August 10th, 2008 Headsman
On this date in 1862, German immigrants fleeing Confederate conscription were caught near Texas’ Nueces River and slain to a man.
The nomenclature of the “Nueces Massacre” is controversial since this party of Union loyalists making a leisurely pace* for Mexico got its shots off as it was gunned down in a gully by Texas Partisan Rangers in the predawn hours.
But the incident becomes a clear candidate for these pages with the summary execution of the surviving captured and wounded men later this day. Here’s the account of an obviously upset member of the Confederate party:
[S]ome of the more humane of us did what we could to ease the sufferings of the wounded Germans. They had fought a good fight, and bore themselves so pluckily I felt sorry I had taken my part against them. We bound up their wounds, and gave them water, and laid them as comfortably as we could in the shade. Poor creatures, how grateful they were!
He then pauses for breakfast and helps gather up the scattered German horses; we rejoin the narration after 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
I hurried over to where we had left the German wounded to see how they were getting on, and was surprised to find them gone. Asking what had become of them, I was told they had been moved to a better shade a short distance away. With this answer I was quite satisfied, and never dreamed the brutes with whom I served would be guilty of foul play, especially after the gallant fight the enemy had made.
Just then one of our wounded called for water, and I brought him some from the cool spring. As I was giving it to him, the sound of firing was heard a little way off. I thought at first they were burying some of the dead with the honors of war; but it didn’t sound like that either. Then, possibly it might be an attack on the camp; so I seized my rifle and ran in the direction of the firing. Presently I met a man coming from it who, when he saw me running, said, “You needn’t be in a hurry, it’s all done; they shot the poor devils, and finished them off.”
“It can’t possibly be they have murdered the prisoners in cold blood!” I said, not believing that even Luck [a villainous -- to the diarist's mind -- lieutenant] would be guilty of such an atrocious crime. “Oh, yes; they’re all dead, sure enough — and a good job too!” Feeling sick at heart, though I hardly even then credited his report, I ran on, and found it only too true.
It seems they were asked if they wouldn’t like to be moved a little way off into better shade. The poor creatures willingly agreed, thanking their murderers for their kindness. They were carried away, but it was to the shade and shadow of death, for a party of cowardly wretches went over and shot them in cold blood.
More summary justice followed in the weeks ahead against members of the party who had escaped** and others, and Confederate Haengerbande would plague Texas Germans of insufficient southern enthusiasm for the remainder of the war.
This day’s victims are honored by the Treue der Union obelisk, the only Union monument in Confederate territory, a prominent distinction that (as with all things in the Civil War) invites political football. This conservative article throws cold water on the “Germans-as-antislavery-Unionists” trope, and academic papers from a 1990′s conference gathered in this volume treat Nueces among other topics of “disloyalty” in the Confederacy.
* An escapee recounted decades later by way of explanation for the party’s fatal inattention to either haste or defense, “Having read a proclamation from the Confederate government announcing that all persons not friendly to it might leave the country, we believed we had a right to do so in large or small bodies, as best suited our convenience, to the border and there cross over into Mexico.”
** About half the group had separated from the main body just before the Confederates engaged them. From this number come the “escapees,” many of them later killed in the hills or while crossing into Mexico. Those who stayed put all died this day.
Also on this date
- 1792: William Winter, Elsdon Moor gibbet habitue
- 1949: John George Haigh, the Acid Bath Murderer
- 1932: Richard Johnson, great-grandfather of Craig Watkins
- 1888: Hugh Mottram Brooks, for the Trunk Murder
- Themed Set: Branded
- 1858: James Seale, on the heath with Thomas Hardy
- 1922: Joseph O'Sullivan and Reginald Dunne, helping spark the Irish Civil War
Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Confederates,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Summary Executions,Texas,USA,Wartime Executions