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1746: Lords Kilmarnock and Balmerino, Jacobites

Add comment August 18th, 2017 Horace Walpole

(Thanks to prolific litterateur and Whig M.P. Horace Walpole for the correspondence we repurpose here as a guest post on the beheadings of Lords Kilmarnock and Balmerino. Both men were captured upon the great wreck at Culloden of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. In the service of readability we’ve taken the liberty of adding line breaks and eliding Walpole’s observations on general news and society gossip not touching the Jacobite trials.)

TO SIR HORACE MANN.

Arlington Street, Aug. 1, 1746.

I am this moment come from the conclusion of the greatest and most melancholy scene I ever yet saw you will easily guess it was the trials of the rebel Lords. As it was the most interesting sight, it was the most solemn and fine: a coronation is a puppet-show, and all the splendour of it idle; but this sight at once feasted one’s eyes and engaged all one’s passions.

It began last Monday; three parts of Westminster-hall were inclosed with galleries, and hung with scarlet; and the whole ceremony was conducted with the most awful solemnity and decency, except in the one point of leaving the prisoners at the bar, amidst the idle curiosity of some crowd, and even with the witnesses who had sworn against them, while the Lords adjourned to their own House to consult.

No part of the royal family was there, which was a proper regard to the unhappy men, who were become their victims.

One hundred and thirty-nine Lords were present, and made a noble sight on their benches frequent and full! The Chancellor was Lord High Steward; but though a most comely personage with a fine voice, his behaviour was mean, curiously searching for occasion to bow to the minister that is no peer, and consequently applying to the other ministers, in a manner, for their orders; and not even ready at the ceremonial. To the prisoners he was peevish; and instead of keeping up to the humane dignity of the law of England, whose character it is to point out favour to the criminal, he crossed them, and almost scolded at any offer they made towards defence.

I had armed myself with all the resolution I could, with the thought of their crimes and of the danger past, and was assisted by the sight of the Marquis of Lothian in weepers for his son who fell at Culloden — but the first appearance of the prisoners shocked me! their behaviour melted me!

Lord Kilmarnock and Lord Cromartie are both past forty, but look younger.

Lord Kilmarnock is tall and slender, with an extreme fine person: his behaviour a most just mixture between dignity and submission; if in any thing to be reprehended, a little affected, and his hair too exactly dressed for a man in his situation; but when I say this, it is not to find fault with him, but to show how little fault there was to be found.

Lord Cromartie is an indifferent figure, appeared much dejected, and rather sullen: he dropped a few tears the first day, and swooned as soon as he got back to his cell.

For Lord Balmerino, he is the most natural brave old fellow I ever saw: the highest intrepidity, even to indifference. At the bar he behaved like a soldier and a man; in the intervals of form, with carelessness and humour.

He pressed extremely to have his wife, his pretty Peggy, with him in the Tower. Lady Cromartie only sees her husband through the grate, not choosing to be shut up with him, as she thinks she can serve him better by her intercession without: she is big with child and very handsome; so are their daughters.

When they were to be brought from the Tower in separate coaches, there was some dispute in which the axe must go — old Balmerino cried, “Come, come, put it with me.” At the bar, he plays with his fingers upon the axe, while he talks to the gentleman-gaoler; and one day somebody coming up to listen, he took the blade and held it like a fan between their faces. During the trial, a little boy was near him, but not tall enough to see; he made room for the child and placed him near himself.

When the trial began, the two Earls pleaded guilty; Balmerino not guilty, saying he could prove his not being at the taking of the castle of Carlisle, as was laid in the indictment.

Then the King’s counsel opened, and Serjeant Skinner pronounced the most absurd speech imaginable; and mentioned the Duke of Perth, “who,” said he, “I see by the papers is dead.”

Then some witnesses were examined, whom afterwards the old hero shook cordially by the hand.

The Lords withdrew to their House, and returning demanded, of the judges, whether one point not being proved, though all the rest were, the indictment was false? to which they unanimously answered in the negative. Then the Lord High Steward asked the Peers severally, whether Lord Balmerino was guilty! All said, “guilty upon honour,” and then adjourned, the prisoner having begged pardon for giving them so much trouble.

While the lords were withdrawn, the Solicitor-General Murray (brother of the Pretender‘s minister) officiously and insolently went up to Lord Balmerino, and asked him, how he could give the Lords so much trouble, when his solicitor had informed him that his plea could be of no use to him Balmerino asked the bystanders who this person was and being told, he said, “Oh, Mr. Murray! I am extremely glad to see you; I have been with several of your relations; the good lady, your mother, was of great use to us at Perth.”

Are not you charmed with this speech? how just it was as he went away, he said, “They call me Jacobite; I am no more a Jacobite than any that tried me: but if the Great Mogul had set up his standard, I should have followed it, for I could not starve.” The worst of his case is, that after the battle of Dumblain, having a company in the Duke of Argyll‘s regiment, he deserted with it to the rebels, and has since been pardoned. Lord Kilmarnock is a presbyterian, with four earldoms in him, but so poor since Lord Wilmington’s stopping a pension that my father had given him, that he often wanted a dinner.

Cromartie was receiver of the rents of the King’s second son in Scotland, which, it was understood, he should not account for; and by that means had six hundred a-year from the Government: Lord Elibank, a very prating, impertinent Jacobite, was bound for him in nine thousand pounds, for which the Duke is determined to sue him.

When the Peers were going to vote, Lord Foley withdrew, as too well a wisher; Lord Moray, as nephew of Lord Balmerino — and Lord Stair — as, I believe, uncle to his great-grandfather. Lord Windsor, very affectedly, said, “I am sorry I must say, guilty upon my honour.” Lord Stamford would not answer to the name of Henry, having been christened Harry — what a great way of thinking on such an occasion! I was diverted too with old Norsa, the father of my brother’s concubine, an old Jew that kept a tavern; my brother, as auditor of the exchequer, has a gallery along one whole side of the court: I said, “I really feel for the prisoners!” old Issachar replied, “Feel for them! pray, if they had succeeded, what would have become of all us?”

When my Lady Townshend heard her husband vote, she said, “I always knew my Lord was guilty, but I never thought he would own it upon his honour.” Lord Balmerino said, that one of his reasons for pleading not guilty, was, that so many ladies might not be disappointed of their show.

On Wednesday they were again brought to Westminster-hall, to receive sentence; and being asked what they had to say, Lord Kilmarnock, with a very fine voice, read a very fine speech, confessing the extent of his crime, but offering his principles as some alleviation, having his eldest son (his second unluckily was with him,) in the Duke’s army, fighting for the liberties of his country at Culloden, where his unhappy father was in arms to destroy them.

He insisted much on his tenderness to the English prisoners, which some deny, and say that he was the man who proposed their being put to death, when General Stapleton urged that he was come to fight, and not to butcher; and that if they acted any such barbarity, he would leave them with all his men. He very artfully mentioned Van Hoey’s letter, and said how much he should scorn to owe his life to such intercession.

Lord Cromartie spoke much shorter, and so low, that he was not heard but by those who sat very near him; but they prefer his speech to the other. He mentioned his misfortune in having drawn in his eldest son, who is prisoner with him; and concluded with saying, “If no part of this bitter cup must pass from me, not mine, O God, but thy will be done!” If he had pleaded not guilty, there was ready to be produced against him a paper signed with his own hand, for putting the English prisoners to death. Lord Leicester went up to the Duke of Newcastle, and said, “I never heard so great an orator as Lord Kilmarnock; if I was your grace, I would pardon him, and make him paymaster.”

That morning a paper had been sent to the lieutenant of the Tower for the prisoners; he gave it to Lord Cornwallis, the governor, who carried it to the House of Lords. It was a plea for the prisoners, objecting that the late act for regulating the trial of rebels did not take place till after their crime was committed. The Lords very tenderly and rightly sent this plea to them, of which, as you have seen, the two Earls did not make use; but old Balmerino did, and demanded council on it. The High Steward, almost in a passion, told him, that when he had been offered council, he did not accept it. Do but think on the ridicule of sending them the plea, and then denying them council on it! The Duke of Newcastle, who never lets slip an opportunity of being absurd, took it up as a ministerial point, in defence of his creature the Chancellor; but Lord Granville moved, according to order, to adjourn to debate in the chamber of Parliament, where the Duke of Bedford and many others spoke warmly for their having council; and it was granted. I said their, because the plea would have saved them all, and affected nine rebels who had been hanged that very morning; particularly one Morgan, a poetical lawyer.

Lord Balmerino asked for Forester and Wilbraham; the latter a very able lawyer in the House of Commons, who, the Chancellor said privately, he was sure would as soon be hanged as plead such a cause. But he came as council to-day (the third day), when Lord Balmerino gave up his plea as invalid, and submitted, without any speech.

The High Steward then made his, very long and very poor, with only one or two good passages; and then pronounced sentence!

Great intercession is made for the two Earls: Duke Hamilton, who has never been at court, designs to kiss the King’s hand, and ask Lord Kilmarnock’s life. The King is much inclined to some mercy; but the Duke, who has not so much of Caesar after a victory, as in gaining it, is for the utmost severity.

It was lately proposed in the city to present him with the freedom of some company; one of the aldermen said aloud, “Then let it be of the Butchers!” (…)

TO GEORGE MONTAGU, ESQ.

Arlington Street, Aug. 5, 1746.

DEAR GEORGE,

(…) Lady Cromartie presented her petition to the King last Sunday. He was very civil to her, but would not at all give her any hopes. She swooned away as soon as he was gone.

Lord Cornwallis told me that her lord weeps every time any thing of his fate is mentioned to him. Old Balmerino keeps up his spirits to the same pitch of gaiety. In the cell at Westminster he showed Lord Kilmarnock how he must lay his head; bid him not wince, lest the stroke should cut his skull or his shoulders, and advised him to bite his lips.

As they were to return, he begged they might have another bottle together, as they should never meet any more till –, and then pointed to his neck. At getting into the coach, he said to the gaoler, “Take care, or you will break my shins with this damned axe.”

I must tell you a bon-mot of George Selwyn‘s at the trial. He saw [Anne] Bethel’s sharp visage looking wistfully at the rebel lords; he said, “What a shame it is to turn her face to the prisoners till they are condemned.” If you have a mind for a true foreign idea, one of the foreign ministers said at the trial to another, “Vraiment cela est auguste.” “Oui,” replied the other, “cela est vrai, mais cela n’est pas royale.”

I am assured that the old Countess of Errol made her son Lord Kilmarnock go into the rebellion on pain of disinheriting him. I don’t know whether I told you that the man at the tennis-court protests that he has known him dine at the man that sells pamphlets at Storey’s Gate; “and,” says he, “he would often have been glad if I would have taken him home to dinner.” He was certainly so poor, that in one of his wife’s intercepted letters she tells him she has plagued their steward for a fortnight for money, and can get but three shillings.

Can any one help pitying such distress? I am vastly softened, too, about Balmerino’s relapse, for his pardon was only granted him to engage his brother’s vote at the election of Scotch peers. My Lord Chancellor has got a thousand pounds in present for his high stewardship, and has got the reversion of clerk of the crown (twelve hundred a-year) for his second son. What a long time it will be before his posterity are drove into rebellion for want, like Lord Kilmarnock! (…)

To GEORGE MONTAGU, ESQ.

Arlington Street, Aug. 11, 1746.

DEAR GEORGE,

I have seen Mr. Jordan, and have taken his house at forty guineas a-year, but I am to pay taxes. Shall I now accept your offer of being at the trouble of giving orders for the airing of it? I have desire the landlord will order the key to be delivered to you, and Asheton will assist you. Furniture, I find, I have in abundance, which I shall send down immediately; but shall not be able to be at Windsor at the quivering dame’s before to-morrow se’nnight, as the rebel Lords are not to be executed till Monday. I shall stay till that is over, though I don’t believe I shall see it. Lord Cromartie is reprieved for a pardon. If wives and children become an argument for saving rebels, there will cease to be a reason against their going into rebellion. Lady Caroline Fitzroy’s execution is certainly to-night. I dare say she will follow Lord Balmerino’s advice to Lord Kilmarnock, and not wince. [The wag refers to Caroline‘s Aug. 11 wedding night, with the Lord Petersham -ed.]

(…)

TO SIR HORACE MANN.

Arlington Street, Aug. 12, 1746.

(…)

We know nothing certainly of the young Pretender, but that he is concealed in Scotland, and devoured with distempers: I really wonder how an Italian constitution can have supported such rigours! He has said, that “he did not see what he had to be ashamed of; and that if he had lost one battle, he had gained two.” Old Lovat curses Cope and Hawley for the loss of those two, and says, if they had done their duty, he had never been in this scrape. Cope is actually going to be tried; but Hawley, who is fifty times more culpable, is saved by partiality: Cope miscarried by incapacity; Hawley, by insolence and carelessness.

Lord Cromartie is reprieved; the Prince asked his life, and his wife made great intercession. Duke Hamilton’s intercession for Lord Kilmarnock has rather hurried him to the block: he and Lord Balmerino are to die next Monday. Lord Kilmarnock, with the greatest nobleness of soul, desired to have Lord Cromartie preferred to himself for pardon, if there could be but one saved; and Lord Balmerino laments that himself and Lord Lovat were not taken at the same time; “For then,” says he, “we might have been sacrificed, and those other two brave men escaped.”

Indeed Lord Cromartie does not much deserve the epithet; for he wept whenever his execution was mentioned. Balmerino is jolly with his pretty Peggy. There is a remarkable story of him at the battle of Dunblain, where the Duke of Argyll, his colonel, answered for him, on his being suspected. He behaved well; but as soon as we had gained the victory, went off with his troop to the Pretender; protesting that he had never feared death but that day, as he had been fighting against his conscience.

Popularity has changed sides since the year ’15, for now the city and the generality are very angry that so many rebels have been pardoned. Some of those taken at Carlisle dispersed papers at their execution, saying they forgave all men but three, the Elector of Hanover [i.e., King George II], the pretended Duke of Cumberland, and the Duke of Richmond, who signed the capitulation at Carlisle.

(…)

TO GEORGE MONTAGU, ESQ.

Arlington Street, Aug. 16, 1746.

(…) I have been this morning at the Tower, and passed under the new heads at Temple Bar, where people make a trade of letting spying-glasses at a halfpenny a look. Old Lovat arrived last night. I saw Murray, Lord Derwentwater, Lord Traquair, Lord Cromartie and his son, and the Lord Provost, at their respective windows.

The other two wretched Lords are in dismal towers, and they have stopped up one of old Balmerino’s windows because he talked to the populace; and now he has only one, which looks directly upon all the scaffolding. They brought in the death-warrant at his dinner. His wife fainted. He said, “Lieutenant, with your damned warrant you have spoiled my lady’s stomach.” He has written a sensible letter to the Duke to beg his intercession, and the Duke has given it to the King; but gave a much colder answer to Duke Hamilton, who went to beg it for Lord Kilmarnock: he told him the affair was in the King’s hands, and that he had nothing to do with it. Lord Kilmarnock, who has hitherto kept up his spirits, grows extremely terrified.

It will be difficult to make you believe to what heights of affectation or extravagance my Lady Townshend carries her passion for my Lord Kilmarnock, whom she never saw but at the bar of his trial, and was smitten with his falling shoulders. She has been under his windows; sends messages to him; has got his dog and his snuff-box; has taken lodgings out of town for to-morrow and Monday night, and then goes to Greenwich; forswears conversing with the bloody English, and has taken a French master. She insisted on Lord Hervey’s promising her he would not sleep a whole night for my Lord Kilmarnock, “and in return,” says she, “never trust me more if I am not as yellow as a jonquil for him.” She said gravely t’other day, “Since I saw my Lord Kilmarnock, I really think no more of Sir Harry Nisbett than if there was no such man in the world.”

But of all her flights, yesterday was the strongest. George Selwyn dined with her, and not thinking her affliction so serious as she pretends, talked rather jokingly of the execution. She burst into a flood of tears and rage; told him she now believed all his father and mother had said of him; and with a thousand other reproaches flung upstairs. George coolly took Mrs. Dorcas, her woman, and made her sit down to finish the bottle: “And pray, sir,” said Dorcas, “do you think my lady will be prevailed upon to let me go see the execution? I have a friend that has promised to take care of me, and I can lie in the Tower the night before.”

My lady has quarrelled with Sir Charles Windham for calling the two Lords malefactors. The idea seems to be general; for ’tis said Lord Cromartie is to be transported, which diverts me for the dignity of the peerage. The ministry really gave it as a reason against their casting lots for pardon, that it was below their dignity. I did not know but that might proceed from Balmerino’s not being an earl; and therefore, now their hand is in, would have them make him one. (…)

TO SIR HORACE MANN.

Windsor, Aug. 21, 1746.

(…)

I came from town (for take notice, I put this place upon myself for the country) the day after the execution of the rebel Lords: I was not at it, but had two persons come to me directly who were at the next house to the scaffold; and I saw another who was upon it, so that you may depend upon my accounts.

Just before they came out of the Tower, Lord Balmerino drank a bumper to King James’s health. As the clock struck ten they came forth on foot, Lord Kilmarnock all in black, his hair unpowdered in a bag, supported by Forster, the great Presbyterian, and by Mr. Home, a young clergyman, his friend. Lord Balmerino followed, alone, in a blue coat turned up with red, his rebellious regimentals, a flannel waistcoat, and his shroud beneath; their hearses following.

They were conducted to a house near the scaffold; the room forwards had benches for spectators; in the second Lord Kilmarnock was put, and in the third backwards Lord Balmerino; all three chambers hung with black. Here they parted! Balmerino embraced the other, and said, “My lord, I wish I could suffer for both!” He had scarce left him, before he desired again to see him, and then asked him, “My Lord Kilmarnock, do you know any thing of the resolution taken in our army, the day before the battle of Culloden, to put the English prisoners to death?” He replied, “My lord, I was not present; but since I came hither, I have had all the reason in the world to believe that there was such order taken; and I hear the Duke has the pocketbook with the order.” Balmerino answered, “It was a lie raised to excuse their barbarity to us.” –Take notice, that the Duke’s charging this on Lord Kilmarnock (certainly on misinformation) decided this unhappy man’s fate! The most now pretended is, that it would have come to Lord Kilmarnock’s turn to have given the word for the slaughter, as lieutenant-general, with the patent for which he was immediately drawn into the rebellion, after having been staggered by his wife, her mother, his own poverty, and the defeat of Cope.

He remained an hour and a half in the house, and shed tears. At last he came to the scaffold, certainly much terrified, but with a resolution that prevented his behaving in the least meanly or unlike a gentleman. He took no notice of the crowd, only to desire that the baize might be lifted up from the rails, that the mob might see the spectacle.

He stood and prayed some time with Forster, who wept over him, exhorted and encouraged him. He delivered a long speech to the Sheriff, and with a noble manliness stuck to the recantation he had made at his trial; declaring he wished that all who embarked in the same cause might meet the same fate.

He then took off his bag, coat and waistcoat with great composure, and after some trouble put on a napkin-cap, and then several times tried the block; the executioner, who was in white with a white apron, out of tenderness concealing the axe behind himself. At last the Earl knelt down, with a visible unwillingness to depart, and after five minutes dropped his handkerchief, the signal, and his head was cut off at once, only hanging by a bit of skin, and was received in a scarlet cloth by four of the undertaker’s men kneeling, who wrapped it up and put it into the coffin with the body; orders having been given not to expose the heads, as used to be the custom.

The scaffold was immediately new-strewed with saw-dust, the block new-covered, the executioner new-dressed, and a new axe brought. Then came old Balmerino, treading with the air of a general. As soon as he mounted the scaffold, he read the inscription on his coffin, as he did again afterwards: he then surveyed the spectators, who were in amazing numbers, even upon masts of ships in the river; and pulling out his spectacles, read a treasonable speech, which he delivered to the Sheriff, and said, the young Pretender was so sweet a Prince that flesh and blood could not resist following him; and lying down to try the block, he said, “If I had a thousand lives, I would lay them all down here in the same cause.”

He said, if he had not taken the sacrament the day before, he would have knocked down Williamson, the lieutenant of the Tower, for his ill usage of him. He took the axe and felt it, and asked the headsman how many blows he had given Lord Kilmarnock; and gave him three guineas. Two clergymen, who attended him, coming up, he said, “No, gentlemen, I believe you have already done me all the service you can.” Then he went to the corner of the scaffold, and called very loud for the warder, to give him his periwig, which he took off, and put on a nightcap of Scotch plaid, and then pulled off his coat and waistcoat and lay down; but being told he was on the wrong side, vaulted round, and immediately gave the sign by tossing up his arm, as if he were giving the signal for battle. He received three blows, but the first certainly took away all sensation. He was not a quarter of an hour on the scaffold; Lord Kilmarnock above half a one. Balmerino certainly died with the intrepidity of a hero, but with the insensibility of one too.


Detail view (click for the full image) shows London crowds thronging the twin beheading of Jacobite lords on August 18, 1746.

As he walked from his prison to execution, seeing every window and top of house filled with spectators, he cried out, “Look, look, how they are all piled up like rotten oranges.” My Lady Townshend, who fell in love with Lord Kilmarnock at his trial, will go nowhere to dinner, for fear of meeting with a rebel-pie; she says, every body is so bloody-minded, that they eat rebels! The Prince of Wales, whose intercession saved Lord Cromartie, says he did it in return for old Sir William Gordon, Lady Cromartie’s father, coming down out of his death-bed to vote against my father in the Chippenham election. (…)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Martyrs,Nobility,Other Voices,Power,Public Executions,Scotland,Soldiers,Treason

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1944: Eliga Brinson and Willie Smith, American rapists abroad

Add comment August 11th, 2017 Headsman

Privates Eliga Brinson (of Tallahassee, Florida) and Willie Smith (of Birmingham, Alabama) were hanged on this date in 1944 at Shepton Mallet prison.

The two U.S. servicemen had ambushed and raped 16-year-old Dorothy Holmes in Gloucestershire that April. Tried and sentenced by the U.S. military, their hangings occurred over 100 years after Great Britain abolished the death penalty for rape.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Rape,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,Wartime Executions

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1942: Six German saboteurs

Add comment August 8th, 2017 Headsman

Seventy-five years ago today, six German saboteurs were electrocuted in a Washington, D.C. jail … a failed World War II operation that bequeathed its target nation a controversial legal landmark.

On June 13 of 1942 — just eight weeks before they faced the electric chair — Herbert Hans Haupt, Heinrich Heinck, Edward Kerling, Herman Neubauer, Richard Quirin and Werner Thiel, all of them German nationals who had returned to the Fatherland after previous emigration to the U.S., were dropped by U-Boats along with two other men, Ernest Peter Burger and George John Dasch, in two quartets on the eastern fringe of Long Island and the Florida coast.

“Operation Pastorius” to sabotage war industries on the U.S. mainland would never even have time to get its land legs; spied in Long Island by a Coast Guard watchman whom they clumsily attempted to bribe, the agents scattered themselves to New York and Chicago. Burger and Dasch — who for this reason were not in the end electrocuted* — had their reservations about the Third Reich to begin with and guessed after the Coast Guard encounter where this fiasco was heading. They rang up the gobsmacked FBI to shop themselves and their comrades, enabling the feds to pick up the other six men in short order.

The eventual fate of the Nazi saboteurs is no surprise, but the means to obtain it was controversial then and remains so to this day.

On a substantive level, the Germans had landed in uniform for the explicit purpose of asserting POW status were they to be apprehended immediately; this didn’t cut much ice since all had then discarded their uniforms and attempted to melt away in the U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle successfully cited the American Revolution precedent of John Andre, whom patriots hanged as a spy after detaining him out of uniform behind their lines. That they hadn’t yet done anything yet was a bit beside the point.**

Much thornier was U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s order to try the Germans using a seven-member military tribunal that he conjured for this purpose, and seemingly with the objective of assuring the harshest possible sentence. (Bear in mind that these events transpired only months after Pearl Harbor.) Such a commission is explicitly anticipated by the U.S. Articles of War† whose 81st and 82nd provisions the saboteurs were charged with violating:

ART. 81. RELIEVING, CORRESPONDENCE WITH, OR AIDING THE ENEMY. — Whosoever relieves or attempts to relieve the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money, or other thing, or knowingly harbors or protects or holds correspondence with or gives intelligence to the enemy, either directly or indirectly, shall suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial or military commission may direct.

ART. 82. SPIES. — Any person who in time of war shall be found lurking or acting as a spy in or about any of the fortifications, posts, quarters, or encampments of any of the armies of the United States, or elsewhere, shall be tried by a general court-martial or by a military commission, and shall, on conviction thereof, suffer death.

However, the military commission did not seem very well in keeping with the American preference for regular jurisdictions as expressed by Ex parte Milligan, the post-Civil War decision forbidding the use of military courts anywhere that civilian courts are functioning.‡ The signal Milligan precedent formed the basis of a furious objection by Army defense lawyer (and future Secretary of War) Kenneth Royall, who fought his clients’ hopeless corner so vigorously that the doomed men signed a letter praising his efforts. (“unbiased, better than we could expect and probably risking the indignation of public opinion.”)

Already recessed for the summer, the Supreme Court hastily reconvened to cut this Gordian knot: the only forum of judicial review the case would ever receive. Its decision, Ex parte Quirin — titled after one of the defendants — spurned Royall’s Milligan claim and upheld Roosevelt’s statutory authority to determine this case for a military tribunal by a unanimous vote.

The court’s common front concealed a variety of stances on the reach of executive authority. While the whole court agreed that “Congress has explicitly provided … that military tribunals shall have jurisdiction to try offenses against the law of war in appropriate cases,” a concurring memorandum by Justice Robert H. Jackson — later famous for his role prosecuting the Nuremberg trials — proposed to carry the argument well beyond this point. Jackson claimed in a concurrence that he would eventually withdraw that “the Court’s decision of the question whether it complied with the Articles of War is uncalled for … it is well within the war powers of the President to create a non-statutory military tribunal of the sort here in question.” This was by no means the consensus of his colleagues.

The later publication of a “Soliloquy” memorandum by one such colleague, Felix Frankfurter, throws a less than dispassionate light on deliberations. Writing to smooth over internal disputes between the blackrobes, Justice Frankfurter shows himself personally hostile to the Germans — “You’ve done enough mischief already without leaving the seeds of a bitter conflict involving the President, the courts and Congress after your bodies will be rotting in lime,” he chides them in his own voice. “That disposes of you scoundrels.” In the end, the court took his advice to sidestep the potentially deep jurisdictional question.

But that question has not been left rotting in footnotes (they never are). Quirin in general and Jackson’s expansive claims of executive power in particular have been relied upon by 21st century Presidents to justify muscular and controversial innovations like the Guantanamo Bay prison and the drone war.

A few books about Operation Pastorius and Ex parte Quirin

Pierce O’Donnell, author of In Time of War: Hitler’s Terrorist Attack on America, discussed his book on C-SPAN here.

Jurisprudence is not the only artifact of the Nazi saboteurs’ failed infiltration.

Bizarrely, a tributary slab “in memory of agents of the German Abwehr” was discovered in 2006 illicitly placed on National Park Service land in southeast Washington DC, the same vicinity where the saboteurs had been secretly buried after their electrocution. There it had seemingly reposed some twenty-odd years, unknown but to its devotees … who if the stone’s carvings are to be credited must consist of the heirs of the (defunct since 1983) National Socialist White People’s Party, also known as the American Nazi Party.

* They would be condemned to death along with the rest, but Roosevelt commuted their sentences: a fine boon but far short of the outright pardons they had been promised for their cooperation. In 1948, President Truman had Burger and Dasch deported to Germany, where many saw them as traitors.

** After unsuccessfully attempting to trade Andre for Benedict Arnold, whose defection Andre had facilitated, and whom the American revolutionaries would have much preferred to Andre for a hanging.

† Enacted by Congress in 1920, these Articles of War are no longer operative in the U.S.: they were replaced by the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1951.

‡ Haupt and Burger were also U.S. citizens, further complicating the commission’s suspension of their constitutional habeas corpus rights.

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1859: Ratu Mara Kapaiwai, Fiji warrior

Add comment August 6th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1859,* the Ratu (chief or prince) Seru Epenisa Cakobau hanged a major obstacle to his control the Fiji archipelago.

Fiji comprises over 300 distinct islands in the South Pacific of which the principal and namesake is Viti Levu. Our man Cakobau ascended as the Ratu of a two-mile islet, Bau, which hugs the east coast of Viti Levu and to a 19th century European visitor “may with propriety be called the capital of Feejee.”

Not all of “Feejee” was quite so eager as Mary Davis Wallis to champion the suzerainty of the Ratu of Bau, and so Cakobau spent much of the mid-19th century maneuvering to consolidate and extend his authority. He would in the end succeed well enough to establish the first unified Kingdom of Fiji in 1871, and it was his signature on the 1874 Deed of Cession that gave said kingdom to the British.**

But before he could be the father of the nation he had to put his foot on the neck of rivals like his cousin Ratu Mara Kapaiwai.

“The ubiquitous stormy petrel of mid nineteenth century Fiji” (source), Mara’s bold adventures blew a turbulent wind through the Fijian political scene in the 1840s and 1850s. A renowned seaman and aggressive warrior, he called no one place home but shuttled incessantly among Fijian and Tongan islands, and among shifting alliances thereof. If there was one constant in the life of Mara Kapaiwai it was rejecting the overlordship of Cakobau.

He suffered what would prove to be a decisive defeat in 1855 at the Battle of Kaba, although the convert Cakobau in a paroxysm of Christian charity forgave the defeated right there on the battlefield instead of insisting the traditional right to kill and cannibalize them.

His pique for his kinsman only stoked by the defeat, the stormy petrel returned soon enough to his schemes and by 1858 had raised another rebellion.

Cakobau put an end to this resistance by putting an end to Mara himself: luring Mara to Bau with promise of forgiveness, Cakobau instead had him seized and sent to the gallows the very next day.

“He said his punishment was quite just — that he had been a very bad man and had caused the death of very many people, but that he sincerely repented of his sins and looked for mercy believing that in God his sins were being pardoned,” according to a Wesleyan missionary who attended to Mara.

* There are a few cites to be found for June 8, rather than August 6, which I cannot credit to any better cause than an inverted reading of the date 6/8 or 8/6 because people are rubbish about dates. The scholarly consensus around 6 August, and the allusion in sources like this book chapter to western missionaries’ diaries and letters, carries the argument for me — even though I have not been able to lay my own eyes on those primary documents. (As best I can determine, many of these firsthand accounts are held, un-digitized, by the Methodist Church of Australasia Department of Overseas Missions.)

** Fiji attained independence within the Commonwealth in 1970. Queen Elizabeth II’s picturesque honorific as Tui Viti (paramount chief) of Fiji — the title that Cokabau ceded to Queen Victoria along with the archipelago — has slipped into official disuse in recent years but many Fijians still embrace Elizabeth as queen. Here’s a newsreel of her 1953 visit to Fiji:

Topical here: Ratu Mara’s grandson Lala Sakuna became one of the leading statesmen of Fijian independence in the 20th century, although he predeceased its realization … fulfilling Mara’s plea to his executioner “for the safety of his 10-day-old son Joni, promising Cakobau that one day the child’s descendants would ‘bear Fiji up’.” (Source)

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A day in the executions of Franz Schmidt

Add comment August 4th, 2017 Headsman

The free imperial city of Nuremberg has been a regular feature on this site thanks to the detailed journal of executions kept by its legendary executioner Franz Schmidt.

We have profiled many of the more remarkable cases individually. Today, we’ll pause for a few of central Europe’s lesser criminals whose deaths at Schmidt’s hand on various August Fourths were more representative of the everyday malefactors who paid the last penalty on early modern scaffolds. All block text records Schmidt’s own words.


August 4, 1586: Hans Weber and Lienhardt Hagen

Hans Weber, of the New Town, a potter and thief, whom I whipped out of Neunkirchen ten years ago; Lienhardt Hagen, of Teusslen, a bath-keeper, alias der Kaltbader, a thief and robber, who with his companion helped to attack people by night, tortured them, burnt them with fire, poured hot grease on them and wounded them grievously; also tortured pregnant women, so that one died at Schwertzenbach; stole all manner of things everywhere. The potter was hanged, the bath-keeper executed on the wheel. The bath-keeper had broken into the church at Lohndorff and stolen the chalice, also helped once to steal 500 florins. (a list of many other small sums follows.)


August 4, 1607: Margaret Marranti

Margaret Marranti, a country girl from the knackers’ sheds, who was in service with the innkeeper there, had intercourse with a carrier whom she did not know, and became pregnant. Took service with the farmer at Dorrenhof at Candlemas, concealing her pregnancy. When she was haymaking in the meadows, was seized with pains and contortions, and when the farmer’s wife said she would send for the midwife, the girl made an excuse, and remaining behind at night, gave birth to a child near a shed by the river Pegnitz. She immediately threw the child into the water and drowned it, though it stirred and struggled. Beheaded with the sword here on this account.


August 4, 1613: Matthew Werdtfritzn

Matthew Werdtfritzn of Furth, a Landzknecht, alias ‘Eightfingers,’ a robber. With the help of a companion he attacked the carrier from Regensburg in the Neuenwald, wounded him and his son mortally, and took about 800 florins’ worth of money and goods. Took 84 florins from the baker woman of Lauff, and wounded her lad in the same way, so that he was thought likely to die. Took 40 florins from a carter and 18 florins from the fisherman of Fach; in all twelve highway roberies. For these crimes he was executed on the wheel as a robber.

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1934: Otto Planetta and Franz Holzweber, for the Juliputsch

Add comment July 31st, 2017 Headsman

German-Austria must return to the great German mother country, and not because of any economic considerations. No, and again no: even if such a union were unimportant from an economic point of view; yes, even if it were harmful, it must nevertheless take place. One blood demands one Reich. Never will the German nation possess the moral right to engage in colonial politics until, at least, it embraces its own sons within a single state …

The elemental cry of the German-Austrian people for union with the German mother country, that arose in the days when the Habsburg state was collapsing, was the result of a longing that slumbered in the heart of the entire people — a longing to return to the never-forgotten ancestral home. But this would be inexplicable if the historical education of the individual German-Austrian had not given rise to so general a longing. In it lies a well which never grows dry; which, especially in times of forgetfulness, transcends all momentary prosperity and by constant reminders of the past whispers softly of a new future

-Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

On this date in 1934, two Nazis were hanged for their part in a failed Austrian coup.

From his political ascent in 1933 — and well before, as the quote above indicates — the Reich’s unification with his native land of Austria had been a cherished goal for Adolf Hitler. To that end, Berlin had fostered a clandestine network of Austrian Nazis branded as “SS Standarte 89″ and allowed exiles to broadcast seditious propaganda from German soil.

Their “July Putsch” (English Wikipedia entry | German) was a year or so in the making, and commenced when four truckloads of SS Standarte 89 men in military attire suddenly stormed the federal chancellery in Vienna, murdering chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss in the process.

“Hitler received the tidings while listening to a performance of Das Rheingold at the annal Wagner Festival at Bayreuth,” Shirer noted in The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich — and Wagner’s granddaughter, also in attendance, could not help observing his “excitement” and “delight” and simultaneous anxiety to feign uninvolvement.

The last of these impulses showed the emerging tyrant’s wisdom, for the coup swiftly collapsed — exposing, to Hitler’s fury, the inept organization of the plot. Basically no other coordinated actions took place to complete the coup and the Austrian army remained loyal to the existing government, leaving to the lonely SS Standarte 89 nothing but a feeble surrender.

The first targets of the resulting courts-martial were Otto Planetta (cursory English Wikipedia entry | more detailed German), who actually pulled the trigger to kill the chancellor, and Franz Holzweber, the apparent leader of the attack on the chancellery. They would be tried and condemned in a two-day hearing July 30-31 and hanged within three hours of conviction. In time, both the Planetta and the Holzweber name would adorn many city streets in the Third Reich as patriot-martyrs.

Both prisoners, when asked whether they had anything to say before hearing their sentences, addressed the Court. Planetta said: —

I do not know how many hours I have to live. But one thing I would like to say, I am no cowardly murderer. It was not my intention to kill. One thing more. As a human being I am sorry for my deed, and I beg the wife of the late Chancellor to forgive me.

Holzweber said: —

I was assured that there would be no bloodshed. I was told also that I should find Herr Rintelen at the Chancery,, that the new Government was already formed. Not meeting the leader of the operation at the Chancery, I disclosed myself at once to Major Fey. I told him, here I stand, and I do not know what I should do. More or less spontaneously I took over the responsibility for our men because no one was there to take charge of the matter.

Holzweber, who was executed first, cried out on the gallows: “We die for Germany. Heil Hitler.” Planetta said simply, “Heil Hitler.”

-London Times, Aug. 1, 1934

The time was not yet ripe — and Hitler, no matter how heiled by his would-be subjects, was required by the diplomatic blowback to forswear ambitions on unifying with Austria.

But the Fuhrer’s soft whispers of a new future would grow ever more insistent in the months to come, and not four years later the Reich accomplished the Anschluss.

That July 25, in 1938, in a Vienna now successfully absorbed to greater Germany,

the fourth anniversary [of the Juliputsch] was celebrated as an heroic act comparable with the Rathenau and Erzberger murders. The survivors of ‘SS Standarte 89′ marched to the federal Austrian Chancellery, which had been renamed the Reichstatthalterei. Here the bereaved families of thirteen men were addressed by Rudolf Hess. A tablet was unveiled which proclaimed that:

154 German men of the 89th SS Standarte stood up here for Germany on 25 July, 1934. Seven found death at the hands of the hangman.

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1795: Charles de Virot, after the Quiberon debacle

Add comment July 28th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1795, general Charles de Virot, marquis de Sombreuil was shot for leading the royalist invasion of Quiberon in the west of France.

It was not even a year since the end of the Paris Terror — indeed, Sombreuil would have the honor of dying on the anniversary of Robespierre’s beheading — when 5,000 emigres backed by British ships crowded like sardines onto a peninsula famous for canning them, intending to join and lead the domestic Chouan resistance.

Amid the uncertain interim of the Directory a yet-Republican France wracked by war, economic crisis, and political uncertainty looked ripe for the overthrow. And true enough, the Directory in time would give way to a king of sorts.

The west of France, in Brittany adjacent the Vendee which had long troubled Jacobin rule, ought to have been the place to raise the fleur-de-lis but the expedition as cogitated from London was plagued from the start by disorganization and came to a speedy grief in June and July of 1795, remembered only in the dourest of palettes.


An episode in the affair of Quiberon, by Paul-Camile Boutigny.


An episode in the rout of Quiberon, by Pierre Outin.

A mere pup of 25, Gen. Sombreuil had already lived long enough to quaff the Revolution’s horrors: his father and brother had fallen under the sans-culotte blade in Paris in 1794, while his sister is famous for literally quaffing the blood of the guillotined to prove her loyalty and thereby save her family from the September Massacres.

Our man Charles shared the ill fruit of Quiberon with 747 other captured prisoners as the Republicans made policy of showing no mercy to invading emigrants. They were shot over a period of weeks at Quiberon and nearby Vannes and Auray; a nearby grounds would become hallowed of the Bourbon restoration as the Champ des martyrs with the burial of these martyrs’ remains. A expiatory chapel to their memory still stands there to this day.

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1946: Draza Mihailovic, Chetnik commander

Add comment July 17th, 2017 Headsman

I wanted much; I began much; but the gale of the world carried away me and my work.

-Draža Mihailovic, last statement to the court

On this date in 1946, Serbian Chetnik commander Draža Mihailovic was shot in Belgrade as a World War II traitor — a verdict that remains controversial to this day.

A colonel* in the Royal Yugoslav Army, Mihailovic escaped Germany’s initial invasion into the mountainous Balkan interior with a few dozen comrades who became the nucleus of a Serbian guerrilla movement.

These royalist Chetniks made a rivalrous opposite number to Josip Tito’s fellow guerrillas, the Communist partizans; it is easy enough to see from Mihailovic’s place in these very pages how matters settled in the end. From the first months of occupation in 1941, Chetniks and Partisans alike struck Axis occupation forces who had carved up Yugoslavia, even coordinating efforts in spite of their vast ideological chasm.

But politics didn’t stop at the border forever.

As the war progressed, the Chetniks gradually found terms with the occupiers, with Mihailovic at an October 1941 meeting dramatically rejecting Tito’s proposed common front. For the Chetniks, the leftist and polyglot Partisans who meant to rule the postwar Yugoslavia were the first enemy, “a motley collection of rascals,” in Mihailovic’s words — consisting of “Jews, Croats, Dalmatians, Bulgarians, Turks, Magyars, and all other nations of the world.”

Officially, tactical partnerships with the Germans and Italians were strictly opportunistic, not a buy-in on fascism — or they denoted a calculation (and Mihailovic’s limitless time-biding greatly aggravated the Allies while the fur was flying) to cautiously preserve his movement’s strength by avoiding engagement with an overwhelming enemy. In practice this policy drove the movement towards near-quisling status, with its major actions being undertaken against other resistance fighters on team partizan,** or to purge non-Serbs from this or that locale, even accepting German and especially Italian subsidies to do it.† Mihailovic’s enemies, he said in 1943, numbered “the Ustashi, the Partisans, the Croats and the Moslems” and “when he had dealt with these, he would turn to the Germans and the Italians.” Priorities are as priorities do.

For obvious reasons this behavior contrasts unfavorably with the Partisans’ militant “death to fascism, freedom to the people” line, and this latter movement’s ferocity in resistance saw it outstrip the Chetniks and seize the initiative for the postwar order. To a far greater extent than most other guerrillas of the bloodlands, the Partisans drove their own homelands’ liberation and left Tito master of a postwar Yugoslavia never occupied by the Red Army.

Mihailovic’s fall mirrored Tito’s rise. The Chetnik commander would be taken months after the war’s end, hiding out Saddam-like in a foxhole on the Bosnian marches. There could be no question of his fate.

Mihailovic and other Chetniks faced a predictably slanted trial for war crimes against Partisans and civilians, culminating in conviction on July 15, 1946 … two days before he faced the guns, with all of eight hours granted him to make his futile appeal. While it’s certain that the charges against him were maximized for the occasion, Mihailovic’s defense citing ignorance of and incapacity to control various units’ local atrocities is also not calculated to flatter a rebel general.


Mihailovic on trial.

Mihailovich was shot along with eight others:

  • Draghi Yovanovich, chief of the Belgrade police during the German occupation;
  • Milan Gushich and Radoslav Radich, Mihailovich aides;
  • Velibor Yonich, Tanasje Dinich, and Djure Dokich, ministers in the Serbian puppet government;
  • and, General Kosta Mushicki and a deputy named Paolovich.

In 2015, a Serbian court controversially reversed Mihailovic’s conviction.

* He’d be promoted to Brigadier General during the war years.

** World sport fanciers surely know that there is a literal team Partizan, founded as soon as World War II ended and one of the major clubs in Serbia ever since (in football, basketball, and 24 other sports). Here they are stealing the Adriatic League hoops championship from Cibona Zagreb on a full-court heave in 2010:

† This last-refuge-of-scoundrels legacy was unpleasantly recapitulated by some Serbian militias assuming the Chetnik brand during the ethnic wars attending Yugoslavia’s crackup in the 1990s. The term is basically a fighting word in certain quarters of the Balkans.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Guerrillas,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Serbia,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,War Crimes,Yugoslavia

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1917: Dragutin “Apis” Dimitrijevic, of the Black Hand

3 comments June 26th, 2017 Headsman

A century ago today* Dragutin Dimitrijevic — better known by his code name “Apis” — was shot on the outskirts of Salonika (Thessaloniki) along with two lieutenants in his legendary Serbian terrorist organization, the Black Hand.

Not to be confused with mafia extortionists of the same name, the Black Hand was the cooler brand name of Ujedinjenje Ili Smrt — “Union or Death” in the Serbo-Croatian tongue, referring to the network’s objective of aggrandizing the small Kingdom of Serbia with their ethnic brethren who, circa the fin de siècle, still answered to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

This national aspiration would midwife the First World War.

Though it wasn’t formed as an institution until 1911** — it had its own constitution and everything — some of the Black Hand principals had entered the chessboard dramatically by conspiring in the 1903 assassination of the unpopular King Alexander Obrenovic and his consort Queen Draga. This operation is remembered as the May Coup and numbered among its leaders our very man, Apis. (English Wikipedia link| Serbian) Apis caught three bullets in the chest during the murderous palace invasion, but the hand wasn’t the only thing tough about him.

In victory, these conspirators grew into a powerful faction of a more bellicose state, the most militant exponents of Pan-Serbism — a spirit perforce directed against the Austrian polity, which called South Slavs subjects from Trieste to Montenegro. Belgrade, then as now the capital of Serbia, was at this point a border city, with the bulk of the future Yugoslavia lying to its north and west, in Austria-Hungary.

“We do not say that this war is declared yet, but we believe that it is inevitable. If Serbia wants to live in honour, she can do so only by this war,” Apis predicted to a newsman in 1912. “This war must bring about the eternal freedom of Serbia, of the South Slavs, of the Balkan peoples. Our whole race must stand together to halt the onslaught of these aliens from the north.”

I, (name), by entering into the society, do hereby swear by the Sun which shineth upon me, by the Earth which feedeth me, by God, by the blood of my forefathers, by my honour and by my life, that from this moment onward and until my death, I shall faithfully serve the task of this organisation and that I shall at all times be prepared to bear for it any sacrifice. I further swear by God, by my honour and by my life, that I shall unconditionally carry into effect all its orders and commands. I further swear by my God, by my honour and by my life, that I shall keep within myself all the secrets of this organisation and carry them with me into my grave. May God and my brothers in this organisation be my judges if at any time I should wittingly fail or break this oath.

-Black Hand induction oath

On the pregnant date of June 28, 1914, the Black Hand grasped at its historical destiny to redraw that noxious border when a cell of Bosnian Serbs whom Apis — a mere captain at the time of the 1903 coup, he by now commanded Serbian military intelligence — had dispatched for the purpose assassinated the Austrian heir presumptive Archduke Franz Ferdinand during his visit to the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

Their objective was the same as it had ever been, to avenge themselves upon their occupier. Moreover, Serbia had allied herself with Russia, and Vienna’s inevitable declaration of war over the provocation could be expected to draw Russia into a Great Power war, perhaps with the effect of shaking loose Austria’s Balkan provinces.

It did that, and it drew in the whole of Europe besides.

Apis’s assassins shattered the Habsburg empire and made possible a postwar Yugoslavian kingdom. That the Black Hand itself was one of the Great War’s casualties in the process was the littlest of ironies.

Its aggression had long placed it in a delicate relationship with the state which could never really be expected to acclimate to a permanent network of enragees looking to author wars and political murders.

By 1917 the Prime Minister Nikola Pasic saw an opening to move against Apis. Perhaps he feared resumed Black Hand subversion if Serbia negotiated a peace with Austria, or wanted to get rid of the guy who could tell exactly how much he, Pasic, knew about the Archduke’s assassination before it happened.

It was an effective ploy, no matter the reason. Alleging a bogus Black Hand plot to kill Serbia’s prince regent, a Serbian military investigation rolled up Dimitrijevic along with one of his original May Coup cronies, Ljobomir Vulovic and the alleged would-be assassin Rado Malobabic, a man who really had been involved in planning the Archduke Franz Ferdinand hit. Dimitrijevic was known to remark privately that whatever the charge sheet said, he was really being executed for that fateful day in Sarajevo.

The three condemned men stepped down into the ditches that had been dug for the purpose, and placed themselves in front of the stakes. Dimitrijevic on the right, Vulovic in the middle, and Malobabic on the left. After being blindfolded, Dimitrijevic and Vulovic cried: “Long live Greater Serbia!”

Malobabic succumbed after the first five shots, while the two others suffered longer, twenty shots having to be fired at each of them. No one was hit in the head. The execution was over at 4.47 in the morning.

-Witness’s account of the execution

* Different sources proposing numerous different dates in June and even July can be searched up on these here interwebs. We’re basing June 26 on primary reportage in the English-language press (e.g., the London Times of June 28, 1917, under a June 26 dateline: “The Serbian Prince Regent having confirmed the death sentences passed on Colonel Dragutin Dimitriovitch, Major Liubomir Vulovitch, and the volunteer Malobabitch for complicity in a plot to upset the existing regime, these were executed this morning in the outskirts of Salonika”). The sentences were confirmed on June 24, and both that date and its local Julian equivalent June 11 are among the notional death dates running around in the wild.

** The Black Hand from 1911 was the successor to Narodna Odbrana (“National Defense”) which formed in 1908 in response to Austria-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Greece,History,Infamous,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Serbia,Shot,Soldiers,Terrorists,Wartime Executions,Yugoslavia

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1863: Not Nathaniel Pruitt, reprieved deserter

Add comment June 10th, 2017 Headsman

On this date 150 years ago, according to Larry Daniel’s Soldiering in the Army of Tennessee, a middle-aged man was all set to be shot for deserting the Army of Tennessee, and the much-resented command of Gen. Braxton Bragg.

In a well-documented incident, a soldier received a reprieve as a result of a dramatic incident. Forty-seven-year-old Nathaniel Pruitt of the Nineteenth Tennessee was found guilty of desertion and on June 10, 1863, was taken to a field beside his regimental camp, his coffin placed beside an open grave. A minister cut a lock of hair to give to Pruitt’s wife. The firing squad was positioned and ordered to take aim, but just then an officer came galloping up with a special order to suspend the sentence. The prisoner began crying. “I was truly glad [of the reprieve], but must say some of the boys were disappointed,” a Mississippi diarist noted. Incredibly, the very next day, Pruitt again deserted and was never heard from again.

One takes the author’s point here about Pruitt’s risk-seeking second flight, but even so it might not really be all that “incredible” that one would desert the company of armed men who had recently shown open disappointment about being prevented from shooting one dead.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Confederates,Death Penalty,Desertion,Execution,History,Last Minute Reprieve,Lucky to be Alive,Military Crimes,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Shot,Soldiers,Tennessee,USA,Wartime Executions

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