Doing Nothing But His Duty.
James Kanes Story.
On August 30th 1862 James Kane a 26 year old married man with three small children would feel the patriotic fever that struck many a man from Schuylkill County and volunteer his services to the Union cause. He would leave his native Port Carbon and travel to Philadelphia were he would enlist as a sergeant for three years in company I of the 13th PA. Cavalry.
He would serve for just 4 months and five days when he would tragically die at Point of Rocks Md. from the effects of a severe form of punishment known as "bucking". This form of punishment was quite common in both the confederate and union armies during the civil war. To be bucked the soldiers hands were tied with the palms together and the elbows placed outside of the knees, while in a sitting posture a stick was placed between the arms and knees. It was a very uncomfortable and sometimes painful punishment and also very humiliating to the soldier.
Sergeant Kane was bucked on December 27, 1862 for disobeying an order to fetch a lose horse that was in camp. He was ordered to catch the horse by a Major White, the adjutant. Kane stated that he did not obey the order because at the time he was acting orderly Sgt. and was hunting two men for another detail and didn't notice the horse. Kane was put under arrest at 9:00 AM on the 27th of December and the punishment continued till 3:00 PM. He was released from the punishment when his company Captain returned from a scout. On January 4, 1863 Sgt. James Kane was dead.
James body was returned to his native Port Carbon and was laid to rest with full military honors on the 11th of January 1863. His grieving wife Dorothea and their 3 small children stood by his grave on that cold and cloudy Sunday. The tragic story of this soldier does not end here, In the January 17th issue of the Pottsville Miners Journal two articles were written in regards to James Kane. One titled "Coroner's Inquest" stated that Coroner Johnson performed an inquest on the body of Sgt. James B. Kane at Port Carbon and according to the evidence, unwarranted punishment (called bucking) and exposure, by order of Major
White, who was then in command of the 13th Pa. Cavalry. Verdict accordingly. Another article was titled "A matter for investigation". James was a member of the Schuylkill lodge No. 27 of I.O. of O.F. Lodge of Odd Fellows. The members of the Port Carbon Lodge met during the week and made up three resolutions involving the death of there fellow brother. We have learned with regret of the death of our late brother James Kane, We have learned that brother Kane should have come to his death by undue and improper punishment inflicted by order of the Major of the said cavalry; and we ask that the Honorable James Campbell M.C., to represent the matter to the War Department for investigation.
The resolutions were sent to the Hon. James Campbell and an investigation was opened on February 3, 1863 by order of Brig. Gen. Kelly. Passing the investigation down through channels it finally fell into the hands of Col. Galligher the commanding officer of the 13th Pa. Cavalry. An investigating board was set up to question those who were involved in the punishment. First to be questioned was the regimental Surgeon Geo. B. Lummis, he stated that he attended the Sgt. on the 30th December and that he died of an inflammation of the brain on the 4th of January. In his opinion the bucking could not have been the cause of the soldiers death. The condition of the soldier when first seen was comatose accompanied by wandering delirium which is common of the disease. He had no marks of bucking. Another Surgeon named Stanton also saw the man when he was sick and was of the opinion that he had meningitis and was not produced by bucking. He thought that the punishment was an unfortunate affair and just happened when the disease was hatching. It was barely possible that it may have injured him.
Eight witnesses were questioned and various statements were made in the official record of the case. Some of the statements made concerning his bucking were: " He was tied tight, orders were to see the bucking through", Kane complained of being unwell on Monday night he said "his wrists hurt". He complained that he was tied to tight for doing nothing but his duty. Another private stated "Sunday was a chilly day for one to be tied". Private White stated "His wrists were all swollen and he appeared to be excited", another stated "it was awful cold in the morning; no fire in the guard house, and he was in a very weak condition on Monday, said he was to weak to come after a drink of water." Private Cole remarked "when Kane came into the hospital he showed me his wrists, they were all swelled, he was so sore across his bowels that he could not stoop over, and his last words spoke was that bucking would be the cause of his death.
The court of Inquiry report states the evidence is sufficient to require the said Major White's case to be examined and proceed upon by a General Court Martial and the evidence does not leave Major White blameless.
The Coroners jury report that Kane died of congestion of the brain produced by unwarranted punishment called bucking, inflicted by Major white.
On April 24, 1863 charges were preferred against Major White that while awaiting the findings of the General Court Martial he left the town of Winchester and went to Bunker Hill, charge: Breach of Arrest and being drunk. On April 24, 1863 Brig. General Elliott recommended the dismissal of Major White stating " Of this quiet Major White I have no doubt and I believe that the sooner the service is rid of him the better." White tendered his resignation in a letter stating " I know my conduct has been exemplary until this unfortunate affair happened." The reason he gives for resigning are the sickness of his wife, and a desire to engage in more peaceful pursuits.
Corporal punishment was permitted in both the Union and Confederate armies during the war and was at the discretion of the officers in charge, as this story states a man died from the effects of this cruel punishment leaving a wife and three small children, to die in combat was almost expected by the families but I don't think any family would expect to receive news such as what the Kane family received.