Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bushwacker Execution at Fort Smith - 1864

On July 29, 1864, even as Confederate troops were threatening the post, Union troops at Fort Smith executed four prisoners following a drum head trial that convicted them of "murder and the violation of the civilized rules of warfare."

Identified as A.J. Copeland, James H. Rowden, John Norwood and William Carey, they had been captured at the time of an alleged guerrilla attack that left eight Union soldiers dead in Northwest Arkansas. Although they were termed "bushwackers" by the Federals, at least three of the men (Copeland, Norwood and Carey) were members of regular Confederate units from Arkansas.

The following is excerpted from the August 6, 1864, issue of the Fort Smith New Era, a Unionist newspaper:

...The Judge Advocate of the District, Lieut. Whicher, then read to them the charges and findings of the military commission, after which the condemned kneeled down with the chaplains, and Rev. Mr. Stringer offered a short an appropriate prayer. At the conclusion of it the officers and others about the condemned shook hands with them and, bidding them a final farewell, retired, except the Judge Advocate, who remained till their eyes were bandaged and hands tied. By this time all of the unfortunate men showed signs of mental distress. Carey and Copeland prayed audibly and with great force. Norwood started a hymn, and was still singing, in a low voice, when the death volley sent his soul to eternity....

The execution took place on what was then the south side of Fort Smith, on the hill near where Sparks Hospital stands today. The incident is one of the episodes described in my 2008 book, The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas now available at www.amazon.com.

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