Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Asleep On Duty

Union soldier William Scott died April 17th 1862, he was pardoned by Abraham Lincoln for falling asleep on duty, and became known as the “Sleeping Sentinel”.

William Scott was born about 1840 in Groton, Vermont.

Scott joined the 3rd Vermont in St Johnsbury, Vermont.  While stationed at Chain Bridge near Washington, DC, he was found on August 31st 1861 asleep while on duty.  Scott was court martialed and sentenced to be executed.  There were appeals made to his superiors to stay the execution which was scheduled to take place on September 9th 1861.  Scott was already placed in front of a firing squad and his death sentence read, when a pardon arrived from President Abraham Lincoln.

Scott was sent back to his unit in the 3rd Vermont.  His was wounded during the Battle of Lee’s Mills.  He died from his wounds April 17th 1862 and is buried in the National Cemetery at Yorktown, Virginia.

The pardon reads, “Private William Scott, of Company K. of the Third regiment of Vermont volunteers, having been found guilty by court martial of sleeping on his post while a sentinel on picket guard, has been sentenced to be shot, and the sentence has been approved and ordered to be executed. The commanding officers of the brigade, the regiment and the company, of the command, together with many other privates and officers of his regiment, have earnestly appealed to the Major-General commanding, to spare the life of the offender, and the President of the United States has expressed a wish that as this is the first condemnation to death in this army for this crime, mercy may be extended to the criminal. This fact, viewed in connection with the inexperience of the condemned as a soldier, his previous good conduct and general good character, and the urgent entreaties made in his behalf, have determined the Major-General commanding to grant the pardon so earnestly prayed for. This act of clemency must not be understood as affording a precedent for any future case. The duty of a sentinel is of such a nature, that its neglect by sleeping upon or deserting his post may endanger the safety of a command, or even of the whole army, and all nations affix to the offence the penalty of death. Private William Scott of Co. K. of the Third regiment of Vermont volunteers will be released from confinement and returned to duty.”

Two web sites that I recommend if you are interested in more information are William Scott, The Sleeping Sentinel and THE STORY OF GROTON'S HISTORICAL SLEEPING SENTINEL


TechFun said...

Mr. Scott's name became well known beyond Vermont. This is an excerpt from "HISTORY OF THE FIRST REGIMENT OF HEAVY ARTILLERY MASSACHUSETTS VOLUNTEERS FORMERLY THE FOURTEENTH REGIMENT OF INFANTRY 1861—1865." - one of the Northeastern Regimental histories digitized by Accessible Archives.

"The first of many similar distressing incidents of army life was noted on the fourth, when Private William Scott of the 3d Vermont was tried for sleeping on his picket post; was condemned and sentenced to be shot; General McClellan approved the action of the court martial, but, owing to the general cry for mercy that went up from the public and army, sustained by the request of the President himself, the order was countermanded and the offending boy returned to duty."

LivingInVermont said...

Thanks for sharing this information.

Jane D. said...

I especially like the illustration (with Lincoln in the carriage in the background)Where did this picture come from?