Sunday, February 8, 2015

Fort Sheridan Shooting Grand Jury -- February 8, 1893

The fatal meeting between two U. S. Army officers
took place on this street in 1893 (JWB Photo)
On this date, February 8, back in 1893 coverage of the final preparations for the great Columbian Exposition took a back seat to a sensational Grand Jury investigation as  testimony ended in the inquiry into the death of Captain Alfred Hedberg at the hands of Lieutenant James A. Maney at Fort Sheridan on October 30, 1892.

The story is a long one and by the time it was concluded the ramifications of the investigation and ensuing legal proceedings stretched all the way to the nation’s capital, saw the Fort Sheridan Post Commander forced into retirement after a long and honorable career, and scared the heck out of the troopers stationed at the brand new post on the North Shore.

As with all crimes of passion the story of what happened on that night in October varied, depending on who was giving the details.  And the events leading up to the final meeting between the two men began unfolding years before Captain Hedberg’s final breath.

Captain Alfred Hedberg
By all accounts Hedberg was a piece of work.

In late July of 1891 the Captain took the young son of a visitor out on the lake in a boat piloted by a private.  The boat capsized, and a rescue party saved Hedberg and the boy.  Unfortunately, the private drowned.

One would think that Hedberg would have been joyous at his rescue, but upon setting foot on dry land he ordered one of the rescuers, a Private Oakmore of Company G, placed under guard and taken to the guardhouse, apparently for the way the private had spoken to him during the rescue.

Two months later The Tribune reported that two privates had filed charges against the Captain with the post commander, Colonel Crofton.  Private Hart and Gauter were in a tailor’s shop outside the fort.  Before they entered the establishment they had passed the Captain and saluted. They entered the shop, followed sometime later by Hedberg, who “finding the men did not notice him or pay any homage to his rank . . . ordered the men to remove their hats, which they did.”  [Chicago Tribune, September 26, 1891]

Military regulations required the removal of a hat before an officer when on the military reservation.  The requirement did not apply to encounters off the base.  The two men objected to their superior’s behavior and asked for him to be court-martialed, alleging “that his conduct was overbearing and that he constantly sought means of humiliating the enlisted men.”

At this point morale was at a low ebb, and desertions were so frequent that Hedberg’s unit, Company F of the Fifteenth Infantry, was the smallest in the regiment.  Then in the spring of 1892 Captain Hedberg placed Private James Hanson under guard for missing roll call.  Although it was generally agreed that Hanson was guilty, “the sensational circumstances attending the trial had thrown the sympathy entirely upon his side.”  [Chicago Tribune, April 24, 1892]

Private Hanson ended up in the guardhouse for a failure to answer roll call
(JWB Photo)
Hasnon was brought before a summary court, at which Captain Hedberg was the presiding officer.  Acting as Private Hanson’s counsel, a Private Driscoll “objected to Capt. Hedberg on the ground that he had been dishonorably dismissed from the service, cashiered, and sentenced to one year in the penitentiary.”  Hedberg immediately preferred charges against Driscoll for “attempting to injure the reputation of an officer.”

Except . . . the charge that Driscoll made was true.  While stationed at Santa Fe, New Mexico the captain had been court-martialed on a number of charges, most of them concerning misappropriation of government property, and dismissed from the service. 

It must have been galling to Captain Hedberg when several weeks later headquarters ordered that the original prisoner, Private Hanson, be released from the guardhouse and resume his duties as a soldier.  Although the host of charges against Driscoll stood, there seemed “to be no inclination to bring him before the military court.” 

On May 5 Captain Hedberg arrived in Washington, D. C. and the speculation was that he sought to be placed on the retired list.  If approval had been immediate, the Captain would have escaped his fate.  But the delay was of his own doing as no decision could be made as long as the charges against Private Dirscoll stood.

Lieutenant James Maney
So it came to pass that Lieutenant James Maney, an officer who, among other things, had written a letter to Washington protesting Cpatain Hedberg’s reinstatement in the service, met the captain close to the water tower by the infantry drill hall. Two witnesses, Private C. E. Johnson and Sergeant Karl Copeland, witnessed the shooting.

Their feeling was that the life of Haney was not in danger when the two men met.  “Hedberg’s arms were full of bundles . . . When the two officers came face to face, Hedberg disengaged one arm and struck Maney in the face.  Hedberg then reached for his hip pocket as if to draw a pistol and at that instant Maney fired and Hedberg fell to the ground.”  [Chicago Tribune, February 8, 1894]

The case would remain news for the following three years, ultimately reaching into the highest echelon of the service.  I’ll be returning to this story again and again.  It just gets weirder and weirder. 

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