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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum

A Chaplain Vindicated? It Ain't Necessarily So

Saturday's posting of the story about the ceremony honoring Chaplain Henry V. Plummer underscores, I believe, some of the basic rules serious history researchers should follow, or in this case, rules that seemed to have been ignored.
. It ain't necessairly so just because it says so in a newspaper
. It sure ain't necessairly so because some relative/advocate says it is
. Before you open your mouth or turn to your pen, typewriter or computer to comment about "history", it is a pretty good idea to be well-acquainted with the story as found in the primary research sources.
. Finally, it ain't necessairly so just because it is found in a primary source.

Back to the Plummer posting. I think it is a safe bet that the reporter who covered the ceremony never read the decision of the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records which granted Plummer a posthumous honorable discharge. I'm also guessing that the relatives/supporters quoted by this reporter had not read the report, or had not read it carefully, and were just repeating what they had heard/been told.

Well, in the interest of telling the whole story--or another side of it--and also to stir things up a bit--here are the actual words from the board's decision (capitalization is mine for emphasis).

For those of you who don't want to read much further, here's a good summary of the case from a Feb 9, 2005 letter from the director of the army board to the attorney who filed the review petition on behalf of Plummer's great nephew. This petition requested a "correction of the general court-martial and sentence of dismissal by removing them from Chaplain Plummer's military record, including a correction to reflect an honorable discharge..."

After reviewing the petition, the board recommended in late November, 2004:
"Plummer's dismissal from the service be upgraded to an honorable discharge, AS A MATTER OF FAIRNESS. Despite his conviction by court-martial, the Board considered Chaplain Plummer's extensive record of long and distinguished service, includidng service in the United States navy during the Civil War, in making its decision."


"...the Board DECLINED TO OVERTURN his conviction by court-martial. The Board CONSIDERED THE ENTIRE RECORD OF THE COURT-MARTIAL, including the testimony of the witnesses for and against Chaplain Plummer. IT CONCLUDED THAT THE WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE SUPPORTED THE VERDICT."

This recommendation was approved up the review chain of command and resulted in the ceremony honoring Plummer as reported in the newspaper article posting on this site.

Translation: the baby was split: the court-martial verdict stands, but Plummer gets a posthumous honorable discharge.

I strikes me that there is a disconnect in logic with this result: but I'll gladly leave resolution to lawyers, advocates and politicians.

For those few who would like to drive deeper into this story, here are additional passages from the army board's 45-page decision:

[On applying today's social/legal stadards to a l894 court-martial]
"To equate society's mores then with the current rules laid down by society is neither desirable or possible. To do so would open the dfoor to unlimited challenges and re-arguments based on changing values and viewpoints, with NO DECISION EVER BEING FINAL."

[was the court-martial fair or tainted by racial bias]
"...THE EVIDENCE IS NOT THERE TO PROVE THAT THE CHAPLIAN WAS TREATED UNFAIRLY OR UNJUSTLY in the preferral of the investigation of the charges, the court-martial proceedings, conviction, review of the proceedings, or his ultimate dismissal from the army. THERE IS NO ERROR IN THIS CASE OF AN INJUSTICE DONE THE CHAPLAIN. THE PREPONDERANCE OF EVIDENCE DOES NOT SUPPORT COUNSEL'S CONTENTION OF INJUSTICE."

[on approving an honorable discharge]
" due consideration to the Chaplian's service to his country--during the Civil War and the Indian wars, his conduct after his dismissal from the army, his patriotism and his willingness to service his country again during time of war, IT WOULD BE ALTOGETHER FITTING TO REMOVE THE STIGMA CONNECTED WITH HIS DISMISSAL FROM THE SERVICE."

[the board concluded its report as follows}
" would be APPROPRIATE AND JUST to correct the Chaplain's records to show he was honorably discharged from the Army on November l0, 1894, as a MATTER OF EQUITY."



Again: the baby was split.

The posted article makes it clear that some Plummer supporters are not pleased with this result and it seems that they will continue to push for total official vindication.

Some would insist that a record of claimed injustice needs to be cortrected. Others resist, insisting that history can not be changed.
My two cents worth--whatever happens will nether correct or change anything--but it will add to and enlarge the story. And this is fine by me.

So, here's my personal bon chance to the Plummer folks. Keep pushing, demand a change of venue, insist on new judges. Maybe you will find vindication--but maybe only frustration and disappointment. I just hope I'm around long enough to observe the unfolding of the full cycle of this tale.

Tom Phillips

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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