Leadership in both the Union and in the Confederate armies was very crucial. Generals and colonels as well as captains in some cases, were appointed by military officials while many company level officers and non-commissioned officers in a regiment were voted into their positions by the men of their company. There are many instances of company rosters that reflect a man who was a private in 1861 and was then promoted to officer status; and yet, I have also seen in a few instances where an officer was demoted to a private.
An officer is someone who led by authority and someone who had the trust of his men. Take into consideration Captain Albert Hunter of Company “C” of Cole’s Cavalry. Captain hunter was born on his family farm just east of Middle Creek on old Harney Road. e enlisted as a bugler; a few months later he was commissioned as second lieutenant, and by 1862 he was promoted to a captain.
After the war, Albert Hunter recalled when he was promoted from 2nd bugler to lieutenant: “After being in a camp of instruction at Frederick, Md., until about the middle of December, 1861, we were put on duty. I enlisted with the understanding that I was to be 2nd Bugler. I was extremely fond of the Drill. All of us were green in that line; I had taken lessons in Gettysburg from other soldiers there. We created a sensation, as it was new and rather fantastic: movements quick and difficult. Our lady visitors were delighted with maneuvers, and I had as many interested spectators as the Dress parades, but this was not cavalry drill. I spent my leisure time reading the tactics on cavalry drill; I soon mastered the initial maneuvers, and although it was not a part of my duty, I would drill a squad of the new recruits, after regular drill, in cavalry on foot. (We did not have horses yet).”
“Our 1st Lieut. John Motter Annan was accidentally shot through the head and killed by his best friend, J. Wallace Morring of Emmitsburg. Our brigade was allowed to select their own commissioned officers by ballot. After the death of Lt. Annan, an election was held in our company to fill the vacancy. My having been successful in giving instructions in drill made me a prominent candidate, even before Lt. Annan was buried. I felt grieved and compelled by friends to wait. To tell it all, I only wanted to be a soldier; office had no allurements for me, and perhaps I would have refused positively to stand, but a majority of our company insisted that I must, and the other candidates, eight in number, combined, and one or two of them misrepresented me.”
“As ‘opposition is the life of trade’ was the opposition I had, I set my blood to win, and I did. I took the plan of gaining votes by refraining and restraining all manner of vituperation. But with all I could do, we still had a long and hot fight. A majority of the whole company was required to elect, and although I got a majority of all the votes cast every time, I was not elected until nine or ten ballots were had because 10 to 15 of our men, who were off on detached duty, and could not vote.”
Private Joseph Wible of Gettysburg served in the same company that Albert Hunter was in. He recalled the difficulties involved with electing a new second lieutenant. He wrote on November 18, 1861: “This evening after dress parade we balloted for First Lieutenant but were not successful in choosing one.” He again wrote on November 19th, “We balloted for First Lieutenant today and elected a Second Lt. Morrison for our first Lieutenant, after which we balloted for a Second Lieutenant. But, after several unsuccessful attempts we gave it up for another day. Hunter ran six ahead of Walker, having thirty-eight to Walker’s thirty-two, it requiring 45 to elect.”
Still without a second lieutenant, the men of Company C again attempted to fill the vacant slot. Private Joseph Wible on November 23rd wrote: “We had two trails today at electing a Second Lieutenant but were not successful in either ballot. In the first ballot, Hunter received 41 votes to Walker’s 34 and the second Hunter 43 and Walker 32, after which the election was postponed until the week following.”
On November 26th, Albert Hunter was officially elected as second lieutenant. Private Joseph Wible again recorded in his diary that day, “We succeeded this morning in electing Hunter our Second Lieutenant. Hunter received 49 votes and he has now entered upon his duties with good wishes of the company.”
Albert Hunter later wrote: “I can conscientiously say that shoulder straps did not change my feeling toward the privates, and I feel sure that whatever else they may charge me with, there is not one who would say anything else. They were welcomed in my tent at all times. Their wants were duly attended to, as far as the rules and regulations would allow, their complaints adjusted as near as I could judge demanded. A hundred men as soldiers become children. The officers are looked to much as children look to their parents, and it is only right, for they have no other way to get what they want or need.”
In June of 1862 nearly eight months after being elected as second lieutenant, Albert Hunter was promoted to Captain of the company. “In June 1862, on account of infirmity and old age, Captain John Horner tendered his resignation. Col. Miles was commanding with headquarters at Harper’s Ferry. When we received the Captain’s resignation, he sent for me and told me that I must notify our 1st Lt. Morrison. He wanted his resignation too and told me he would never make him captain and that if he would not resign, he would have him dismissed. I told Morrison about it, and he was very angry; he swore that he would see Miles about it. I knew that he never would and advised him to save his reputation. He got me to write his resignation and told me he would hand it in. I pitied him. He was a good fellow, but awfully ignorant, and utterly unfit to perform the clerical duties of an officer. And he knew a hundred fifty dollar per month job was too good to be carelessly thrown away, so he put the resignation in his pocket.”
“I met Col. Miles a few days afterward, and when he asked me why Lt. Morrison did not send in his resignation I told him I had written it for him and that he told me he had. He said it had not come and that he would have him dismissed. I hurried to Morrison and advised him to save his reputation. Finally he agreed to hand it in and in a few days the captain’s and his were accepted and I got my commission for Captain.”
In February of 1864, during the re-enlistments of Cole’s Cavalry Battalion, enough men re-enlisted and new recruits came in, making the battalion a full-sized regiment. During the reorganization of Cole’s Cavalry, Albert Hunter exposed a criminal ring within the command structure of Cole’s Cavalry. This is what ultimately led to Albert Hunter resigning his commission. Albert Hunter recalled: “In the promotions battalion, officers were ignored. Seniority was nowhere; bribery was freely charged and more than likely true.”
“I was a senior Captain, and I got nothing at all. The fourth Captain was made Lieutenant Colonel. But Orderly Sergeant Oliver A. Horner was made Adjutant and afterwards made a Major. Civilians in Baltimore were made Majors. One was an English fool who knew no more of military or a Major’s duty than a dog does preaching, and was a coward to boot, and thus it went all along the line.”
“My company was a good one, the most of its members were my acquaintances and friends. I loved them and think I can safely say, without egotism, that they respected me all that any Captain could ask. But I must acknowledge that a feeling of dislike grew on me during the summer, that reopened into a determination to quit the service in September when the three years were up, which I did.”
“But strange to say, that after a month, civil life became so anonymous and dry I could not stand it. I determined to go back to service. Of course no commission was waiting for me, and I had to list is a private. I chose old company “B” knowing it would not the proper for me [to reenlist in Company C].”