Posts filed under 'Summary Executions'

1945: Massacres of Treuenbrietzen

1 comment April 23rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1945 — the same date when, in Berlin, a last mopping-up terminated the remaining participants in the Valkyrie assassination plot, such as Albrecht Haushofer — successive war crimes by the German and Soviet armies slew hundreds at the nearby village of Treuenbrietzen.

In the German installment of the Massaker von Treuenbrietzen, the army led 131 Italian internees taken prisoner after that erstwhile ally had gone over to the Allies in 1943 out to a gravel pit, and gunned them all down. (Stone markers now label the site.)

Only four men survived the mass execution.

“I can not explain this miracle,” said Edo Magnalardo, an Italian who played dead until the heap of corpses was buried, and then climbed out and found some Russians to surrender to/be liberated by. This German article records Magnalardo’s recollections of events, and the long and fruitless struggle for an official investigation.

For Germans in Treuenbrietzen, surrendering to the Red Army was a much less liberating experience … not that anybody had a choice in the matter.

Beginning on this date, Soviet soldiers carried out a horrifying rampage that left upwards of a thousand Treuenbrietzen men dead.

Apparently provoked when a Russian officer celebrating the village’s capture had been shot dead during a brief German reconquest, Soviet troops shot an estimated 270 or so civilians at the edge of the nearby forest on April 23. Over the next two weeks, they kept shooting: some 800 to 1,000 men (mostly) are believed to have been killed in this way by the end of the war. As for the women … there would soon be a need to set up a gynecological station in a local office, and require that all report for VD testing.

Since Treuenbrietzen ended up in communist East Germany after the war, this part of the massacre was seriously downplayed for a long time.

But no matter how officially favored the winning side in the war, the grim fate of so many noncombatants in Treuenbrietzen surely shames those who participated in it. As one survivor put it in the German press, “He who takes revenge can not be celebrated as a liberator, even though he has helped to end this disastrous war.”

This date is locally commemorated in Treuenbrietzen for both massacres, and both Italian and Russian diplomats have participated in memorial ceremonies.

From the Themed Set: The Death Rattle of the Third Reich.

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1945: Wilhelm Cauer, but not Helmuth Weidling

1 comment April 22nd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1945, the brilliant scientist Wilhelm Cauer was summarily executed by Red Army soldiers advancing into besieged Berlin.

Cauer hailed from a rich lineage of academics.

Although his career prospects in Nazi Germany were ultimately limited owing to that lineage’s kinship to Frederick the Great’s Jewish banker, they were not so limited that he was not able to become a university professor and one of the founding figures in the field of engineering network synthesis filters. The elliptical filter is known as the “Cauer filter” in his honor.*

By the end of World War II, he was, like millions of less-distinguished countrymen and -women, merely a person in the way of a terrible conflagration.

Cauer succeeded in evacuating his family west, where the American and not the Soviet army would overtake it — but for reasons unclear he then returned himself to Berlin. His son Emil remembered (pdf) the sad result.

The last time I saw my father was two days before the American Forces occupied the small town of Witzenhausen in Hesse, about 30 km from Gottingen. We children were staying there with relatives in order to protect us from air raids. Because rail travel was already impossible, my father was using a bicycle. Military Police was patrolling the streets stopping people and checking their documents. By that time, all men over 16 were forbidden to leave towns without a permit, and on the mere suspicion of being deserters, many were hung summarily in the market places. Given this atmosphere of terror and the terrible outrages which Germans had inflicted on the peoples of the Soviet Union, I passionately tried to persuade my father to hide rather than return to Berlin, since it was understandable that the Red Army would take its revenge. But he decided to go back, perhaps out of solidarity with his colleagues still in Berlin, or just due to his sense of duty, or out of sheer determination to carry out what he had decided to do.

Seven months after the ending of that war, my mother succeeded in reaching Berlin and found the ruins of our house in a southern suburb of the city. None of the neighbors knew about my father’s fate. But someone gave identification papers to my mother which were found in a garden of the neighborhood. The track led to a mass grave with eight bodies where my mother could identify her husband and another man who used to live in our house. By April 22, 1945, the Red Army had crossed the city limits of Berlin at several points. Although he was a civilian and not a member of the Nazi Party, my father and other civilians were executed by soldiers of the Red Army. The people who witnessed the executions were taken into Soviet captivity, and it was not possible to obtain details of the exact circumstances of my father’s death.

Cauer’s name was actually on a list of scientists the Soviets were looking to recruit, not eliminate. Presumably he and those other civilians who shared his nameless grave fell foul of the occupying army in some incidental way and were shot out of hand in the fog of war.


By contrast, April 22 was the lucky day for Wehrmacht General Helmuth Weidling.

Weidling had been forced by overwhelming Russian power to withdraw from a position and an enraged Hitler ordered him summarily shot.**

Fortunately, it was not effected so “summarily” that Weidling wasn’t able to get his side of the story in and have the execution order revoked. Lucky Helmuth was within hours, uh, “promoted” to commander of the Berlin Defence Area, which is supposed to have led him to remark, “I’d rather be shot than have this honour.”

This was not to be his fate.

Instead, after a week’s overseeing the suicidal exertions of his underaged, underarmed Volkssturm militia, it fell to Weidling on May 2 to issue the order directing remaining garrisons in Berlin to lay down their arms.

On April 30, 1945, the Führer committed suicide, and thus abandoned those who had sworn loyalty to him. According to the Führer’s order, you German soldiers would have had to go on fighting for Berlin despite the fact that our ammunition has run out and despite the general situation which makes our further resistance meaningless. I order the immediate cessation of resistance.

The devastated Berlin of the Soviet encirclement was Weidling’s last glimpse of his homeland: he was flown to the USSR as a prisoner of war and died there in captivity in 1955.

* Also working against the big brain’s career path in academia: “few people could appreciate the vast potential of Cauer’s special field of work … for mathematicians, he seemed too involved in applied sciences, and for electrical engineers his contributions included too much mathematics.” These days, Cauer’s disciplined application of mathematical principles to the field of network filtering is precisely what he’s remembered for.

** This was a notably bad day for der Fuhrer: it was also on April 22 when the impotence of the German army’s remaining shreds caused him to launch into that bunker tirade that has spawned a thousand Internet parodies.

From the Themed Set: The Death Rattle of the Third Reich.

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1945: The women of the Endphaseverbrechen at Neuengamme

1 comment April 21st, 2012 Headsman

On the night of April 21, 1945 (possibly verging into April 22), 12 women political prisoners were hanged at Hamburg’s Neuengamme concentration camp.

This forced labor camp had its own nasty history during the war, including medical experiments on children that would get the camp doctor hanged after the war. Those unfortunates had just been disposed of the day before.

It was in the spirit of disposing that Neuengamme on April 21 received 71 political prisoners from the Fühlsbüttel prison/satellite camp. This site, one of the very first concentration camps in Germany, was being emptied out (as Neuengamme also soon would be) with the approach of Allied forces from the west: many Fühlsbüttel prisoners were released outright, while several hundred were sent on a death march to another camp.

These special 71, who weren’t especially major antifascists and hadn’t been convicted of anything, thought their transfer to Neuengamme was just a halfway house to their own release — whether directly by the Germans, or via the imminent arrival of Germany’s foes.

All were elated. They showed each other pictures of their husbands and children (Erika Etter did not know that her husband had been executed), made their clothes as nice as possible. Erika, the youngest, wore white knee socks and borrowed lipstick, with her pretty hair down. (From the German Wikipedia page about these killings)

They were in for an unpleasant surprise: although Nazi Germany was going down, there were elements within it still looking to cripple the Left of whatever would emerge postwar. These 71 people — 58 men and 13 women — were communists, or White Rose activists, or other ideological foes whom the camp bureaucracy had tagged as “non-transferrable” elements.

Annemarie Ladewig, a young artist who’d been booted from the academy due to a partial Jewish ancestry, painted this watercolor of a dancer. (More.) Ladewig’s brother and father were among the 58 male political prisoners killed at Neuengamme over the next few days.

They were eliminated over the period from April 21 through April 24.

The women were the first to be put to death on this night, hanged naked in two groups of six. Either the aforementioned Erika Etter or else the actress Hanne Mertens (German link) was killed separately; the other was hanged, along with these eleven (all links below are to German Wikipedia pages):

From the Themed Set: The Death Rattle of the Third Reich.

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1098: Rainald Porchet, martyr Crusader

Add comment April 3rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1098, Antioch’s besieged Muslim defenders martyred a Crusader knight who refused to secure a ransom for himself.

The armies of the First Crusade had pressed their way through Anatolia and had laid to siege these past five months the ancient Syrian city of Antioch. (It’s in modern Turkey now, where it’s known as Antakya.)

On April 3, 1098, by the account of the priest Peter Tudebode, an eyewitness to the event,

the Turks led to the top of an Antiochian wall a noble knight, Rainald Porchet [alternatively, Rainaud or Reynaud Porquet], whom they had imprisoned in a foul dungeon. They then told him that he should inquire from the Christian pilgrims how much they would pay for his ransom before he lost his head.

According to Encounter Between Enemies: Captivity and Ransom in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem — a source which ought to know, if any would — marching a guy out to appeal to his comrades was little to the Antiochians but the time-honored practice of ransoming captured VIPs, “the usual diplomatic method of starting a peaceful encounter with the enemy, in the between-fighting interlude.” It’s not like this sort of hostage-hocking was unknown to Europeans; even hundreds of years later, France cratered its economy by ransoming its captured king from the English.

To the shock of the garrison, Porchet went all clash-of-civilizations on this routine diplomacy.

From the heights of the wall Rainald addressed the leaders: “My lords, it matters not if I die, and I pray you, my brothers, that you pay no ransom for me. But be certain in the faith of Christ and the Holy Sepulchre that God is with you and shall be forever. You have slain all the leaders and the bravest men of Antioch; namely, twelve emirs and fifteen thousand noblemen, and no one remains to give battle with you or to defend the city.”

The Turks asked what Rainald had said. The interpreter replied: “Nothing good concerning you was said.”

The emir, Yaghi Siyan, immediately ordered him to descend from the wall and spoke to him through an interpreter: “Rainald, do you wish to enjoy life honorably with us?”

Rainald replied: “How can I live honorably with you without sinning?”

The emir answered: “Deny your God, whom you worship and believe, and accept Mohammed and our other gods. If you do so we shall give to you all that you desire such as gold, horses, mules, and many other worldly goods which you wish, as well as wives and inheritances; and we shall enrich you with great lands.”

Yaghi Siyan was obliged to make this proposition of apostasy to his prisoner as a prelude to executing him.

Rainald replied to the emir: “Give me time for consideration;” and the emir gladly agreed. Rainald with clasped hands knelt in prayer to the east; humbly he asked God that He come to his aid and transport with dignity his soul to the bosom of Abraham.

When the emir saw Rainald in prayer, he called his interpreter and said to him: “What was Rainald’s answer?”

The interpreter then said: “He completely denies your god. He also refuses your worldly goods and your gods.”

After hearing this report, the emir was extremely irritated and ordered the immediate beheading of Rainald, and so the Turks with great pleasure chopped off his head: Swiftly the angels, joyfully singing the Psalms of David, bore his soul and lifted it before the sight of God for Whose love he had undergone martyrdom.

Rainald got himself a starring role in the Chanson d’Antioche, an epic poem celebrating the Crusade, for this pious self-sacrifice. We can only presume that his name- and numberless compatriots in the dungeons, who also paid the price for Rainald’s obstinacy, were satisfied with suffering the same fate but only getting a role in the chorus.

Then the emir, in a towering rage because he could not make Rainald turn apostate, at once ordered all the pilgrims in Antioch to be brought before him with their hands bound bend their backs. When they had come before him; he ordered them stripped stark naked, and as they stood in the nude he commanded that they be bound with ropes in a circle. He then had chaff, firewood, and hay piled around them, and finally as enemies of God he ordered them put to the torch.

The Christians, those knights of Christ, shrieked and screamed so that their voices resounded in heaven to God for whose love their flesh and bones were cremated; and so they all entered martyrdom on this day wearing in heaven their white stoles before the Lord, for Whom they had so loyally suffered in the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is the honor and glory now and throughout eternity. Amen.

In these heady early months of the Crusades, when the enterprise stumbled from near-disaster to miraculous success, the renown of Porchet et al was clinched by the siege’s success in early June — just days ahead of the arrival of a Turkish relief force which thereafter had to content itself with besieging the now-Crusader-held city.

When this second siege was repelled with the help of the Christians’ convenient — staged, one might think — “discovery” of the Holy Lance of Antioch, everyone had to know that the Big Guy was truly on their side.

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1915: 22 Singapore mutineers

1 comment March 25th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1915, “the sentences of the court-martial on a batch of 45 mutineers of the 5th Light Infantry were promulgated in public” — as the Straits Times reported — “and, in the case of 22 who were condemned to death, the sentences were executed on the spot.”

A crowd of fifteen thousand watched the spirited Indian sepoys shot dead for revolting the previous month.

This demoralized 800-strong garrison of Punjabi Muslims — who had, it need hardly be added, a noble history of insurrection to think upon — was already deployed far from home to look after the imperial interests of the London gentry while British lads mustered for bayonet charges in No Man’s Lands.

The last straw for these sepoys was a rumor that they were to be shipped to the European theater and made to turn their weapons against the Turkish sultan, their Muslim coreligionist.*

On February 15, 1915, helpfully covered by the celebratory fireworks of the Chinese New Year, about half the garrison left its barracks, attacked its British officers, and started killing any European they came across. (Many British familes took refuge in jail cells.)

Around 40 died in a few days before a mixed British-French-Russian-Japanese force arrived to crush the revolt. It was just one among a number of insurrectionary outbreaks during the war to rattle Britain’s possessions in Asia and elsewhere.

Punishments meted out this day were not the end of it at all; the court of inquiry sat until May, sentencing several dozen to death and many others to prison terms or penal transportation.

And if the mutiny never really threatened British control of Singapore, the ethnic and religious fissures it exposed in the imperial order have obvious resonances (pdf) for our present day.

And not only in the event, but in the aftermath. Prof. C.M. Turnbull noted (pdf)

In order to distinguish mutineers from peaceable citizens, all Indian residents were required to register and obtain passes. This aroused considerable anger, which was exacerbated by the cavalier attitude of some registration officers, who acted as if all Indians were to blame.

* The Ottomans had also issued a call to jihad with the onset of war, hoping to drive just this sort of wedge among Britain’s colonies.

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1956: Jesus Maria de Galindez

3 comments March 13th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1956 or very shortly thereafter, Jesus Maria de Galindez was probably executed in the Dominican Republic.

Jesus Maria de Galindez

The previous day, he had vanished without a trace from New York City. According to unconfirmed but highly credible accounts, he was killed on orders from — and in the presence of — Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo.

Galindez’s disappearance caused an international incident. It was covered in numerous newspapers and periodicals, including Time and Life, and was the subject of much speculation and many conspiracy theories. In spite of an extensive search, his body has never been found. The case has remained in memory into the 21st century, however, as this 2001 New York Press article demonstrates.

Who was Galindez?

Born in Spain in 1915, he was a political activist, a committed anti-fascist and Basque nationalist. As a result, he ran into trouble with Spain’s dictator, Francisco Franco, and had to run for his life.

In 1939, Galindez set up shop in the Dominican Republic, only to find fascism polluting this country as well. He had to run again in 1946, this time to New York City.

While working on his Ph.D in political science from Columbia University, Galindez found the time to teach college classes, write a newspaper column which was syndicated throughout Latin America, and represent the Basque government-in-exile. He was a busy man.

He was also very afraid, and with good reason. Like most despots, Rafael Trujillo held grudges for a long, long time, and his henchmen kidnapped and/or killed many of his enemies, even those outside the country. One of Galindez’s friends was killed by Trujillo’s agents in Manhattan in 1952.

Galindez then wrote a letter to be opened in the event of his death or disappearance, stating that if he should come to harm, Trujillo was surely behind it.

On March 12, 1956, Galindez taught a class at Columbia and a student gave him a lift to the subway. This was the last time he was seen alive. When he was reported missing five days later, all his belongings were found undisturbed in his apartment. The FBI and the New York Police Department searched for him without result.

According to an investigation by Life magazine, which published its conclusions in 1957, Trujillo’s agents forcibly abducted Galindez on March 12, drugged him and bundled him aboard a small private plane piloted by an American, Gerald Murphy.

Early in the morning on March 13, Murphy stopped in Miami for fuel, then continued southward, stopping at Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic. From there another pilot, Octavio de la Maza, took over. De la Maza was a tough character who had already committed one murder, in England. He flew Galindez to Ciudad Trujillo. Galindez was then shot to death in Rafael Trujillo’s presence and buried.

The Dominican government tried to buy off Murphy with a plum job as a flight captain, but pretty soon he started blabbing about his mysterious plane trip and its passenger, whom he’d at first thought was a wealthy invalid.

Pilot Octavio de la Maza: mopped up.

Thus was a second assassination necessary to cover the first: in December 1956, Murphy vanished without a trace in the Dominican Republic, only days before he was due to fly home to America. His body was never found. Now, his co-pilot had to be silenced, and a very neat job it was too: Octavio de la Maza was arrested and charged with Murphy’s murder. He had just enough time to get his parents out of the country before the ax fell, but never came to trial because he was found hanged in his cell in January … conveniently leaving a full confession in writing: Murphy had hit on him, and De la Maza lost his temper and pushed him off a cliff.

The world smelled a rat. Trujillo, of course, denied everything and went so far as to hire an American lawyer, Morris Ernst, to conduct his own investigation into Galindez’s disappearance. After ten months, Ernst issued a report predictably exonerating his employer. He claimed Galindez had stolen money earmarked for the cause of Basque Nationalism and simply walked out of his life.

And there the matter rests.

No charges were brought against anyone in Galindez’s disappearance. Columbia awarded him his Ph.D in absentia and his thesis, published as The Era of Trujillo, became a bestseller throughout Latin America.

What goes around comes around: Trujillo was himself assassinated in 1961. One of the men who plotted his murder was Antonio de la Maza, Octavio’s brother.

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1942: Jakub Lemberg and family

4 comments March 2nd, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1942, on the first day of Purim, Jakub Lemberg was executed together with his family in the Nazi ghetto in Zdunska Wola, Poland.

Lemburg, a 43-year-old internist and pediatrician, was head of the Judenrat in Zdunska Wola and thus it was his task to do the Nazis’ dirty work, such as putting together lists of his fellow-Jews for deportation.

He revealed himself to be a man of exceptional character and courage, and the circumstances of his death, as recorded in Louis Falstein’s The Martyrdom of Jewish Physicians in Poland, should not be forgotten:

The Gestapo chief ordered Dr. Lemberg to deliver ten Jews to be hanged for the ten hanged sons of Haman. Dr. Lemberg replied that he could deliver only four Jews: himself, his wife and their two children. Hans Biebow, “the Butcher of Lodz,” seized Dr. Lemberg and turned him over to the executioners, who killed him in the cemetery.

The Zdunska Wola ghetto was liquidated five months later. And in 1947, Biebow got his.

Here’s an image of Lemberg testimony (in Hebrew) from the Yad Vashem database.

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1864: Martin Robinson, treacherous guide

1 comment March 1st, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1864, a Union officer frustrated of a design to raid Richmond during the U.S. Civil War hanged a local African-American guide whom he thought had intentionally misled him like Susanin.

The account of an army chaplain attached to the 5th New York Cavalry explains:

The guide, a negro, had misled us during the night, and, to obviate the delay of retracing our steps. Col. Dahlgren, on the representations of the negro that an excellent ford was to be found at Dover Mills, concluded to cross at that point. After two hours’ halt we again moved on, and soon reached Dover Mills, but only to meet disappointment.


Dover Milles, Civil War era illustration

The negro had deceived us, no ford existed at this point nor any means of crossing the river. He then stated that the ford was three miles below: this was obviously false, as the river was evidently navigable to and above this place, as we saw a sloop going down the river.

… he came into our lines from Richmond … [and] was born and had always belonged in the immediate vicinity of Dover Mills, was very shrewd and intelligent, and it would seem impossible that he should not know that no ford existed in the neighborhood, where he had seen vessels daily passing. Col. Dahlgren had warned him that if detected acting in bad faith, or lying, we would surely hang him, and after we left Dover Mills, and had gone down the river so far as to render further prevarication unavailing, the colonel charged him with betraying us, destroying the whole design of the expedition, and hazarding the lives of every one engaged in it, — and told him that he should be hung in conformity with the terms of his service. The negro became greatly alarmed, stated confusedly that he was mistaken, thought we intended to cross the river in boats, and finally said that he had done wrong, was sorry, etc. The colonel ordered him to be hung, — a halter strap was used for the purpose, and we left the miserable wretch dangling by the roadside.

Our correspondent terms this the case of the “Faithless Negro”, but posterity has the luxury of a less paranoiac reading than indulged by a troupe of hotheaded commandos deep in enemy territory all a-panic as their expedition implodes. The James River was just plain swollen with winter rains. Bad luck all around.

A Goochland County marker marks the spot of the botched crossing and subsequent execution.

But we’re really just getting started. Stay tuned for some serious blowback from this bootless military debacle.

The full story of the raid is a tangled and contested affair, but it’s well worth perusing in detail. To sum up:

This expedition’s leader, Col. Ulric Dahlgren, abandoned the effort and in the attempt to fall back, rode into a Confederate ambush the next day. He died in the fusillade, while his men were captured.

The body of this late Col. Dahlgren, on whose authority our misfortunate guide was put to death, was found by the Confederates to bear some startling papers* … indicating that the intent of his ill-starred expedition was not merely to liberate starving northern prisoners, but that “once in the City it must be destroyed & Jeff. Davis and Cabinet killed.”

Within days, the story was abroad and Richmond newspapers floridly outraged at this proposed breach of chivalrous warfare.

Though Confederate General Robert E. Lee was able to quash public demands for the Dahlgren party’s summary execution, the documents may indeed have marked a turning point in the war’s conduct, a public announcement of total warfare sufficient for the South to “inaugurate a system of bloody retaliations.”** If so, it was a well-timed license: the Confederacy was in the process of being steamrolled and would soon require recourse to more desperate strategems.

After Dahlgren, argues Come Retribution: The Confederate Secret Service and the Assassination of Lincoln, “there was an increase in Confederate clandestine activity designed to encourage the antiwar faction in the North to organize and revolt” — even including a mirror-image Confederate cavalry raid on Washington D.C. with an eye towards capturing Lincoln.

There are, in fact, some historians who postulate that it was “bloody retaliation” for Dahlgren’s attempt on the Confederate president that ultimately led southern agents to initiate the late-war plots against Abraham Lincoln’s person — resulting ultimately in Lincoln’s assassination:

Ulric Dahlgren, and [his] probable patron [U.S. Secretary of War] Edwin Stanton set out to engineer the death of the Confederacy’s president; the legacy spawned out of the utter failure of their effort may have included the death of their own president.

That is some blowback.

Books exploring the alleged link between the Dahlgren Papers and the Lincoln assassination

* It must be said that the Dahlgren papers have been continually contested as frauds from the moment they were known, though many historians do indeed consider them legitimate. We are in no position to contribute to that debate, and for the purposes of this post’s narration the question is immaterial: the papers, forged or not, certainly existed, were widely publicized, and genuinely angered many southerners.

** These words are the demand of the March 8, 1864 Richmond Dispatch.

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1856: Auguste Chapdelaine, saintly casus belli

1 comment February 29th, 2012 Headsman

On February 29, 1856, local Chinese officials in Guangxi beheaded French missionary priest Auguste Chapdelaine — and handed his countrymen a pretext for war.

Chapdelaine (English Wikipedia page | French) had gone illegally to the Chinese interior to proselytize Christianity.

The local mandarin Zhang Mingfeng was no doubt disposed to take such an harsh line against this provocation by virtue of the ongoing, Christian-inspired Taiping Rebellion, which had originated right there in Guangxi and was in the process of engulfing all of southern China in one of history’s bloodiest conflicts.

So Chapdelaine and his associates were snapped up, put to a few days’ dreadful torture, and on this date a Chinese convert and Chapdelaine were both summarily beheaded. (A female convert, Agnes Tsaou-Kong, expired under torture around the same time.)

Pietistic accounts of believers’ last extremes are here and here.


(Images from this French page.)

It took months for word of this martyrdom to reach French consular officials, and many months more for the gears of international diplomacy to turn — but when they did so, France pressed a demand for reparations.

Since pere Chapdelaine had been acting illegally in the first place, the Qing’s obdurate Viceroy Ye(h) adamantly refused to offer Paris satisfaction.

By 1858, this intransigence sufficed to license French entry (alongside Britain) into the Second Opium War, from which the Europeans won by force of arms a noxious treaty guaranteeing their right to push Christianity in China, extracting a couple million silver taels in damages, and (of course) assuring their right to traffic opium into China.

It would be rather ungenerous to hold all the ugly imperial consequences personally against our day’s martyr. August Chapdelaine was canonized by the Catholic Church in 2000 as one of 120 Martyrs of China.

China was not impressed by this celebration of a onetime colonial catspaw, and met the Vatican’s “anti-China” celestial promotion announcement with one of its own — charging that Chapdelaine “collaborated with corrupt local officials, raped women and was notorious in those areas [where he preached].”

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1476: The Garrison of Grandson, by Charles the Bold

2 comments February 28th, 2012 Headsman

On this day in 1476, the 412-strong garrison of Grandson, Switzerland surrendered to Charles the Bold during the Burgundian Wars … and was executed en masse by hanging and drowning.

Detail view (click for the full image) of a mounted Charles the Bold under a forest of hanged men.

Charles — less generously known as “Charles the Rash” or “Charles the Terrible” — was the Duke of Burgundy, an ancient territory whose warlike inhabitants were celebrated back to The Nibelungenlied

Upon his single person the sword-strokes fell thick and fast. The wife of many a hero must later mourn for this. Higher he raised his shield, the thong he lowered; the rings of many an armor he made to drip with blood … Then men saw the warrior walk forth in full lordly wise. As the strife-weary man sprang from the house, how many added swords rang on his helmet! Those that had not seen what wonders his hand had wrought sprang towards the hero of the Burgundian land. (XXXII)

In the 15th century, the swords ringing on Burgundian helmets were those of the French and the Habsburgs, who squeezed the mighty duchy on either side.

Charles the Bold fought the expansionist Burgundian Wars as a project to strengthen his duchy’s independence. But it would have the exact opposite effect.

The Swiss had been pulled into the anti-Burgundian league, and taken the city of Grandson, inducing an irritated Charles to put it to a fearful bombardment that threatened to overrun the place in short order.

Sources vary by partisan affiliation as to whether the besieged garrison surrendered at its antagonist’s discretion (Burgundian version) or on a pledge of mercy (Swiss version). But in the actual event, no mercy at all was given. To a man, the prisoners were strung up on trees and drowned in the adjacent Lake of Neuchatel — a warning to the Swiss not to mess with Burgundy.

It was bluster that Charles’s men could not back up when their opponents fought back … and after this, who was going to surrender?

A couple days later, the Swiss relief force arrived too late to bail out the garrison. Instead, it trounced the Burgundians in battle, sending them fleeing “without looking back, helter-skelter” as Charles, “exasperated beyond measure by the stupid cowardice of his troops, rode amongst them with drawn sword, striking them furiously, in the vain effort to bring them to a standstill.”

The victorious Swiss made off with a fantastic booty from the abandoned Burgundian camp, but also recovered a more dolorous prize.

There were found sadly the honorable men still freshly hanging on the trees in front of the castle whom the tyrant had hanged. It was a wretched, pitiable sight. There were hung ten or twenty men on one bough. The trees were bent down and were completely full. There hanged a father and a son next to each other, there two brothers or other friends. And there came the honorable men who knew them; who were their friends, cousins and brothers, who found them miserably hanging. There was first anger and distress in crying and bewailing.

Charles was plenty distressed himself at his embarrassing reversal, and boldly (or rashly) regrouped, marched on the Swiss again — and had Burgundian power decisively shattered at the Battle of Murten that June. The following January, a dispirited Charles died in another losing battle, leading the once-imperious realm of Burgundy to settle into French hands, where it remains today.

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