1862: Martin Dumollard, l’assassin des bonnes

2 comments March 8th, 2012 Headsman

It’s the sesquicentennial of France’s beheading of Martin Dumollard, one of the earliest — some even venture the earliest — serial killers in the modern record.

From Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors, this is no mere death mask — but the actual skin of the killer. More pictures here, including Dumollard’s creepy house.

This dull peasant spent at least the latter half of the 1850s (and maybe the first half, too) visiting Lyon where he would lure impecunious girls with the promise of good wages in a domestic position.

We know very well that there was no job awaiting these young women, but the twist is that Dumollard wasn’t a sex-killer, either — he just wanted to throttle his marks, drink their blood, and steal their poor clothes and meager possessions to re-sell them.

So, a strange, scary man: here’s his French Wikipedia page; most of the resources about him are in French, but this little biography should suffice to orient the Anglophone.

And in Second Empire France, with its haunting specters of Communism and nationalism, the migration of country bumpkins like Dumollard into urban areas, and the existential threat posed the entire polity by the rise of neighboring Prussia … in that France, Dumollard’s shocking spree really agitated the id of the respectable French bourgeoisie.

Relentless and grim — Dumollard had actually seen his own father put to death when the family fled as refugees to Italy during his boyhood — the illiterate, middle-aged murderer as presented to the public heedlessly stuffed his face with food while maintaining a near-total disinterest in the criminal case that would claim his head. He’d also shown no interest in subterfuge, leading the courts to castigate police for not detecting him years earlier even though several girls had escaped from him. His wife abetted the whole thing, dutifully washing out the victims’ stained clothes before market days. (She got a sentence of hard labor.)

Dumollard must have looked to his betters like some vengeful golem arisen from the soil, a homicidal automaton not even impelled by any recognizable human avidity, and a frightening warning of what might befall them.

According to Albert Borowitz, the unveiling a few months later of Jean-Francois Millet’s unnerving painting The Man with the Hoe raised hackles in France (and it did raise hackles) partly because of the farmer’s perceived resemblance to Martin Dumollard.


L’homme à la houe (The Man with the Hoe), by Jean-Francois Millet. “A monster without brow, dim-eyed and with an idiotic rictus, planted in the middle of a field like a scarecrow,” wrote Paul de Saint-Victor of this painting. “No trace of intelligence humanizes this brute at rest. Has he just been working, or murdering? Does he dig the land or hollow out the grave?

“The public voice has found his name: it is Dumollard, gravedigger of the good.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Murder,Public Executions,Serial Killers,Theft

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1862: An unknown Confederate deserter

1 comment December 19th, 2009 Headsman

From a letter written by one Private Thomas Warrick of Alabama, cited in The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy by Bell Irvin Wiley:

I saw a site today that made me feel mity Bad I saw a man shot for deserting there was twenty fore Guns shot at him thay shot him all to pease … he went home and thay Brote him Back and then he went home again and so they shot him for that Martha it was one site that I did hate to see it But I could not helpe my self I had to do Jest as thay sed for me to doo.

This unknown soldier shot “all to pease” had just run afoul of Gen. Braxton Bragg‘s draconian anti-desertion policy meant to crack down on soldiers going AWOL for casual leave, often to help the families they had left behind keep up the farm.

As Wiley points out, our letter-writer Private Warrick was himself planning to do just that.

Bragg’s little salutary bloodbath evidently had its effect, because he didn’t go AWOL. Wiley quotes Warrick, now in a more Joe Friday mode than when he had promised to “come home Eny how”, writing his parents in 1864,

I would be glad to see you all now but I recon that I have bin home my last time till this war closes.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Confederates,Death Penalty,Desertion,Execution,History,Known But To God,Military Crimes,Separatists,Shot,Soldiers,Tennessee,USA,Wartime Executions

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1862: William B. Mumford, flag desecrator

5 comments June 7th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1862, a 42-year-old gambler hanged at the New Orleans mint where, six weeks before, he had pulled down the Stars and Stripes of the arriving Union occupiers to the delight of a Confederate mob.

Moving to secure the Mississippi, Northern forces had the Big Easy encircled and about to surrender when, an advance team landed in the undefended city and pulled down the Stars and Bars over the mint on Esplanade Avenue.

William Bruce Mumford was among the Confederate loyalists who took exception to the Yankee flag, so he chopped it down and dragged it through the street (provoking a cannonade from a Union warship). The flag was little but tatters by the time he had through with it.

Although the city was not officially occupied at the time of this incident, the mint was a federal building. Army General Benjamin Butler resolved to make a salutary example out of the incident to quell any possible civil unrest.

I find the city under the dominion of a mob. They have insulted our flag — torn it down with indignity. This outrage will be punished in such a manner as in my judgment will caution both the perpetrators and abettors of the act, so that they will fear the stripes, if they do not reverence the stars of our banner.

Butler, it should be allowed, had some reason for this conclusion. The Picayune exulted the act as, well, a call to resistance.

The names of the party that distinguished themselves by gallantly tearing down the flag that had been surreptitiously hoisted, we learn, are W. B. Mumford, who cut it loose from the flag-staff amid the shower of grape. Lieutenant N. Holmes, Sergeant Burns and James Reed. They deserve great credit for their patriotic act. New Orleans, in this hour of adversity, by the calm dignity she displays in the presence of the enemy, by the proof she gives of her unflinching determination to sustain to the uttermost the righteous cause for which she has done so much and made such great sacrifices, by her serene endurance undismayed of the evil which afllicts her, and her abiding confidence in the not distant coming of better and brighter days — of speedy deliverance from the enemy’s toils — is showing a bright example to her sister cities, and proving herself, in all respects, worthy of the proud position she has achieved. We glory in being a citizen of this great metropolis.

This free book argues that Butler’s clemency a few days before to a group of condemned southern enlisted men made mercy politically impossible in the Mumford case, lest the citizenry interpret executive weakness as an invitation to lawlessness.

If that was Butler’s calculus, Confederate die-hards did not appreciate it.

Accordingly, when Mumford was “hung … from a flag-staff projecting from one of the windows under the front portico” of the mint, he won promotion into the pantheon of southern martyrs.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis issued an order condemning General Butler, and even his officers, to death, along with some outsized bluster about embargoing prisoner exchanges that the Confederacy had not the manpower to seriously intend:

William B. Mumford, a citizen of this Confederacy, was actually and publicly executed in cold blood by hanging alter the occupation of the city of New Orleans by the forces under the command of General Benjamin F. Butler when said Mumford was an unresisting and non-combatant captive, and for no offense even alleged to have been committed by him subsequent to the date of the capture of the said city …

the silence of the Government of the United States and its maintaining of said Butler in high office under its authority for many months after his commission of an act that can be viewed in no other light than as a deliberate murder, as well as of numerous other outrages and atrocities hereafter to be mentioned, afford evidence only too conclusive that the said Government sanctions the conduct of said Butler and is determined that he shall remain unpunished for his crimes:

Now therefore I, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, and in their name do pronounce and declare the said Benjamin F. Butler to be a felon deserving of capital punishment. I do order that he be no longer considered or treated simply as a public enemy of the Confederate States of America but as an outlaw and common enemy of mankind, and that in the event of his capture the officer in command of the capturing force do cause him to be immediately executed by hanging; and I do further order that no commissioned officer of the United States taken captive shall be released on parole before exchange until the said Butler shall have met with due punishment for his crimes.

And whereas the hostilities waged against this Confederacy by the forces of the United States under the command of said Benjamin F. Butler have borne no resemblance to such warfare as is alone permissible by the rules of international law or the usages of civilization but have been characterized by repeated atrocities and outrages

… (examples of atrocities omitted) …

I, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America and acting by their authority, appealing to the Divine Judge in attestation that their conduct is not guided by the passion of revenge but that they reluctantly yield to the solemn duty of repressing by necessary severity crimes of which their citizens are the victims, do issue this my proclamation, and by virtue of my authority as Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the Confederate States do order-

1. That all commissioned officers in the command of said Benjamin F. Butler be declared not entitled to be considered as soldiers engaged in honorable warfare but as robbers and criminals deserving death, and that they and each of them be whenever captured reserved for execution.

2. That the private soldiers and non-commissioned officers in the army of said Butler be considered as only the instruments used for the commission of the crimes perpetrated by his orders and not as free agents; that they therefore be treated when captured as prisoners of war with kindness and humanity and be sent home on the usual parole that they will in no manner aid or serve the United States in any capacity during the continuance of this war unless duly exchanged.

3. That all negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong to be dealt with according to the laws of said States.

4. That the like orders be executed in all cases with respect to all commissioned officers of the United States when found serving in company with armed slaves in insurrection against the authorities of the different States of this Confederacy.

The Confederates never got a chance to enforce the order; he resumed his colorful political career and died in 1893 hailed as Massachusetts’ greatest citizen-soldier. Complain (pdf) as they might of his iron-heeled rule, the residents of New Orleans had good cause to appreciate the relatively early and orderly occupation of their city, which spared it the flames visited on more recalcitrant rebel strongholds.

For the South, the loss of its largest city and the gateway to the Mississippi was a severe blow. As the rebel position crumbled in the months to come, Jefferson Davis must have had a worry for his own neck.

Somehow, he and every other Southerner escaped execution for their treasonable design, which leaves William Bruce Mumford, the riverboat gambler who tore down Old Glory, as the only American since at least the War of 1812 to be put to death for treason against the United States.*

* Anti-slavery rebel John Brown was hanged for treason in 1859, but it was treason against the state of Virginia — not against the U.S. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were electrocuted for espionage, not treason.

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1862: Asa Lewis, Confederate deserter

4 comments December 26th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1862, a 19-year-old Confederate infantryman became the tragic victim at Murfreesboro, Tenn., of his army’s need to shore up military discipline.

Kentuckian Asa Lewis was shot for desertion, for having returned home after his enlistment expired in order to help his family plant the season’s crops.

“French leave”,* it’s sometimes called — an illicit but temporary and often unpunished absence from the unit.

According to Mark Weitz’s More Damning Than Slaughter: Desertion in the Confederate Army, it was a pervasive phenomenon — as were more permanent desertions which menaced the small Confederate army, fighting amid the soldiers’ own farms, whose languishing from the conscription of able-bodied men presented a constant temptation to depart.**

[The South’s] white population combined with its preferred form of agriculture to create a potential pool of men who could hardly be called disposable … To find the Southern soldier one must go down the food chain into that vast sea of men referred to as yeomen and poor whites. These men and their sons would form the backbone of the Southern army, an army of farmers, men whose lives were as governed by the seasons as the lives of their fathers and grandfathers before them. These men could not be spared in the same way as their Northern counterparts without affecting the quality of their families’ lives — and often those families’ very survival.

Under less urgent circumstances, Lewis would be the poster child for the guy who would sort of deserve to slide for the odd spell of French leave.

He’d fought with distinction, earning decorations and promotions, and his mother and sisters were reportedly starving without his help. He was only being kept in the army after his term of engagement by the 19th-century equivalent of a stop-loss policy.

But Lewis had the bad fortune to go AWOL — it seems he did intend to return — right when the urgency of the army-wide desertion situation was becoming apparent to Confederate brass … and while serving under the general who Weitz says took it most seriously.

Gen. Braxton Bragg had issued an amnesty earlier that fall to clear the decks, and then declared pitiless treatment of desertion going forward.

Bragg understood something that his superiors, peers, and colleagues did not: the Confederacy had an army of farmers … Bragg knew that these men were fighting at home, that they would [sic] were being drawn back there, and that he had to take immediate steps to close off the avenues of departure.

Bragg tightened the screws on soldiers who straggled on the march (a common strategy to slink away), on grunts seeking medical furloughs (already establishing themselves as a halfway house towards a discharge), and on Confederate prisoners obtained by exchange for Union POWs (who were no longer paroled back home, but kept with the army).

Asa Lewis was hardly the only man shot under the policy. But construing mere French leave as capitally punishable “desertion” gave the general a chance to put the fear of a Confederate firing squad into other potential stragglers and malingerers — and the Kentuckian campaign to obtain clemency for the poor kid probably only helped Bragg’s purpose.

The next day’s Rebel Banner (cited in this free Google books offering) ran this item:

[A]midst a drenching rain-storm, Asa Lewis, member of Captain Page’s company, Sixth Kentucky regiment, was shot by a file of men. He was executed upon a charge of desertion, which was fully proven against him. The scene was one of great impressiveness and solemnity. The several regiments of Hanson’s brigade were drawn up in a hollow square, while Generals Breckinridge and Hanson, with their staffs, were present to witness the execution. The prisoner was conveyed from jail to the brigade drill-ground on an open wagon, under the escort of a file of ten men, commanded by Major Morse and Lieut. George B. Brumley. Lewis’s hands were tied behind him, a few words were said to him by Generals Brekinridge and Hanson, and word fire was given, and all was over. The unfortunate man conducted himself with great coolness and composure. He was said to have been a brave soldier, and distinguished himself at the battle of Shiloh.

Official journos may have been approving — Weitz says a contemporary newspaper report approvingly claimed that “when Bragg saw his army melting away from desertion he began shooting every man convicted by a court-martial, and that as a result his army had become ‘well disciplined'” — but less charitable interpretations of Bragg would hew more to the line that the man was simply being a petty, vindictive tyrant.

The aforementioned execution witness Breckinridge, for instance, was a Kentuckian himself and hated Bragg’s guts. (A week later, Bragg would waste 10,000 Confederate lives at the Battle of Stones River, and the rift became irreparable.)

* The French call it “English leave”.

** Other able-bodied farm laborers in the South, of course, were better inclined to back the Union.

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1862: Nueces Massacre

August 10th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1862, German immigrants fleeing Confederate conscription were caught near Texas’ Nueces River and slain to a man.

The nomenclature of the “Nueces Massacre” is controversial since this party of Union loyalists making a leisurely pace* for Mexico got its shots off as it was gunned down in a gully by Texas Partisan Rangers in the predawn hours.

But the incident becomes a clear candidate for these pages with the summary execution of the surviving captured and wounded men later this day. Here’s the account of an obviously upset member of the Confederate party:

[S]ome of the more humane of us did what we could to ease the sufferings of the wounded Germans. They had fought a good fight, and bore themselves so pluckily I felt sorry I had taken my part against them. We bound up their wounds, and gave them water, and laid them as comfortably as we could in the shade. Poor creatures, how grateful they were!

He then pauses for breakfast and helps gather up the scattered German horses; we rejoin the narration after 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

I hurried over to where we had left the German wounded to see how they were getting on, and was surprised to find them gone. Asking what had become of them, I was told they had been moved to a better shade a short distance away. With this answer I was quite satisfied, and never dreamed the brutes with whom I served would be guilty of foul play, especially after the gallant fight the enemy had made.

Just then one of our wounded called for water, and I brought him some from the cool spring. As I was giving it to him, the sound of firing was heard a little way off. I thought at first they were burying some of the dead with the honors of war; but it didn’t sound like that either. Then, possibly it might be an attack on the camp; so I seized my rifle and ran in the direction of the firing. Presently I met a man coming from it who, when he saw me running, said, “You needn’t be in a hurry, it’s all done; they shot the poor devils, and finished them off.”

“It can’t possibly be they have murdered the prisoners in cold blood!” I said, not believing that even Luck [a villainous — to the diarist’s mind — lieutenant] would be guilty of such an atrocious crime. “Oh, yes; they’re all dead, sure enough — and a good job too!” Feeling sick at heart, though I hardly even then credited his report, I ran on, and found it only too true.

It seems they were asked if they wouldn’t like to be moved a little way off into better shade. The poor creatures willingly agreed, thanking their murderers for their kindness. They were carried away, but it was to the shade and shadow of death, for a party of cowardly wretches went over and shot them in cold blood.

More summary justice followed in the weeks ahead against members of the party who had escaped** and others, and Confederate Haengerbande would plague Texas Germans of insufficient southern enthusiasm for the remainder of the war.

Fred Shon Powers offers this detailed account of the affair; there’s another here.

This day’s victims are honored by the Treue der Union obelisk, the only Union monument in Confederate territory, a prominent distinction that (as with all things in the Civil War) invites political football. This conservative article throws cold water on the “Germans-as-antislavery-Unionists” trope, and academic papers from a 1990’s conference gathered in this volume treat Nueces among other topics of “disloyalty” in the Confederacy.


The photo is taken by Steve & Marion Daughtry In Comfort, Texas. Image used with permission.

* An escapee recounted decades later by way of explanation for the party’s fatal inattention to either haste or defense, “Having read a proclamation from the Confederate government announcing that all persons not friendly to it might leave the country, we believed we had a right to do so in large or small bodies, as best suited our convenience, to the border and there cross over into Mexico.”

** About half the group had separated from the main body just before the Confederates engaged them. From this number come the “escapees,” many of them later killed in the hills or while crossing into Mexico. Those who stayed put all died this day.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Confederates,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Summary Executions,Texas,USA,Wartime Executions

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1862: 38 Sioux

5 comments December 26th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1862, 38 rebellious Sioux were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota, in the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

Fully 303 had been condemned to die in drumhead trials after the five-week Dakota War, one of the numerous native conflicts sparked by the march of European settlers across North America.

Abraham Lincoln — in a political risk — commuted all but 39 sentences* adjudged “to have participated in massacres, as distinguished from participation in battles,” essentially defining a special category for what today might be considered “war crimes.”

Lincoln had more pressing business on his hands, to be sure, but seems to have been affected by the plight of the natives that drove them to wage hopeless war on encroaching settlers:

“[Bishop Henry Whipple] came here the other day and talked with me about the rascality of this Indian business until I felt it down to my boots. If we get through this war, and I live, this Indian system shall be reformed!”

Fateful “if” — but politicians say many things, after all, and it was long before Lincoln went to Ford’s Theater that the tribes had been forced out of Minnesota, scattered to wasteland reservations and subsequent clashes with the American army.

On this day, all that doleful future was prefigured in the 38 who hanged together in what is now Mankato’s Reconciliation Park, an event that after a century’s time has become a moment for commemoration.

Two academics’ pages on the Dakota War and its aftermath are here and here.

*One of those was subsequently spared over uncertainty of the evidence against him.

Part of the Themed Set: The Spectacle of Public Hanging in America.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Milestones,Minnesota,Murder,Not Executed,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Pardons and Clemencies,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

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