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.
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:
"...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]
[was the court-martial fair or tainted by racial bias]
[on approving an honorable discharge]
[the board concluded its report as follows}
"there is, however, NO ERROR OR INJUSTICE IN THIS CASE WITH REFERENCE TO THE RECORD OF TRIAL BY COURT-MARTIAL. CONSEQUENTLY THE REQUEST TO REMOVE THE RECORD OF TRIAL BY COCURT-MARTIAL FROM OFFICIAL MILITARY RECORDS IS NOT GRANTED."
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.
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.
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