Striking Midnight: Executed Today’s 12th Annual Report

Today’s* post makes it an even dozen years since Executed Today was born to werewolves way back on Halloween 2007.

That also makes this very post the 12th installment of the “annual reports” series, one which has trended increasingly pro forma here in the site’s silver age.

I’m afraid our 2019 edition will be no exception.

For an anticipated 3-to-5-year project, every year — hell, every day — is terra incognita. Certainly carrying the blog across the entire 2010s was never an expectation; merely reaching the 2010s would have sufficed to my imagination back when this all started. And while the plan at this point of course includes closing out the decade, the site’s senescence, already well underway, will not likely permit a very deep expedition into the 2020s.

I’m leaving myself some wiggle room since there’s no fixed date but the site has already accomplished what I dreamt for it tenfold and there are days when it feels not merely laborious but self-indulgent.

Executed Today is all about orchestrated partings but it’ll be a hard and reluctant separation for this writer whenever the time comes: still, that time is surely coming.

Call it triskaidekaphobia as we mount the scaffold for an unimaginable 13th year — in what condition to descend, no headsman can foresee.

* Yes, this post was backdated to the anniversary.

On this day..

1859: Four of John Brown’s Raiders

Thank God, the principles of the cause in which we were engaged will not die with me and my brave comrades. They will spread wider and wider and gather strength with each hour that passes. The voice of truth will echo through our land, bringing conviction to the erring and adding members to that glorious army who will follow its banner. The cause of everlasting truth and justice will go on conquering and to conquer until our broad and beautiful land shall rest beneath the banner of freedom. I had fondly hoped to live to see the principles of the Declaration of Independence fully realized. I had hoped to see the dark stain of slavery blotted from our land, and the libel of our boasted freedom erased, when we can say in truth that our beloved country is the land of the free and the home of the brave; but that can not be.

I have heard my sentence passed; my doom is sealed. But two more short days remain for me to fulfill my earthly destiny. But two brief days between me and eternity. At the expiration of these two days I shall stand upon the scaffold to take my last look of earthly scenes. But that scaffold has but little dread for me, for I honestly believe that I am innocent of any crime justifying such punishment. But by the taking of my life and the lives of my comrades. Virginia is but hastening on that glorious day, when the slave shall rejoice in his freedom. When he, too, can say. “I, too, am a man, and am groaning no more under the yoke of oppression.”

Last letter of Edwin Coppock, to his uncle Joshua Coppock

Both Green and Copeland were resident in Oberlin, Ohio — which erected this marker to honor both they and a third comrade who had not survived the Harper’s Ferry raid. Its inscription read:

These colored citizens of Oberlin, the heroic associates of the immortal John Brown, gave their lives for the slave. Et nunc servitudo etiam mortua est, laus deo [And thus slavery is finally dead, thanks be to God].

S. Green died at Charleston, Va., Dec. 16, 1859, age 23 years.
J. A. Copeland died at Charleston, Va., Dec. 16, 1859, age 25 years.
L. S. Leary died at Harper’s Ferry, Va., Oct 20, 1859, age 24 years.

Anti-slavery martyr John Brown hanged on December 2, 1859 for his daring raid on Harper’s Ferry, but it was not until two weeks later that four companions in the enterprise faced the gallows.

This sequel was a far more muted affair in comparison to “Old Brown” whose execution was immediately understood in all sections as an event of historic consequence. Yet Brown did not strike his blow by himself, and Charlestown was crowded for this subsidiary occasion, too.

The four who would quaff his same cup, all men in their twenties, cut a cross-section of the nation’s stirring abolitionist movement, mingling in their biographies the many reasons that the Slave Power had become intolerable.

  • Shields Green, an escaped slave and a friend of Frederick Douglass who described him as “not one to shrink from hardships or dangers. He was a man of few words, and his speech was singularly broken; but his courage and self-respect made him quite a dignified character.”
  • John Copeland, an Oberlin-educated free black man originally from North Carolina who had moved to Ohio, and there participated in a famous incident liberating an escaped slave from the clutches of a slave-catcher.
  • Edwin Coppoc(k) or Coppie, a white Iowa Quaker.
  • John Cook, a Connecticut blue blood “talkative, impulsive and restless, eager for adventure” who had joined Brown in the Bleeding Kansas frontier wars. He also happened to be a brother-in-law of Indiana Gov. Ashbel Willard, who incurred Virginians’ wrath (and even intemperate accusations of orchestrating the Harper’s Ferry raid) by wrangling unsuccessfully for his kinsman’s pardon.

Here’s the original coverage of the New York Herald, consuming almost an entire page of its Dec. 17, 1859 edition.

On this day..

Corpses Strewn: The Virginius Affair

The executions marked by this series could have been the antechamber to a hecatomb for they brought the United States and Spain to the brink of war in 1873 … a war that would be averted through diplomatic wrangling.

The occasion also marks the midpoint of Cuba’s correctly named Ten Years’ War, a revolution that sought to extract Cuba from the Spanish empire.* This revolt failed, but it set the stage for more fruitful attempts to come.

At the time, the romance of revolution in the air had attracted sympathies internationally including in the United States. One of these enthusiasts was an American named John F. Patterson, who bought a former Confederate blockade runner, the Virgin, and rechristened her Virginius.

Patterson put the speedy sidewheel to work supplying the Cuban rebels, an operation that reminds of antebellum American filibustering expeditions against Cuba — operations which would have been very recent history at the time. The Virginius was a pirate ship in Spanish eyes, meaning her crew played a very dangerous game.

On October 30, 1873, a Spanish warship spied the Virginius as the latter approached Guantanamo, and captured her after an eight-hour chase. She was heavy with weapons and ammunition (which were dumped overboard during the chase) as well as Cuban rebels (which were not).

No event that has transpired during the past ten years had produced such a unanimity of sentiment in this city as the recent wholesale butchery of the passengers and the crew of the Virginius … The horrid details of that atrocious affair have aroused a feeling of indignation in the minds of all, the whites and the blacks, democrats and Republicans, and … the members of the various religious denominations.

-New Orleans Republican, Nov. 21, 1873 (Via)

Spain’s rough and speedy disposition of the blockade runner’s human personnel might have more than done for casus belli, but Spanish President Emilio Castelar and U.S. President Ulysses Grant showed keen to avoid the conflict and negotiated a deft diplomatic resolution instead. It amounted to Spain turning the heavily damaged ship back over to the U.S. (the Virginius foundered while being towed back to American shores) while an American investigation ruled that Patterson’s ownership of the vessel had been illegitimate and she had not been entitled to fly the stars and stripes, which defused the official pulled-down-our-colors outrage being invoked by American patriots to justify a belligerent response. Spain also paid indemnities to the U.S. and to Great Britain for the executed people who were nationals of those countries, albeit only after a couple of years’ foot-dragging.

“Columbia, with fierce indignation, lays her hand on the shoulder of Secretary [Hamilton] Fish and asks, ‘What are you going to do about the insult to your flag?’ Mr. Fish makes no answer and the country still waits to hear from him.” (Explainer text within the Nov. 14 Daily Graphic, just to make sure you got the point.) This edition demanded Fish’s resignation for failing to address a more muscular response to Spain, but Fish in private correspondence showed that he was thinking with different anatomy: “I have thought of the tens of thousands of wives who might have been made widows, and of the hundreds of thousands of children who might have been made orphans, in an unnecessary war undertaken for a dishonest vessel. There is a national evil worse than war, but unless the national honor, or the national existence, require war then the nation should do all that it can to avoid the terrible evil. That is what I have endeavored to do.”

The Virginius affair is largely forgotten today but the Grant administration’s recognition of its problematic naval inferiority** in this near-war not only saved the day but spurred American construction of updated ironclads. The results were the U.S.S. Puritan and Amphitrite-class monitors — ships that would take part in the Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th century.

* A notable casualty of the war that has graced these grim annals already: eight Cuban medical students shot together in 1871 and still national martyrs to this day.

** Under the heading of “Our Flimsy Fleet” the Nov. 14 Daily Graphic noted that “while the American navy makes an imposing show on paper, it is really far inferior in numbers and efficiency to that of Spain,” featuring just two ironclads in the North Atlantic “better fitted for harbor than sea service” to go with “decayed wooden frigates, unseaworthy monitors, and vessels that for a dozen years have been rotting on the stocks.” They made an embarrassing contrast to the “monster” Spanish frigate Arapelis that happened to be then in dry docks in New York.

The paper’s source is Admiral David Dixon Porter, who presumably was floating a Grant administration talking point meant to reduce enthusiasm for war while also securing Congressional grants for fleet investment. The paper proceeds to editorialize in its own voice that “the parsimony which has permitted our navy to become so inferior to that of a decrepit state like Spain will not command unlimited admiration now that there is a possibility that its services will be needed.”

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Deathed Up to the Nines: Executed Today’s Ninth Annual Report

When The Day of the Dead rolls around it’s time to break out the candles for another birthday, somehow Executed Today‘s ninth since it entered crying in 2007. Hell, we’ve been around so long that Day of the Dead has evolved new traditions in our lifetime.

If you’re among the 4,651 or so humans and bots who follow @executedtoday on Twitter you might have inferred from our erratic presence that it’s been more like the nine circles of hell managing the most recent year out.

The frozen lake of the loveless is where bloggers go.

This perdition stuff is as narrow as it is exaggerated. Overall, this writer’s life is in a better place than it was 12 months ago — it’s merely that the transitions involved grievously strain the allotment left for executions. Executioners, strange caste, still have other interests.

The ninth year now in the books was not a triumph but a dark passage, a test to survive; it has not produced many of this site’s greatest posts — and the best among them surely include Meaghan Good’s guest offerings, without which Executed Today would have folded up its gallows long ago — but at least there have been 365 plus the leap year.

We’re ready for Year X.

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1886: Dennis Dilda

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

On this date in 1886, 37-­year­-old Dennis W. Dilda was hanged at the Yavapai County Jail in the then­-territory of Arizona. He was convicted of two murders but may well have committed others, as R. Michael Wilson records in his book, More Frontier Justice in the Wild West: Bungled, Bizarre, and Fascinating Executions:

Dennis W. Dilda was born on a farm near Rome, Georgia, in 1849. In his twenties he left home to avoid arrest after he stabbed a Negro to death for his money. He traveled to Texas, where he was soon charged with murdering a white man. Dilda fled and pursued, captured, tried, and acquitted, but there appears to be no record of either the crime or his trial. After being freed in Texas, he met and married his wife, Georgia, and soon followed her family from Texas to the Salt River Valley in the Arizona Territory. Over the next several years, Dilda got into several shooting scrapes in Phoenix, although no one was injured, but when his brother­-in­-law began to object to his sister’s choice of husband, the brother-­in­-law disappeared under suspicious circumstances. His body was never found and the family never heard from him again.

In September 1885, Dilda got a job helping to manage William Hamilton Williscraft’s farm. The farmhouse came along with the job and Dilda and his wife and children moved in. Williscraft went to live elsewhere but kept one room in the farmhouse for himself. The room was always securely locked and inside was a locked trunk.

Dilda was supposed to have worked alongside the farm’s general caretaker, “General Grant” Jenkins. By December, however, Jenkins had disappeared, and Williscraft noticed the lock had been pried off the door of his reserved room, the trunk had been opened and a gold watch and two pistols were missing. Dilda told his boss that his coworker had hated the job and complained all the time, and one morning he simply left. He denied knowing anything about the theft and suggested Jenkins had done it.

Williscraft, however, knew and trusted Jenkins, who had worked for him for twenty years. He didn’t believe his faithful employee would have stolen from him and then left without giving notice.

So he rode to town and swore out a warrant with the Yavapai County Sheriff, William J. Mulvenon, charging Dilda with the theft.

Deputy Sheriff John W. Murphy went to serve the warrant, stopping at rancher Charley Behm’s house on the way. He went to Dilda’s house several times on December 20, but each time Georgia Dilda told him her husband was out hunting.

Murphy borrowed Behm’s needle gun and tried one more time after dark. The sky was clear and there was full moon. Again, Dilda’s wife said he wasn’t home. In fact, he was hiding behind a fence, armed and waiting for his quarry, something Georgia was well aware of. When Murphy started to leave, Dilda shot him in the back. The deputy sheriff was able to fire the needle gun once before he collapsed and bled to death. Dennis and Georgia Dilda dragged his body inside the farmhouse and down into the cellar, and Dilda buried it there.

The next day, alarmed that Murphy hadn’t returned, Williscraft went to the farmhouse himself and found Murphy’s horse tied up just twenty feet from the house, and pools of blood in that yard. He gathered a posse of men, but Dilda had already left on foot and he was armed to the teeth, with Behm’s needle gun, his own .30 caliber Remington rifle, and Murphy’s .44 caliber revolver and cartridge belt.

Searchers found the corpse of “General Grant” Jenkins buried in the garden, concealed beneath a bed of replanted sunflowers. He had been shot in the head and had been dead for weeks. The searchers found Murphy’s body a short time afterwards.

A search party went looking for the fugitive and found him two days later, asleep under a tree. He did not resist when Sheriff Mulvenon arrested him. “You know it would be natural for a man in my position, if he could tell anything that would benefit him, he would do so,” Dilda replied simply when pressed for a confession. “But I have nothing to say.”

Dilda’s last night on earth, Wilson notes, “was restless, as he would doze only to awaken suddenly with a startled scream.” In the morning they took him to his favorite Chinese restaurant for breakfast and he ate heartily. At eleven o’clock, Dilda had one final photograph taken with his wife and two small children, Fern and John.

The hanging was at 2:00 p.m.

While Dilda was standing on the scaffold, Sheriff Mulvenon asked, “Is there anything you want?”

“A drink,” Dilda replied. Mulvenon let him take a long draw from a bottle of whiskey.

Some eight hundred men, as well as a dozen women, watched the hanging. Dilda went to his death quietly. The only commotion came from the audience: a reporter sent to cover the execution fainted as the trap was sprung.

The condemned man’s last words were, “Goodbye, boys!”

Georgia Dilda did not face charges for her role in Deputy Sheriff Murphy’s death. She returned to her family in Phoenix after the execution and never bothered to send for her husband’s body.

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Announcing: Execution Playing Cards

We are balefully excited to announce the release of our custom build of Execution Playing Cards — a beautiful, play-ready poker deck featuring 13 of the most noteworthy executions in each of four different countries: England, France, Germany, and Russia.

Printed to last on 100% plastic and available from this site only starting at $12, they’re just the stuff for the stocking of your life’s lover of history … or of the macabre … or of games.

Buy this on Selz

On this day..

Executed Today’s Fourth Annual Report: Wrung, Wan and Quartered

Against all probability, yesterday’s post completes the fourth full year of daily death-blogging here since Executed Today launched on Halloween 2007. That’s 1,461 straight days, including a February 29.

It’s also a couple of trips overseas, a long move, a random hospitalization, and whatever else it is that comprises a life.

Back when I first started toying with this concept, I told people who asked where the material came from that the annals held such a vast forest of heads on pikes that if the blog didn’t go for 3-5 years it would only be for want of its writer’s energy.

The sentiment was a means of setting a bar for myself. Short of three to five years, the project would have been ill-done, relative to my vision for it, no matter how compelling the reason to abandon it.

Though it’s absurd in a site that’s all about endings, I have to admit that I never thought about what winding down would look like — what comes after three to five years, and when.

Although a great deal of the lowest-hanging fruit has obviously been plucked, the upper branches are so heavy with ripe delectables that there would be ample scope for three to five more years without even counting on new cases. (As we observed last year, more human beings are added to the executioner’s register day by day than are disposed of in this chronicle.)

I wouldn’t bet on that longevity … but then, I wouldn’t have bet on actually making it this long in the first place.

Charley Workhorse

As always, I depend heavily on guest contributors, enumerated in detail below.

But special gratitude is due (and regularly experienced) to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project.

For reasons best known to herself, Meaghan “adopted” this site sometime after she discovered it and has been an absolutely prolific contributor — all while maintaining a vast and important site of her own on missing persons in the U.S. By my count, Meaghan has squeezed in time for 32 posts in the past 15 months, and that’s not counting those that are queued up for the months ahead. She’s got a nose for a great story, a knack for retelling it, and an unnatural level of patience for my scatterbrained harried-editor act. She’s been the margin between a night’s sleep and a total constitutional collapse so often that it’s fair to say she’s been the margin that has enabled Executed Today to keep up its run at all.

Meaghan, thank you.


Overall traffic to the site grew last year, but only modestly: from 1.6 million pageviews during the November 2009 – October 2010 period, to 1.9 million pageviews in the succeeding twelvemonth. (It’s north of 4.6 million all-time to date.)

I like to think it’s a discerning crowd that hangs about for what, after all, is an exceedingly niche subject with no marketing muscle. Exponential growth is fun while it lasts, but if you ever catch me complaining that my audience is too small, please slap some sense into me. I’m thrilled that so many people so regularly stop by to visit.

Top Search Terms

Not a whole lot of news in this department relative to previous years — excluding the searches on “executed today” and “executedtoday”, the top 10 searches (and the top 50, and the top 100 …) are overwhelmingly the names of executed individual men and (especially) women.

executed today ted bundy
michael x
ruth snyder
thomas cromwell
charles starkweather
albert pierrepoint
ling chi
samuel doe
soraya manutchehri
thomas cromwell execution botched
maggie dela riva
amon goeth
karla faye tucker
rainey bethea
masha bruskina
hamida djandoubi
caryl chessman
nam cam


The Twitter feed has more than doubled to about 1,100 followers, who have endured 7,200 tweets.

Top Posts

The most popular posts on Executed Today have a familiar look about them. And it’s not just the accumulation of preceding years’ traffic stats; most of the top posts on this list are also among the top posts week in and week out.

1. January 24, 1989: Ted Bundy

Home of a thousands-long comment thread on everything Bundy, this one post has been viewed nearly 100,000 times on its own — more than numbers two through four on this list combined.

2. September 9, 1990: Samuel K. Doe

Overthrown Liberian dictator tortured to death as the cameras rolled.

3. August 14, 1936: Rainey Bethea

America’s last public hanging.

4. July 4, 1946: Eleven from the Stutthof Concentration Camp

5. July 28, 1540: Thomas Cromwell

The Tudor politician is the only fellow from before the 20th century among the site’s top 40 posts.

6. September 27, 1996: Dr. Mohammad Najibullah

The former Soviet-backed Afghan ruler hanged from a traffic pylon by the Taliban has been the year’s biggest mover: it was merely #35 as of last October, but it’s been second-most-trafficked (behind only Bundy) during the past year.

7. December 23, 1948: Hideki Tojo and 6 other Japanese war criminals

8. May 15, 1916: Jesse Washington lynched after conviction

9. July 21, 1944: Col. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg

The only top-50 executee to be portrayed on celluloid by Tom Cruise.

10. May 22, 1946: Karl Hermann Frank

This site is basically sponsored by World War II.

11. April 10, 1905: Fou Tchou Li, by a thousand cus
12. May 25, 1948: Witold Pilecki, Auschwitz infiltrator
13. June 19, 1953: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
14. July 19, 2005: Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, gay teens
15. July 8, 1999: Allen Lee “Tiny” Davis, the last electrocuted in Florida
16. November 28, 1950: James Corbitt, the hangman’s mate
17. January 12, 1928: Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray, Double Indemnity inspiration
18. September 10, 1977: Hamida Djandoubi, the last guillotined in France
19. October 26, 1941: Masha Bruskina, Kiril Trus and Voloda Shcherbatsevich, partisans
20. May 17, 1972: The rapists of Maggie dela Riva
21. September 13, 1946: Amon Goeth, Schindler’s List villain
22. August 27, 1979: Eleven by firing squad in Iran
23. June 25, 1959: Charles Starkweather, Nebraska spree killer
24. June 6, 1997: Henry Francis Hays, Klansman
25. April 7, 2007: Du’a Khalil Aswad, honor killing victim
26. June 17, 1939: Eugen Weidmann, the last public beheading in France
27. Ma 16, 1975: Michael X
28. February 1, 1968: Nguyen Van Lem
29. December 11, 1962: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin
30. Unspecified date, November 1942: Partisans by the Sonderbataillon Dirlewanger
31. January 31, 1945: Private Eddie Slovik, the last American shot for desertion
32. October 9, 1967: Ernesto “Che” Guevara
33. November 29, 1941: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya
34. February 17, 2004: Cameron Todd Willingham We beat the national media to the news that Rick Perry executed an innocent man, but the national media has had its revenge by filing enough Willingham stories to bury this link. That’s okay: we’ll take it.
35. December 13, 1945: The Belsen war criminals
36. August 8, 1944: Eight July 20 plotters
37. January 9, 1923: Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters
38. June 20, 1864: William Johnson
39. May 10, 1994: John Wayne Gacy
40. February 3, 1998: Karla Faye Tucker
41. July 28, 1794: Maximilien Robespierre
42. July 15, 1977: Princess Misha’al bint Fahd al Saud and her lover
43. March 28, 1757: Robert Francois Damiens, disciplined and punished
44. December 30, 1896: Dr. Jose Rizal
45. May 9, 1947: Willie Francis, this time successfully (in contrast to the first time)
46. August 14, 2004: Dhananjoy Chatterjee, the last hanged in India … for now
47. Unspecified date, late 41 BCE: Arsinoe IV, Cleopatra’s sister
48. December 20, 1786: Hannah Ocuish, age 12
49. June 3, 2004: Nam Cam, Vietnam crime lord
50. March 16, 2005: Mohammed Bijeh, the desert vampire

The most-trafficked post actually put up since last Halloween is that of Eva Dugan, a grisly botch in Canada — which is #123 all-time and stands a good chance at cracking the top 50 by this time next year.

Guest Content

This blog gets by with a little help from its friends; close to 10% of the content has been written by guest authors.

I was enormously grateful in Year IV for these guest posts:

July 8, 1938: Anthony Chebatoris

Carl Pyrdum III

Dick Haws


Elizabeth M. Hull

Mary O’Grady

Meaghan Good

(An amazing collection. See above.)

Michael Baney

Mike Dash

Robert Perkinson

Robert Perske

  • Jan. 6, 1939: Joe Arridy, posted the day before Arridy was posthumously pardoned, a guest post + interview with one of the campaigners who helped make that pardon possible


Expert interviews also helped liven up these posts:

Editor’s Picks

Other than guest posts, which are always among the best content on the site, these are a few of the everyday posts that I found most interesting to write.

… and especially appropriate to year four of the site:

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2006: Ali Afrawi and Mehdi Nawaseri

Among the numerous ethnicities subject to rough treatment in Iran are Ahwazi Arabs, a minority concentrated in oil-rich Khuzestan, right on the border with southern Iraq. It was one of the bloodiest theaters of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980’s.

17-year-old Ali Afrawi

On this date in 2006, two young Ahwazi Arabs were publicly hanged in Ahvaz (Ahwaz) for their alleged participation in a separatist bombing campaign there in 2005-2006.

Heady days for the dirty war unleashed by America’s Iraq invasion. Iranian officials slated the “treacherous and criminal Britain” (occupying the adjacent region of Iraq) for backing the Ahvaz bombings. Confessions to that effect extracted from today’s two principals were broadcast the evening before their execution.

Afrawi and Nawaseri, meanwhile, were only the tip of the iceberg for a spree of evidently political trials against Ahwazis that year.

The wider Ahwazi population continues to face a troubling human rights situation (pdf), seemingly subject to ethnic cleansing meant to scotch any potential for Ahwazi nationalist sentiment and keep oil wealth in the hands of Tehran.

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Daily Double: The Fifteen

The deposition from the throne of England of Catholic convert James Stuart long sat ill with a section of the English population — and a much larger one of the Scottish — that answers to the name of Jacobite.

When Jamie’s Protestant daughter Queen Anne died without issue in 1714, these malcontents saw an opportunity to contest succession on behalf, now, of the ex-king’s son, “James III” — since the by-the-book succession for the late queen’s nearest Protestant relative dubiously handed the crown to a German noble.

And so they authored “the Fifteen”, a discombobulated 1715 revolt that never got enough traction to put Stuart restoration seriously on the table.

The Jacobites were made for many more years of disappointment, and King George I was made to cement the incipient Hanoverian dynasty … and the monarchy’s decisive submission to parliament.

And on February 24 and 25 of 1716, a number of men made their, er, decisive submission to George I on the scaffold.

Anti-Jacobite folk song “Ye Jacobites by Name”.

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1914: Regiment Mixte de Tirailleurs decimated

On this date in 1914, the French army decimated a regiment of its Tunisian soldiers for retreating.

Seriously, decimation? In the 20th century?

Even the most jaded navigator of World War I’s extensive stock of horror may be gobsmacked to find that military executions in this conflict extended to the Roman-pioneered practice of imposing collective punishment on a unit by killing a random tenth of it. Little more is evidently available about this situation online, but the idea of the French military selecting randomly for salutary executions is used in Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory where one officer, charged with providing an enlisted man for trial, simply has them all draw lots.

And according to Gilbert Meynier’s L’Algérie Révélée: La guerre de. 1914–1918 et le premier quart du XX sie`cle (French review), African soldiers’ experience in the Great War with incidents like this tended to underscore France’s colonial domination … and helped contribute to the national identity-forming that would break the French grip on North Africa as the century unfolded.

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