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A horror of the war. [from the Richmond, Va., times, March 14, 1897.]

How General Custer hung some of Mosby's men.

Their comrades wished to raise a monument to the memory of Anderson, love, Carter, Jones, Overby and Rhodes.

When Mosby's men met here at the last Confederate Reunion, and feasted and talked of the thrilling events of their lives on the frontier, they did not fail to recall the names of those who had fallen in the fight, but especially the six soldiers, who, after being taken prisoners, had been made the victims of the implacable ferocity of General George A. Custer, of Sheridan's cavalry. A committee was appointed to raise funds for the erection of a monument to these soldiers, and their appeal is published below.

The story of this tragedy is thus told in the Warrenton True Index, by an eye-witness:

After the defeat of General Early at the battle of Opequon, on September 19, 1864, his command fell back up the Valley. The brigade of cavalry, under General Wickham, occupied a strong position at Milford, twelve miles south of Front Royal, and Custer made repeated efforts to force him from the position, without effect. About this time it was reported to Captain Chapman, of Mosby's command, that a large wagon train was en route from Milford to Winchester, under the escort of a small body of men. He immediately made disposition for its capture at Front Royal. For this purpose he divided his men into parties. One party was to attack the train at the point where a cross road from Chester's Gap intersects [240] the Front Royal and Luray grade. The other, under the immediate command of Chapman, was to fall upon the front of the train about 600 yards from the town, where there is a hill on one side and a ravine on the other. It seems that Custer had divined in some way the Confederate plans, and instead of a small train guard, he had his whole division behind the wagons. He waited till the attack was made upon the front, when he threw a large force up on the Manor Grade, a road running parallel with the Luray road, and took possession of Chester's Gap, Chapman's line of retreat. The latter promptly attacked the train, when he in turn was attacked in his rear. He immediately turned upon the force behind him, determined to cut his way out. The Federals, who had preceded him to the gap, had thrown a strong line across a narrow defile, under the command of a captain or major, who stood upon foot in the middle of the road. Chapman formed his men in column and boldly charged through the line. In the melee, the Federal officer saw he would be captured or ridden down, and offered to surrender himself; but the pressure behind the Confederates was too great for them to stop to parley with one man, and some of those in the rear, not understanding the situation, emptied their revolvers into the captain, killing him instantly. The most of Mosby's men succeeded in getting away, but some had their horses shot, and others were cut off. Among these were Anderson, Love, Overby, Carter, and Henry Rhodes, of the 23rd Virginia regiment. Custer determined to wreak summary vengeance upon these men. Rhodes was lashed with ropes between two horses, and dragged in plain sight of his agonized relatives, to the open field north of our town, where one man volunteered to do the killing, and ordered the helpless, dazed prisoner to stand up in front of him while he emptied his pistol upon him. Anderson and Love were shot in a lot behind the courthouse. Overby and Carter were carried to a large walnut tree upon the hill between Front Royal and Riverton, and were hung. The writer saw the latter under guard in a wagon lot. They bore themselves like heroes, and endured the taunts of their captors with proud and undaunted mien. One of them was a splendid specimen of manhood—tall, well-knit frame, and a head of black, wavy hair floating in the wind, he looked like a knight of old. While I was looking at them, General Custer, at the head of his division, rode by. He was dressed in a splendid suit of silk velvet, his saddle bow bound in silver or gold. In his hand he had a large branch of damsons, which he picked and ate as he rode along, his yellow locks resting upon his shoulders. Rhodes [241] was my friend and playmate, and I saw him shot from a distance, but did not at the time know who it was.

Early in November Captain A. E. Richards, with ten men, was sent to the rear of Sheridan's army, then lying between Middletown and Strasburg. From a position near the turnpike, in the course of the day he captured fifteen prisoners, among whom were Captain Brewster, of Custer's staff, and his brother, a lawyer, bound on a canvassing expedition to the army in the interest of General McClellan. There were also among the prisoners a news-boy and a drummer-boy. The news-boy had often before been captured by Richards, but had always been released, and on this occasion received the same clemency. The drummer-boy claimed his liberty likewise, and pleaded hard for it; but Richards said: ‘No; the drum excites men to battle, but the newspaper is often the source of demoralization and defeat.’ As the prisoners, in charge of Dr. Sowers, were passing through Ashby's Gap, they were met by Mosby, who, when informed that they belonged to General Custer's division, determined to retaliate upon them for the death of the Rangers who had been executed at Front Royal. He, therefore, ordered them to be kept under close guard until his return to Fauquier.

In a few days Mosby left Mountjoy with twenty-three men in the Valley, and proceeded to Rectortown to execute his purpose. Meanwhile, another party of Custer's men had been captured by Mountjoy and left in charge of Jimmy Chilton, at the residence of a citizen on the Blue Ridge. These prisoners were confined in a school-house, and appeared to be comfortable and cheerful, expressing their surprise at receiving such kind treatment at the hands of Mosby's men. One of them, especially, was inclined to talk. He was young, handsome, intelligent and gentlemanly in appearance. The conversation was so pleasant and friendly that Jimmy quite forgot the belligerent relation in which they stood to each other. But soon the tranquility of the scene was rudely and painfully disturbed by the entrance of two Rangers, who, without preliminary, demanded of the prisoners to whose command they belonged. Several promptly responded:

‘We belong to Custer's Division.’ ‘Then,’ said the men, ‘you are to be hung. Come along.’

The announcement produced a terrible shock; and the prisoner to whom reference has been made, rose up and with great calmness, said:

‘I understand the reason for this. It is in retaliation for the [242] hanging at Front Royal, and I do not condemn you for it. But I desire to make this statement: Though I now belong to General Custer's command, yet I did not belong to it when that deed was perpetrated. I do not think, in justice, that I ought to be punished for the action of that officer before I had any connection with him.’

The case was a hard one, but he was, nevertheless, marched off with his comrades.

On the day appointed for the execution, the battalion assembled at Rectortown. About 11 o'clock A. M., Mosby arrived, prepared to enter upon his painful task. There were twenty-seven men left after Brewster, the lawyer, was excluded from the lottery, and on the list were the names of two officers—Captain Brewster and a lieutenant of artillery. An officer was detailed to superintend the sad affair, and Mosby withdrew from the painful scene, saying:

‘This duty must be performed for the protection of my men from the ruthless Custer and Powell.’

The prisoners were drawn up in single rank, and for each a bit of paper was prepared, but seven only of them were numbered. They were then all put into a hat, and each prisoner was required to draw forth one of them. Those who drew blanks were to be sent to Richmond as prisoners of war, but those who drew numbers were to be hung. Various were the emotions depicted on the countenances as each man put his hand in the hat: Firmness, with his closed lips and unquailing eye; stolid Indifference; and Fear, with his ashen cheek and trembling hand, were all there. Brewster, the lawyer, was there too, and with agonized looks, was watching the fate of his brother, while tears coursed down his cheeks. As each hand was taken from the hat an expression of joy and relief would brighten the countenance, or a groan of anguish or a cry of despair would burst from the line.

The condemned men were at once set apart and closely guarded. The two officers had drawn blanks, but not so the drummer boy. His appeals to Captain Richards were now louder and more eloquent than ever, who, touched with compassion, interceded with Mosby for his release. The application was granted, for the boy, in truth, ought never to have been subjected to the lottery. But another had to be substituted in his place, for Mosby remembered the blackened corpses of Overby and Carter, as they hung in the parching wind.

The prisoners, in cruel suspense, again stood in line, but now only one death warrant was in the hat. Captain Brewster again escaped, but the artillery officer was not so fortunate. [243]

A detail was made to execute the sentence of retaliation, for the condemned soldiers were to be carried to the Valley, and were to be executed in the neighborhood of Winchester, As the party was passing through Ashby's Gap, they were met by Captain Mountjoy, who was returning from the Valley with an additional supply of prisoners taken from General Custer's command. Among the men condemned to death he recognized the artillery officer and one of his companions to be Freemasons, and on his own responsibility substituted in their places two of his own prisoners. The melancholy procession again set forward. Owing to the darkness, the road was lost, and at daylight S——, who was in command of the party, found himself at Rosemont, on the edge of Berryville, and he there determined to execute the sentence, for one prisoner had already escaped and had not been missed until then.

The man who was first called up begged for delay, and said he was not ready to die. His request was granted, and he was postponed till the last. Three were hung and the others shot. But the last prisoner, when his turn came, was not then prepared to die, and striking the guard who held him by the collar a blow which felled him to the ground, rushed passed him, and, screened by the misty dawn, was soon lost to view.

When the substitution made by Captain Mountjoy was reported to Mosby, he was much offended, and with severity told him he must remember in future that his command was not a Masonic lodge.

A few days after this execution, Colonel Mosby transmitted to General Sheridan the following communication:

November 11, 1864.
Major-General P. H. Sheridan, Commanding U. S. Forces in the Valley:
General,—Sometime in the month of September, during my absence from my command, six of my men, who had been captured by your forces, were hung and shot in the street of Front Royal, by the order and in the immediate presence of Brigadier-General Custer. Since then, another (captured by a Colonel Powell, on a plundering expedition into Rappahannock), shared a similar fate. A label affixed to the coat of one of the murdered men declared that this would be the fate of Mosby and all his men. Since the murder of my men, not less than 700 prisoners, including many officers of high rank, captured from your army by this command, have been forwarded to Richmond; but the execution of my purpose of retaliation [244] was deferred, in order, as far as possible, to confine its operation to the men of Custer and Powell. Accordingly, on the 6th instant, seven of your men were, by my order, executed on the Valley turnpike-your highway of travel. Hereafter, any prisoners falling into my hands will be treated with the kindness due to their condition, unless some new act of barbarity shall compel me reluctantly to adopt a line of policy repugnant to humanity.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

John S. Mosby, Lieutenant-Colonel.

We, the committee appointed by Mosby Camp to solicit subscriptions to erect a monument at Front Royal, Va., to the memory of our six comrades—Anderson, Carter, Jones, Overby, Love and Rhodes—who, while prisoners of war, were hung or shot to death, by the order of General Custer, in the year 1864.

The memory of these brave boys, who met an untimely death in defence of their country, deserves to be perpetuated, and we earnestly appeal to all survivors of the 43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, to aid in rendering long-delayed justice to our fallen comrades.

All subscriptions should be sent to the Treasurer, W. Ben. Palmer, No. 1321 Cary street, Richmond, Va., or to any member of the committee.

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