The Back Rhodes of Our Genealogy

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byTerry Foenander

(There is a prevailing myth that no officer of the Union or Confederate armies were executed for desertion or other associated crimes. The following article from the [Richmond, Virginia] Examiner, of Tuesday, September 22, 1863, shows that there was at least one officer executed by his own side during the war. Ed Milligan, of Alexandria, Virginia has advised that he has heard a rumor of another officer executed for a similar crime. Until further information comes to hand, it is presumed that Rhodes was the only officer executed for a crime against his own side. Captain Rhodes was appointed First Lieutenant on March 25, 1861, and elected Captain, August 15, 1861. This author has knowledge of at least one other Confederate army officer, James C. Otey, jr., a Second Lieutenant in the Otey, Ringgold & Davidson Virginia Artillery, who was court-martialled for cowardice and sentenced to be shot; however, the sentence was dropped and he was dismissed the service instead.)

CHATTANOOGA, TENN., Friday, Sept. 4th, 1863.

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 [Richmond]. His offence consisted in 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 eleven o'clock the unfortunate man was brought from the prison, with his arms pinioned, and placed upon his coffin, in an open wagon, surrounded by a company of the Fifth Mississippi, and accompanied by Captain Reid, Assistant Provost Marshal and Rev. Dr. McCall, of the Presbyterian Church. 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, and during the march to the spot selected for execution appeared as calm and collected as though it were all a mockery.

I understand his friends were working very hard to induce the President to pardon him, and to the last he had hoped for it. On arriving on the ground, I found the brigade to which he belonged - Jackson's - drawn up in line, forming three sides of a hollow square, together with many spectators, including some females - Heaven save the mark! - to witness the execution. After some little delay in arranging the preliminaries, he descended from the wagon, and, with a firm step, guarded by four men bearing the coffin was deposited in front of it without exhibiting any alarm. Then followed a brief but fervent prayer by Dr. McCall, during which he seemed deeply affected by the touching appeal of the clergyman.

But on being asked by Captain Reid if he had anything to say, he recovered himself, and addressed his late comrades for about fifteen minutes, telling them to beware of his untimely fate, and averring the justice of the sentence. The officers and men of his command are deeply affected; many are weeping. Now Captain Reid steps forward and reads the charges and specifications and finding of the court. We wonder if he will ever complete them. All are nervous, with the exception of his voice, as one after another the charges are read, all is quiet as the grave.

There are but three standing there, and all eyes are turned towards them. In the centre 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 reading the never ending charges and sentence. Ten paces in front [stand the firing squad] in full dress, at an order arms, only 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. Captain Reid now advances and takes his hand; he says something in a low voice, and in a moment the condemned is left standing all alone in front of his coffin.

Attention! - The command startles every one. The doomed man sinks down upon his coffin and fixes his eyes upon the twelve bright tubes that are levelled at his breast, but drops his head the next moment. Fire! - a dash, 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 sight. GUILBURTON.

(Another report from the [Augusta, Georgia] Daily Chronicle & Sentinel, of Wednesday, September 9, 1863, is shown, in part, below.)

CHATTANOOGA, TENN., Sept. 4th, 1863.

.....Although nature seems smiling in her happiness, the dawn of this day has brought sorrow and pain to the hearts of many in our midst. Just a few moments ago all was quiet in the camp; now the men are stirring about busily. The orderlies have called out "Fall in men!" And for what? Ah! it means a great deal to one - perhaps more, for that one may have someone to whose heart he is dear. It means this: Capt. J.R. Rhodes, Co. C, 1st Confederate Regiment Georgia Volunteers, having been tried by a court martial for advising some of his men to dessert, and on divers other charges which had been preferred against him, was found guilty of all except the second charge and specification; this was embezzlement and misapplication of money, which was the consideration for which certain parties were mustered into his company as substitutes; and the court sentenced him to be "shot to death with musketry" - two-thirds of the members concurring therein.

The proceedings and findings, as well as the sentence of the court having been submitted to the Commanding General, were by him approved, and he set apart the 4th day of September, between the hours of ten o'clock, A.M., and two P.M., as the day and time of the execution of the sentence. Jackson's Brigade, to which his regiment belongs, will attend at the place of execution. A detail of two commissioned officers, three non-commissioned officers, and twenty-eight from the Second Georgia Battalion of Sharpshooters, will carry into effect the sentence. He is one to whom this day brings troubles. No one can hardly explain the feelings of a man under the circumstances.

What a sad warning to the living! Will any profit by it? Some may; others will not. Let me draw the curtain over the sad scene, and hasten to another subjetc.

Copyright, Terry Foenander. September, 2000. Copyright, Terry Foenander.  2000.

Special thanks go out to Terry Foenander for brining us this article, visit his site at U.S. Civil War Navies.

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