1865: Marcellus Jerome Clarke, “Sue Mundy”

5 comments March 15th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1865, Marcellus Jerome Clarke rode a carriage to a scaffold on Broadway Ave. in Louisville, Ky., where he addressed the multitude thus:

I am a regular Confederate soldier, and have served in the Confederate army four years … I could prove that I am a regular Confederate soldier, and I hope to die for the Confederate cause.

And then he did.

Clarke‘s last remarks were a protest against Kentucky’s military government. Having captured Clarke just three days before, it refused him prisoner-of-war status; regarding him rather as a franc-tireur, it gave him a pro forma secret trial even while throwing up the gallows for the preordained hanging.

This border region between North and South had seen bitter guerrilla war. As one indicator: the Northern effort in the Bluegrass State to suppress Confederate irregulars had been led by a general who earned the nickname “Butcher of Kentucky” for his ruthless exertions.

Stubbornly eluding those exertions (the Butcher was gone by March 1865) was Clarke, an elfin captain of 20 years with a band of cavalry raiders (in)famous for its hit-and run raids on Union men and supplies. (And on one infamous occasion, 30 African-American cattle-drivers.)

It was during this time that stories began circulating of a daring female commando, a “she-devil in pantaloons,” and the picturesque character — perfectly calibrated to twist the Butcher’s tail — seized popular imagination and moved newspapers.

While the honor is disputed by another Kentucky irregular hanged later in 1865, this “Sue Mundy” (or Munday) character soon came to be identified with the androgynous, just-old-enough-for-his-riding-license Clarke.

The Louisville Journal fantastically embroidered the Mundy legend and its alleged connection to Clarke — editorializing, for instance, that Clarke cross-dressed for amusement and advantage and could pull off his female alter ego thanks to his

“fair [complexion], long dark hair, which touched his shoulders, and a beautifully shaped mouth” (Mar. 16, 1865)

and his

“medium female statue, small feet and hands, face beardless and quite handsome, voice soft and feminine — all together making a counterfeit so perfect that even John Morgan, on a certain occasion, mistook him for a female.” (Jan. 14, 1865)


Right?

A captured Clarke would eventually complain that “he was not guilty for one-tenth of the outrages that he had been charged with and that the Louisville Journal had done him a great injustice.” Maybe he’d never heard that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

The publicity this afternoon, of course, was of the very worst variety, albeit not exactly inimical to the celebrity racket.

“The fall was not more than three feet, and did not break his neck; he choked to death. We have seen a great many persons hung, but never before did we witness such hard struggles and convulsions. It was feared for a time that he would break the lashings. His sufferings, however, were of short duration. Thus ended the career of the notorious Sue Mundy.”

Several historical markers in Kentucky still commemorate that notorious career.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Confederates,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Kentucky,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Separatists,Soldiers,Terrorists,U.S. Military,USA,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1865: Antone Richers, Galveston deserter

Add comment March 3rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1865, the Confederate forces defending Galveston, Texas shot Antone Richers for desertion.

With the U.S. Civil War into its mopping-up phase, the Texas port was bracing for the Union to land an irresistible force. Many soldiers inclined less to brace than to bow: with the handwriting on the wall for any fool to see, the grey army suffered an epidemic of judicious desertions.

Antone Richers was one of these. Just, maybe not so judicious.

Richers was retrieved from the drink when the stolen boat he was attempting to ride out to the Union blockade capsized, and the upright Confederate officer who pulled him out wouldn’t take a bribe to keep keep quiet about it.

Condemned “to be shot to death with musketry” for his trouble, Richers died this date in especially pitiable fashion. According to Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston, a newspaper report of the execution ran thus:

A sharp rattle of musketry, and the prisoner fell dead, several balls having passed through his breast … The saddest part of the story remains to be told. The friends of [the prisoner] had sent Rev. Father Ansteadt on the day before the execution, by hand car, to Houston, as bearer of documents addressed to General Walker, showing that [Richers] was not of sound mind, and setting forth other reasons why he ought to be respited. The telegraph line between [Galveston] and Houston broke down the evening before the execution, and remained down [until] fifteen minutes after the execution. No intelligence from General Walker could therefore reach [Galveston]. But as soon as the telegraph operated, a dispatch was received from General Walker, dated the night before, containing an order for the respite of Anton [Richers]. It was too late — the man was dead.

It was Galveston’s second and last military execution of the war.


Galveston’s Confederate monument, erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy: “Dignified Resignation”. (cc) image from Patrick Feller.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Confederates,Death Penalty,Desertion,Execution,History,Military Crimes,Reprieved Too Late,Shot,Soldiers,Texas,USA,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1865: Henry Wirz, for detainee abuse

1 comment November 10th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1865, Henry Wirz was hanged in Washington, D.C. for running a notorious Confederate prison camp.

A Swiss-born doctor (“Henrich” was the real handle) whom time and tide found practicing in Louisiana at the onset of the Civil War, Wirz apparently got into the prison-guarding ranks when a war injury left him unfit for the front lines.

But it was front-line fitness in the northern army that would set the scene for his controversial hanging.

The North’s advantage in men and materiel shaped Union strategy as the war progressed, and it eventually caused the Union to halt prisoner exchanges. Exchanging casualty for casualty was a winning strategy on the battlefield, so why return to your enemy a man for a man? Besides,

[Grant] said that I would agree with him that by the exchange of prisoners we get no men fit to go into our army, and every soldier we gave the Confederates went immediately into theirs, so that the exchange was virtually so much aid to them and none to us.

Benjamin Butler (we’ve met him before)

As designed, then, the South began piling up more and more POWs to maintain with its ever-straitened resources late in the war. And if exchange was out, that really only left one form of “release”.


Andersonville Prison survivor John L. Ransom’s view of the prison, from the Library of Congress.

Andersonville — officially, Camp Sumter, located near the tiny Georgia town of Andersonville — was only established in 1864, but acquired considerable notoriety in northern propaganda for the year and change that Wirz ran it. The prisoners didn’t enjoy it much, either.

Wuld that I was an artist & had the material to paint this camp & all its horors or the tounge of some eloquent Statesman and had the privleage of expresing my mind to our hon. rulers at Washington, I should gloery to describe this hell on earth where it takes 7 of its ocupiants to make a shadow.

Union prisoner diary, July 1864. Note the prisoner’s anger at Washington — whose refusal to exchange naturally infuriated its stranded POWs

Out of some 45,000 prisoners held at Andersonville during its existence (not all at one time), nearly 13,000 succumbed to disease and malnutrition.* After the war, photos of wasted survivors inflamed (northern) public opinion, already tetchy over Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Walt Whitman wrote of Andersonville,

There are deeds, crimes that may be forgiven but this is not among them. It steeps its perpetrators in blackest, escapeless, endless damnation.

Damnation is up to higher powers, of course, but the North wanted somebody to answer for Andersonville on this mortal coil. Lincoln’s successor Andrew Johnson overruled mooted charges against Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his Secretary of War James Seddon, leaving — in that great American tradition — Heinrich Wirz holding the bag.**

Shatner sighting!

The trial had an undeniable aspect of victor’s justice.† Even at the gallows, the Union guards chanted, “Wirz, remember Andersonville!” as the condemned man was readied for the noose, and then dropped. The hanging failed to break the man’s neck, and he strangled as the chant continued.

Southern efforts to reshape the story of Andersonville began in the lifetimes of Wirz’s contemporaries; this fulsome volume supporting the charges answered Jefferson Davis in terms that sound strikingly contemporary:

So long as Southern leaders continue to distort history (and rekindle embers in order to make the opportunity for distorting it), so long will there rise up defenders of the truth of history … To deny the horrors of Andersonville is to deny there was a rebellion. Both are historic facts placed beyond the realm of doubt.

But of course, it does not require denying the horrors of Andersonville to notice the circumstances — the privation of the entire South late in the war — and to wonder that Wirz and Wirz alone was held to account. Plenty of people think he got a bum rap.


Daughters of the Confederacy monument to Wirz. (cc) image from divemasterking2000.


Pro-Wirz marker in Andersonville, Ga. (Click for easier-on-the-eyes version, reading in part, “Had he been an angel from heaven, he could not have changed the pitiful tale of privation and hunger unless he had possessed the power to repeat the miracle of the loaves and fishes”). (cc) image from Mark D L.

Recommended for general reading: the UMKC Famous Trials page on this case, several of whose pages have been linked in this entry. A number of nineteenth-century texts by (or citing) Andersonville survivors are available from Google books, including:

Since this is a controversy of the Civil War — and one that can be engaged without having to get into that whole slavery thing — there have been thousands of published pages written about it, with many more sure to come in future years.

A few books about Henry Wirz and Andersonville

As an interesting aside, Civil War POW camps including Andersonville (but not only Andersonville) gave us the term “deadline,” which had a more startlingly literal definition in the 1860s — a perimeter beyond which prisoners would be shot on sight, which policy could make a handy stand-in for walls. Gratuitously killing an insane prisoner who crossed Camp Sumter’s “dead line” was one of the atrocities laid to Wirz, who we take it would not have been at home to the word’s decreasingly urgent appropriation in the wider culture.

* Wirz’s defense showed, to no avail, that the prisoners and the guards received the same rations, with similarly deleterious effects among both, and that the commandant was on record pleading with his superiors for more.

** Wirz’s attorney claimed that his man was offered (and refused to take) a last-minute pardon on November 9 in exchange for implicating Jefferson Davis.

† Wirz and borderlands guerrilla Champ Ferguson were the only Confederates executed for their “war crimes”. There was at least one other prison guard who faced similar charges of prisoner maltreatment, John Henry Gee; Gee was acquitted and released in 1866. (For more on the latter, see “A Little-known Case from the American Civil War: The War Crimes Trial of Major General John H. Gee” by Guénaël Mettraux in the Journal of International Criminal Justice, 2010.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Confederates,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,History,Language,Milestones,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Separatists,Soldiers,U.S. Federal,USA,War Crimes,Washington DC,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1865: John Yates Beall, well-connected Confederate

31 comments February 24th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1865, Confederate John Yates Beall was hanged at Governors Island, New York, as a spy and saboteur.

This Virginian was knocked out of regular service through injuries early in the Civil War, but proceeded to a privateering career harassing Union shipping.

The pinpricks inflicted by Beall’s couple of ships was hardly calamitous for the North, but what he lacked in resources he made up in persistence.

Captured and exchanged midway through the war, he returned to his swashbuckling ways. But sneaking into New York from Canada in a bid to free rebel prisoners, Beall was caught again trying to derail trains — and secretly condemned by a military tribunal.

When the news of his impending execution got out, six Senators and 85 other members of Congress* appealed for leniency.

Despite Lincoln’s reputation for clemency, he did not grant it in this case.

“For days before the execution,” it was said, “the President closed the doors of the executive palace against all suppliants, male or female, and his ears against all appeals, whether with the tongue of men or angels in behalf of the unfortunate prisoner. From the first Mr. Lincoln had responded to all applications for his interposition — ‘Gen. Dix may dispose of the case as he pleases — I will not interfere.’ Gen. Dix on his part replied, ‘All now rests with the President — as far as my action rests there is not a gleam of hope.’ Thus they stood as the pillars of the gallows, on which Beall’s fate was suspended and between them he died.” (Source)

Here’s the capture-trial-and-execution portions of a homemade documentary on Beall (also check the preceding parts 1, 2, and 3)

There’s a strange tradition that the hanged man was a personal friend of John Wilkes Booth, and that the actor’s assassination of Honest Abe seven weeks after Beall’s hanging was partly motivated by personal revenge.

* One of Beall’s clemency supporters was future assassinated U.S. President James Garfield.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Confederates,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,New York,Pirates,Power,Soldiers,Spies,USA,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

1865: Mexican Republican officers, under the Black Decree

2 comments October 21st, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1865, two Republican generals, four colonels, and various other officers captured earlier in the month were executed on the authority of Mexico’s notorious Bando Negro — the “Black Decree.”

Halfway into his ill-fated three-year reign as “Emperor,” Maximilian I was in a bad way against Mexican president-turned-guerrilla Benito Juarez.

On October 3, 1865, he authorized summary execution for captured Republicans … and for anyone else who ran afoul of a nearby military official without having speedy proof of his or her political bona fides.

All individuals forming a part of armed bands or bodies existing without legal authority, whether or not proclaiming a political pretext, whatever the number of those forming such band, or its organization, character, and denomination, shall be judged militarily by the courts martial. If found guilty, even though only of the fact of belonging to an armed band, they shall be condemned to capital punishment, and the sentence shall be executed within twenty-four hours.*

In signing the Black Decree, said Mexican essayist Carlos Fuentes, Maximilian “signed his own death warrant.”

But more immediately, of course, he signed a lot of other people’s death warrants.

Republican General José María Arteaga Magallanes (Spanish link), a man of famous chivalry (once, recovering the body of the Belgian Foreign Minister’s son, he returned the boy’s watch home to dad), and fellow General Carlos Salazar Ruiz (Spanish again) were the biggest fish; they and the others are honored today as the Martyrs of Uruapan. (Spanish yet again)


The square in Uruapan where this day’s victims were shot … now known as Plaza Mártires.

* The excerpted text is Article I of the Black Decree, whose entire (taken from here) follows:

THE BANDO NEGRO (BLACK DECREE) PROCLAMATION
OF EMPEROR MAXIMILIAN, OCTOBER 3, 1865

MEXICANS: The cause sustained by D. Benito Juarez with so much valor and constancy had already succumbed, not only before the national will, but before the very law invoked by him in support of his claims. To-day this cause, having degenerated into a faction, is abandoned by the fact of the removal of its leaders from the country’s territory.

The national government has long been indulgent, and has lavished its clemency in order that men led astray or ignorant of the true condition of things might still unite with the majority of the nation and return to the path of duty. The desired result has been obtained. Men of honor have rallied around the flag and have accepted the just and liberal principles which guide its policy. Disorder is now only kept up by a few leaders swayed by their unpatriotic passions, by demoralized individuals unable to rise to the height of political principle, and by an unruly soldiery such as ever remains the last and sad vestige of civil wars.

Henceforth the struggle must be between the honorable men of the nation and bands of brigands and evil-doers. The time for indulgence has gone by: it would only encourage the despotism of bands of incendiaries, of thieves, of highwaymen, and of murderers of old men and defenseless women.

The government, strong in its power, will henceforth be inflexible in meting ont punishment when the laws of civilization, humanity, or morality demand it.

Mexico, October 2, 1865.

Maximilian, Emperor Of Mexico : Our Council of Ministers and our Council of State having been heard, we decree:

Article I. All individuals forming a part of armed bands or bodies existing without legal authority, whether or not proclaiming a political pretext, whatever the number of those forming such band, or its organization, character, and denomination, shall be judged militarily by the courts martial. If found guilty, even though only of the fact of belonging to an armed band, they shall be condemned to capital punishment, and the sentence shall be executed within twenty-four hours.

Article II. Those who, forming part of the bands mentioned in the above article, shall have been taken prisoners in combat shall be judged by the officer commanding the force into the power of which they have fallen. It shall become the duty of said officer within the twenty-four hours following to institute an inquest, hearing the accused in his own behalf. Upon this inquest a report shall be drawn and sentence shall be passed. The pain of death shall be pronounced against offenders even if only found guilty of belonging to an armed band. The chief shall have the sentence carried into execution within twenty-four hours,—being careful to secure to the condemned spiritual aid,—after which he will address the report to the Minister of War.

Article III. Sentence of death shall not be imposed upon those who, although forming part of a band, can prove that they were coerced into its ranks, or upon those who, without belonging to a band, are accidentally found there.

Article IV. If from the inquest mentioned in Article II facts should appear calculated to induce the chief to believe that the accused has been enrolled by force, or that, although forming part of the band, he was there accidentally, he shall abstain from pronouncing a sentence, and will consign the prisoner, with the corresponding report, to the court martial, to be judged in accordance with Article I.

Article V. There shall be judged and sentenced under the terms of Article I of the present law:

I. All individuals who voluntarily have procured money or any other succor to guerrilleros.

II. Those who have given them advice, news, or counsel.

III. Those who voluntarily and with knowledge of the position of said guerrilleros have sold them or procured for them arms, horses, ammunition, provisions, or any other materials of war.

Article VI. There shall be judged and sentenced in accordance with Article I:

I. Those who have entertained with guerrilleros relations constituting the fact of connivance.

II. Those who of their own free will and knowingly have given them shelter in their houses or on their estate.

III. Those who have spread orally or in writing false or alarming news calculated to disturb order, or who have made any demonstration against the public peace.

IV. The owners or agents of rural property who have not at once given notice to the nearest authority of the passage of a band upon their estate.

The persons included in the first and second sections of this article shall be liable to an imprisonment of from six months to two years, or from one to three years’ hard labor, according to the gravity of the offense.

Those who, placed in the second category, are connected with the individual concealed by them by ties of relationship, whether as parents, consorts, or brothers, shall not be liable to the penalty above prescribed, but they shall be subject to surveillance by the authorities during such time as may be prescribed by the court martial.

Those included in the third category shall be sentenced to a fine of from twenty-five to one thousand piasters or to one year’s imprisonment, according to the gravity of the offense.

Article VII. When the authorities have not given notice to their immediate superior of the passage of an armed force in their locality, the superior authority shall inflict a fine of from two hundred to two thousand piasters or from three months’ to two years’ imprisonment.

Article VIII. Every inhabitant who, having knowledge of the passage of an armed band in a village or of its approach, has not notified the authorities shall be liable to a fine of from five to five hundred piasters.

Article IX. All inhabitants between the ages of eighteen and fifty-five years of age not physically incapacitated shall, when the locality inhabited by them is threatened by a band, take part in the defense of the place, under penalty of a fine of from five to two hundred piasters or of from fifteen days’ to four months’ imprisonment. If the authorities deem it proper to punish the village for nonresistance, they may impose a fine of from two hundred to two thousand piasters, which shall be payable by all those who have not taken part in the defense.

Article X. The owners or agents of country property who, being able to defend themselves, have not kept guerrillas and other evil-doers away from their estates or have not notified the nearest military authority of their presence, or who have received the tired or wounded horses of the guerrillas without advising the said authority, shall be punished by said authority by a fine of from one hundred to two thousand piasters, according to the gravity of the offense. In cases of extreme gravity they shall be arrested and brought before the court martial, to be judged in conformity with the rules laid down by the present law. The fine shall be paid to the principal administrator of the revenue of the district where the estate is situated. The provisions of the first part of the present article are applicable to the populations.

Article XI. All authorities, whether political, military, or municipal, who have not acted in accordance with the provisions of the present law against those who are suspected of or recognized as being guilty of the offenses with which it deals, shall be liable to a fine of from fifty to one thousand piasters; and when the omission implies acquaintance with the guilty, the delinquent shall be brought before the court martial, who shall judge him and inflict a penalty in proportion to the offense.

Article XTT. Plagiarios [kidnappers] shall be judged and sentenced under the provisions of Article I of the present law, without regard to the circumstances under which the abduction shall have been committed.

Article XIII. Sentence of death passed upon those guilty of the offenses enumerated by the present law shall be executed in the time fixed, and the benefit of appeal for mercy shall be refused to the condemned. When the accused has not been condemned to death, and is a stranger, the government, after he shall have undergone punishment, may make use with regard to him of its right to expel from its territory pernicious strangers.

i Kidnappers. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, intrusted with the Department

Article XIV. Amnesty is proclaimed in favor of all who, having belonged or still belonging to armed bands and having committed no other offense, shall present themselves to the authorities before the 15th of next November. The authorities shall take possession of the arms of those so surrendering themselves.

Akticle XV. The government reserves unto itself the right to fix the time when the provisions of the present law shall cease to be enforced. Each of our ministers is bound, as far as his department is concerned, to enforce the present law and to issue such orders as will secure its strict observance.

Issued in the Palace of Mexico, October 3, 1865.

Maximilian.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Mexico,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Treason,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1865: Chief Ahan of the Tsilhqot’in

Add comment July 18th, 2009 Headsman

“The Indian Ahan,” read the dispatch in the British Columbian this date in 1865, “will have expiated his crime upon the gallows ere these lines meet the public eye. The execution will take place in the rear of the jail early this morning.”

Ahan and another Tsilhqot’in (or Chilcotin) were of the party of Klatsassin, whom we have already met in these pages. Months after the Chilcotin War‘s mass execution, the luckless pair were arrested trying to pay what would have been a routine-for-them bit of blood money.

Both were condemned; Lutas received clemency, and his freedom. (“I eagerly availed myself of some favorable circumstances in the case of Sutas and sent him back pardoned to his tribe. A sufficient number of Indians has now perished on the scaffold to atone for the atrocities committed last year.”)

Documents related to this proceeding are archived at a canadianmysteries.ca page on Klatsassin.

Ahan’s execution in New Westminster, now part of the Vancouver, B.C. metropolis, isn’t dead, though — and isn’t even past.

Over the course of the past year, a public school project in the city that had been built over an old pauper’s grave that might have become the hanged man’s resting place was gravely (ahem) complicated by the continuing Tsilhqot’in search for Ahan’s remains. While Ahan’s own situation remains unresolved, the suit on his behalf eerily outlined the macabre past lurking everywhere beneath our workaday feet.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1865: Not George S.E. Vaughn

11 comments April 14th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1865, Abraham Lincoln had a date for Ford’s Theater — and with John Wilkes Booth’s single-shot Derringer pistol.

Abraham Lincoln was famous for his clemencies.

But Honest Abe had one last order of business to attend to before his carriage called him away to destiny: the pardon of a convicted Confederate spy due to be shot in St. Louis two days hence. Lincoln’s handwritten clemency for George Vaughn was the last official act of his presidency.

Lincoln in Story (“The Life of the Martyr-President told in Authenticated Anecdotes,” a light 1901 volume for popular consumption) relates:

Before the war Vaughn, with his wife and children, lived in Canton, Mo. He was a friend of Martin E. Green, a brother of United States Senator James S. Green, both strong pro-slavery men. At the opening of the war Martin E. Green recruited a regiment and received a colonel’s commission from the Confederate Government. George Vaughn enlisted under Green’s command and fought through the war.

After a period of fighting, Green and Vaughn crossed into Mississippi from Tennessee, camping at Tupelo, Miss. Not having heard from his family, Green was anxious to hear from his old home, so he delegated Vaughn to go on the mission of delivering letters to his wife.

Vaughn had almost completed his trip, having reached La Grange, six miles south of Canton, when he was captured by a squad of Federal troops.

They searched his person, and, finding letters and papers concealed about him, he was tried as a spy and sentenced to be shot. John B. Henderson, Senator from Missouri, finally succeeded in getting an order from the President for a retrial, but the verdict remained as hitherto. Again Henderson appealed to Lincoln, who granted a third trial, with the same result.

Henderson was not disconcerted, and again went to Lincoln. It was on the afternoon of April 14, 1865 — a melancholy date — that the Senator called at the White House. He called the attention of Lincoln to the fact that the war was practically closed, and said: “Mr. Lincoln, this pardon should be granted in the interest of peace and conciliation.”

This story gravitates naturally to the clemency of “the Great Heart” (as, for instance, D.W. Griffith called Lincoln). Far be it from us to say otherwise, but this is also self-evidently a story of the unusual prerogatives of the well-connected: not just any accused spy could get two trial do-overs and then a pardon free and clear ordered straight from the White House.

Mr. Lincoln replied: “Senator, I agree with you. Go to Stanton and tell him this man must be released.”

Henderson went to the office of the Secretary of War. Stanton* became violently angry, and swore that he would permit no such procedure.

Vaughn had but two days to live, and Henderson hastened to make one more stand. After supper he went to the White House. The President was in his office, dressed to go to Ford’s Theatre, when the Senator entered and told of the meeting he had had with Stanton.

Lincoln turned to his desk and wrote a few lines on an official sheet of paper. As he handed it to Senator Henderson he remarked: “I think that will have precedence over Stanton.”

It was an order for an unconditional release and pardon — the last official paper ever signed by Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln was dead within hours. Vaughn passed away in 1899 in Maryville, Mo.

* Stanton is supposed to have delivered the remark as Lincoln’s deathbed, “now he belongs to the ages” … an alleged epitaph whose actual content is subject, like all biography, to textual uncertainty and ideological redefinition.


Update: The excellent tale of a different soldier pardoned on this same date has recently been debunked by the National Archives in an academic scandal: in January 2011, researcher Thomas Lowry confessed to altering the pardon order for one Patrick Murphy from the true (and much less dramatic) date of April 14, 1864 to April 14, 1865.

Vaughn was actually pardoned just before Lincoln went to Ford’s Theater; Murphy (totally unconnected to Vaughn) was pardoned 365 days prior.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,History,Milestones,Missouri,Not Executed,Notable Participants,Pardons and Clemencies,Separatists,Shot,Soldiers,Spies,U.S. Military,USA,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1865: Champ Ferguson, Confederate guerrilla

6 comments October 20th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1865, Champ Ferguson was controversially hanged at Nashville for the “murders” he committed as a Confederate guerrilla.

There seems to be some slight difference of opinion (and do click that link) over Champ‘s role in the War Between the States.

Had the Confederate cause prevailed, he probably would have been a hero. Since history is written by the winners … here he is instead.

For reasons that lie in the uncertain junction between personal enmity and sectional loyalty, the war’s start saw Ferguson terrorizing Union supporters in the Kentucky-Tennessee borderlands, operating primarily around Sparta, Tenn.

These were not only state borders, but borders between the rival federal and Confederate territories. Civil War borders, obviously, were hazy and violently contested affairs: Kentucky was northern-controlled but claimed by both sides (it had rival governments); Tennessee seceded only after Fort Sumter.

Loyalties within Kentucky and Tennessee were divided as well. Ferguson’s own brother died fighting for the Union, and his cousin was killed by Ferguson’s own men. But the main battles were fought far away, leaving the conflict to play out locally.

In many cases … guerrillas identifying with the Confederacy operated well outside Confederate lines and Confederate control, leading to a certain ambiguity in official attitudes, since they did have their uses.

Guerrilla activity was … a feature of those up-country or back-country areas of states like North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky, in which there were significant internal divisions in terms of sympathy for Confederacy or Union … guerrilla conflict was the only direct face of war experienced by many in Tennessee and Kentucky, since the movements of the main armies remained distant from them throughout. Unionist guerrillas, for example, controlled many of the counties of eastern Tennessee, while Confederate guerrillas disputed Union control of western Kentucky and middle Tennessee. One of the ironies of the situation in the Appalachians, the Cumberlands and the Ozarks was that, while these areas of rugged terrain were favoured by Confederate guerrillas, they were also the very areas within the Confederacy which most Union sympathisers inhabited

-Ian Beckett, Modern Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies

That was Ferguson — a “legendary Confederate partisan and guerrilla” or little better than a bandit, depending on your point of view. Either way, he was feared by area Unionists and renowned for killing prisoners. Stories of his savagery — severing heads and the like — made the rounds. Ferguson would argue (and did) that he did nothing his enemies weren’t also doing. (The New York Times printed a lengthy account (.pdf) of Ferguson’s versions of the many killings he was accused of — disputing some, frankly acknowledging many.)

That brings us back to winners and losers.

Ferguson, of course, got the losers’ treatment after the war; while vendettas against rank and file Confederate officers were not on the agenda, Ferguson’s irregular status and unbecoming reputation set him up for a war crimes trial. All attempts to claim wartime protections were rejected.

The Times account of his hanging this day — witnessed by his wife and 16-year-old daughter; their alleged rape is sometimes given as the reason for Ferguson’s campaign — is picturesque. (.pdf)

He stood composedly on the drop some twenty minutes, while the charges, specifications and sentence were read by Col. Shafter. He nodded recognition to several persons in the crowd, and shifted his position in an impatient manner while the sentence was being read. To some specifications he inclined his head in assent. To others he shook his head. That about Elam Huddleston caused him to say, “I can tell it better than that.” When the speaker read, “To all of which the prisoner pleads not guilty,” he said, “I don’t now.”


An 1865 Harper’s illustration of the hanging. See the way the troops surround the scaffold? There’s a bit of folklore that the military did that in order to fake the hanging and cut him down still alive.

Along with Henry Wirz, commandant of the notorious Confederate prison Andersonville, Ferguson was the only Confederate executed for Civil War “war crimes.”

Arguably somewhat neglected as a Civil War figure, Ferguson still has a few books detailing his life. An interview with the a author of the newly-published Cumberland Blood: Champ Ferguson’s Civil War is here.

A few books about Champ Ferguson

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Kentucky,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Soldiers,Tennessee,Terrorists,USA,War Crimes

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1865: Four for Abraham Lincoln’s assassination

July 7th, 2008 Headsman

On a sweltering July 7, 1865, a mere 12 weeks after Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater, four of his assassin’s accomplices were hanged in the courtyard of the District of Columbia’s Washington Arsenal — present-day Fort McNair, and specifically its tennis courts.

Booth, on the far left, playing Marc Antony in Julius Caesar opposite his brothers. He had Brutus’ example in mind, as he wrote in his diary while on the run: “with every man’s hand against me, I am here in despair. And why? For doing what Brutus was honored for.”

The exact nature of the conspiracy against the man who had seen the North to victory in the Civil War has been debated ever since actor John Wilkes Booth lodged a ball from his one-shot Derringer behind Honest Abe’s ear. But it was a conspiracy — an astoundingly bold one.

Simultaneous with Booth’s successful attack upon Lincoln, there was an unsuccessful attempt to kill Secretary of State William Seward; it would emerge in the investigation that another man had been detailed to murder Vice President Andrew Johnson, but got drunk and chickened out. The apparent upshot: with the President and Vice President dead, new national elections would be required to replace the Senator who would become acting president — and with the Secretary of State dead too, there’d be nobody to implement them. Booth was trying to paralyze the North with its own constitutional machinery in some desperate hope of reviving the defeated South.

Ten Against D.C.

Hundreds were detained in the stunning assassination’s immediate aftermath, but ten would ultimately be the federals’ targets. A massive manhunt pursued Booth through southern Maryland and into Virginia, where he was killed in a shootout. John Surratt, who had conspired with Booth in an earlier plot to kidnap the president — that failed plot had been reconfigured into the assassination — escaped from the country.

The other eight were rounded up and stashed at the Arsenal to face a military tribunal. It was a highly controversial arrangement: the war had entered a gray area — Robert E. Lee’s surrender just days before the murder had effectively ended the war, but when the trial opened in May Confederate President Jefferson Davis was still at large, and the last Southern general wouldn’t lay down his arms until late June. The District of Columbia was still technically under martial law … so would it do to use a military court?

Military Tribunal

So the government asked itself: government, would you rather have looser evidentiary rules and a lower bar of conviction than you would have in civil court? The government duly produced for the government an opinion that the military characteristic of the assassination — that is, to help whatever southern war effort still obtained — licensed the government to use the military courts.

That didn’t sit well with everyone. One former Attorney General griped:

If the offenders are done to death by that tribunal, however truly guilty, they will pass for martyrs with half the world.

Indeed, a year later, the Supreme Court’s landmark ex parte Milligan ruling would forbid the use of military courts where civilian courts are open — which they were in Washington, D.C.

That, of course, was too late to help Booth’s comrades. It would be a military trial, with a majority vote needed for conviction and no right of appeal but to the president for the most infamous crime of the Republic. Everyone had a pretty good idea what the results would be.

A cartoon depicting the defendants as Gallow's (sic) Birds.

Rogues’ Gallery

Two of the four today were doomed from the outset under any juridical arrangement imaginable: Lewis Powell (also known as Lewis Paine or Lewis Payne) had made the attempt on Secretary of State Seward; David Herold had guided him there with the getaway horse, and later escaped along with Booth. They were in way past their eyeballs. George Atzerodt, the schmo who couldn’t rise to the occasion of popping Andrew Johnson, looks a bit more peripheral from the distance of a century and a half, but in the weeks following the assassination he was much too close to the action to have any hope. All received death sentences.

Two others — Michael O’Laughlen and Samuel Arnold — had been involved in Booth’s earlier scheme to kidnap the president, but didn’t seem to have much to do with the murder. Still another two — Ned Spangler and Dr. Samuel Mudd* — were lesser participants. They all received long prison sentences for their pains, and the three of them still surviving were pardoned by Andrew Johnson as he left the presidency in 1869.

That left Mary Surratt, mother of the fugitive John and the only woman in the dock, the focus of attention and controversy. The 42-year-old widow owned a downtown boardinghouse, plus a tavern of sufficient importance at a Prince George’s County, Maryland, crossroads, that its community was called Surrattsville.**

The conspirators met frequently in her lodgings; Surratt maintained her innocence beyond that, but evidence and witness testimony began to pile up heavily against her … especially when Seward assailant Lewis Powell wandered into her place looking for refuge right while the police were questioning her. Booth and Herold turned out to have made a pit stop at her Surrattsville tavern to pick up a package of guns that Mary had prepared for them.

Though Surratt’s avowal of ignorance was not widely believed, a gesture of presidential mercy was anticipated — many thought (and think) she went on trial as a virtual hostage for her absconded son, who declined to take the bait. Strangely, five members of the nine-judge panel who condemned Mary Surratt turned around and asked President Johnson for clemency. Johnson claimed never to have seen the memo, but his mind seemed pretty made up — when Surratt won a habeas corpus stay on the morning of her scheduled hanging, he promptly “specially-suspended” the writ specifically to hang her:

I, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States do hereby declare that the writ of habeas corpus had been heretofore suspended in such cases as this; and I do hereby specially-suspend this writ, and direct that you proceed to execute the order heretofore given upon the judgment of the Military Commission.

Harsh treatment, and possibly well-deserved, for the first woman executed by the U.S. government. Even so, it does seem a curious thing when all is said and done that the mother of “the nest that hatched the egg” was worth a special suspension of the Great Writ, and even the stagehand who just held Booth’s horse for him caught six years, but old Jeff Davis — who apart from having figureheaded a treasonous four-year insurrection was implicated for giving Booth’s kidnapping plot official Confederate sanction — got to retire to write his memoirs.

Fine pages on the Lincoln assassination are here, here and here. There are also contemporary newspaper accounts posted online as filed for The Boston Post and The New York Herald.

The Surratt houses, by the way, are still standing. The Maryland tavern is kept as the Surratt House Museum by the Surratt Society. The downtown boarding house is a Chinese restaurant … marked with a plaque remembering more momentous doings than bubble tea.

The Chinatown restaurant where Mary Surratt had her boarding house ...

... as marked by plaque ...

... and how it looked back then.

* The panel voted 5-4 to hang Mudd, a Maryland doctor who not only set the leg Booth broke when he leaped onto the stage after shooting Lincoln, but then misdirected Booth’s pursuers. However, the rules for the trial said a two-thirds majority was required for execution.

** They changed the name after the unpleasantness. Today, it’s Clinton, Maryland.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Confederates,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Infamous,Maryland,Milestones,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Notable Jurisprudence,Notably Survived By,Popular Culture,Power,Scandal,Separatists,Treason,U.S. Federal,U.S. Military,USA,Wartime Executions,Washington DC,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Next Posts


Calendar

August 2022
M T W T F S S
« Nov    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!