Richmond Dispatch, 10/6/1862

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From the Richmond Dispatch, 10/6/1862, p. 2, c. 2

Military Execution. - Saturday witnessed the execution of the solemn sentence of the court-martial upon the bodies of McGowan, of company I, 14th Virginia regiment, and John, Kelleher, company F, same regiment. Truly the way of the transgressor is hard. These men had been in several battles, in which they exhibited a sufficient degree of coolness and courage to entitle them to the name of good soldiers, and command the respect which such qualities, even, when associated with moral depravity, never fail to excite. Unfortunately, indifference to danger was not combined with moral rectitude, and their insensibility to fear, degenerated into recklessness of honor and indifference to the opinion and esteem of the community. On the 16th of September, a general court-martial convened in the city of Richmond, condemned to death for desertion, privates D. W. Rogers, company G, 1st regiment; Pat McGowan, company I, 14th, and John Kelleher, company F, same regiment. On the 15th of July, the same court had sentenced Owen Maguire, of company H, 1st Virginia regiment, to receive one hundred lashes on his bare back for desertion. This was commuted to half the number by order of Gen. Winder.

On the morning appointed for the execution of the several sentences the four prisoners were started from Castle Thunder at a quarter to 10 o'clock, in the large omnibus of the Exchange hotel, surrounded by an escort, composed of Capt. Wrenn's Henrico cavalry. At ten minutes of 11 o'clock the procession entered Camp Lee, (Central Fair Grounds,) where over two thousand soldiers had been drawn up in a hollow square to witness the spectacle. Proceeding directly to the spot, the dragoons were halted on the outer edge of the square nearest Richmond, while the vehicle containing the criminals, officers, and their spiritual adviser, drove quite to the spot where the tragedy was to be enacted. Here some time was spent, the minutes seeming to lengthen into hours, the only occupants of the omnibus being the condemned and the priest, when a wagon drove up near by, and two pine coffins were deposited. Shortly the solid tramp of armed men broke the almost deathless silence that prevailed, and then was heard the voice of the man of God in the last offices for the dying. This concluded, an officer stepped in silence to the vehicle, and its occupants descended, and followed him to the front of the men appointed to carry the sentence into execution — a portion of Capt. Cyrus Bossieux's company.

The clear voice of Assistant Provost Marshal Alexander then broke with painful distinctness on the ears of hundreds, as he read "General Orders" condemning McGowan and Kelleher to be shot to death with musketry and Maguire to be whipped, for desertion.--The respite of Rogers for fourteen days was also announced. A painful pause ensued, while all awaited in breathless expectation the enactment of the dreadful scene. The condemned commenced taking off their coats and hats. They were each calm and collected. The firing squads were divided, twelve to each man, and placed a little apart. The men took their phrase in front, and the minister of God approached them for the last time. He seemed to whisper of hope and consolation, for they show no signs of fear. At their request, for they said they could die like soldiers, their arms are not pinioned. They wish the muskets presented to their breasts. In answer to the question whether they have anything to say, Kelleher remains silent. McGowan says "nothing," and adds with emphasis, looking at his executioners, "good bye, boys." a white bandage is tied over their faces; they kneel down, and in a moment the sharp crack of musketry tell that all The fall to the ground on then faces and turn over.—Kelleher was instantly killed, his companion lingered for a moment when his pulse ceased to beat. Each had satisfied the majesty of an offended law. Their bodies were placed in the coffins provided for the purpose and taken away by the undertaker. Nothing but quantities of clotted blood, which had exuded from their backs and fell on the ground, denoted the scene of the tragedy. Preparations were then made for carrying into execution the sentence of whipping Owen Maguire. A stout dragoon from Captain Wrenn's company volunteered to perform the duty. Maguire was tied up to a tree by the hands and feet and received the punishment with much wriggling and twisting. It seemed to be awfully at was honestly laid on with a double leather strap, broad and long. When let down he looked quite exhausted. Maguire is a middle aged, thick set, low man, with a serious cast of countenance. He first belonged to Captain H. B. Dickinson's company, was taken prisoner and paroled at Roanoke Island. In May last, while a paroled prisoner, he sold himself as a substitute as Patrick McDonald, in company H, 1st Va. regiment, fought at Williamsburg, and directly thereafter ran away. One of the lieutenants of that company caught him and his trial and punishment ensued as above recorded. We trust this execution will not fall to have its moral effect upon our soldiers.

 

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