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How John Burns Got Shot

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Not all the men of the Delaware Infantry were quiet, well behaved soldiers. Like any large group of individuals, there were at least a few who got into trouble. Take the case of Private John Burns, another member of Captain Stricker’s Company A of the 2nd Delaware. What follows is taken from Burns’ Combined Service Records and historic newspapers, both held in the collections of the Delaware Public Archives.

John Burns enlisted, as Cyrus had, in May of 1861. He was living at the time in Wilmington and was 23 years old, having been born circa 1838 in Roscommon, Ireland. Burns was described in the Regimental Descriptive Book as 5 feet, 8 inches tall, of a fair complexion, with grey eyes and brown hair. His occupation was listed as “Hatter.”

The Delaware Journal and Statesman newspaper of August 16, 1861, explains how Private Burns was shot:

SHOT — Private Burns of Capt. Striker’s [sic] Company, Second Delaware Regiment, obtained a pass to come into this city on Saturday morning, when he got drunk, became noisy and disorderly, and was consequently arrested by the police, and placed in the city cells. A Sergeant was sent after him, and from thence he was taken to camp, and placed in the guard house with others. An order was given after dinner to bring out the offenders and put them to work. Burns refused, and the corporal called in Capt. Moorehouse, the officer of the day. Capt. M. requested Burns to come out and go to work, but B. positively declined. The Captain told him he must obey or he would be forced to resort to violent measures to compel obedience. at this the man threatened defiance, and placed his hand in his pocket as though he intended to draw a knife, when Capt. M. fired a pistol at him, the ball taking effect in the fleshy part of the left arm and glancing into the side buried itself under the skin. Drs. Bullock and White extracted the ball, dressed the wounds and the man is doing well.

In December of 1861, Private Burns was listed as “in confinement” at Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, Maryland. His service records note that this was “for drunkenness, general bad conduct and worthlessness.”

In April of 1864, Private Burns was listed as a “straggler” in Philadelphia and was given $3.09 to get back to Washington DC to rejoin his Company, that amount to be “stopped from his pay.”

Columbian College Hospital, Washington DC, Courtesy of the Library of CongressOn July 8, 1864, Private John Burns was charged with Larceny and Absence Without Leave while a patient at Columbian College Hospital in Washington, DC. According to the list of “charges and specifications” submitted for general court martial, Burns stole from a fellow patient on July 3:

Private John Burns Co. A, 2nd Regt., Del Vols., a patient in Columbian College Hospital, Washington D.C., did take from one of the wards of said hospital a silver watch valued at twenty three dollars ($23.00) belonging to Private Nathan Bresser, Co. I, 1st Regt., Maine Heavy Artillery, while the said Bresser was asleep in his bed without the knowledge or consent of the said Bresser.

Burns was also charged with leaving the hospital that day “without the proper authority” and heading into Washington DC  where he was “arrested by the patrol and confined in Central Guard House.”

By the end of July, 1864, Private Burns was listed as a Deserter. It’s the final entry in his service records.

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