Joseph G. Sanders
Joseph G. Sanders
|Died||Circa 1866 (aged 37–38)|
DeKalb County, Georgia
|Allegiance|| Confederate States of America|
United States of America
|Service/|| Confederate States Army|
United States Army
|Years of service||1861–64 (CSA)|
|Rank|| Captain (CSA)|
Second Lieutenant (US)
|Unit|| 31st Georgia Volunteer Infantry|
1st Florida Cavalry (US)
- Seven Days Battle
- Second Battle of Bull Run
- Battle of Antietam
- Battle of Gettysburg
- Battle of Newton (Alabama)
Joseph G. Sanders was a soldier from the U.S. state of Alabama who served as a commissioned officer in both the Confederate and Union armies during the U.S. Civil War. After initially joining the 31st Georgia Infantry Regiment as a private in 1861, he was elected captain of Company C in that regiment a year later, fighting for the South until he resigned his commission in January 1864 and returned to Alabama, claiming ill health. Once he had returned home, Sanders switched sides and joined the 1st Regiment of Florida Cavalry (U.S.), where he obtained a provisional commission as a Second Lieutenant in F Company of that regiment. While it was not unprecedented for soldiers of one side to enlist in the army of the other, it was virtually unheard-of for an officer of one force to be commissioned in the other, once the war had begun.
Quickly establishing a reputation as a local "bushwacker," Sanders wreaked havoc with local 'Rebel' civilians—many of whom were his own neighbors—who accused him of stealing their horses, cattle and other possessions in contradiction of the laws of war. Sent on a recruiting mission in early 1865 into the Florida interior by his superior Brigadier General Alexander Asboth, Sanders disobeyed his orders and spent four months in the Forks of the Creek Swamp near Campbellton, Florida, from which he emerged on 14 March to attack the southern Alabama town of Newton. Defeated by local militiamen, Sanders returned to Federal lines where he managed to talk his way out of a court-martial and was permitted to resign his commission, after being characterized by Asboth as "grossly negligent" and "incompetent."
Early life and enlistment in 31st Georgia
Prior to the Civil War, Sanders worked as a millwright in rural Dale County, Alabama, where he was apparently well thought of by his neighbors. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in Company C of the 31st Georgia Infantry (known as "Captain Archer Griffith's Company of Mitchell Guards") on 9 October 1861, in Glennville, Alabama. Initially enlisting for twelve months, he re-enlisted in his same regiment on 13 April 1862 for "two years, or the war," by which time he held the rank of Third Sergeant in his unit and was paid a $50 bonus for signing on again. He was also given a forty-day furlough.
Commissioning and record
On 13 May 1862, Sgt. Sanders was elected to be the captain and commander of his company. He participated with his regiment in the Seven Days Battle, the Second Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Antietam, where he was wounded and was subsequently absent sick for 31 days in December 1862. Returning to his unit in January 1863, he accompanied them to Port Royal, Virginia, where he continued to serve until 20 July 1863 (just after the Battle of Gettysburg), when his health allegedly began to fail. Accordingly, he requested and obtained a medical furlough to return to his home in Dale County, which was granted on 9 October.
Resignation from Confederate service
Upon his return to Alabama, Sanders began work on a gristmill, which was welcomed by his neighbors as their area was described a being "quite destitute of mills." Accordingly, they drew up a petition to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, to ask that Sanders be allowed to resign his commission and remain at his home. Insisting that he was "patriotic and loyal," and that "only his ill health and shattered constitution keeps him away from his command," the signers earnestly pleaded that Davis approve Sanders' resignation from military service. Thirty-two citizens of Dale County signed the petition, including the Probate Judge, Daniel Carmichael, whose son Jesse had served as a corporal in the 15th Alabama Infantry, losing a hand at Antietam. Ironically, Jesse Carmichael would later play a pivotal role in Sanders' defeat when Sanders attacked his own hometown in March 1865—this time, while wearing the uniform of a Federal officer.
Captain Sanders' resignation was forwarded to his regimental commander, Colonel Evans, who recommended its approval:
No one knows for certain exactly what happened between 29 January and 5 July 1864, but for some reason, Joseph Sanders decided to do the unthinkable: not only did he switch sides and join the Federals, but he chose to accept an officer's commission, to boot. He was granted a provisional commission as a Second Lieutenant by Major General Nathaniel P. Banks on 5 July 1864, which he received on 17 July 1864 with orders to report for duty with Company F of the First Florida Cavalry (US) on 23 August, when the regiment was mustered in for Federal service in Florida. Sanders accordingly presented himself at the U.S. outpost at Barrancas, Florida, where he enrolled for a term of three years.
Sanders' Federal records indicate that he was commissioned "from civil life;" no mention is made anywhere in his U.S. file of his former Confederate service. Local histories insist that prior to obtaining this new commission, Sanders was facing conscription back into the Southern army; furthermore, say they, he had already become the leader of a local gang of deserters and Unionists who had begun to terrorize the citizens of lower Alabama.—many of whom had been his own friends and neighbors. "He was known to be a brave man," wrote Jesse Carmichael; "and as a result, his incursions into the county, and they were frequent, were very much dreaded."
Raid on Newton
Sanders' service with the 1st Florida Cavalry seems to have gone reasonably well until 25 February 1865, when he was ordered to take twenty men and proceed to the East Pass at Santa Rosa Island, where he was to recruit new soldiers for his regiment, as well as 'confiscate' cattle and horses belonging to 'Rebel' civilians in nearby Walton and Holmes counties. He was given fourteen days to perform this mission, after which he was ordered to return to Pensacola. Sanders had performed this duty the previous September, soon after joining his regiment.
But instead of obeying this directive, Sanders and his men made their way into the Forks of the Creek Swamp near Campbellton, where they hid out and waited for an opportunity to attack the small town of Newton, which was then the county seat of Dale County. Sanders knew that the courthouse there contained records of his former Confederate service (and those of other men in his unit), and he apparently wished to destroy them. He and his men accordingly set out for Newton on the evening of 14 March 1865, but their movement was detected, and the citizens of the town were given advance warning. Jesse Carmichael, the one-handed veteran whose father had attested the petition sent to Jefferson Davis on Sanders' behalf the previous Autumn, quickly organized the local Home Guard to oppose his one-time neighbor.
Though Captain Joseph Breare—the Home Guard commander—attempted to take charge of the town's defense, Carmichael defied his orders to gather on the west side of the courthouse square, and instead posted himself and nine friends east of the square, where they ambushed Sanders and his troop as they rode into town. Opening up on them simultaneously in the darkness from in front and behind, the ten Newtonians managed to scare Sanders' men bad enough that they bolted for the edge of town and rode off into the night. The courthouse at Newton was saved, and though completely unimportant in the larger scheme of things, Carmichael and his men could still claim that they'd whipped a 'Yankee' outfit four times their size.
Return to Pensacola and resignation
Having been absent without leave for four months by the time he returned to Pensacola—and with only eight men—in June 1865, Sanders found himself accused of desertion from the Federal Army, a capital offense. He was equally accused of having "become a terror to the people of west Florida" with his "armed gang of deserters." Asked to explain himself, Sanders ingeniously asserted that sore feet, sickness among his troops, an alleged enemy force of "700 Rebels", lack of provider and rising floodwaters all conspired to keep him from returning to Pensacola at the time specified in his orders. Unable to disprove his statements, the investigators were left with no choice but to exonerate him.
On 20 July 1865, Joseph Sanders resigned his commission in the U.S. Army, citing concerns for the welfare and safety of his family, who were still living in Dale County. As had happened previously when he resigned his Confederate commission, Sanders' request to leave the service was endorsed by his superiors. Sanders' resignation took effect on 13 September 1865, with the discharge granted "for the good of the service."
Brig. General Asboth, in making his final recommendation for approval, made this statement:
After the war, according to Jessie Carmichael, Joseph Sanders returned to Dale County. Several local citizens, including a man named George Echol, tried to arrest Sanders at his home, "doubtless underrating his courage," Carmichael wrote. Having previously warned them against making any such attempts, Sanders shot and killed Echol, and the would-be posse dispersed. Fleeing to Decatur County, Georgia, Sanders built a mill and seemed to have escaped his enemies, until he was murdered there sometime after the war—allegedly, by Echol's father, another Dale County judge.
- Official Confederate Records of Joseph G. Sanders, muster-in roll.
- The Raid on Newton.
- Official U.S. Military Record of Joseph G. Sanders, statement by Brigadier General Asboth, indicating that Sanders was not guilty (in his opinion) of any "criminality," but that he was guilty of "gross neglect and incompetency to fill a position as a commissioned officer," and recommended his discharge "for the good of the service."
- Official Confederate Records of Joseph G. Sanders, petition from Dale County citizens to Jefferson Davis, requesting favorable consideration of Sanders' resignation of commission.
- Official Confederate Records of Joseph G. Sanders, muster-in roll indicating enlistment under Cpt. Archer in Glennville, Alabama.
- Official Confederate Records of Joseph G. Sanders, bounty pay and receipt roll.
- Official Confederate Records of Joseph G. Sanders, regimental return dated April 1862.
- Official Confederate Records of Joseph G. Sanders, roster card.
- Official Confederate Records of Joseph G. Sanders, regimental return dated May 1862.
- Official Confederate Records of Joseph G. Sanders, List of killed, wounded and missing in Ewell's division.
- Official Confederate Records of Joseph G. Sanders, monthly report dated December 1862.
- Official Confederate Records of Joseph G. Sanders, monthly report dated 31 January 1863.
- Official Confederate Records of Joseph G. Sanders, Medical Directors Office register.
- Official Confederate Records of Joseph G. Sanders, Special Orders #269-12.
- Official Confederate Records of Joseph G. Sanders, Recommendations concerning resignation of Cpt. Joseph G. Sanders.
- Official Confederate Records of Joseph G. Sanders, Company Muster Roll dated 5 October 1864, with resignation and date annotated.
- Official U.S. Military Record of Joseph G. Sanders, Muster-in Roll for 1st Florida Cavalry, pg. 2.
- Official U.S. Military Record of Joseph G. Sanders, Muster Roll for 1st Florida Cavalry, pg. 1.
- The Battle of Newton, by Dale Cox.
- Official U.S. Military Records of Joseph G. Sanders, Special Orders #39, dated 20 February 1865; original operational order issued to Sanders.
- Official U.S. Military Record of Joseph G. Sanders, Special Orders 149, Dated 16 June 1865, regarding absence of 2LT Joseph Sanders, amended by statement made 24 July 1865 by Adjutant General Theodore Markle.
- Official U.S. Military Record of Joseph G. Sanders, statement of Joseph G. Sanders relative to his initial muster.
- Official U.S. Military Record of Joseph G. Sanders, Special Orders 149, Dated 16 June 1865, regarding absence of 2LT Joseph Sanders.
- Official U.S. Military Record of Joseph G. Sanders, Special Orders dated June 3, 1865, listing Lt. Sanders specifically as a deserter and ordering his arrest.
- Official U.S. Military Record of Joseph G. Sanders, official statement of Joseph G. Sanders on his prolonged absence. No mention whatsoever was made of the attack on Newton.
- Official U.S. Military Records of Joseph G. Sanders, statement of Cpt. Francis Lyon, investigating officer.
- Official U.S. Military Record of Joseph G. Sanders, resignation of Joseph G. Sanders.
- Official U.S. Military Record of Joseph G. Sanders, endorsements of proffered resignation of Joseph G. Sanders.
- Official U.S. Military Record of Joseph G. Sanders, Discharge certificate of Joseph G. Sanders.
- Battle of Newton Website. Local website contains history of the battle, plus photos and info on periodic reenactments.