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NEW YORK, SATURDAY, JULY 4,
SINGLE COPIES SIX CENTS. $3,00
PER YEAR IN ADVANCE.
according to Act of Congress, in the Year 1863, by Harper & Brothers, in the
Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Southern District of New York.
THE EXECUTION OF WILLIAMS
WE are indebted to Mr. James K.
Magie, of the 78th Illinois Regiment, for the sketch of the execution of the two
rebel spies, WILLIAMS and PETERS, who were hanged by
General Rosecrans on 9th
inst. The following account of the affair is from a letter written by the
surgeon of the 85th Indiana :
June 9, 1863.
Last evening about sundown two
strangers rode into camp and called at Colonel Baird's head-quarters, who
presented unusual appearances. They had on citizens' overcoats, Federal
regulation pants and caps. The caps were covered with white flannel havelocks.
They wore sidearms, and showed high intelligence. One claimed to be a colonel
in the United States Army, and called himself Colonel Austin; the other called
himself Major Dunlap, and both representing themselves as Inspector-Generals of
the United States Army. They represented that they were now out on an expedition
in this department, inspecting the outposts and defenses, and that day before
yesterday they had been overhauled by the enemy and lost their coats and purses.
They exhibited official papers from General Rosecrans, and also from the War
Washington, confirming their rank and business. These were all
right to Colonel Bayard, and at first satisfied him of their honesty. They asked
the Colonel to loan them $50, as they had no coats and no money to buy them.
Colonel Baird loaned them the money, and took Colonel Austin's note for it. Just
at dark they started, saying they were going to
Nashville, and took that way.
Just so soon as their horses' heads were turned the thought of their being spies
struck Colonel Baird, he says, like a thunder-bolt, and he ordered Colonel
Watkins, of the 6th Kentucky cavalry, who was standing by, to arrest them
immediately. But they were going at lightning speed. Colonel Watkins had no time
to call a guard, and only with his orderly he set out on the chase. He ordered
the orderly to unsling his carbine, and if, when he (the Colonel) halted them
they showed any suspicious motions, to fire on them without waiting for an
order. They were overtaken about one-
third of a mile from here.
Colonel Watkins told them that Colonel Baird wanted to make some further
inquiries of them, and asked them to return. This they politely consented to do,
after some remonstrance on account of the lateness of the hour and the distance
they had to travel, and Colonel Watkins led them to his tent, where he placed a
strong guard over them. It was not until one of them attempted to pass the guard
at the door that they even suspected they were prisoners. Colonel Watkins
immediately brought them to Colonel Baird under strong guard. They at once
manifested great uneasiness, and pretended great indignation at being thus
treated. Colonel Baird frankly told them that he had his suspicions of their
true character, and that they should, if loyal, object to no necessary caution.
They were very hard to satisfy, and were in a great hurry to get off. Colonel
Baird told them that they were under arrest, and he should hold them prisoners
until he was fully satisfied that they were what they purported to be. He
immediately telegraphed to
General Rosecrans, and received the answer that he
knew nothing of any such men, that there were no such men in his employ, or had
Long before this dispatch was
received, however, every one who had an opportunity of hearing their
conversation was well satisfied that they were spies. Smart as they were, they
gave frequent and distinct evidence of duplicity. After this dispatch came to
hand, which it did about 12 o'clock (midnight), a search of their persons was
ordered. To this the Major consented without opposition, but the Colonel
protested against it, and even put his hand to his arms, But resistance was
useless, and both submitted. When the Major's sword was drawn from the scabbard
there were found etched upon it these words, "Lt. W. G. Peter, C.S.A." At this
discovery Colonel Baird remarked, "Gentlemen, you have played this d—d well."
"Yes," said Lieutenant Peter, "and it came near being a perfect success." They
then confessed the whole matter, and upon further search various papers showing
their guilt were discovered upon their persons. Lieutenant Peter was found to
have on a rebel cap, secreted by the white flannel havelock.
Colonel Baird immediately
telegraphed the facts to
General Rosecrans and asked what he should do, and in a
short time received an order "to try them by a drum-head court-martial, and if
found guilty hang them immediately." The court was convened, and before daylight
the case was
decided, and the prisoners
informed that they must prepare for immediate death by hanging.
At daylight men were detailed to
make a scaffold. The prisoners were visited by the Chaplain of the 78th
Illinois, who, upon their request, administered the sacrament to them. They also
wrote some letters to their friends, and deposited their jewelry, silver cups,
and other valuables for transmission to their friends.
The gallows was constructed by a
wild cherry-tree not far from the depot, and in a very public place. Two ropes
hung dangling from the beam, reaching within eight feet of the ground. A little
after nine o'clock A.M. the whole garrison was marshaled around the place of
execution in solemn sadness. Two poplar coffins were lying a few feet away.
Twenty minutes past nine the guards conducted the prisoners to the scaffold—they
walked firm and steady, as if unmindful of the fearful precipice which they were
approaching. The guards did them the honor to march with arms reversed.
Arrived at the place of execution
they stepped upon the platform of the cart and took their respective places. The
Provost Marshal, Captain Alexander, then tied a linen handkerchief over the face
of each and adjusted the ropes. They then asked the privilege of bidding last
farewell, which being granted, they tenderly embraced each other. This over, the
cart moved from under them, and they hung in the air. What a fearful penalty!
They swung off at 9:30—in two minutes the Lieutenant ceased to struggle. The
Colonel caught hold of the rope with both hands and raised himself up at 3
minutes, and ceased to struggle at 5 minutes. At 6 minutes Dr. Forester, Surgeon
6th Kentucky Cavalry, and Dr. Moss, 78th Illinois Infantry, and myself, who had
been detailed to examine the bodies, approached them, and found the pulse of
both full and strong. At 7 minutes the Colonel shrugged his shoulders. The pulse
of each continued to beat 17 minutes, and at 20 minutes all signs of life had
ceased. The bodies were cut down at 30 minutes and encoffined in full dress. The
Colonel was buried with a gold locket and chain on his neck. The locket
contained the portrait and a braid of hair of his intended wife—her portrait
was also in his vest pocket—these were buried with him. Both men were buried in
the same grave--companions in life, misfortune, and crime, companions in infamy,
and now companions in the grave.
I should have stated in another
place that the prisoners did not want their punishment delayed; but, well know-
ing the consequences of their
acts, even before their trial, asked to have the sentence, be it by hanging or
shooting, quickly decided and executed. But they deprecated the idea of death by
hanging, and asked for a communication of the sentence to shooting.
The elder and leader of these
unfortunate men was Lawrence Williams, of Georgetown, D. C. He was as
fine-looking a man as I have ever seen, about six feet high, and perhaps 30
years old. He was it son of Captain Williams, who was killed at the battle of
Monterey. He was one of the most intellectual and accomplished men I have ever
known. I have never known any one who excelled him as a talker. He was a member
of the regular army, with the rank of captain of cavalry, when the rebellion
broke out, end at that time was aid-de-camp and private secretary to General
Winfield Scott. From this confidence and respect shown him by so distinguished a
man may be judged his education and accomplishments. He was a first cousin of
General Lee, commanding the Confederate army on the Rappahannock. Soon after the
war began he was frank enough to inform
General Scott that all his sympathies
were with the South, as his friends and interests were there, and that he could
not fight against them. As he was privy to all of General Scott's plans for the
campaign, it was not thought proper to turn him loose, hence he was sent to
Governor's Island, where he remained three months. After the
first Bull Run
battle he was allowed to go South, where he joined the Confederate army, and
his subsequent history I have not been able to learn much about. He was a while
General Bragg's staff as Chief of Artillery, but at the time of his death was
his Inspector-General. When he joined the Confederate army he altered his name,
and now signs it thus: "Lawrance W. Orton, Col. City. P. A. C. S.
Confederate States of America). Sometimes he writes his
name "Orton," and sometimes "Anton," according to the object which he had in
view. This we learn from the papers found on him. These facts in relation to the
personal history of Colonel Orton I have gathered from the Colonel himself and
from Colonel Watkins, who knows him well, they having belonged to the same
regiment of the regular army—2d U. S. Cavalry. Colonel Watkins, however, did not
recognize Colonel Orton until after he had made himself known, and now mourns
his apostasy and tragic fate.
The other victim of this delusive
and reckless daring (Next
EXECUTION, BY HANGING, OF TWO
REBEL SPIES, WILLIAMS AND PETERS, IN THE
ARMY OF THE CUMBERLAND, JUNE 9, 1863.-
[SKETCHED BY MR. JAMES K. MAGIE]
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