Robert E. Lee

Joseph G. Totten

U.S. Military Academy West Point

10 Nov. 1853


I have to report that on Sunday last about 8 P.M. Pvt. Benjn. Milling of the Dragoon Detachment, at the time on Guard at the stables, deserted from this Post, carrying with him a government horse, bridle, blanket & surcingle. The horse being soon missed was pursued & found with the other articles, with Austin Spellman within half an hour after being in his possession. They were claimed by the Sergt. in command of the party as the property of the U.S. but their delivery refused by Spellman unless his charges were paid. The next morng 1st. Sergt. turner was sent by Major Thomas, with directions to state clearly to Spellman that the horse &c belonged to the U.S. Had been taken from the Govt. stables the night previous, that unless he surrendered them them, he would be liable to prosecution for retaining stolen property: & to ask what were the charges claimed. He again refused to restore them; acknowledged that he knew Sergt Turner to be a soldier of the U.S. Stationed at West Point, but that he did not know that the horse belonged to the Govt. & that his charges were for money advanced on the horse & his keeping, & amounted to $8.00—A Magistrate in the neighborhood was then applied to, to issue his warrant on which the case could be tried & evidence produced; but declined on the ground that a search warrant, the only one he could issue, would not reach the case. Major Thomas was then directed to proceed to New Burgh & procure legal advice as to the proper mode to proceed to recover the property. The opinion of the Lawyer consulted was, that the Magistrate was correct as to the Search Warrant. That the proper mode was to sue out a writ of replevin in the County Court; & that Spellman could be prosecuted under the laws of the State, par. 71. Title 3. Part 4. Revd. Statutes. Vol. 2. p. 567. Edition of 1836.

Sergt. Turner was again sent to inform Spellman of these facts, & that unless the property was restored, this course would be pursued. He refused its restoration & I have directed suit to be brought. Spellman I am told, keeps a small house of entertainment of some sort on the road through Eagle Valley to Buttermilk Falls, & has before given annoyance to the Post. I can see no grounds for his conduct in this case except a desire to extort money or occasion trouble. Men of the Dragoon detachment assert that he knew Milling to be a soldier. That he had frequented his house & been in his debt. The horse, bridle, blanket &c, all indicate their being the property of the U.S. & the circumstances so far as I know them, did not warrant his advancing money on them, or in retaining them. I could not therefore yield to his claim, which would open the door to constant depredation & be a means of holding out temptation to other men to further misbehavior. I have therefore felt it my duty to resist it, & hope the course I have pursued will be approved by you & supported by the Secty of War.

I have the honour to be your obt ServtSigd./ R E Lee Br. Col:
Supt: Mily. Acady

Superintendent’s Daily Correspondence
United States Military Academy

Superintendent’s Letter Book No. 3, pp. 68–69. Addressed “Genl: Jos: G. Totten Chief Engineer Washington City D.C.”