False Accusations: The Curious Court Martial of Colonel Bernard Laiboldt

On April 14, 1862 in the Army of the Southwest’s encampment near Forsyth, Missouri, Colonel Bernard Laiboldt stood trial. As commander of the Second Missouri Infantry Regiment, Laiboldt was charged with a count of “Misbehavior before the enemy & running away” and “conduct unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman.” His military career hung in the balance as his fellow officers determined his fate.

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A Harper’s Weekly depiction of a court martial. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

A German immigrant, Bernard Laiboldt was born in the Grand Duchy of Baden, the German Confederation’s southwestern region, in 1827. At the age of six, he and his family emigrated to the United States and settled in the booming western city of St. Louis, Missouri, like many other German families. He was quick to call his new-found country and city home; in 1846, he volunteered in the First Missouri St Louis Legion, Company F, and would later join the Third Missouri Santa Fe Infantry. Following his service in the Mexican War, Laiboldt joined the Missouri Riflemen Militia Company in St. Louis in 1852. His leadership, military experience, connection with the German community, and his love of country lead him to command the militia company as captain. Just before the outbreak of the Civil War, Laiboldt’s men presented him a custom officer’s presentation sword and scabbard, which the scabbard is now in the collection of the Missouri Civil War Museum.

On August 1, 1861, Bernard Laiboldt enlisted in the Second Missouri Infantry Regiment and was quickly elected Lieutenant Colonel, with fellow militia commander Frederich Schaefer as Colonel. The men of the Second Missouri Infantry consisted primarily of ethnic Germans, who had previously fought in the 1848 Revolutions and in Lyon’s Home Guard units of early 1861. The majority of these German troops transferred from the Second Missouri Infantry Three-Month regiment. Their first major battle was at Pea Ridge, Arkansas from March 6-8, 1862, where Laiboldt’s honor and courage was questioned.

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An original court martial document from Laiboldt’s case. Courtesy of the National Archives.

The charge of “Misbehavior before the enemy & running away,” was due to Laiboldt “in the presence of the enemy did leave and run away from said Regiment in precipice flight and caused a portion of the 2nd Reg. Inf. Volts. to disperse by his command” on March 6, 1862. Though nearly all of the Second Missouri’s company commanders were called as witnesses to the incident at Pea Ridge, Laiboldt’s performance at Pea Ridge was commended by his superiors. Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth of the Second Division wrote in his report, “I have especially to mention the gallant conduct of Colonel Schaefer, Lieutenant-Colonel Laibold [sic], and Lieutenant Chapman.” Asboth also reinforces this by writing in another report over one week later, “I have to especially mention the gallant conduct of Colonel Schaefer, Lieutenant-Colonel Laibold, and the commander of the Second Ohio Battery, Lieutenant Chapman. They united coolness and energy and daring.” No where else in the official records is Laiboldt’s performance reported in a negative light, as seen in the Court Martial.

The second charge against Laiboldt was “Conduct unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman,” which happened on the same day as the Court Martial trial. In the tent of Captain Charles W. Doer (also spelled Dorr), Laiboldt reportedly entered “very excited, and called said Capt. Doer a son of a bitch, told him, that he could and would lick him, broke a table with [illegible] and fist, called him out to a fist fight, and used other language toward him to [sic] obscene and vulgar to mention here.” What is interesting is that Capt. Doer was the soldier who questioned Laiboldt’s honor. On March 16, 1862, Doer wrote a “false report of the late battle,” which included an ask for investigation against Laiboldt. On April 6, 1862, Laiboldt placed Doer under arrest. On April 24, just ten days after the Court Martial trial, Doer resigned his captaincy from the Second Missouri Infantry.

The charges against Laiboldt were dropped, and Doer’s arrest by Laiboldt was also rescinded.

Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Laiboldt’s record for the remainder of the war remained virtually unscathed, especially following the mortal wounding of Schaefer at the Battle of Stones River later that year. Laiboldt was immediately placed commander of the Second Missouri Infantry and promoted to colonel. General Phillip Sheridan wrote that he “had performed efficient service and shown much capacity in the recent campaign.” At Chickamauga, Laiboldt commanded a brigade in Sheridan’s division and once again performed well in combat, just like he did at Perryville and Dalton. On November 25, 1863, Laiboldt was wounded during the Battle of Chattanooga, and would be relieved of duty on December 8, 1864.

Not much is known about Laiboldt’s life after the war, except that he served as the St. Louis Police Commissioner in 1865. He later served as the St. Louis County Marshal. Unfortunately, there is no record of his life beyond the 1860s. Laiboldt and his wife Louisa are buried in St. Louis at Saint Matthew Cemetery.


Sources: 
1. Compiled Service Record of Bernard Laiboldt, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.  
2. David A. Powell, The Chickamauga Campaign: Glory or the Grave, The Breakthrough, Union Collapse, and the Retreat to Chattanooga, September 20-23, 1863 (El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2015), 181.
3. Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis, Vol. III, edited by William Hyde and Howard L. Conard (New York: The Southern History Company, 1899), 1510.
4. Compiled Service Record of Bernard Laiboldt, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.
5. Alexander Asboth, “Report of Brig. Gen. Asboth, U.S. Army, commanding Second Division,” March 8, 1862, in War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, ser. 1, vol. 8, 239.
6. Asboth, Report, March 16, 1862, in OR, ser. 1, vol. 8, 241.
7. Compiled Service Record of Bernard Laiboldt, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.
8. Compiled Service Record of Charles W. Doer, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.
9. Phillip Sheridan, Personal Memoirs of P.H. Sheridan (New York: Charles L. Webster & Company, 1888), ebook.


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