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Civil War Round Table of Kansas City

Battlefield Dispatches #59-A

Swift Justice

Today, a BRIEF civilian or military criminal trial of 1 day or less is almost unheard of, but during the 19th Century “Swift Justice” often occurred in “Time of Peace” & in “Time of War.” Combat by its’ very nature is not conducive to the judicial process & during “Field Operations” in the Civil War, trials of guerrillas & bushwhackers no matter how brief, rarely occurred. If they managed to survive & were not killed shortly after they were captured or in the process of being captured, they were escorted, “behind the lines” where a military trial or court-martial could be conducted if their actions warranted one. Therefore, the following edited report that describes the pursuit, capture, trial & execution of (2) Confederate bushwhackers & the courtesies extended to them should be considered the EXCEPTION & NOT the Rule. Especially since all of these incidents occurred in Missouri where the KILLING of Bushwhackers & Guerrillas was the RULE & not the EXCEPTION! The complete report is located on Pages 856-858, Part I, Series I, Vol. 34 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.  

Germantown, Mo., March 31, 1864.

Sir: For the information of the general commanding the District of Central Missouri, I have the honor to transmit, through your headquarters the following report. About 10 P.M. on March 26th, Mr. Short of Deepwater Township, Henry County, Mo., came to my headquarters & informed me that a party of BUSHWHACKERS were in his neighborhood menacing the citizens & committing the most outrageous acts of plunder, also threatening those who had enrolled for police duty at this station.

[PURSUIT]: I immediately dispatched (a detachment) under the command of Sergt. John W. Barkley, of my command, in pursuit. One of the BUSHWHACKERS had in the mean time been severely wounded by Mr. Archibald Colson, a citizen of the neighborhood. This enabled Sergt. Barkley to overtake the band, who had taken their wounded Confederate with them.

[NIGHT FIGHT]: Barkley came upon them about 1 a.m. & ordered them to surrender; this their leader DEFIANTLY refused. They were strongly posted in the house of a citizen by the name of Matthew Dunn, against whom strong suspicion as an accomplice of the DESPERADOES rests. The leader gave his name as Capt. A. D. Jones, C.S. Army & told Barkley that he was able to defend himself, at the same time OPENING FIRE on Barkley’s detachment that was promptly returned. A part of the band that had been plundering in the neighborhood now came DASHING up with WILD YELLS, FIRING RAPIDLY & SHOUTING to their comrades in the house to come out! This, the leader attempted to do, but as he opened the door, a VOLLEY of BULLETS from Barkley’s men warned him that if he attempted to rush out, certain death would be the result. He accordingly retreated & a FIGHT WAS KEPT UP DURING THE NIGHT. Barkley not knowing what force might attack him from the outside [of his lines], sent to Johnstown for reinforcements, which were promptly sent by Capt. Galen G. Norton, 2nd Colorado Volunteers, Comdg. at that station, but the BUSHWHACKERS had surrendered before they arrived.

[CAPTURE]: about daylight, finding that they could not escape, the leader proposed to surrender on condition that they should be treated as PRISONERS of WAR! Barkley told them that if they could prove themselves CONFEDERATE soldiers they should be treated as such, but if they were BUSHWHACKERS, they must take the consequences, assuring them that they should have a fair trial, then they surrendered & were brought into camp.
They were dressed in Federal overcoats & equipped with U.S. arms (Remington Revolvers), accoutrements & a quantity of ammunition. On being brought to camp they were placed under strict guard; food was given them, of which the leader partook almost voraciously; the other fellow, who called himself Ratliff, was sullen & refused to eat. Neither would give any truthful answer to any question asked them.

[TRIAL]: After they had been allowed to rest for about 3 hours & the CITIZENS whom they had robbed had collected & identified an amount of property which Sergeant Barkley had captured in their possession, I called on Capt. Norton, Capt. Deviny, Lieut. Atkinson, Lieut. Page & Sergt. John W. Barkley to TRY their CASE. The witnesses were duly sworn & identified the men as belonging to the band that had committed a number of OUTRAGES during the winter. Jones, the leader, made a shrewd defense until he found himself trapped, when he became bold & said that if the affair was to do over again he would have sent some of the squads to the lower regions [Hades], before he went there; at any rate, he said that “if he had to die, he had paid for his life nine times.”

[COURTESIES]: They were allowed to write to their friends (submitting their letters for inspection) & were allowed to send their money & trinkets to their friends also.

[IDENTIFICATION]: It was only at the last moment that they made themselves known. The leader proved to be the NOTORIOUS Benton Gann, of La Fayette County, who has long commanded a MARAUDING BAND on the BORDER. The other was George Harold, of Cass County, one of Gann’s men. They refused to give any useful information; said their trial had been fair& that THEY WERE NOT AFRAID TO DIE, which boast they made good.

[EXECUTION]: They calmly walked to the grave, looked contemptuously on the detail [firing squad] assembled, said they were ready, quietly folded their arms, kneeled down & met death with a dauntlessness worthy a better cause. AT 10 a.m., MARCH 27TH, pursuant to the resolutions passed on (see evidenced & sentence enclosed) I HAD THEM EXECUTED!

[POSTSCRIPT]: The wounded man, who calls himself Jones, & who had received a number of BUCKSHOT in his body, I have sent to Clinton to be operated upon by Surgeon Hart. I think he will DIE. He is one of the most desperate men I have ever seen. He positively refuses to give any information & scowls on those who come near him. He ought to have been executed at once, but humanity revolts at the thought of executing any one so horribly mutilated as he is at present, BUT IF NOT ORDERED TO THE CONTARY, I SHALL EXECUTE HIM IF HE RECOVERS!

[COMMENDATION]: All praise is due Mr. Archibald Colson, Mr. Hibler & others who fought the desperadoes until Sergt. Barkley’s detachment arrived & his success was attributed to the gallant conduct of Mr. Colson, who shot down the man Jones, who, being so severely wounded, impeded the flight of his comrades, thus enabling Sergt. Barkley to overtake & capture them. Sergt. Barkley deserves the highest praise for the GALLANT MANNER in which he conducted the affair. Such men are justly entitled to the highest credit & should be PROMOTED for GALLANTRY. This achievement is one among the many acts of skill & bravery exhibited by Sergeant Barkley since he has been a member of my company. I would respectfully suggest that as testimonials of their bravery Sergeant Barkley & Mr. Colson each receive a revolver from those captured from Gann & party. The highest praise is due the loyal citizens of Deepwater Township for their assistance in ferreting out these LAWLESS BANDS. Mr. Short, who reported the MARAUDERS on March 26th, deserves great credit. The trial of Gann & Herold was informal, but was resorted to, to obtain the facts in the case. Please find the evidence enclosed.

J.H. LITTLE, Capt. Co. E, 1st Cavalry, M.S.M.

Pursuit, Battle & Capture, Trial, Sentence & Execution on March 27, 1864; all within 12 hours, now that was “SWIFT JUSTICE”!

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