Wednesday, March 26, 2008

58th NCT and Dalton executions, pt. 1

I finished writing about the battle of Dalton on Monday. The 58th NCT was in the front lines, but was not heavily involved. They only skirmished with the enemy and were under a heavy artillery bombardment for a time on February 25. The next part, the last part of this chapter, is the execution of almost a dozen members of the 58th NCT for desertion in May 1864. This is not something that I am looking forward to writing about. Yes, there were executions for desertions in the 37th NCT regiment, but not so many at one time.

Here is an extract from my history of the 37th North Carolina Troops regarding the execution of deserters. This kind of gives you an idea of what took place.

The Thirty-seventh would witness the execution of two members of their brigade, Allen Abosher and Esom Fugit of the Thirty-third. Both of these soldiers had been pardoned before for desertion and had been ordered to report back to their regiment, but had taken the opportunity to desert again. They were captured on August 27, and ordered to be executed on September 19. The entire Light Division would witness the procedure. The division was drawn up into a "hollow square," a formation that contained troops on three sides, with the last side open. The two condemned men, with their hands tied, along with their guards, passed in front of each regiment, to the slow beat of a drum. Abosher and Fugit then were tied to separate stakes, a few feet apart, and were blindfolded. At the command to fire, 24 men detailed as executioners fired their rifle-muskets from a distance of fifteen feet, killing both deserters instantly. Each regiment then passed in review of the bullet-riddled bodies before they were buried, impressing on the minds of the soldiers of the Light Division what the consequences of desertion were. Chaplain Kennedy of the Twenty-eighth called the gruesome occasion "a very revolting site."

An unofficial gathering of officers and men of the brigade was held at the camp of the Thirty-seventh the day following the executions. Several men offered "temperate and patriotic" speeches to boost the morale of the men and to counter the sway of the anti-war movement back in their home regions. But, the desertions and the executions continued. Seven more men were executed the next week, four for desertion and three, from the Thirty-seventh, for misbehavior in the presence of the enemy while the brigade was in line of battle at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. The three from the Thirty-seventh were Private James S. Greer (Company B), who had deserted first during the battle of Fredericksburg, and then again on March 21, 1863; Private Green W. Ford (Company H), who deserted some time after February 1863; and Private Sampson Collins, who deserted sometime around the battle of Gettysburg. Private Greer had also sought to persuade two of his nephews "over which he had unbounded influence" to desert from the Thirty-seventh. All the men were tried by a courts-martial, convicted, and ordered to be executed. Private Greer, in his testimony before the court, stated that Holden's newspaper had provided the motivation for his crime, and that of the others. All seven men were executed on October 6.

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