Execution of bounty-jumpers

Execution

Five soldiers in the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Army of the Potomac were executed on 29 August 1863. (The 91st received a general order from HQ Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac dated 24 August 1863 about the execution, which was originally scheduled to take place at 3 PM on 26 August.)

Each had enlisted to receive the bounty, and had not joined the regiment. They were tried by a court-martial on 20 August, presided over by Col Joseph Hayes (18th Mass. Vol.), convened in accordance with General Order 35 (15 Aug 1863) at the headquarters of the 2nd brigade, 1st division, 5th corps. They were all found guilty and sentenced to be shot. Meade ordered that they be shot on 26 August, between 12 and 4 pm (General Orders No. 84, headquarters, Army of the Potomac, dated 23 Aug). On 25 August, they appealed to him for more time to prepare to die, explaining that two were Roman Catholics and one a Jew, and no priests or rabbis were available. They also asked that the sentence be changed to hard labor, since they were foreigners and had been told by other soldiers that 'there would be no harm done'. (The regimental history mentions needing an interpreter.) He postponed the execution until 29 August. (Father S L Eagan, from Baltimore, arrived on 28 Aug, and the Rabbi, Dr Zould, arrived only at noon on the 29th.) They next appealed to Lincoln, by a telegram he received at 4.45 pm on 26 August. He telegraphed Meade that the execution should proceed, if he was correct in understanding that the cases were flagrant and Meade thought the punishment was essential. Meade replied that he thought their executions were necessary.

The entire Fifth Corps attended the execution. At 3.00, the prisoners, their escort guard of 30 men, and a detail of 20 men to carry the coffins and 10 men to close and bury them, entered the square. The three clergymen accompanied the prisoners, and spoke with them until General Griffin insisted that the execution proceed, at 3.45, since so little time remained. The provost-guard shot them, and the corps marched by them.

Sources

Walter

History of the 118th Regt. P. V. Corn Exchange. Philadelphia: J L Smith, 1905. Pages 294-302. [A vivid account, which I recommend.]

The collected works of Abraham Lincoln. Edited by Roy P. Basler. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Volume 6 pages 414-415. [Includes a transcription of the prisoners' telegram of 26 Aug to Lincoln, Lincoln's telegram to Meade on 27 Aug, and Meade's reply to Lincoln on 27 Aug.]


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