Skip to main content
#
Civil War Round Table of Kansas City

Battlefield Dispatches #154

Execution by Hanging

During the Civil War, military justice for committing capital crimes such as murder, rape & desertion in the face of the enemy was execution by hanging or by a firing squad. This of course was true for soldiers of both the Blue & the Gray. There was also another form of justice that preceded and occurred after the Civil War and that was “Vigilante Justice”. In time of war, this form of justice was perpetrated together or separately by civilians & soldiers. For this to occur, the crime had to be so heinous or the individual who committed it so bad that no one could or would wait for the slow moving wheels of justice to arrive at a verdict. Such was the case & fate of one John F. Bolin who was a famous or infamous, depending on your perspective, “Bushwhacker” in southeast Missouri. John F. Bolin was a member & perhaps leader of the “Bolin Gang” that was “Bad to the Bone” and had terrorized the “Union” towns & citizens of extreme southeast Missouri from the beginning of the Civil War to his capture & “EXECUTION BY HANGING” on February 6, 1864. The “Bolin Band” was also very  successful in attacking “Union” supply trains, garrisons & killing Blue Belly Billy Yanks which is what they were supposed to do & did.

Clinton B. Fisk

The following is the brief account of the capture & Vigilante Justice that John F. Bolin received on February 6, 1864. All of the documents are located on Pages 243, 244, 248,253 & 254 in Vol. 34, Part 2 Correspondence of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.

Cape Girardeau, [Mo.]; February 4, 1864.

General Fisk, Commanding:

A detachment from my regiment yesterday attacked the “Bolin Gang” on Halcolm Island. Our force was under Captain Shibley. They killed 7 men & captured 8 & among them “Bolin” himself. We have him sure. They were on this side foraging. He took 15 wagons of corn, mostly citizens & 13 horses. They report that McRae is preparing to cross with 400 men & attack Bloomfield. They will be welcomed. None of our force were killed.

J.B. ROGERS,
Colonel, Commanding.


Cape Girardeau, February 4, 1864.

General Fisk, Commanding:

Bolin is on the way here tied. Shall I shoot him without trial or try him by a drum-head court martial & muster him out? [Then kill him?]

J.B. ROGERS,
Colonel, Commanding.


Headquarters Saint Louis District,
Saint Louis, February 4, 1864.

Col. J. B. Rogers, Cape Girardeau, Mo.:

I congratulate the “Bolin” catchers. How many “Bolin’s” are there in Southeast Missouri? McRae will wish that he had not come to Bloomfield, should he make a pilgrimage to Stoddard County.

CLINTON B. FISK,
Brigadier-General.


Cape Girardeau, February 4, 1864.

General Fisk, Commanding:

The capture of Bolin was a mistake. No one knew the FIEND until he was brought in & RECOGNIZED by CITIZENS. We are ready to rectify all such mistakes. There are three of the Bolins. We do not fear McRae.

J. B. ROGERS,
Colonel Commanding.


Cape Girardeau, February 5, 1864.

General Fisk, Commanding:

We have Lieut. John F. Bolin here in irons. He commanded at the Round Pond Massacre; is guilty of many COLD-BLOODED MURDERS of citizens. Let me convene the commission & try him here, as all the witnesses are here. The FEELING here is intense against his being sent away from here for trial.

What shall be done with the prisoners captured with Bolin? They claim to be regular soldiers in the rebel army. There are 7 of them.

J. B. Rogers
Colonel Commanding.


Headquarters Saint Louis District
Saint Louis, February 5, 1864.

Col. J. B. Rogers, Cape Girardeau, Mo.:

Let Bolin’s men be tried by the [military] commission. If they are regular soldiers of the rebel army they will be able to show it. They are undoubtedly guerrillas.

CLINTON B. FISK,
Brigadier General.


Cape Girardeau, Mo., February 6, 1864.

General Fisk:

I regret [Note: I am sure not very much] to report that at a late hour last night a large crowd of soldiers & citizens took the prisoner, John F. Bolin, from the custody of the guard & HUNG him. All was done by most of the officers that could be done to prevent it, but without success. No force could be used, owing to the fact that no symptom of their intention was manifested until too late & nearly all the AVAILABLE FORCE was ENGAGED in the ACT!

J. B. ROGERS,
Colonel, Commanding.


Headquarters, Saint Louis District,
Saint Louis, February 6, 1864.

Col. J. B. Rogers, Cape Girardeau, Mo.:

It will hardly be necessary to give “Bolin” a trial.

CLINTON B. FISK,
Brigadier General


Cape Girardeau, Mo., February 6, 1864.

General Fisk, Commanding:

While I think the hanging of Bolin just, I regret that it was done by violence, without trial. Your telegram to me will be misunderstood as WINKING at it. I apprehend [believe there will be] further violence. I will be obliged if you will GIVE ME A REPRIMAND or a hint to allow no more violence, so I may the better be able to retrain my men.

J. B. ROGERS
Colonel, Commanding.


[NOTE: Please remember that this incident of “Vigilante Justice” was perpetrated by “Union” Missouri Soldiers & Citizens against a Missouri “Bushwhacker”. So it is no surprise that Col. Rogers asked for help from his commanding officer in an attempt to prevent this type of execution from happening again.]


Headquarters Saint Louis District,
Saint Louis, February 6, 1864

Col. J. B. Rogers, Cape Girardeau:

I much regret that you failed to restrain your men from the unlawful proceedings resulting in the HANGING of Bolin. Such acts of violence demoralize both soldiers & citizens. Take prompt & decisive steps to restrain further violence toward the prisoners yet in custody. I would prefer that NO SUCH VILLIANS be taken prisoner [in other words kill them rather than taking them as prisoners], but after they have been captured & imprisoned within our lines, law & order & the well being of the community imperatively demand that they receive a proper trial & be punished for their crimes in the manner prescribed by law.

CLINTON B. FISK,
Brigadier General.


Now then, it is not known whether Bolin’s men were ever tried by a military commission. Did they escape to fight another day or were they held as prisoners of war for the duration of the war? What is known, is that Lieut. John F. Bolin was EXECUTED by HANGING as a result of “Vigilante Justice”, other Bolin’s continued to fight as Confederate guerrillas and the war went on!

Civil War Round Table of Kansas City
P.O. Box 6202
Shawnee Mission, KS 66206

Email: info@cwrtkc.org          Membership Application

.