In the course of my explorations of the Virginia Historical Society, I encountered the Civil War letters of Charles E. Bates. I’ve decided to periodically post his letters in the interest of improving the human interest aspect of this blog. Bates’ observations are entertaining and often humorous, and his squadron served in both theaters over the course of the war.

Born in 1844 in Connecticut, nearly all of the correspondence is with his parents. He apparently ran away and enlisted in the cavalry in 1858, at age 14. The first letters that I found are from Secretary of War John B. Floyd to the Honorable W.D. Bishop, a Connecticut member of the House of Representatives. Mr. Isaac Bates, one of his constituents, had sent him an application for a discharge from the Army for his son, who was a minor. Orders were accordingly forwarded by Adjutant General Samuel Cooper to Fort Leavenworth on May 1, 1858 directing his discharge. I haven’t made up my mind yet on what the continued service of a 14 year old says about the army of the time. The charitable will assume he was large and mature for his age.

The directed discharge apparently didn’t happen. The next item I found was a set of orders dated March 27, 1861 from Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas to the commanding officer of Fort Smith, Arkansas. These orders directed the discharge of “Charles E. Bates, private, Company E, 1st Cavalry, who was enlisted when a minor, without the consent of his parent or guardian.” The order went on to list the various conditions enabling the commanding officer to suspend the discharge, and directed him to immediately report all of the facts pertaining to the case to the War Department. Unfortunately for Bates’ parents, Charles had met one of those criteria before his discharge orders reached Fort Smith.

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