George W. Dyer
May 17, 1863
In February, 1863, George Dyer became a Federal Paymaster of Volunteers, operating out of Washington, D.C. He had to pass an examination board, as the position required detailed knowledge of accounting procedures as well as familiarity with military record-keeping practices. It was an exacting job.
"Well, I’ll do it or burst," Dyer writes to Maine Adjutant General John Hodsdon.
Dyer, an attorney from Calais, gained experience as a paymaster for regiments in Maine, but in his new position was also responsible for units from New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and elsewhere.
The long delays in getting pay to soldiers in the field had been something of a scandal since the beginning of the War.
The soldiers could have some of their pay – an "allotment" - deducted and automatically sent to whomever they wished to designate. Late pay was troubling enough; even more worrisome were the equally long delays in getting the allotment money home to their dependant families or creditors.
Dyer pinpoints one reason for the delays: "Many of the paymasters ain’t worth shucks."
He adds, "In regard to allotments, there is a lot of labor which can only be done after all the payments are made, and the rolls examined & all fixed up for account and vouching. Paymasters naturally take their own time for a work which is onerous…."
Dyer also writes to Hodsdon knowingly of Colonel Leppien. George Francis Leppien, the son of a wealthy Philadelphia merchant, had studied at a Prussian military academy. In 1861, Governor Israel Washburn, looking for an experienced artillery officer; learned of Leppien through General Hiram Berry. Asked to serve, Leppien accepted, traveled immediately to Augusta, and was commissioned as Captain of the 5th Maine Battery. While the Battery trained there, Leppien was sought after by Augusta society, and by young ladies who found his accent and manners charming. Dyer and Hodsdon were familiar with Leppien and his story.
The officer was wounded at the battle of Chancellorsville. Dyer writes that Leppian "has an even chance of recovery. I have seen him twice. His leg was amputated rather badly, and bandaged so tightly that mortification commenced at the stump."
Dyer’s optimism is misplaced. Leppien died a week later.
Dyer also tells his friend Hodsdon about moving into a boarding house, "kept by a buxom widow name unknown and occupied by various unknown parties. It is one of the merits of Washington that nobody gives a damn about anybody else."
With the aid of a new pipe, a new book, and a bottle of brandy, George Dyer awaits his complete recovery from the "diarhee."
- Do you think George Dyer enjoyed being in Washington?
- What can you find out about life in the Nation’s Capital during the Civil War?