Newport Barracks 1847: "Our condition is very unpleasant"
Newport Barracks circa 1858
In the spring of 1846, 2d Lieutenant John Love was busily seeking recruits in Dayton, Ohio. Unlike many an officer on recruiting duty who took liberal advantage of being away from the hardship and boredom of frontier duty, Lt. Love was anxious return to his company. There were daily rumors of war coming out of Texas. When he learned that Colonel Stephen W. Kearney and his dragoons were about to take the field to fight the Mexicans, Lt. Love frantically sent off several letters to his superiors requesting permission to close down the recruiting station and “join my Company should my Regiment be ordered into the field.” In due course, authorization was granted and, on July 29, 1846, the hard-riding Lt. Love caught up with Colonel Steven W. Kearney’s Army of West at Bent's Fort.
After the bloodless conquest of Santa Fe, Kearney left for California with an escort of two companies of dragoons. It was about this time that John Love learned that he had received a promotion to 1st Lieutenant and would take be taking charge of B Company. Prior to his departure for California, however, Kearney had broken up B Company by transferring the enlisted men to other companies. This left Lt. Love in command of four sergeants, four corporals and a bugler. He was ordered by the War Department to return to “the States” to recruit the company up to full wartime strength of eighty men.
In late October of 1846, Lt. Love and his little band left Santa Fe and a month later reached Ft. Leavenworth. There he found but a single recruit waiting for him—private Thomas Crosby. The lieutenant, with a sergeant and a corporal in tow, he headed for Dayton, Ohio, to open his recruiting service.
He must of felt a sense of deja vu: once again stuck on recruiting duty in Onio and Indiana while the war was fast moving on and leaving him behind. He desperately needed to expeditiously recruit a full company of men and head back to the fray. By December, he had enlisted just three men for his company. On December 20, 1846, the Lieutenant wrote to Roger Jones, the Army’s grandfatherly Adjutant General, expressing how “extremely anxious” he was “to fill the Company which fortune has given me the command” and that he expected to take the field by April 1, 1847. Finding recruits in a hurry was not going to be an easy task. Lt. Anderson Nelson of the regular Sixth Infantry, one of Love’s West Point classmates, complained to him in February of 1847 that, after “pegging away since some time last summer and [he had] done any thing but a ‘land office’ business” finding Hoosier recruits for his regiment.
Included in the John Love collection of correspondence at the Indiana Historical Society is a letter dated April 2, 1847, from three recruits complaining about their treatment at Newport Barracks, Kentucky. The letter is remarkable in that the writers, who were recruited in Indianapolis, wholly disregard the class differences existing between enlisted men and officers. Lt. Love was not offended by this slight to his rank and station: in June of 1847 he promoted George Gibson, one of the signatories, to the rank of corporal. We have left intact the spelling and grammatical errors contained in the original.
April 2, 1847
Liet Dear Sir
We wish to inform you that our condition is very unpleasant
on account of the absence of our officers. We are here drilled in the infantry squads, and obliged to do duties that we believe we would be exempted of were you with us and on this account there is some, not inconsiderable, dissatisfaction prevailing in regard to our having no officers of our own company with us. We would inform you that the discord refered to, has already been the cause of the one of the company’s “deserting”, but we do not think that any who came with us, will, on any consideration be guilty of so base an act, but could you favor us with an officer of our own, greater satisfaction would exist, and a greater degree of confidence would be concentrated in you by your men. We consider it right you should know these circumstances and also that is binding on us to inform you of it. Gardener is dead and another one of the Company not expected to recover. We have considered it our duty to write this much.
We remain your friends and Obedient soldiers
John W. George
George W. Gibson