On this date in 1864, Confederate ranger A.C. Willis — whose Christian name is given as Albert or Absalom — was captured in Rappahannock County, Virginia and summarily, spectacularly hanged.
The context was the increasingly dirty war in Virginia against Confederate guerrilla John Mosby, whose rangers were severely hampering Union operations in Virginia. The northern army had resorted to less than genteel expedients with the previous month’s summary execution of a half-dozen (actual or suspected) Mosby’s Rangers.
On this date, they did it again.
According to Custer and the Front Royal Executions of 1864:
[Col. William] Powell’s men had first tied the rope they used to hang Willis with to the top of a young sapling, which was then bent nearly double. When it was released, it shot Willis skyward in an abrupt, strangled flight. Powell was jubilant about the execution he had ordered. Powell stated in his report: “I wish it distinctly understood by the Rebel authorities that if two to one is not sufficient I will increase it to 22 to one, and leave the consequences in the hands of my Government.”
We don’t have a picture of this jubilation-worthy execution, but we’ll make do with the picture in our heads.