Inefficient and Worthless: A Brief Story of One Civil War Captain

Approved and forwarded. The acceptance of this resignation will be for the benefit of the service.


Those few words do not appear to be meant as a compliment to the person leaving his position, and, in this case, appearance was certainly accurate.


Captain Harvey William Sutton had been born on November 1, 1826 in Ohio and by 1860 lived in Newport, Kentucky with his wife and two children. At that time, he was working as a merchant.


When the Civil War began, he enlisted in company G of the 27th Kentucky Infantry. He stood 5, feet 11.5 inches tall, with a dark complexion, dark hair, and black eyes. He was elected captain of this company on December 16, 1861.


The 27th Kentucky officially mustered into the army in March 1862 and remained in the Western Theater. It spent its first year in Kentucky and Tennessee, including fighting in the Battle of Shiloh. It took part in the siege and occupation of Corinth then marched through parts of Mississippi, northern Alabama, and middle Tennessee, before following Braxton Bragg’s Confederates into Kentucky, meeting them in another bloodbath at Perryville, the largest battle in the regiment’s home state. The 27th then spent several weeks in southern and western Kentucky as well as in Tennessee.


Harvey Sutton had witnessed and escaped from these marches and battles uninjured, but not all was well in his world, as he explained in a letter to the Assistant Adjutant General on December 1 (emphasis included on original):


I hereby respectfully resign, unconditionally, my commission as Captain in the 27th Regiment Ky. Vols, for the following reasons:


First- The unsettled condition of my private business absolutely requires my personal attention without further delay in order to save myself and family from great pecuniary loss.


Second – The business affairs I refer to are in the shape of Book accounts principally and I will have to collect or settle the same or the period I am allowed for doing so will shortly expire by limitation.


This letter found its way to Lieutenant Colonel John H. Ward who jotted down those lines that started this story: Approved and forwarded. The acceptance of this resignation will be for the benefit of the service.


When he forwarded this request to General Jeremiah Boyle, Ward was more specific (emphasis again in the original): Capt. H.W. Sutton whose resignation is herewith forwarded, has never since he was before Corinth done his duty as Captain. He shirked from his duty there, never going into the trenches or anywhere else with his Company. We believe him to be cowardly and know him to be wholy (sic) inefficient and worthless. He was so drunk in coming from Edgefield Junction on last month as to loose (sic) his Company for a day and night.


With that harshly written acceptance of his resignation, Sutton’s time in the 27th Kentucky officially ended.


He also apparently upset at least one newspaper editor back in civilian life. The Cincinnati Enquirer of September 26, 1863 included his name on a list of: pretended War Democrats, who, in this crisis, threw their influence in favor of the Administration in efforts to destroy free speech, a free press, and individual liberty, and sustained it in its policy to make of this republic a monarchy.


Sutton resumed his military career more than two years after his resignation, when he joined the 5th Ohio Cavalry as a sergeant in February of 1865. He received a promotion to Quartermaster Sergeant and then mustered out in October of the same year, bringing his military career to its conclusion.


Harvey Sutton lived until July 29, 1905, when he died in Erie County, Ohio. He lies at rest in Mount Moriah Cemetery in Clermont County, Ohio where his final military unit was memorialized on his headstone.

Photo courtesy of findagrave.com


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