91st PA: Jesse Wharton's shooting

The shooting of Jesse Wharton--accounts by prisoners

[more information about Wharton and the shooting]

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[source: from Mrs Greenhow, My imprisonment and the first year of abolition rule at Washington (London: Richard Bentley, 1863), p.286.]

'Extract from my notes:--

'Sunday Morning, April 28.--This very hour, eleven o'clock, a prisoner--Mr. Wharton, of Maryland--has been murdered in cold blood by a sentry. He was standing at his window, singing, and the sentinel, who was walking on his beat in the yard below, turned and deliberately shot him. It has been my fate, woman as I am, to have had a loaded musket pointed at my breast; and God alone knows what would have been my fate, had the superintendent of this prison not interposed. This appalling murder would be a reason, if no other existed, to make me with to have the decree of the commissioners acted upon in good faith.'

28 April 1862 was a Monday, not a Sunday. Given the dates in OR, the shooting must have occurred before 21 April 1862. Perhaps significantly, the next item in Greenhow's book is a letter to Wadsworth, dated 21 April 1862.
[source: James J Williamson, Prison life in the Old Capitol, pp.35-36]

When I related this affair to a fellow-prisoner, Mr. [p.36] Augustus Williams, he told me that he was a prisoner in the Old Capitol at the time young Wharton was shot, and his room was on the same floor.

It was either in the latter part of March or first of April, 1862, that Jesse W. Wharton, a young man about twenty-five or twenty-six years of age, son of Professor Wharton, of Prince George County, Md., was deliberately murdered by a man belonging to the 91st Pennsylvania Regiment, then on guard duty at the prison. Wharton was standing at the window of his room when the sentry called out to him, "Get away from that window, or I will blow your damned head off." Wharton turned away, walked across the room and again stood at the window as before. The guard, on seeing him, repeated his command, or words to the same effect. Wharton, feeling that as he was violating no rule the guard would not attempt to carry out his threat, paid no further attention, but stood with his arms folded. The sentry (I cannot call him soldier) fired, and the ball struck Wharton on the left hand, passed through the right arm, breaking the bone of the elbow, entered the right side, coming out near the spine. He staggered, and would have fallen, but some of his fellow-prisoners caught him and lowered him gently to the floor. He lingered for seven or eight hours. Before he died he called for the lieutenant commanding the post, and when he came in, the dying man said: "I am dying, and you are the man who caused my death." He said he heard the lieutenant give the man the order to fire.

[Williamson next reports the death of Harry Stewart.]
[page 37]

Augustus Williams, to whom I am indebted for these facts, is a citizen of Fairfax County, Virginia. Living near Vienna, and being within the Union lines, he was arrested and taken to the Old Capitol. There being no charge against him, except refusal to take the oath, he was released after a short term of imprisonment. Going back to his home, he was again picked up by the first part of troops raiding in his neighborhood, and returned to the Old Capitol. This occurred so frequently that Superintendent Wood came to look upon him as a regular visitor, and would greet him on his arrival with a handshake ....


[source: D A Mahony, The Prisoner of state (New York: Carleton, 1863), pp.301-303]

MURDER OF TWO PRISONERS IN THE OLD CAPITOL, JESSE W. WHARTON AND HARRY STEWART

I have mentioned, in another place, the recklessness and wilful malevolence of the guards at the Old Capitol. I will cite, in confirmation of what I experienced myself and came under my own observation, two cases of murder, which occurred before my incarceration. They are related by eyewitnesses of the murderous scenes:

About the latter part of March, or the first of April, Mr. Jesse W. Wharton, a young man about twenty-six years of age--son of Dr. Wharton, Professor of Agricultural Chemistry in Prince Georges County, Md.--was wantonly murdered by a man named Harrison Baker, a member of the 91st Pennsylvania Regiment, then stationed as a guard in the Old Capitol. Mr. Wharton was formerly an officer in the U.S. Regular Service, noted for courage the most undaunted, and a liberality of heart and qualities of mind which made him numerous friends wherever he sojourned. One of the regulations of the prison was, that no one should protrude his head or limbs beyond the line of the building, when looking from the windows. On this unfortunate occasion the deceased gentleman was standing at the window of Room No. 10, and was strictly within the prescribed limits allowed, when Baker, the sentry in the yard, very insultingly ordered him away, "or he would blow his d--d head off;" when Mr. Wharton, feeling indignant, made some rejoinder, and then turning, paced the room a few times, and then quietly presented himself at the window again--some two feet or so from the window--with his arms folded over his breast, looking out. The sentinel (Baker) again, without any reason or provocation, ordered him away with a threat. Mr. Wharton, conscious of not infringing any of the rules, paid no particular attention to the leveled musket in the guard's hands, and kept his position in the room, his arms still folded; when the sentry, with the most guilty thirst for the blood of an unarmed prisoner, confined without the least chance of escape, took deliberate aim and fired his piece, the "minie" ball passing through the hand of the left arm and the elbow of the right, breaking the bone and entering exactly at the right nipple, passed out near the spine, going through the lungs. Still erect, he gazed fixedly at his murdered a moment, then began to reel backwards, when two of his room-mates caught him in their arms and lowered him to the floor. He remained quiet until the doctors came, when he called for the Lieutenant commanding the post (Mr. Mulligan)--and he having come, Wharton bid him face him, when he clearly and distinctly, in the presence of the doctors and his fellow prisoners, accused Lieutenant Mulligan of having given the order to fire--he having heard him--and branded him his murderer, calling upon him to look upon a dying man, and hear his sentence from the chilling lips of his unoffending victim. Whatever the officer's thoughts, he exhibited no emotions but a slavish fear, and then left the room without a word, with Cain's brand upon him. The dying prisoner lingered eight hours from the time of his being shot (about eleven o'clock A.M.), and was attended by his young wife and two sisters, until his last gasp betokened him death's prisoner, and the grave his next cell.

Mr. Wharton resigned his commission in the Federal army, and was consequently arrested by the Government and confined here for fear of his going South. The sentinel who shot him was promoted.

[Mahony next describes Harry Stewart's death]


[source: John A Marshall. American Bastile [sic]. Philadelphia: Thomas W Hartley & Co., 1869. 27th thousand, 1888. Pages 342-344. This appears to be derivative of Mahony's account.]

About the latter part of March, or the first of April, Mr Jesse W Wharton, a young man of about twenty-six years of age--son of Dr. Wharton, Professor of Agricultural Chemistry in Prince George County, Maryland--was wantonly murdered by Harrison Baker, a member of the 91st Pennsylvania Regiment, then stationed as a guard at the Old Capitol.

One of the regulations of the prison was that no one should protrude his head or limbs beyond the line of the building when looking from the windows. On this unfortunate occasion, the deceased gentleman was standing at the window of room No. 10, and was strictly within the prescribed limits, when Baker, the sentry in the yard, very insultingly ordered him away, "or he would blow his d--d head off." Mr. Wharton, feeling indignant, made some rejoinder, then turning, paced the room several times, and quickly presented himself at the window again, with his arms folded over his breast, looking out. The sentinel (Baker) again, without any reasonable provocation, ordered him away with a threat. Mr. Wharton, believing he was not infringing any of the rules, paid no attention to the levelled musket in the guard's hands, and kept his position in the room, his arms still folded, when the sentry, with the most guilty thirst for the blood of an unarmed prisoner, confined without the least chance of escape, took deliberate aim and fired his piece: the minie ball passing through the hand of the left arm, and the elbow of the right, breaking the bone, and entering exactly at the right nipple, passed out near the spine, going through the lungs. Still erect, he gazed fixedly at his murderer a moment, then began to reel backward, when two of his roommates caught him in their arms and lowered him to the floor. He remained quiet until the doctors came, when he called for the Lieutenant (Mulligan) commanding the post, and he having come, Wharton bid him face him, when he clearly and distinctly, in the presence of the doctors and his fellow-prisoners, accused Lieutenant Mulligan of having given the order to fire--he having heard him--and branded him as his murderer; calling upon him to look upon a dying man, and hear his sentence from the chilling lips of his unoffending victim. Whatever the officer thought, he exhibited no emotion, but the most slavish fear, and then left the room without a word, with Cain's brand upon him. The dying prisoners lingered eight hours from the time of his being shot (about 11 o'clock A.M.,) and was attended by his young wife and two sisters, until his last gasp betokened him death's prisoner, and the grave his next cell.

"Near, and more near
They bent, with pale inquiry, and close ear:
His eyes were shut--no motion--not a breath--
The gentle sufferer was at peace in death."

Mr. Wharton was formerly an officer in the United States regular service, noted for the most undaunted courage, and a liberality of heart and qualities of mind which had made him numerous friends wherever he had sojourned. He resigned his commission in the Federal Army, and was consequently arrested by the Government, and confined, for fear of his going South. The sentinel who shot him was afterward promoted--a sad commentary on national honor, as expounded by the Administration of Mr. Lincoln.

[Marshall next describes Harry Stewart's death.]


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revised 13 Jun 02
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