John D. Starbird
of Company K was one of the three deserters who returned with the regiment.
The charges against him had been placed on file on condition that he serve faithfully to the end of the war. While he had promised to do this, he did not intend to, and was only kept in battle at the Wilderness
by fear of death from the officers.
On the 18th he deserted while under fire, was captured the 19th, tried by drum-head court-martial the 20th, and ordered to be shot at 7 A. M. on the 21st.
Early in the morning of that day Adjutant Curtis
came to me and said, “Jack
, you are detailed to take charge of the shooting of Starbird
I was not pleased with the order, and Captain Mumford
, who was ever ready to do a kind act for a friend, exchanged duty with me, I going on picket for him. The detail consisted of eight men from our regiment.
Their muskets were loaded by Captain Mumford
, seven with ball cartridges, one with a blank.
was seated on his coffin, blindfolded.
The order was given to fire.
Six shots struck him near the heart; the other musket hung fire, and the ball entered his leg. He died at once.
Those who read this, and do not understand the situation at the time, may think the killing of Starbird
unjust and cruel, but it was not. At that time there were in the ranks of every regiment, men who had no interest in the cause.
They had enlisted for the bounty, and did not intend to render any service.
They not only shirked duty, but their acts and conversation were demoralizing good men. The shooting of Starbird
changed all this.
Men who had straggled and kept out of battle now were in the ranks, and the result to our corps alone was as good as if we had been re-enforced by a full regiment.