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This Day in Georgia Civil War History

October 24, 1861

Condemned Murderers in Georgia

Earlier in the week, a man had written the Georgia governor concerned that his sons would be tempted to drink while in the army. Perhaps he was worried because he knew of this case, reprinted (from an Atlanta newspaper) in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

An affecting sentence of Condemned Murderers in Georgia. Judge Ball’s sentence of the Wilsons, for the killing of Thomas Terry, some time since, in Atlanta, Ga., has been published in the Southern Confederacy, of that place. It is an affecting and eloquent address, and will be read with interest by our readers: Prisoners at the Bar:–You have been placed at the Bar of this Court to receive the fearful sentence which the law prescribes as the penalty of that crime of which you stand convicted by the solemn verdict of your peers. Few more revolting scenes have ever been witnessed within the walls of a Court of Justice than the one now presented here. A father and a son ! standing together before the seat of a judgement to hear the doom which the violated law demands as the punishment of their unhappy deeds! I would that I could have been spared this scene, and the performance of this painful duty. I would that the evidence had shown your hands unstained by the blood of the unfortunate victim of your evil and uncontrolled passions.–And I doubt not that those good men and true, would, had the proof allowed them, have gladly rendered such a verdict as would have restored to you your liberty and your good name. But the stern obligation of an oath was upon them, a true verdict to find, according to the evidence, and the same stern obligation is now on me to pronounce the judgement in accordance with the verdict.–I may, and do, sincerely commiserate your unhappy fate, but I have no power to avert it. Here, Justice is implacable and its demands imperative. It calls for the last scruple of the pound of flesh “nominated in the bond.” But I can, even in discharging the stern duties of the Magistrate, direct you to another and far higher tribunal, where the ears of Mercy are never closed to the cries of true penitence; to that Being whose wisdom and power were alone adequate to advise a plan by which justice may be reconciled with the pardon of the guilty. It requires no supernatural ken to comprehend the causes which have led you both on in the dark and downward road which has terminated in your ruin. The very instrument by which you sent your victim unbidden to the presence of his Maker, too clearly indicates the fatal agency which has brought you to the bar of this court, and will send you hence to your appointed doom. It is the foul fiend of intemperance, who has so long desolated this earth and filled the dark chambers of hell with his shrieking victims. I say not these things to lacerate your already narrowed feelings, but that others who may be entering on the same fearful pathway, may take timely warning when they see the signboard which you have erected with its index pointing to that deep abyss into which you have fallen. Although you have been convicted of different grades of homicide, and will, therefore, be doomed to different degrees of punishment, yet, all the fair prospects of this life are as effectually closed to the one as the other. You, unfortunate old man! though you will be permitted to linger out the few remaining years that decaying nature and growing infirmities may allow you, yet the best of these may be languished out in wasting labor and confinement. And should there be a remnant left after the expiration of your sentence, they will be years of slow, consuming blight, cursed with the goadings of remorse at the reflection that you have brought misery and disgrace upon your own gray hairs, and, by your unhappy teaching and example, ignominy and death upon your own son. For upon your devoted head, unhappy son of a wretched father, must fall a sharper and more appalling doom than even that which awaits him. The sentence which I am now about to utter will consign you to an untimely end and a feton’s grave. It behooves you, more especially, therefore, to turn your thoughts from this world, where not one ray of hope beams upon your short passage to the tomb, to that brighter one where sin and sorrow and death are unknown. Your eternal destiny hangs upon your employment of the few fleeting golden moments yet intervening between you and that dark bourne to which you are hastening. Let no delusive hopes of escaping the demands of the law cause you to procrastinate your efforts to prepare to meet your God in peace; for a preparation for death is the best preparation for life, even should you escape with life. And now, after this brief and kindly meant admonition, it only remains for me to pronounce upon you both the dread sentence of the law.

The Wilsons killed Terry by a blow on the head with a bottle of liquor.