to be hanged the next day.
Ackerman had keys to the guardhouse, which he used to slip inside. Then, in the dark, he moved up to the cell where all three men were sleeping.
"Casey, Jones, Boyle," Ackerman said. The words were louder than a whisper but quiet enough that if anyone happened to be passing by they wouldn't hear.
"What?" Casey replied. "What is it? Who's there?"
"Come over to the cell door," Ackerman said.
By now the other two had been awakened.
"What's going on?" Jones asked.
"I'll be damned! It's Major Ackerman," Casey said.
"You mean Private Ackerman, don't you?" Boyle said.
Ackerman showed them a key. "I am willing to let you men out, if we can come to an agreement."
"What? Hell, yes!" Casey said. "Anything you say."
"I intend to form a group of irregular soldiers, similar to that commanded by Quantrill during the war. The only difference is, whereas Quantrill made his raids in support of the South, our raids will be completely self-serving."
"What does that mean?" Boyle asked.
"It means that any money we take, we keep."
"Yeah!" Boyle said. "Yeah, I'm for that."
There were five more men in the guardhouse, all five serving a penalty of six and two-thirds, meaning six months in confinement and forfeiture of two-thirds of their pay. At the conclusion of the six months, they would all be dishonorably discharged.
Ackerman freed them as well. Then Ackerman, and the eight men he had freed, took horses and tack from the stables and rode off.
They rode through the rest of the night, so they were twenty miles away by the time any of them were missed back at the fort. Ackerman called them to a halt, then told them his plans for the band.
"As long as you men are with me, we will conduct ourselves as a military unit," Ackerman said. "You will address me as Major, and you will regard me as your commanding officer."
"Oh, hey, I don't know about that," one of the five six and two-third soldiers said. "I didn't mind bein' in the stockade all that much, seein' as I was goin' to be discharged."
"If you went back now, your sentence would be increased from six months to two years for unlawfully leaving custodial confinement. Would you want that?"
"I want you to join my army," Ackerman said, holding up his finger. "But in my army, you'll be paid a hell of a lot more money than you've ever made before in your life."
"Yes, sir, Major Ackerman!" Casey said. He saluted. "I'm proud to serve you!"
The others, seeing Casey come to attention and saluting, did so as well. Ackerman, too, came to attention, then returned the salute.
"Men, with your loyal service, I hereby give birth to Ackerman's Raiders."
"I hate to lose you, Colonel Hamilton," General Terry said. "You have been an outstanding officer, with a long and dedicated service. I would say that it is a shame you are leaving the army before you are eligible for a pension but ..." Terry chuckled, "in your case, I don't suppose that matters. I hear you've bought a ranch as large as Texas."
Edward laughed. "Not quite, sir."
"But it is one-third the size of Rhode Island, I'm told."
"Even that is a gross exaggeration, and Rhode Island is a very small state."
Terry laughed again. "It is indeed, Colonel, it is indeed. I know your circumstances, Colonel, and I know that you could have left the army at any time you wanted. Why now?"
"My daughter was born on an army post," Edward said. "She's eighteen years old now. I think she should have the opportunity to see something of this world from other than a military perspective."
"Well, I can't say as I blame you," General Terry said. "Mary Kate is a beautiful young woman. No doubt you would be fighting off second lieutenants soon. But of course, she is your wife's daughter. How could she be anything but beautiful?"
"Or strong willed," Edward added.
"Well, what do you expect?" General Terry asked. "She is a MacCallister, after all. And the MacCallister family is, quite possibly, the most storied family of the West. From the Alamo, to the major battles of the Civil War, to the Battle of Little Bighorn, there has been a MacCallister involved."
"Yes, I'm well aware that Falcon MacCallister kept Gatling guns from falling into the hands of the Indians during that battle. Had he not done so, Reno and Benteen's men might also have been massacred."
General Terry took out his watch and opened it. "Perhaps we had best go out to the parade grounds. Your retirement parade is set to begin in five minutes."
General Terry and Lieutenant Colonel Edward Hamilton left the Headquarters Building and walked out to the parade grounds, where the entire complement of Fort Ellis was standing in formation under the flagpole. A reviewing stand had been erected, and Edward's wife Megan and their daughter, Mary Kate, were already there, seated on the stand. Neither General Terry nor Edward would be seated, but would stand at the front and return the salutes of the soldiers as they passed in review.
"Regiment! Pass in review!" the regimental commander ordered, and as the band played stirring marches, the soldiers, company by company and troop by troop, passed in review. When the parade was over, General Terry presented Edward with his honorable discharge papers.
One of those watching the parade was Boyd Ackerman. He wasn't recognized, because he wearing a beard that he had not worn while he was in the army. He was dressed in coveralls and a plaid shirt and was wearing a straw hat with a broad brim that shielded the top part of his face. He couldn't help comparing the dignity and honor of the event that was ending Colonel Hamilton's military career with the ignominious end of his own army service.
"Enjoy it while you can, Edward," he said. "You will pay for what you did to me."
He watched as first Colonel Hamilton's wife, and then his daughter, gave him a hug.
"You will pay," he said again.
Deer Lodge, Montana Territory
The train ride from Bozeman to Deer Lodge took six hours, but it was six hours of luxury because Edward had secured tickets in the Palace Car. Unlike the day cars, which had facing seats on either side of the aisle, the Palace Car had big, uncrowded, overstuffed, reclining chairs. They ate in the dining car, their meal served on shining china, with real silverware and sparkling crystal goblets.
Excerpted from Defiance of Eagles by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 2013 by J. A. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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