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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 268: 'Fisticuffs and Whiskey' Prove Fatal"

Friday, June 10, 2011

During the Civil War, the excessive consumption of whiskey could and often did lead to fistfights between comrades of the Blue and comrades of the Gray. Occasionally, the result of a fistfight or quarrel could be fatal to one of the combatants, especially if he was drunk.

Such was the case of Pvt. William H. Gardner from company F of the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry Regiment. Apparently, Pvt. Gardner was a pugnacious individual, especially when he became drunk, which it appears that he often did.

Readers may recall that the death of Pvt. Gardner was included in a previous Battlefield Dispatch entitled "Tuff was Tough," when he (Gardner) made the fatal mistake of attacking and was shot to death by William Tough (Chief of Scouts) in Fort Scott, Kan., on July 28, 1863.

As has been mentioned before, historical research is often a circuitous journey and, therefore, this column is a prequel to the death of the pugnacious Pvt. Gardner because it contains descriptions of Gardner before his death. All of the sources are cited individually.

Journal of Capt. Charles W. Porter, copy of which is located at Fort Scott National Historic Site:

"Wednesday, April 15, 1863: Wm. Gardner, a member of my Company, had an attack of delirious tremors (condition of a soldier being drunk) this evening. He had been on a prolonged drunk of late and being an accomplished jig and clog dancer, he was furnished whiskey for an exhibition of these feats."

"Sunday, June 14, 1863: Wm. Gardner's wife came to our company this morning from Wisconsin. She says that she is willing to undergo the hardships of a soldier that she may be with her husband."

(Apparently, Gardner's wife did not cure him of his pugnacious habit of fist fighting because of the following entry.)

"Thursday, June 18, 1863: During the day a little excitement was occasioned by Wm. Gardner of my Co. and A.J. Shay of Co. L having a quarrel which terminated in a fight which resulted in the defeat and rout of Shay and amusement of those who witnessed the combat."

"Wednesday, July 29, 1863: On returning to camp (at Balltown, Mo.) I learned by some of the boys who had been to the Fort (Scott) that Wm. H. Gardner was shottwice in the forehead and killed by Capt. Tuff, a scout, last evening in a quarrel."

From Wiley, Britton, Memoirs of the Rebellion, pt. 2 (Chicago: Cushing, Thomas & Co.: 1882, P. 368.)

"On the 28th, W.S. Tough, Captain and Chief of Scouts, shot and killed a soldier on the street. It seems that the soldier was drunk and making some demonstration which led Tough to believe that he was endeavoring to draw his pistol."

From a letter by James Pond to Lyttleton Tough (William Tough's brother), April 4, 1901, Kansas Hist. Society, Topeka, Kan.

"Do you remember the day he (Tough) shot Bill Gardner, one of the most notorious and troublesome of my men at Fort Scott? He and you (Lyttleton Tough) were grooming your horses, just in from a long scout. Your brother had taken off his belt and revolver and hung them on a peg. He was working on his horse when some one saw Bill Gardner riding up with a drawn revolver and shouted ,"Look out Tough!"

Tough looked and saw he had not time to get his own revolvers hanging on the peg. He grabbed one from your holsters that was hanging on your hip and quicker than a flash of lightning shot Gardner dead! I witnessed the shot and decided it the greatest exhibition of presence of mind I ever saw. In 10 seconds, he would have been shot. Of course, my having witnessed the scene and the bad reputation of Gardner, no one thought of disturbing Capt. Tough."

Captain Tough was tried and acquitted by a court martial as the killing of Pvt. Gardner was committed in self defense. It is not known what happed to Pvt. Gardner's wife, and the pugnacious Gardner would not fight the enemy, or be engaged in fisticuffs with his comrades in Blue anymore.

His remains were buried in Section 1: grave no. 168 in the Fort Scott National Cemetery and, of course, the war went on.

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches