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The last tragedy of the war. [from the New Orleans, La., Picayune, January 18, 1903.]

Execution of Tom Martin at Cincinnati, by the order of General Hooker.

By Captain James Dinkins.
During General Hood's campaign into middle Tennessee, in November, 1864, a young cavalryman by the name of Thomas Martin, whose home was in Kentucky, decided to steal away and pay his family a visit. The army passed within fifty miles of his home, and he doubtless thought he would be able to visit his parents and get back before being missed.

Soon after his arrival at home, however, the Federals made him a prisoner and charged him with being a guerrilla.

He was sent to Cincinnati and confined in a cell. Not long afterwards he was brought before a court-martial and convicted of having been a guerrilla and sentenced to be shot.

Tom Martin was a mere boy, and was illiterate, unable to read or write, but he protested his innocence and insisted that he was a regular Confederate soldier.

At the time the sentence was rendered no one expected (so it is claimed) that it would be carried into execution.

The members of the court, as well as General Willich (at that time Military Commandant of Cincinnati), did not for a moment expect that the boy would be executed.

The Federal authorities stated that the sentence had been rendered [130] in order to deter the guerrillas in Kentucky, who often raided the Ohio border.

As an evidence that General Willich did not think the sentence would be carried out, he gave the boy his freedom, under promise that he would not leave the city. After wandering about Cincinnati for a few days, and finding no one whom he knew, Tom Martin returned to General Willich and asked permission to remain around his headquarters. The General readily assented, and soon became attached to the boy. He used him as a sort of messenger, for which service he gave him board and a small remuneration in money.

Previous to this time Major-General Joseph Hooker, of the Federal Army, had been relieved of his command by Sherman, and was assigned to the Department of Ohio. Hooker was in an ugly frame of mind, due doubtless to his own deficiencies. He had failed to meet the expectations of his superiors, and was defeated on every turn. He realized that naught remained to him but retirement.

Time passed on, the surrender occurred, and the day when Hooker would leave the Department was approaching.

He called to one of his staff officers and asked him to read over the papers on file, so that he might dispose of them.

In going over the papers those relating to the boy, Martin, were found. The case had passed out of Hooker's mind, but he inquired to know whether the sentence had been executed.

Learning that it had not, he sent for General Willich and asked for all the facts, and General Willich related them as above described.

The following day, a short time before his removal, General Hooker issued an order directing that Tom Martin be shot on the 5th of May, then only a few days off.

General Willich, be it said to his praise, was dumfounded. To shoot the boy who had been his attendant for several months, to whom he had become much attached because of his faithful conduct and reliability, was too much for the brave and just old soldier of many wars and many battles.

With tears in his eyes (it was said) and distress in his heart, he rushed to the office of Judge Stallo (subsequently United States Minister to Rome) and sought his aid in saving the boy's life. Judge Stallo in turn sought Judge W. M. Dickson and beseeched his interference.

Meanwhile General Hooker had left the city to attend the funeral of Mr. Lincoln at Springfield, Ill., and the day set for the murder was near at hand. General Hooker could not be reached, so it was [131] decided by General Willich and his friends to appeal to the President. They sent a telegram to a prominent man in Washington, urging him to go at once and lay the matter before Mr. Johnson, requesting him to pardon the boy.

To this there was no reply, and no relief came.

Preparations were made for the execution, and when the day arrived Tom Martin was carefully dressed in a nice suit of clothing, provided by General Willich, and after being bound hand and foot, was placed in a wagon, which was guarded by a company of cavalry, and started for the place of execution.

It was a mournful procession. The men detailed to guard the boy had been accustomed to see him daily about headquarters, and they all loved him. They had listened to his stories about the great Forrest, and of the bravery of his comrades in the Confederate Army.

They looked upon him as an ardent little Southern boy, and treated him with all tenderness. Each of them felt as if he was about to commit a crime which he could not avoid, and for which they were not responsible.

Tom Martin expressed the greatest regret at his fate, but said he was not afraid.

Father Garesche, a priest in charge of one of the churches in Cincinnati, as soon as he heard of the awful fate of the boy, repaired to him, and was his faithful comforter during all that ordeal. Father Garesche was a distinguished prelate; his brother, Colonel Garesche, was Chief of Staff to General Rosecrans, and was killed at Stone River, near Murfreesboro. He, therefore, felt more than an ordinary interest in the little soldier.

The procession moved out on the road leading to what is known as Walnut Hill. To the south of the road and in a ravine, as the cortege turned to the right, stood in solemn silence a regiment of infantry, facing the road, and two companies on either flank, thereby forming a hollow square.

Within this square stood a squad of sixteen soldiers at carry arms. The wagon moved up opposite, and the poor boy was taken out and told to kneel. Tom Martin asked that he be unbound, and the cords were removed and his hands fell by his side, but there was not a tremor in his body. His eyes were bandaged with a handkerchief and the squad of soldiers, with fifteen loaded rifles, faced him at eight paces distant.

General Willich, early that morning, telegraphed to Mr. Stanton, Secretary of War, imploring him to save the boy, and gave orders [132] for the procession to move slowly, hoping to receive a pardon before arriving at the place selected.

He posted his orderly, well mounted, at the telegraph office, with instructions to wait until the last minute for a message.

Anxiously the kind-hearted old soldier looked for an answer.

At length he was rewarded. To his great joy he saw the courier in the distance, coming at full speed, holding in his outstretched hand a paper.

It was this telegram:

war Department, Washington, D. C., May 5, 1865.
Major-General Joseph Hooker:
Suspend the execution of Thomas Martin, to be executed in Cincinnati this day, until further orders.

By order of the President.


E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War.

Immediately there was great rejoicing. The soldiers who were to shoot the boy now congratulated him on his escape, and carried him back to the city in triumph.

There were two persons in that memorable incident who gave grateful and heartfelt thanks for the preservation of the boy—General Willich and Father Garesche—but they were not demonstrative, like the soldiers.

Tom Martin knew that he owed everything to General Willich, and voluntarily promised that he would serve him in any capacity as long as he lived.

Two weeks subsequent to this time, General Hooker returned, and was told that the President had suspended the execution. He thereupon flew into a rage, and sent officers post-haste to bring General Willich and Judges Stallo and Dickson before him. The gentlemen entered the room in which General Hooker walked back and forth, more in the likeness of a hyena than that of a man. He was under great excitement, which he was unable to suppress, and possibly did not care to.

He first addressed Judge Dickson, and said:

‘I was very angry at you, sir, on my return, and had ordered your arrest, but out of consideration for the past, I have called you here.’

Judge Dickson replied: [133]

‘You surprise me, General Hooker; what do you mean?’

‘Why, sir, on my return to the city I found my administration of this Department had been interfered with; that Martin, the guerrilla, whom I had ordered shot, had not been shot; that Mr. Stanton had suspended my order. I telegraphed him, demanding why he interfered. He replied that it was in response to yours and Judge Stello's telegram. Your work, sir. I demanded of Stanton to send me a copy of the telegram, and I know all you did.’

“Well, General,” said Judge Dickson, ‘was it not all right?’

‘No, sir. No, sir; it was not all right.’

‘Why, sir, when I was in command of the Army of the Potomac Lincoln would not let me kill a man.’

Lee killed men every day (not a word of truth in this), and Lee's Army was under discipline; and now, sir, Lincoln is dead and I will kill this man. Yes, sir, I will. The order is given to shoot him to-morrow, and he will be shot, and don't you interfere, either of you.’

“Did Stanton order you to shoot him?” asked Judge Dickson.

‘No, sir; he left the matter in my hands, and I demand that he be shot—and shot he will be.’

“Well, General,” replied Judge Dickson, ‘even if the boy was a guerrilla, the war is over and the papers this morning tell us that the Government has given all rebels the same terms given General Lee. Will it not be shocking to shoot this poor boy?’

“It makes no difference,” answered Hooker. ‘I will kill him; yes, sir, and that to-morrow.’

The following day the same solemn procession moved out to the ravine, and the boy, bound hand and foot, knelt beside his coffin while a squad of soldiers fired ounce balls through his breast. The faithful priest took charge of his body and gave it a religious burial. And thus it was that Tom Martin, of Kentucky, was the last victim of the war. A poor, ignorant boy, but he died like a man. The Northern papers condemned the cowardly and brutal murder; but some excused it by saying that Hooker was oppressed with the thought that Mr. Lincoln's humanity had thwarted his career, and for that reason it was a relief to sacrifice the boy, and he determined that the opportunity should not escape him.

We all remember the order Hooker issued Thursday, April 30, 1863, at Chancellorsville, when he was in command of the Army of the Potomac. He said:

‘The enemy must either ingloriously fly or come out from behind [134] his defenses and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.’

His force was 154,000 strong and 470 cannon, while General Lee's force amounted to less than 60,000 men and 170 guns. Hooker paraphrased his order in boastful conversation with his subordinate officers. He said: ‘The Rebel Army is now the legitimate property of the Army of the Potomac. They may as well pack up their haversacks and make for Richmond, and I shall be after them.’ Now, listen; four days from that time he had deserted his defeated Army, recrossed the Rappahannock river and begged Major-General Couch to take command and withdraw what was left of his troops.

General Lee defeated him ingloriously, but he laid the blame on Mr. Lincoln.

But while all this is understood, and while some people may seek to excuse him on the ground of disappointment and jealousy, yet there looms up to view the cold fact of the murder of that boy. It was a murder; and it must strike every honest man as unnecessary and so unjust. We feel, therefore, that the name and deeds of Joseph Hooker are execrable, and should be so regarded by our people.

We would be shirking a duty if we failed to express our condemnation of this inhuman act.

Joseph Hooker we know was not the only person of weight in the Federal Army at that time who deserves to be held up before the people of this country and exposed to the light, which will bring to the surface their bloody deeds. But their exposure will come, and the world will pass judgment, and history will record their infamous acts.

Let us, therefore, do our duty, and see that American children are taught the truth about these facts.

There were good and noble generals in the Federal army, but Joseph Hooker had no place among them.

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