Janis' Genealogy - The Execution of William Henry Howe

Janis' Genealogy Site

William Henry Howe (husband to Hannah Shaner) - Executed at Fort Mifflin

William Henry Howe was the husband of Hannah K. Shaner, daugther of Charles and Elizabeth (Krebs) Shaner. William Henry Howe enlisted in the Civil War and by all accounts fought very bravely until he became severely ill. The newspaper account below explains his story and how he came to be executed for the killing of an enlistment officer. One of the saddest aspects of this story is that his widow Hannah Shaner Howe was left raising their children alone. She died November 9, 1909 and is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Norristown. As far as I can tell, she never remarried.

Philadelphia Inquirer, August 27, 1864

The The execution of Wm. H. Howe, a citizen of Perkiomen Township, Montgomery county, and a member of One-hundred-and-sixteenth Pennsylvania Regiment, took place yesterday at noon, at Fort Mifflin, by order of the military authorities.

The Life of the Murderer

Wm. H. Howe was born in Perkiomen, Montgomery county, PA., and before entering the army was engaged in farming, and in the manufacture of tobacco into segars. After enlisting in the One-hundred-and-sixteenth Regiment, in August, 1862, he remained with his command until the 27th of December of the same year. The murderer was of a mild disposition, and as a soldier he stood very high in the estimation of his officers.

When on the battle-field he performed his duty with cheerfulness and alacrity. He was particularly spoken of at the battle of Fredericksburg, as he was one of the five men who came off the field of carnage with the colors of his regiment. The One-hundred-and-sixteenth Regiment left the field of battle, at Frederick-burg, very early in the day, after a severe combat. Howe, however, echanged his musket for an Enfield rifle and again went upon the field with our skirmishers and remained there all night until the next day, barely escaping capture by the Rebel too.

Howe, when he left his regiment, was suffering from inflamation of the bowels. The regimental hospital having been burned down, and having neither surgeons nor medicines, he, with some twenty others, determined to find treatment for themselves, and reported to the hospitals at Washington. Subsequently, he and Augustus Beiting, a member of his company, returned to their homes. For two months after reaching home Howe was confined to his bed.

The Night of the Murder

The fatal murder occurred on the night of the 7th of June, 1858. The night was extremely dark, and the rain fell in torrents. On the night in question Abraham Bartolet, the enrolling officer of Howe's District, with three assistants, visited the house of the murderer and called for Howe. His wife being in bed and hearing the call, answered it from the window:- "Who is there?" said Mrs. Howe, "and who do you want?" Bartolet replied - "It is I, Augustus Beiting. Tell 'Bill' to run, as the Provost Marshall is after him." The wife replied - "I do not believe you."

Howe then came to the window, and Bartolet told him he had come to arrest him. Howe not giving them admission, the officers began hammering at the door. This enraged the prisoner, and he in a state of excitement seized a gun and fired two shots out of the window. The shots took effect in Bartolet's breast, killing him instantly. The assistants of the enrolling officer left immediately after the firing of the gun, and the deceased was taken in charge by the citizens.

The Arrest and Confinement

The prisoner was not arrested until several days following the murder. He stated that he was not aware that he had shot any person, as the night was dark and he did not take aim. He was incarcerated in Fort Mifflin during the trial, during which time he endeavered to escape by tunneling the fort to the outside. In this attempt, however, he was discovered, but not until he had scaled the ditch. The guards fired twelve shots at him, but he was finally captured by Lieutenant Higgins.

His Appearance

Howe is a man of light complexion, and about five feet eight inches in height. From his conversation he appeared to be very intelligent and well informed. Before his incarceration he was quite weighty, but his appearance yesterday showed that he had lost much in weight. He leaves a wife and three children.

The Trial

The trial of the prisoner was commenced in this cithy in February, 1864. Edmund Randall, Eq. was the counsel of the accused. C. P. Clarke was the Judge Advocate.

Howe objected to the trial on the grounds that Colonel Frink, who was President of the courtmartial, was also the prosecutor, and that he had presented charges against him, the prisoner. The Court, however, overruled the objections, and went on with the trial, which was being held under the following specifications:- First, that private Wm. H. Howe, having been regularly enlisted, about the 8th day of August 1862, in Company A, One-hundred-and-sixteenth Pennsylvania Regiment, in the service of the United States, to serve for the period of three years or during the war, and desert the same at or near Falmouth, Va. on or about the 27th day of December, 1862 and did remain absent until arrested, on or about the 14th day of July, 1863 at Allentown, PA.

Second. That private Wm. H. Howe, Company A, One-hundred-and-sixteenth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, on or about the 7th day of June, 1853, on or near his (Howe's) residence, in Frederick township, Montgomery county, PA., did willfully, deliberately and of ma?? aforethought, shoot, kill, and murder Abraham Bartolet, enrolling officer, of New Hanover township, when he (Bartolet), in company with David Y. ?ie?nberry and Michael S. Magner? lawfully attempted to arrest the said Howe as a deserter from the service of the United States.

The Sentence

The prisoner was sentenced to be executed on the 24th of June. The prisoner's counsel repaired to Washington and had an interview with Judge Holt, and succeeded in gaining a respite for the prisoner until he (Holt) and the President should have time fully to consider the case.

His Confinement in the Penitentary

After Howe's attempted escape from Fort Mifflin, he was removed to the Eastern Penitentiary, where he was confined until yesterday morning.

The Parting

Howe took leave of his wife and children on Thursday morning, and the parting between them was of the most affecting character, and even the jailor, who is accustomed to such sights, acknowledged it was one of the most heart-rendering scenes he had ever witnessed. The wife and children occupy a farm of about six acres.

The Condemned Taken to the Fort

Yesterday morning, about half-past six o'clock, Lieutenant ???, of the Ninety-ninth Pennsylvania Regiment, with a ambulance and guard of three men, left for the Eastern Penitentiary to secure the comdemned and return him to the fort to be executed. The murderer was taken to the vehicle dressed in a pair of pants, a light coat, white shirt and laced shoes, and from thence, by way of West Philadelphia and the Darby road, to Fort Mifflin, were he arrived about 8 o'clock. The ride from the Penitentiary to the fort was one of silence, not a word having been spoken by either one in the ambulance.

The Prisoner Sees the Gallows

As the vehicle entered the main sally-port the prisoner observed the gallows in process of erection. He evinced, for the first time, some degree of nervousness. He was placed in a small building from the windows of which he had a full view of the gallows.

Arrival of the Steam-tug

The steam-tug Don Juan, which left the third wharf below Vine street at a quarter before nine o'clock in the morning, arrived at the fort shortly after ten o'clock.

The tug contained on board a detachment of the One-hundred-and-eighty-sixth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, membering some ninety men, under the command of Captain Jack, Rev., J. F. K?otel, the religious adviser of the accused, and a number of representatives of the press, together with several others connected with Major-General Cadwalader's office in this city. Among those on board Colonel Frink, Captain Clarke and Captain Dobleman. The Scaffold used was the same one upon which Mattocks, the Skupinsky brothers, Armstrong and Fox, who was executed in New Brunswick a short time since, were hung. It is sixteen feet in height, and has a "drop" of three feet.

Preparations for the Execution

At a quarter before twelve o'clock the drum taps were sounded and the two companies of the Provost Guard and a detachment of soldiers garrisoning the fort were drawn up in one and marched to the foot of the gallows, where they formed two sides of a hollow square, the guard house in which the prisoner was quartered, and another building, forming the other two sides. Previous to the soldiers being drawn up in line, the prisoner, escorted by a guard, walked across the parade ground and, although he passed the hearse which was to carry his body, he was cool and collected in his demeanor.

The Prisoner Ascends the Scaffold

At about five minutes before twelve o'clock the prisoner, accompanied by his spiritual adviser and the guard, came from the guard-house and ascended the scaffold. His manacles were removed and facing the sallyport. Howe then, in a low voice, read the following address:-

Fellow soldiers and officers:- I am now about to go before my God, to answer for the crime of taking the life of a fellow creature. I bow with submission to my sentence, and truly forgive those who passed it and those who were witnesses against me. They did their duty as well as they could, and I take this opportunity to thank you from the bottom of my heart, the members of my court-martial who tried me, and especially Captain Clarke, the Judge Advocate, and Mr. Edmund Randall, my lawyor, for their kindness towards me, but as I have but little to leave my dear children but my record and good name as a soldier, I feel it a duty I owe to them to state now that I never sought the life of the man I killed, and never wished it; and I feel God will pardon me for taking it as I did, and I know my fellow soldiers and officers in the army never blamed me for leaving, as I was an invalid, and had no hospital to go to in my regiment. Now that I am about to leave this life I commend my wife and little ones to the charity of the world, and as a last request, I ask the pardon of those whom I may have injured, and hope they will forgive me and pray for my soul. After the address the minister offered up a fervent prayer (both kneeling) for the soul of the criminal, and alluded in touching terms to the wife and children of the condemned.

During the prayer the prisoner was perfectly cool and did not display the slightest nervousness when his wife and children were mentioned. The minister was engaged in private conversation with Howe, after which a non-commissioned office fastened the handcuffs; the noose and white cap being placed over his head, the rope was pulled and the prisoner was launched into eternity.

Howe fell a distance of about five feet, and died almost without a strangle. At half-past twelve he was cut down and given into the hands of the undertaker, who had him placed in a coffin and removed to this city, where the body will be embalmed and sent to his wife.

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Page Last Modified: Monday, 06-Jul-2009 11:35:47 MDT