Andrew Geddes – Captain, United States Army

Andrew Geddes of Canada and Iowa

Private, Company K, 1st Iowa Infantry, 14 May 20 August 1861
Captain, 8th Iowa Infantry, 1 October 1861
Lieutenant Colonel, 11 November 1865
Honorably Mustered Out 20 April 1866
First Lieutenant, 40th U. S. Infantry, 12 June 1867
Regimental Adjutant, 15 September 1868 to 20 April 1869
Transferred to 25th U. S. Infantry, 20 April 1869
Regimental Adjutant, 24 April to 15 July 1869
Captain, 11 April 1878
Brevetted Captain, 12 June 1867 for gallant and meritorious service in the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi
Brevetted Major, 12 June 1867 for gallant and meritorious service in the capture of Spanish Fort, Alamana
Dismissed 31 January 1900 (By Act of  6 June 1900)
Retired 14 June 1901

Ungentlemanly Acts: The Army’s Notorious Incest Trial
by Louise Barnett


The shocking story behind the U.S. Army’s longest court-martial—full of sex, intrigue, and betrayal. In April 1879, on a remote military base in west Texas, a decorated army officer of dubious moral reputation faced a court-martial. The trial involved shocking issues—of sex and seduction, incest and abduction. The highest figures in the United States Army got involved, and General William Tecumseh Sherman himself made it his personal mission to see that Captain Andrew Geddes was punished for his alleged crime.

But just what had Geddes done? He had spoken out about an “unspeakable” act—he had accused a fellow officer, Louis Orleman, of incest with his teenage daughter, Lillie. The army quickly charged not Orleman but Geddes with “conduct unbecoming a gentleman,” for his accusation had come about only because Orleman was at the same time preparing to charge that Geddes himself had attempted the seduction and abduction of the same young lady. Which man was the villain and which the savior?

Louise Barnett’s compelling examination of the Geddes drama is at once a suspenseful narrative of a very important trial and a study of prevailing attitudes toward sexuality, parental discipline, the army, and the appropriate division between public and private life. It will enrich any reader’s understanding of the tumultuous post-Civil War period, when the United States was striving to define its moral codes anew.

Publishers Weekly:

How do you accuse someone of an unspeakable sin? In post-Civil War America, you did not, if you were smart, for speaking of an unspeakable sin was unpardonable. In 1879, in west Texas, Captain Andrew Geddes accused a fellow officer, Louis Orleman, of having incestuous relations with his (Orleman’s) daughter. Orleman countercharged that Geddes had seduced his daughter and planned to abduct her, and that the incest charge was merely an attempt to deflect responsibility from his own devious actions. The result was a court-martial of Geddes; no person in a position of authority seriously considered the possibility that Orleman could be guilty of incest, for Americans of the time, according to Barnett, “preferred to believe–regardless of evidence–that it [incest] simply did not occur….” Barnett, a professor of English at Rutgers, carefully chronicles the trial. Her thesis is that while Geddes was no saint, his trial was a mockery of justice and the unprosecuted charges against Orleman probably contained more truth than those pressed against Geddes. A guilty verdict was set aside by the army’s highest judicial officer, the judge advocate general, but the continued hostility toward Geddes within the army led to his ultimate dismissal. The greatest strength of this volume is the way events are placed within historical and cultural context. A real sense of army life on the frontier and how the larger values of society shaped the proceedings are skillfully woven into the narrative. Through a relatively unknown incident, Barnett presents a morality play showcasing late-19th-century social values that have evolved but are still in effect.

Book Review:

In 1879, Captain Andrew Geddes underwent a court-martial on two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and one count of libel. Geddes was accused of attempting to abduct and seduce Lillie Orleman, the eighteen-year-old daughter of a fellow officer, First Lieutenant Louis H. Orleman, and of defaming Orleman by accusing him of an incestuous relationship with Lillie. Geddes, in defending himself, insisted that he only made his charge of incest public when he heard Orleman was planning to accuse him of improprieties with Lillie. The army never investigated Orleman’s relationship with his daughter and instead indicted Geddes for acts declared “not fit to be specified” (3). Although the court-martial found Geddes guilty, superior officers overturned the verdict. Geddes was not, however, out of the woods. General William T. Sherman took it upon himself to order further investigation of Geddes in an attempt to uncover some reason to drum Geddes out of the army. Though Sherman attempted to build a case around Geddes’s affair with another officer’s wife, he was unsuccessful. Geddes was finally expelled from the army in 1882 on charges of being drunk while on duty.

     Louise Barnett’s retelling of this tale transports the reader to the world of an isolated army outpost. She recounts the gritty life army officers and their families faced on the Texas frontier, reconstructs from testimony the construction and layout of Fort Stockton, and analyzes the complicated relationships between various officers and their friends and families. She also examines the prurient testimony at Geddes’s trial, including several doctors’ opinions about the physical manifestations of female virginity and an analysis of the romance novel Geddes allegedly loaned to Lillie Orleman. This case is important, Barnett argues, because it illuminates nineteenth-century attitudes regarding social and sexual relationships and, more importantly, documents Victorian Americans’ unwillingness to confront the taboo of incest. As a whole, Barnett offers a compelling narrative of an interesting case and supplements the specific events of the case with detailed background information about the participants, the setting, and the legal and social context in which it occurred.

     In recounting the details of the trial, Barnett is quite successful. Her book, however, has flaws. For instance, Barnett interprets the relationship between Orleman and his daughter using modern psychological concepts regarding the victims and perpetrators of incest. While it is possible that the psychosocial dynamics of incest have remained constant for more than one hundred years, it is equally likely that Victorian mores construed incest and its effects in ways unrecognizable to a modern therapist. Similarly, Barnett muses about the motivations of participants in ways that are difficult to document. For example, she argues that part of General Sherman’s zeal to oust Geddes from the army may have stemmed from the general’s ambivalence about the propriety of his own intimate relationship with a younger woman he initially treated as a daughter. Perhaps, but how could we ever know? Barnett, a professor of English, is comfortable with such speculation; this reviewer, a historian, Finds it unsubstantiated and problematic.

     Barnett’s book also founders on the problem of using a single case to illuminate more general social issues. The case is significant, Barnett states, because the failure of the army to try Orleman for incest, despite what she believes is compelling evidence of his guilt, demonstrates the existence of a code of silence surrounding incest. Substantiating Orleman’s accusations against Geddes preserved nineteenth-century Americans’ “idea of fatherhood as beneficent and incest as both unspeakable and unimaginable”.

One army trial, supplemented by a discussion of the public’s response to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Lady Byron Vindicated (in which Beecher recounted Byron’s incestuous relationship with his half-sister), is a slender thread on which to suspend such a sweeping, and perhaps banal, judgment. Certainly, nineteenth-century Americans rarely discussed incest openly in newspapers or casual conversation and were loathe to acknowledge its occurrence, but they may have addressed incest in other, less obvious, ways. Barnett might have supplemented her argument by examining civilian court records to determine if their inaction substantiates her suspicion about the widespread aversion to addressing incest. These records might reveal that men faced other charges such as statutory rape when accused of sexual relationships with female relatives. Thirty years later in Virginia, many incest cases masqueraded under these less shocking charges. More importantly, Geddes’s court-martial trial reveals that this particular group of nineteenth-century Americans were willing to discuss incest. If addressing incest was so taboo, why did much of the trial testimony center upon Orleman’s physical contact with his daughter? Did he fondle her breast in a carriage? Could Geddes have heard the Orlemans engaging in sexual relations? Could medical doctors determine whether Lillie Orleman was a virgin? Was the secret Lillie Orleman asked Geddes to keep a reference to her forced sexual relationship with her father? Charging Geddes at all, and then including a charge of libel, ensured that testimony about incest would be central to the trial and suggests that the army was not as loathe to discuss the issue as Barnett insists.

     The court’s guilty verdict suggests, as Barnett shows, that Orleman’s claim that Geddes, a known philanderer, had tried to seduce his daughter carried far more explanatory power than the idea that Orleman would commit incest. And here the case is instructive. Geddes’s court-martial reveals the importance of local context in the public resolution of disputes. Wider cultural attitudes and taboos regarding sexuality and parental roles certainly played a role in shaping the outcome of the trial. But the relationships among the participants, cloistered on the Texas frontier and in the rigid hierarchy of the army, also played a significant part. Simmering hostilities toward Geddes for his extramarital affairs with other officers’ wives made Geddes a more attractive target for punishment than Orleman. A court-martial became the vehicle through which the officers of Fort Stockton and the wider army, both isolated subsets of society, worked out their other disagreements.

Lisa Lindquist Dorr
University of Alabama

Defendant: Andrew Geddes
Crimes Charged: Libel, seduction, attempted abduction
Chief Defense Lawyer: George W. Paschal
Chief Prosecutor: John Clous
Judges: Officers from the army’s Texas Division
Place: San Antonio, Texas
Date of Trial: June 14-August 21, 1879
Verdict: Guilty of all charges except abduction
Sentence: Three years in prison and dishonorable discharge; Geddes conviction was overturned by President Rutherford B. Hayes

SIGNIFICANCE: This case demonstrated the extreme discomfort of Victorian society in accepting the possibility of incest, and the difficulties inherent in proving it.

In April 1879, a letter arrived in San Antonio, Texas, addressed to General E. 0. C. Ord, commander of the Department of Texas. It contained a sworn statement from Captain Andrew Geddes of the Twenty-fifth U.S. Infantry accusing another officer, Lieutenant Louis H. Orleman, of having an incestuous relationship with his 18-year-old daughter Lillie. Both men were stationed at Fort Stockton in a remote section of west Texas. Geddes told Ord that he was forced to reveal this shocking state of affairs because he had learned that Orleman planned to file charges against him. In order to defend himself, Geddes claimed, he had to expose the relationship of “criminal intimacy” that he had discovered between the 38-year-old Orleman and his daughter.

Geddes’s story was a grim one. On March 2, 1879, he said, “I heard from the adjoining quarters … a voice which I recognized to be that of Miss Lillie Orleman, saying, ‘Papa, please don’t. I’ll call Major Geddes, if you don’t quit’ and … in a most piteous and pleading tone, ‘Oh Papa, for God’s sake don’t. Major Geddes is Officer of the Day and will hear us.’ I went to the window of said room and looked in, and there saw Lt. Orleman in bed with his said daughter, having criminal intercourse with her.”

The next day, wrote Geddes, Lillie told him that her father “had been having sexual intercourse with her for the past five years … and that he had placed a loaded revolver to her head, threatening that he would blow out her brains if she did not consent to his horrible desires. Miss Orleman begged me repeatedly and implored me on bended knee to save her and take her from this terrible life of shame.” Afterwards, Geddes told Orleman that he knew of his relationship with Lillie and was prepared to take her away “either to her home in Austin, or to my wife.” Geddes concluded by saying he was not alone in suspicions of Orleman, and he claimed to have other witnesses who had seen Orleman behave improperly toward his daughter.

Ord, who had complete discretion over how to proceed with the case, chose not to prosecute Orleman, but instead to court-martial Geddes on Orleman’s charge that Geddes had libeled him with a false accusation of incest as part of a plot to seduce and abduct Lillie Orleman. Geddes was charged with two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. According to the first charge, Geddes, “a married man, did by persuasion, advice, threats and other means, endeavor to corrupt Miss Lillie Orleman to his own illicit purposes.” The second charge claimed that Geddes willfully and falsely accused “Lt. Orleman of the heinous crime of incestuous intercourse with the said Orleman’s daughter… and by threatening to make the same public attempt to force and coerce said Lt. Orleman into giving his consent to the departure of his daughter.”

Geddes pled not guilty to all charges. The trial would last for the exceptionally long time of three months. The prosecutor’s immediate task was to impeach Geddes’s character and portray him as a libertine and a liar. The prosecutor introduced evidence that Geddes had been court-martialed once before on charges of attempting to cash one month’s pay in two different places. He had been found guilty, but the judge advocate general recommended leniency in light of his otherwise spotless record. It also quickly came out that Geddes, who lived apart from his wife (whom he had been compelled to marry in a shotgun wedding) was a notorious womanizer who had had several affairs, including one with his commanding officer’s wife, who bore him a child.

Lillie Orleman was the prosecutor’s first witness. She traced the development of her relationship with Geddes from their meeting at a post dance where he “squeezed her hand meaningfully,” and she told of his many visits to her quarters while her father was away and his attempts to take liberties with her. Yet, she confessed, she continued meeting him, claiming that she believed, “Captain Geddes to be a gentleman. I inferred from all his actions that he would get a divorce and make me his wife.” She testified that the night Geddes allegedly discovered the incest, she had gone to bed at nine and slept through the night. She also said she had closed the bedroom windows and drawn the curtains, making it impossible for Geddes to see in the window. She also testified that she and her father had had a disagreement earlier in the evening, and that her father had come into the bedroom and told her to stop seeing Geddes or he would turn her out of the house. She then claimed that Geddes told her the next day that “your father is not treating you right.” She said she had thought that he referred to Orleman’s reprimand over her meetings with Geddes, and she agreed her father treated her “cruelly and meanly, which is really not so. I told him that to enlist his sympathy in order to take me home.” She then testified that Geddes told her father that he would not expose him if Orleman let Lillie leave with him on the evening stage. She firmly denied that any incest had taken place.

The prosecution’s most valuable witness was Dr. M. K. Taylor, who examined Lillie to determine whether or not she was a virgin. He testified that in his opinion “she had never had sexual intercourse.” The defense called its own expert witnesses to refute Taylor’s conclusion, but as they had not been permitted to examine Lillie, their testimony was largely ineffective. The prosecution meant to prove that if there had been no sex there could have been no incest, and that therefore Geddes was guilty as charged.

Geddes took the stand on August 4, and he told the same story that he had written in his letter to Ord. He denied making any improper overtures to Lillie, or visiting her except on one occasion, and he portrayed himself as her rescuer. He told how he had grown suspicious of Orleman when he had seen him fondle his daughter’s breast in an ambulance on the way to Fort Davis. Another witness, Joseph Friedlander, testified that Orleman had reached under her clothes, taken hold of her leg, and told a smutty story on the same trip.

The defense called several witnesses to corroborate Geddes’s testimony. Michael Houston, the driver of a stage in which Lillie and Louis Orleman had traveled alone, told a story remarkably similar to Geddes’s of what he had overheard while driving the stage. He said that Orleman had accused his daughter of having sexual relations with Geddes and other officers as well as with Orleman. Another witness, Corporal George A. Hartford, testified that in 1877 he too had witnessed an intimate scene between father and daughter.

When the defense tried to call Lillie as a rebuttal witness she was pronounced too ill to testify. Her illness was attributed to the strain of her previous testimony. On August 21 the court announced its verdict of guilty on all counts, except abduction. Geddes was sentenced to three years in prison and a dishonorable discharge. The sentence was reviewed by the judge advocate general, William M. Dunn, who submitted his review to the secretary of war and President Rutherford B. Hayes. Dunn concluded that the verdict was a miscarriage of justice and recommended overturning the conviction and the sentence. The president concurred, and Geddes was returned to his unit.

This was not the end of Geddes’s difficulties. William T. Sherman, general of the army, intervened to have Geddes investigated and retried. An extensive investigation concluded that Geddes was a notorious womanizer, but that prosecuting him for any related infractions would be damaging to the reputations of other officers and their wives. Ultimately, in 1880, Geddes was court-martialed for the third time, found guilty of drunkenness on duty, and dismissed from the army. This time the Judge Advocate General’s office allowed the sentence to stand.




  • DATE OF DEATH: 12/18/1910

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