When the great issue was joined and a fight to a finish was on , Major Wham carried his books home, gave up his college course and joined the 21st Illinois, of which, largely through his efforts, U. S. Grant became Colonel. He served through the entire war with that regiment, giving, as his comrades say on the accompanying badge: "Four years and ten months of his own young life to save the Republic's Life, and counted by days, fought in forty-two battles, namely, Chickamauga, Stone River, Chattanooga, Kenesaw Mountain, Jonesboro, Perryville, Atlanta, Corinth, Franklin, Nashville, and others. Major Wham's first honor was in being detailed as safeguard by Colonel U.S. Grant in person . His character as a soldier, however, was best told by his Captain's order, "Send Wham; he never misses a meal or a battle."
Not only during the Great War was this true, but in the mountain gorges of Arizona, when he held his men to their duty in defense of the government funds, until all save one were shot; and all save Major Wham, on his recommendation, honored with certificates of merit or medals of honor. Major Wham was recommended by his Corps and Division Commanders, General Stanley and Kimball, for the medal of honor, for springing over the works at Franklin and going to the rescue of a fallen comrade; and at Nashville, for placing the colors of his regiment first on Montgomery Hill, graphically portrayed by the accompanying badge, made and circulated by his comrades of Grant's regiment. He was appointed First Lieutenant of his company for long and faithful service and gallantry. He was finally mustered out with his regiment at San Antonio, Texas, where it had gone immediately after the war, with the Fourth Corps, to make a demonstration in favor of the struggling patriots of Mexico.
He was then appointed on the recommendation of his old Colonel -Grant--a Second Lieutenant of the 25th U.S. Infantry, with which he served until he was detailed as Indian Agent, at the time President Grant determined to relieve the civilian Indian Agents by army officers, and as such gathered the Nez Perces, the Bannocks, the Shoshones, the Cheyennes, the Arapahoes, and the Sioux from the war-path and the chase, being more Indians than even General Harney ever handled, onto reservations, turning them over in peace and quiet, to the Indian Department, with serious entreaties to Secretary Delano as to their future treatment, which, being disregarded, brought on a bloody and costly war with all these Indians, save the Bannocks and Shoshones, but bringing to Major Wham vindication in the shape of an appointment as Paymaster during the last hours of President Grant's' last administration, and confirmation by the Senate on motion of Senator Logan, without "reference to the military committee".
Major Wham resigned his commission as Lieutenant, U.S.A., and was appointed Register of the Land at Salt Lake City, but, preferring to remain at home, accepted the Wardenship of the Illinois Penitentiary at Joliet. This institution had formerly cost the State annually $300,000, but, strictly adhering to the merit system, rigid honesty and economy, Major Wham made it an annual net revenue to the State of nearly $40,000, being the only large prison in the world that ever has, before or since, paid a net revenue. Until Major Wham's appointment as Major and Paymaster in the Army, as previously stated, there was no censure--nothing but honors faithfully and heroically won; but, after this appointment, he seems to have had a good deal of trouble, which on its face looks bad, but, when dispassionately examined, his record bears an entirely different appearance, his mistakes, if mistakes at all, being mainly in the direction of better protection for his Government funds. For instance, he was court-martialed for "conduct contrary to good order and military discipline", at Fort Laramie.
The facts in the case were that Major Wham was camped with $34,000 of Government funds in the open prairie, a half mile from the Fort. He received an order at dark to return his escort to the Post, which would have left his funds unprotected in a country terrorized by highwaymen to such a degree, as Major Seaton and others testified, that on one occasion the troops were "turned out". Major Wham, instead of complying with this order, wrote a letter to the Post Commander couched in the most respectful terms, explaining the situation. The Post Commander immediately became excited and sent Captain, now Colonel, Bubb, with a company of infantry and a troop of cavalry with which to enforce the execution of his order; but, as Colonel Bubb swears, force was not needed, he having left his company fifty yards behind, where it could not be seen by the Paymaster, the troop of cavalry not yet having arrived. Captain Bubb testifies in the clearest and most positive manner as to the execution of the order without even a show of force, Major Wham having said when told by Captain Bubb that he (Bubb) had been directed by the Post Commander to return his (Wham's) escort to the Post. "Very well, sir," and immediately called the Sergeant and ordered him to report to Captain Bubb. The following morning the Post Commander ordered Major Wham to come to the Post, where it is in evidence that both Major Wham and the Post Commander became somewhat excited, the Post Commander saying, " You cannot command your own escort ", to which Major Wham replied, " Pooh! Pooh! Pooh!". The Post Commander then said, " Do you dare to treat me with disrespect? "to which Major Wham replied, " I respect you, Sir, but not your opinion in this matter, " the opinion being clearly wrong, as admitted by Major Evans, the Post Commander, in his testimony given before the court. This fact was not only conceded by the Post Commander, but also the pivotal point of the whole trouble, namely, that if Major Wham had obeyed the order in the first instance, it would have left the $34,000 of public funds unprotected ; for Colonel Bubb, when he came over to return the escort to the Post, was directed by the Post Commander to detail a sufficient guard to protect the funds, which was not done in the first instance.
Had Major Wham complied with the Post Commander's order in the first instance, he would have escaped the humiliation of a court martial, but $34,000 of Government funds would have been left on the open prairie, unprotected, in a country absolutely terrorized, as shown by Major Seaton's testimony, by highwaymen, the garrison, even, on one occasion being turned out to resist them.
Years after this, General Horace Porter and the Illinois Delegation joined in a recommendation for Major Wham's promotion to Paymaster General, and, after stating his record on the firing line in Grant's regiment, concluded with these words:
"It was such yeoman service as this, that kept our flag in the air and the nation on the map of the world. There can be no just comparison of such service with that rendered in a safe and comfortable office, remote from the sound of battle."
This recommendation, filed January, 1890, seems to have, as pointed out Congressmen Cannon, Connelly, Lanham, and Jehu Baker, when the bill for Major Wham's relief was under discussion, brought upon Major Wham a bitter persecution, for in May following a communication addressed to the Secretary of War through the Paymaster-General, asking for additional security for Major Wham's public funds, was received by the Paymaster-General May 7th, held for ten days, a "paster" placed over the original date of receipt, restamped May 17th and returned to Major Wham without apparently being shown to the Secretary of War. Had this letter been delivered to the Secretary of War, it would have made Major Wham's trial at Tucson, which followed almost immediately, in direct violation of Paragraph 945, Army Regulations, 1889, and immemorial usage, namely, "that no injustice be done, the imputation,"must be referred for remark to the officer against whom the imputation is made; more of a travesty on justice than it afterwards turned out to be.
The allegations against Major Wham on this trial were, that he entered into a conspiracy with the Quartermaster to get Major Wham's office place in a room in Major Wham's house, thereby curtailing his own rental; whereas, it was clearly shown on the trial of the Quartermaster that Major Wham, instead of conspiring, had openly written an official letter to the Quartermaster and without in any way alluding to the price, had followed an old and a universal custom, not only at Tucson, but all over the frontier, asked that, for the better protection of the Government funds, without a moments discussion, instantly acquitted without putting a witness on the stand.
It is, therefore, very difficult to understand the remark which President Harrison in reviewing the case was led to make, namely, that he "thought" that an advantage had been gained over the government by Major Wham in the transaction.
Major Wham seems to have shown good judgment as to public funds, and much personal discomfort for himself and family in this matter, for it was only a short time until in this same territory he fought for his funds until every man in his escort save one was shot.
But, being instantly and unanimously acquitted, without putting a witness on the stand, other means to ruin or degrade must be found . So on his last two payments in the Department of Arizona, that he might certainly be "shattered mentally and physically," he was compelled, without the shadow of an excuse, to pay one-tenth of the entire Army on one trip and one-twelfth on the other, though there were at that time 54 members of the pay department. However, no relief came until Major Wham fainted in an effort to continue this wholly unnecessary over-work. But, after a severe and dangerous prostration, due to over-work, as two attending physicians certified, he still lived, though his health was badly broken and his eyes were permanently injured.
We have high words of commendation from Major Wham's department commanders, Major-Generals Hancock, McCook, Carlin, and Otis, namely:
"Major Wham performed his duties in a courteous and satisfactory manner, promptly and most excellently. There were none better."
Chief Paymaster on staff of
"Major Wham performed his duties in a prompt, courteous and satisfactory manner."
Alexander McDowell McCook
"Major Wham attended promptly, courteously and satisfactorily to his duties."
Brig. Gen. And Brevet. Major-General, U. S. A.
But, in face of this superb standing with officers, too, with whom he came in daily contact, Paymaster-General Smith wrote a letter, which was filed in violation of Par. 945, Army Regulations, to the Secretary of War, and, after numerous hearsay's and insinuations as to Major Wham's honesty, sanity and reliability as an official which he admits in that same letter a court would reject, he recommends a "star chamber proceeding", namely, that Major Wham be spied upon by the Medical Department, which was done to determine his mental condition , and says that he would be glad if Major Wham could be wholly retired by any instrumentality. Broken mentally and physically; eminent oculists in doubt as to whether he would be blind in three or six months, for all of which Paymaster-General Smith was directly responsible, yet he recommends that Major Wham be "wholly retired by any instrumentality ".
But, after years of expense, suffering and doubt, Major Wham still lived, neither blind, a physical wreck, nor insane, so Assistant Secretary Doe was induced to convene a court which convicted Major Wham of refusing to pay a debt that, to quote the military committee, he " axiomatically did not owe", namely, " It certainly has been axiomatically proven, if not demonstrated, that Major Wham did not owe this money
Major Wham was convicted by the court-martial and sentenced to dismissal, which was afterwards commuted, for refusing to pay D.C. Holcomb $1,000. On the trial it was shown by the evidence of the Treasurer and Secretary of the mining company of which Major Wham was President and D.C. Holcomb General Manager, through the business of which the claim originated, that no such transaction as Holcomb alleged could or did occur. It was also shown by the witnesses, and not denied, that Major Wham had lost everything by a flood in Arizona and could not have paid the debt had it been just
I am utterly unable to understand what bearing Major Wham's civilian record; his petty difficulties during a long service--Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Howard, Young, and Corbin each had troubles more or less serious--the sun itself has spots--has on the question at issue, namely, Did he owe D.C. Holcomb $1,000 as to which the Military Committee sums up as follows:
"Now, add to this the abrogation on both trials of the rule of law requiring a fact to be proven by the best evidence, which, in this case, is the express receipt or record, registered receipt or letter, or check, which would necessarily bear Major Wham's endorsement, and we are unable to see how any earthly power could make Major Wham's vindication clearer. It certainly has been axiomatically proven, if not demonstrated, that Major Wham did not owe this money."
But it seems that the Judge-Advocate-General thinks that these things do have a bearing, so I have taken much trouble and pains to follow Major Wham's record through to the present, and I tender the result. There is one thing, however, that I do understand thoroughly--is unquestionable, stands out boldly--and that is that a soldier, after a faithful and heroic service of nearly forty years, having met every requirement of duty, until fainting from sheer exhaustion in its discharge; having accurately and faithfully accounted for millions of public funds; having been commended by Secretary Proctor, Judge Sloan, Marshal Meade, District Attorney Jeffords and the Grand Jury for his " courage, fidelity and skill"in defense of the public funds when ambuscaded by highwaymen more than doubling the strength of his own force; having been commended by his commanding officers, Grant, Hancock, Howard, McCook, Carlin, Otis, Stanley and Kimball, in peace and in war; having been repeatedly recommended for the medal of honor by corps and division commanders for heroic acts of gallantry during a tremendous struggle; having been selected by vote of his company for the "corps elite--bravest of the brave"--organized by Rosecrans; having received since his misfortunes the universal sympathy, cheer and support of his comrades from the smallest Grand Army Post to the National Encampment at Cleveland ; having been persecuted, as alleged and not denied on the floor of the House, has been unjustly deprived of rank and pay after the Congress has unanimously voted, " on axiomatic evidence", that he is entitled to both.
After a thorough consideration of this case, I am seriously of the opinion that the President should, as a matter of justice to Major Wham, take action under the law approved July 8, 1898, herewith, which would give to him the rank on the retired list first, of Lieutenant- Colonel, and afterwards Colonel, with pay from approval of the act; or promise, for the comfort of this gallant and faithful old soldier, his family and creditors, that he would approve a bill for his relief at the next session of Congress. Restoration to duty is out of the question on account of Major Wham's age.
I have the honor to be,
Very Respy. Yours,
John C. Black,
Chairman Civil Service Commission
and Commander in Chief, G.A.R.