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Civil War Round Table of Kansas City

Battlefield Dispatches #1

A Fatal Occupation

During the Civil War, the occupation of a “Spy” was extremely hazardous and often resulted in a very short life span with a fatal result. The following is a brief description of the career of a Confederate “Spy” who tempted fate to many times, was captured, tried & executed by hanging near Frederick, Maryland in July of 1863. The following accounts of the career of William Richardson were transcribed from the March 6, 1884 issue of the National Tribune, which was a newspaper published in Washington, D. C. from 1877 - the 1940’s. A copy of the newspaper column is located in the reference notebook at Mine Creek Battlefield SHS.

"The Frederick Spy"

His Name Was Richardson; But Was He Young or Old?

A. To the Editor National Tribune:

Your correspondent in regards to the Rebel spy hung at Frederick, Md. Is erroneous. Tom Smith, horse farrier of Company A, 7th Michigan Cavalry, captured a spy, and delivered him at a farmhouse in Pennsylvania. When the advance of General Buford’s Cavalry came along, Tom turned the spy over to General Buford, who took him along to Frederick, Md. and after a drumhead court - martial, ordered him hung. He was hung on an apple tree on the left of the main road towards South Mountain, and a short distance from Frederick, Md. this was a few days after the Gettysburg battle. The spy was about thirty-five years old, and had reddish hair and beard. I saw him while suspended by the neck to a limb of said apple tree.

F. P. Nichols, Formerly Lieut., Co. A., 7th Mich. Cav., Council Grove. Kan.

John Buford (Library of Congress)


B. To the Editor National Tribune:

I saw in one of the back numbers of The National Tribune an inquiry in relation to the man hung shortly after the battle of Gettysburg, and I will state my recollections. Members of the 2nd, and perhaps other comrades present after the Battle of Antietam, while the army was encamped at Boliver Heights and vicinity, will remember an old man who visited our camp, singing and selling Union songs. This man, whose name was Richardson, was arrested two or three times as a spy by General [William H.] French, commanding the 3rd Division, 2nd Corps and discharged for lack of evidence, and always expelled from our lines. After the battle of Gettysburg, while on the march, near Frederick, Md., we passed a man hanging to a tree, whom we recognized as our old acquaintance, Richardson, who had been again arrested by General French within the lines at Fredrick, commanded by General French the day before and evidence enough found on him to hang a dozen men.

W. H. R., 108th N. Y. Vols., Penfield, N. Y.

William H. French (Library of Congress)


C. To the Editor National Tribune:

In answer to the query of E. J. Chaffee, New Orleans as to the rebel spy hung near Frederick, Md., I will say that my diary recorded that a man called William Richardson was captured as a spy, tried in General Buford’s Camp, and sentence passed by General French that he be hanged. I saw him on the 8th of July, hanging to a locust tree. The buttons were all cut off his clothes, and the bark was pulled from the tree as high as a man could reach, for relics.

S. D. Davis, Fate Company H, 1st Vt. Cav., Harrisonville, Mo.


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