United States v. Williamson/Opinion of the Court
|United States v. Williamson by
Opinion of the Court
The argument against the allowance of full pay is based upon the act of March 3d, 1863, which provides 'that any officer absent from duty with leave, except from sickness or wounds, shall during his absence, receive half of the pay and allowances prescribed by law, and no more.' Captain Williamson, it is said, was, during the period in question, absent from duty with leave, being neither sick nor wounded, and hence, it is said, can receive but half-pay, however that absence might have been caused. This argument is unsound.
The distinction between the case of an officer 'absent from duty with leave' and that of an officer ordered to proceed to a particular place and there 'to await orders, reporting thence by letter to the Adjustant-General of the Army and to these headquarters,' is too plain to require much comment.
While absent from duty 'with leave,' the officer is at liberty to go where he will during the permitted absence, to employ his time as he pleases, and to surrender his leave if he chooses. If he reports himself at the expiration of his leave, it is all that can be asked of him.
The obligations of an officer directed to proceed to a place specified, there to await orders, are quite different. It is his duty to go to that place and to remain at that place. He cannot go elsewhere; he cannot return until ordered. He is as much under orders, and can no more question the duty of obedience than if ordered to an ambush to lie in wait for the enemy, to march to the front by a particular direction, or to the rear by a specified time.
The authority to give leave of absence is committed by law to particular persons; the mode of making the application for leave is pointed out and the maximum of its duration is prescribed.  A department commander can grant leave of absence for a period not exceeding sixty days. Applications for leave exceeding four months must be referred to the War Department.
The direction, on the other hand, to proceed to a particular place, there to await orders, how long to remain there, to attack, to retreat, or to do any other specified thing, belongs to the officer in charge.
That the assignment was made at the request of the officer can make no difference. The pay is regulated by the position, and not by the manner or influence by which the position is acquired.
Captain Williamson was ordered by the Adjutant-General of the Department of Missouri, by authority of the General of the Army, to proceed to his home and await orders, reporting thence by letter to the Adjutant-General of the Army, and to these headquarters.
The power to make this assignment was a portion of the executive authority, and was vested in the commander of the army. Captain Williamson was not only justified in obeying this order, but it was his duty to obey it. It was his duty to proceed at once to his home, there to remain, subject to orders to be communicated to him. He was expressly required by general order to make no application for special duty, but was informed that if his services were required a detail would be made without his application. He did proceed to his home and there remained waiting for orders until he was mustered out of the service. He was waiting orders, in pursuance of law, but was not absent from duty on leave.
It is not in the power of the executive department, or any branch of it, to reduce the pay of an officer of the army. The regulation of the compensation of the officers of the army belongs to the legislative department of the government. Congress has fixed the pay of a captain of infantry at $165 per month. The deduction of one-half of the amount, when absent from duty on leave, is not applicable to the case of Captain Williamson. He is entitled to his full pay as a captain of infantry. The Court of Claims has done right, therefore, in giving its award in his favor for the amount withheld, and its judgment is
^3 Army Register, 1863, Article 21, adopted by the act of July 28th, 1866.
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