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In Their Own Words

September 04, 1863

Execution of Civil War Soldier Witnessed

A Southern soldier stationed in Chattanooga wrote of the execution of one of his fellow soldiers, from Atlanta.

“…Today I witnessed the execution of Captain J.R. Rhodes, Company C, First Confederate Infantry, who, I believe, was formerly a resident of your city. His offence consisted of having encouraged men of his own command to desert and receiving men as substitutes, knowing them to belong to the service, and then discharging them for a bonus. About half past 11 o’clock, the unfortunate man was brought from the prison with his arms pinioned and placed upon his coffin in an open wagon, …He appeared very much moved and trembled violently when he first saw the guards, the wagon and coffin, but quickly recovered himself and entered the wagon and took his seat upon the coffin so soon to enclose his lifeless form… There are but three standing there and all eyes are turned toward them. In the center stands the doomed man with his hat drawn down over his eyes, to the right stands the minister, and on the left stands the Provost Marshal,…Ten paces in front stand twelve soldiers in full dress at an order arms, openly awaiting the word to hurl their late comrade into another world. At last it is finished, slowly the minister advances and bids the condemned farewell. ‘Attention!’ The command startles everyone. The doomed man sinks down upon his coffin and fixes his eyes upon the twelve bright tubes levelled at his breast, but drops his head the next moment. ‘Fire!’ A flash, a report, and as the white smoke is slowly lifted by the breeze, a mangled, lifeless form is seen lying beside the coffin, and the long lines of soldiers shrink back from the site. …”

Mills Lane (ed.), “Dear Mother: Don’t grieve about me. If I get killed, I’ll only be dead.”: Letters from Georgia Soldiers in the Civil War (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1990), pp. 263-264.