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‘The Nathan Hale of Arkansas’—David O. Dodd.

By Prof. W. C. Parham.

Benton, ark., May 26TH, 1883.
Rev. Dr. J. Wm. Jones, Secretary Southern Historical Society.
My Dear Sir,—I enjoyed the great pleasure of hearing General Fitzhugh Lee's graphic description of the Battle of Chancellorsville, in Little Rock, last winter. In the felicitous prefatory remarks made by yourself, I was particularly struck with one terse sentence; ‘Let those who made the history tell it as it was.’ In this connection you distinctly expressed it as the desire of the Society, to receive contributions from any source, particularly from Confederate sources, giving information bearing either upon the general conduct of the ‘War between the States,’ or even upon well authenticated incidents of a personal nature, in that great struggle. In reply to that request, publicly expressed, I propose to give you an account of a tragical incident which occurred in the Trans-Mississippi Department, during the winter of 1863-4.

Some years ago, while I was lecturing on the Greek and Latin languages in St. John's College of this State, the editors of a [311] monthly periodical, The St. John's College Record, published and edited by our students, requested me to write for their paper, a series of articles, giving a history of the college, and of some of its prominent alumni. In the course of these articles I gave a detailed account of the apprehension, conviction and execution, as a Confederate spy, of David O. Dodd, an ex-student of the college, and whose tragic death had been embalmed in verse by Fannie Green Borland, the gifted poetess of the West, under the caption of ‘The Nathan Hale of Arkansas.’ I have recently endeavored to find a file of that paper, from which I wished to extract the account there given, and send it to you. I have been unable to procure it, and so will write it out again for your use, as my memory may best serve me.

On the 10th day of September, 1863, the Confederate commander of this district, Major-General Sterling Price, evacuated Little Rock, and went into winter-quarters eighteen miles west of Camden, on the Ouachita river. The enemy, under Major-General Steele, occupied our capital on the afternoon of the same day, and at once established garrisons at several points on Arkansas river. The father of David O. Dodd, our hero, had refugeed with his family and effects to Texas before the fall of Little Rock. In November of that year, he sent his son David, a youth just seventeen years of age, back to Arkansas to settle up some unfinished business in Saline county, their late home, about fifteen miles southwest of Little Rock. While he knew it would be hazardous for him to venture so near the Union lines in person, he thought that there could be no risk in sending his son, who had not reached military age. Of course David could not pass the Confederate pickets on Saline river without a pass from Confederate headquarters. General James F. Fagan was at that time in command of the Confederate cavalry, with headquarters in Camden, on the Ouachita, some ninety miles south of Little Rock. General Fagan's home was in Saline county, and the General had known young Dodd from his infancy. He promptly gave him a pass to go beyond the Confederate lines, and jocularly remarked to him as he handed it to him, ‘Now, David, you know every foot of country about Little Rock, and, as a return for this pass, I shall expect you to go into Little Rock, inform yourself as to the position, numbers, and designs of the enemy, and report to me on your way back to Texas.’ General Fagan knew him to be brave, patriotic, and trustworthy. He [312] determined to enter Little Rock, remain long enough to pick up all information of value that he could get, and report to Fagan as directed. Consequently, early in December, he went as a farmer's son to Little Rock, where everybody knew him, and pretended to be seeking business of some sort. He had spent the most of his school life in the city, and, of course, had no difficulty in getting lodging and accommodations without expense. He remained in the city three weeks, freely mingling with the Federal officers and soldiers in that garrison. Finally, he applied at General Steele's headquarters for a pass to go into the country. He was told to apply at the provost-marshal's office. He did so, and unhesitatingly and almost without question was granted a pass. He left the city on the military road, leading in a southwesterly direction, intending to cross Saline river just west of the village of Benton, the county seat of Saline county, twenty-six miles from Little Rock. Within a mile after leaving the city, he had to pass the infantry pickets, who examined his pass and permitted him to proceed. He knew that the cavalry videttes were stationed about three miles down the road, and might very easily have avoided them by taking the woods on either side of the road; but supposing that his pass would prove as safe a protection with the cavalry as it had with the infantry, he proceeded down the road till he reached the headquarters of the cavalry picket, when his pass was demanded, examined, and pronounced good. He was allowed to pass, but the officer in charge of the picket retained the pass, saying that orders had been issued that day to take up all passes as soon as the holder should pass the last station, and this was the last on that road. Thinking that he would not again be challenged, he still kept on the road leading to Benton. About ten miles from Little Rock the Hot Springs road branches off from the military road, and by mistake he took this road, and did not discover his mistake until he had proceeded some miles. He now thinking himself safe, started through the woods to intersect the road, he ought to have taken, near Benton. In his attempt to do this, he unexpectedly came upon a squad of cavalry that had gone into the country on a foraging expedition. Having no pass to show, he was at once arrested and examined carefully; and sewed up between the soles of his boots were found papers with unintelligible marks and dots on them. He was taken back to the city, and his papers proved to contain a complete and accurate description of Steele's positions, and some of his real intentions, (which he [313] (Steele) thought that nobody, excepting his own military family, knew,) in telegraphic characters.

Of course, he was tried and condemned as a spy. In view of his extreme youth, General Steele was at first unwilling to execute him, and he paid him a visit in the prison, and offered him his life, on the condition that he would tell what Federal officer had furnished him such intelligence as his papers disclosed. Young Dodd did not deny that he had received aid in gathering the information, but positively refused to inculpate any one else. He had served as telegraph operator for a short time, and knew how to use the characters. On the eighth day of January, 1864, he was hung just in front of the main entrance to St. John's College, his alma mater, after again refusing to give General Steele any information as to his accomplices. General Steele approached him while the rope was around his neck, and said, ‘David, I know that one of my own personal staff must have given you a part of that information, for nobody else knew it. Give me his name and I will give you your life.’ With perfect calmness, but in tones of the deepest resolution, he answered, ‘General Steele, I don't blame you for what I am about to suffer. I thank you for your great kindness to me while under arrest, but I will not betray a friend, even to save my own life; and “my only regret is, I have but one life to give to my country;” ’ thus repeating the last words of Nathan Hale of Revolutionary fame.

He was hung. His body was buried in Mt. Holly cemetery, and the ladies of Little Rock have erected a marble monument to his memory.

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