The Fate of Guerrillas and Their Sympathizers

by Fred Ray on November 29, 2010 · 2 comments

Guerrillas posed a major problem for Union occupiers, who resorted to harsh (but ultimately ineffective) measures to suppress them.

Here is a circular letter from Maj. Gen. David “Black Dave” Hunter that was delivered to suspected sympathizers in the Shenandoah. Just how they were to refute these charges or stop guerrilla activities is unspecified.


SIR: Your name has been reported to me, with evidence, that you are one of the leading secession sympathizers in this valley, and that you countenance and abet the bushwhackers and guerrillas who infest the woods and mountains of this region, swooping out on the roads to plunder and outrage loyal residents, falling upon and firing into defenceless wagon trains, and assassinating soldiers of this command who may chance to be placed in exposed positions. These practices are not recognized by the laws of war of any civilized nation, nor are the persons engaged therein entitled to any other treatment than that due by the universal code of justice to pirates, murderers, and other outlaws.

But from the difficulties of the country, the secret aid and information given to these bush whackers by persons of your class, and the more important occupation of the troops under my command, it is impossible to chase, arrest and punish these common marauders as they deserve. Without the countenance and help given to them by the rebel residents of the valley, they could not support themselves for a week. You are spies upon our movements, abusing the clemency which has protected your persons and property, while loyal citizens of the United States residing within rebel lines are invariably plundered of all they may possess, imprisoned, and in some cases put to death. It is from you and your families and neighbors that these bandits revive food, clothing, ammunition and information; and it is from their secret hiding-places in your houses, barns and woods, that they issue on their missions of pillage and murder.

You are, therefore, hereby notified that for every train fired upon, or soldier of the Union wounded or assassinated by bushwhackers in any neighborhood within the reach of my cavalry, the houses and other property of every secession sympathizer residing within a circuit of five miles from the place of the outrage, shall be destroyed by fire; and that for all public property jayhawked or destroyed by these marauders, an assessment of five times the value of such property will be made upon the secession sympathizers residing within a circuit often miles around the point at which the offence was committed. The payment of this assessment will be enforced by the troops of the department, who will seize and hold in close military custody the persons assessed until such payment shall have been made. This provision will also be applied to make good, from the Secessionists in every neighborhood, five times the amount of any loss suffered by loyal citizens of the United States from the action of the bushwhackers whom you encourage.

If you desire to avoid the consequences herein set forth, you will notify your guerrilla and bushwhacking friends to withdraw from that portion of the valley within my lines, and to join — if they desire to fight for the rebellion — the regular forces of the secession army in my front or elsewhere. You will have no one but yourselves to blame for the consequences that will certainly ensue if these evils are permitted to continue. This circular is not sent to you for the reason that you have been singled out as peculiarly obnoxious, but because you are believed to furnish the readiest means of communication with the prominent secession sympathizers of your neighborhood. It will be for their benefit that you communicate to them the tenor of this circular.

D. HUNTER, Maj.-Gen. Com’d

If captured, guerrillas could expect little mercy. If they survived capture and summary execution they could look forward to trial by a military commission from which there was no appeal. Lincoln did pardon Union soldiers and even Indians, but I’m not aware of him ever showing mercy to a partisan or guerrilla.

From the Nashville Union, June 18.

Five men were hung yesterday at the State Prison. They were tried and sentenced by a Military Commission at Tullahoma, last March, Col, E. A. CANNON, of the Thirteenth New-Jersey, acting as President of the Commission, They were charged and found guilty as follows:

WILLIAM P. LEMMOND, citizen, charged first, with murder; second, assault with intent to kill; third, robbery.

CYRUS LEE CATHEY, citizen, charges the same as the foregoing.

JESSE B. NERRON, citizen, same charges.

THOMAS R. WEST, citizen, same charges, and also with bushwhacking.

BENJAMIN F. WEST, citizen, murder and robbery.

After a fair hearing, the prisoners were convicted and sentenced to death. The findings and sentence were approved by the General Commanding, and by the President, who directed that the prisoners be executed on the 17th of June, 1864.

LEMMOND was a native of Lincoln County, Tenn., and has a mother, one sister and two brothers living there. He was a tall, handsome built man, with a powerful frame, light-blue eyes, and rather a pleasant countenance. He was at one time a member of the Seventeenth Mississippi rebel regiment, and was captured a year ago.

CATHEY was a native of North Carolina, but was raised in this State. His mother and the remainder of the family reside in Lincoln County. He leaves a widow and one child. Before the war he bore an unblemished reputation. He had served in the rebel army, as a private in the Forty-fourth Tennessee, and was wounded at Chickamauga. He was a fine-looking man.

NERRON was a native of Marshall County, Ala. His father and sister reside in Lincoln County. He was formerly a member of the Thirty-second (rebel) Tennessee Regiment. He was captured last Summer. He was by no means a wicked-looking man; on the contrary, he had rather an amiable face.

THOS. R. WEST was a native of Lincoln County, and only eighteen years of age. He was a slender built boy, with blue eyes and light hair; and formerly a member of Thirty-second (rebel) Tennessee Regiment. His mother, brother and two sisters live in Lincoln County.

BENJ. F. WEST, was a cousin of THOMAS R., and also a native of Lincoln County. He has a mother, two brothers and two sisters residing in Marshall County, Tenn. He was a member of FORREST’s cavalry, at the time he participated in the inhuman deed which cost him his life. He was a man of prepossessing appearance, had fine dark eyes, and a round symmetrical form, a model of manly physical developement.

For upward of a fortnight previous to their execution, the prisoners exhibited much concern touching the preparations for their future state. They were attended in their religious exercise by Rev. J.W. MASON, of Lebanon, Ohio, and Rev. J.J. THOMPSON, of Hamilton, Ohio. CATHEY and NERRON, in particular, were sincere and devout; whilst LEMMOND and BENJAMIN WEST were baptized several days ago. CATHEY’s wife and child remained with him the night before the execution.

Preparations were made for the execution previous to 9 o clock A.M., yesterday. Major SHERMAN and Capt. TRENT were the officers detailed by Col. HORNER to carry into effect the sentence of the Commission. In front of the Penitentiary were drawn up several companies of the Thirty-first Wisconsin, while squads of the same regiment surrounded the institution to repress any undue excitement. The scaffold was erected in a little yard to the left of the main entrance, and was surrounded by about a hundred men of the Thirty-first Wisconsin, in command of Col. WEST.

The arrangements for the execution were excellent throughout, thanks to the wisdom and humane promptings of our efficient Provost-Marshal, and but a small number of spectators were present. But very few were there who went simply to gratify a prurient curiosity.

A few minutes after 10 1/2 o’clock the culprits ascended the terrible platform, accompanied by their spiritual advisers, a squad of soldiers, and the officers who had charge of the execution. They all walked up to the scaffold with firmness, and stood side by side, evidently with slight emotion, and immediately gave themselves up to religious exercises.

After the usual ceremonies, on such occasions, the process of binding their bodies and limbs commenced; in a short time all was arranged, and the fatal ropes were adjusted around their necks. The moment CATHEY felt the rope about his neck, he betrayed uneasiness, soon became unconscious, and sunk down as far as the rope permitted. This painful episode, coupled with increasing stoicism on the part of his companions — excepting perhaps, NERRON, who, though firm, gave every exhibition of penitence — produced a sensation not soon to be forgotten.

Each of the men made a few remarks, the tenor of which was an asseveration of their innocence. CATHEY and NERRON earnestly declared they were not guilty of the crimes imputed to them; but added that they were willing to die and felt assured of immortal happiness. LEMMOND could merely assert his innocence, in broken accents, but was otherwise calm and resigned. The two WESTS, as the scene was prolonged, grew more bold, and less penitent, and after asserting their freedom from guilt, stated that they were but honest rebel soldiers, affirmed their belief in the justness of the rebel cause, and said they would die true rebel soldiers.

At precisely 11 o’clock, the white caps were drawn over their heads, the scaffolding was sprung, and the souls of the condemned launched into eternity.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott November 30, 2010 at 12:08 am

Hunter attempted to implement the order late May of 1864. With his army on the march for Staunton, Hunter sent a detachment back to burn the village of Newtown (Stephen’s City) in retaliation for an attack on a wagon train by Harry Gilmor. When the detachment reached the village, its commander, Major Joseph Stearns so the plight of the innocent civilians and refused to burn the town and returned to the army and faced Hunter’s wrath.


Dick Stanley December 4, 2010 at 10:17 pm

It’s no surprise this kind of thing was ineffective. It’s too long and wordy to be very convincing.


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