Pickett Pickett in N.C.(Part 1)-Over 13 days, he hung 22 men and shot 58 others, charged with desertion

Bonny Blue Flag

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jun 21, 2008
Location
Irving, Texas
Outline of the facts:

Beech Grove, NC jan 1864

53 members of the Union 2nd North Carolina Infantry, Co. F were captured by
Confederate forces under the command of Gen. George E Pickett.

They had been in the COnfederate brigade of Gen. Nethercutt before deserting to the
Union army.

The Federals believed the captured men should be treated as POWs.

Confederates argued that the men had simply deserted.

Pickett chose to treat them as deserters. In keeping with Confederate concerns
over desertion in North Carolina, Pickett intended to set an example that would
staunch the flow of desertion.

22 were publicly hanged in Kinston, North Carolina, 2.2.1864 - 2.15.1864

This incident brought 2 yrs of litigation and controversy between the
North, the South, and Gen. Pickett.
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Early in the war, deserters from the Confederate army hid in the natural havens in the swamps
of eastern North Carolina and the mountains to the west. Desertion was not a crime in the state.
Citizens who shielded deserters felt safe from arrest for hiding them.

Gov. Zebulon Vance was an outspoken critic of the Davis administration. The North Carolina
Supreme Court gave aid and comfort to those desiring to avoid Confederate military service.
Chief Justice Richard M.Person was known to secure the release of virtually any conscript,
deserter, or person accused of disloyalty who applied to him for a writ of habeas corpus.

In 1861, the Confederate Congress gave in to the state's rights govenors who appeared to be
more concerned for their state's defense than presenting a united front against the enemy.
North Carolinians whose loyalty lay with the United States, or who at least felt no allegiance
to the Confederacy had several options open to them: they could flee to relative safety behind
Union lines; join the regular Federal army and fight for the preservation of the Union; enlist
in a North Carolina regiment where they could be close to their families, support them on army
pay, and remain relatively safe from combat; or they could remain at home while giving the
appearance of Confederate loyalty through service in partisan rangers and bridge guard units
approved by the Local Service Law loosly organized under Confederate Gen. John Nethercutt.

Service in such units was considered one of the most perfect ways to avoid conscription into
the regular Confederate army. It was generally understood that by enlisting in Local Service
organizations one avoided being removed from his home area to more active service and also
escaped being sent to the battlefields of Virginia and other states. Rank-and-file Confederate
soldiers had little respect for men who used local defense for the purpose of keeping out of
danger, avoiding the draft into the Confederate army, and remaining near their families.

The struggle for consolidation of the local defense organizations into more active Confederate
service caused many men from such units to flee to the protection of the Union-occupied coastal
region of North Carolina. Many arrived with only the clothes on their backs. They needed
employment to feed and care for their families and the most readily available source of income
was service in the Union army.

The Federal government realized the value these men could be to the Union. Lt. Comdr.
Charles W. Flusser and Colonel Rush C. Hawkins, commanders of the Federal land and naval forces
in the region, were sent to meet with approximately 250 local residents in Plymouth who had
questions about service in the Union army in North Carolina. From these men the the 1st North
Carolina Union Volunteer Infantry was formed. By January 1863, the regiment had increased to
534 men, and recruitment for the 2nd North Carolina Volunteers was initiated. Within another
year, recruiters operating in the Union-occupied towns of Plymouth, Beaufort, Hatteras, and New
Bern had raised fifteen companies made up of native eastern North Carolinians.

Some North Carolinans found overly aggressive Union army recruiters who were eager to take them
into the service--few questions asked and few disabilities too severe to be overlooked. The
commander of the Union's District of North Carolina, Maj. Gen. John J. Peck, found many of the
recruiters to be an embarrassment. "Some of these officers ... enlist all the men they can
possibly persuade, without the slightest regard to their capacity, either mental or physical."

In their eagerness to bring North Carolinians into Union service, recruiters even searched local
jails and traveled to prisoner-of-war camps in Virginia and Maryland for Confederate prisoners
willing to take the oath of allegiance.

From the very beginning, Northern military leaders realized the danger that North Carolinians
in the Union army faced if captured by Southern soldiers. As a result, a conscious effort was
made to protect these men from capture and punishment as traitors to the Confederacy. Flusser
and Hawkins assured the recruits that "Southern men who ... [fight] in the ranks of our
army ...{would} be looked upon as wards of the Government; and any outrage perpetrated upon
them or upon their families, would be severely punished."

From the very beginning, Northern military leaders realized the danger that North Carolinians
in the Union army faced if captured by Southern soldiers. As a result, a conscious effort was
made to protect these men from capture and punishment as traitors to the Confederacy. Flusser
and Hawkins assured the recruits that "Southern men who ... [fight] in the ranks of our
army ...{would} be looked upon as wards of the Government; and any outrage perpetrated upon
them or upon their families, would be severely punished."

By the fall of 1863, events had taken place that would put an end to the easy life in such
Local Service units. Confederate losses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, as well as the general
downward course of the war, put a strain on Southern manpower. The military value of local
defense units did not go unnoticed by Confederate military and government authorities in the
field and in Richmond.

In October 1863 the Confederate War Department in Richmond, on the recommendation of Brig.
Gen. James G. Martin, ordered the creation of the 66th Regiment, North Carolina State Troops.
This would include those men in local law service in eastern North Carolina who were of
conscription age. Gen. Wright's and the of Nethercutt's battalions who had not deserted to the
Union, including four railroad bridge guard units and four partisan ranger companies, helped
make what Lt John B. Neathery of the State Adjutant General's office described as the "odds and
ends not belonging to any other organizations." All units assigned to the 66th were ordered to
rendezvous in Kinston in October and to move from there to Wilmington, pending removal to
Virginia.

To prevent disaffection of the new Confederate recruits, an attempt was therefore made to
soothe feelings by offering the men a choice. They would be given the opportunity to go
voluntarily with their units into the 66tth Regiment or be sent to conscription camp. The men
saw it as simply "whipping the devil around the stump"; regardless of which path was taken,
the results were the same: service in the 66th.

This hesitation to serve the Confederate cause resulted in a distrust of the 66th North
Carolina Regiment that took months to overcome. Guards whose loyalty was known to (now Colonel)
Nethercutt were placed in camp to ensure against further desertions.

During November and December 1863 and January 1864 approximately 60 eastern North
Carolinians, including those who chose to desert Confederate 66th North Carolina Regiment,
made their way to Union recruiters in New Bern, Washington, and Beaufort and were placed in
Company F, 2nd North Carolina Union Volunteers, stationed in Beaufort. They were promised
enlistment bonuses of from $100 to $300. Very few were able to collect this money.

Soon after the formation of Company F, its men were ordered to report to Col. P.J. Claassen,
commander of the Union outposts surrounding New Bern. On January 18, 1864, they were sent by
General Peck to Beech Grove, an outpost about 9 miles west of town in the vicinity of
Batchelder's (also commonly called Bachelor's) Creek, where they joined 14 men of the 132nd
Regiment New York Infantry. 1st Lt. Samuel Leith of the New York unit was in overall command.
Described as a masked battery, the outpost was concealed in the forest and so constructed as to
command the Neuse River. Within the blockhouse fort with its 2 steel rifled artillery pieces,
the new recruits of the 2nd North Carolinia felt safe from attack by their former
comrades in the Confederate army.

Believing the time was right to retake New Bern from the enemy, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee
proposed to President Jefferson Davis that an attack be made, with North Carolina Brigadier
General Robert F. Hoke in command. Davis approved the plan but placed Maj. Gen. Pickett over
the better-qualified Hoke, since in hisopinion an expedition of such proportions should be led
by a man of higher rank.

On January 30, 1864, Pickett led a force of 14 navy cutters and 13,000 men, divided into 3
columns toward New Bern. The task of the central column, commanded by Pickett and Hoke, was to
move down between the Trent and Neuse Rivers, surprise the Union troops on Batchelder's Creek,
silence the guns in the fort and batteries near the Neuse, and penetrate the town in that
direction.

Hoke's men advanced to within 2 miles of the Union outposts surrounding New Bern, where they
camped without fires to maintain the element of surprise. At approximately 1:00 AM, they began
their attack, stopped temporarily only by the removal of the bridge over Batchelder's Creek.
The men of the Union outposts held back the Confederates for 7 hrs before making a hasty
retreat, leaving behind everything but the clothes on their backs.

To cut off the railroad into town, Hoke then moved his brigade 6 miles "with all possible
speed." He and Pickett then moved to within a mile of New Bern, where they waited all day
Tuesday for the assault that never came because General S. M. Barton's column on their right
failed to carry out its assignment. Having in his campaign to retake New Bern, on Wednesday
morning Pickett gave the order to withdraw toward Kinston.

The Union outpost at Beech Grove was on the extreme right of the Union lines and a short
distance east of Batchelder's Creek. Its concealed position, helped by the darkness of the
night and a dense morning fog, not only hid it from the advancing Confederates of Hoke and
Pickett but also prevented communications with other Union troops.

The Union soldiers at Beech Grove were doomed by the poor judgment of their overly cautious
commanding officer. Lt. Leith declined to take any action without hearing first from his
superiors. Despite the desperate pleas of the North Carolinians to be allowed to lead the men
of the outpost to safety along paths that they knew well, Leith would not permit his men to
leave. He instead dispatched a request to New Bern but it never reached its destination, as
the courier was captured by the retreating Confederates under Pickett.

The Confederate general, now aware of the hidden outpost through the captured message,
dispatched 2 regiments of Virginia infantry and 2 sections of artillery to take the Union
position. Despite his boast to fight to the last man, Leith capitulated without a shot being
fired. After raising the white flag, but before negotiations began, Leith warned his men of
the potential consequences of their capture and advised them to escape. Their flight was short
lived, however, and all but a small number were captured by a scouting party from the 30th
Virginia Infantry Regiment.

The North Carolinians, dressed in the new uniforms of Federal army recruits, were at first
indistinguishable from other Union prisoners of war and were treated as such. As they were
being prepared for transfer to Kinston, however, 2 were recognized by former comrades as
deserters from their units. These men were immediately separated from the other prisoners and
placed in the care of the provost guard.

Pickett's army, weary from a hard march through rain and over muddy roads, camped for the night
near Dover, North Carolina. Word soon spread that Confederate North Carolinian deserters were
included among the Union prisoners taken around New Bern, and curious soldiers came by to look
them over. Confederate Lt H. M. Whitehead and Sgt. Blunt King of Company B, 10th Regiment,
North Carolina Artillery, recognized David Jones, a 21 yr old native of Craven County, and
Joseph L.Haskett, a 26 yr old farmer from Carteret County, as deserters from their company.

Pickett's crimes:

At about sunset, Pickett came out of his tent and confronted Jones and Haskett, who were
standing at a campfire near by. He asked where they had been, and after listening to their
reply, he angrily told them, "God **** you, I recon [sic] you will hardly ever go back there
again, you damned rascals; I'll have you shot, and all other damned rascals who desert!" Jones
answered that he did "not care a **** whether they shot him then, or what they did with him."
With that, Pickett ordered them away. He then told Generals Corse and Hoke, who were present
during confrontation with the 2 Confederates-turned-Yankee, that "we'll have to have a
court-martial on these fellows pretty soon, and after some are shot the rest will stop
deserting." Corse agreed, stating "the sooner the better."

The series of court-martials came under General Order #6.

A court-martial board headed by Lt. Col. James R. Branch of Virginia and made up entirely of
officers from Pickett's own state was organized immediately. Before it concluded its business,
it would convene on 3 separate occasions in 3 locations and hear the cases of 27 of the Beech
Grove captives, all charged with desertion from the Confederate army. The remaining 26
prisoners from the 2nd North Carolina Union Regiment were regarded simply as prisoners of war
and would be sent to Southern prison camps.

The court met that night while still in camp on the Dover road. Haskett and Jones admitted that
they had deserted but insisted they had been forced by Union recruiters to take the oath of
allegiance and join the Union army or be shot. Their claims were disregarded, both were found
guilty and sentenced to hang.

The execution was ordered to be carried out on February 5, 1864, in the presence of General
Hoke's Brigade. Speed was essential, given President Davis's tendency to grant delays and
pardons to Southern soldiers awaiting execution.

s the identities of more men became known, some prisoners began turning upon others in the
hope that cooperation might save their own lives. One man in particular stood out for his
predilection to betray friend and country to protect himself. According to Walter Harrison,
Pickett's inspector general, an unnamed sergeant among the Unionist captives used a copy of a
company roster that he had in his possession to identify by name those deserters from the
Confederate army that were in his unit. In the process, he caused the deaths of many of his
comrades who otherwise might have gone undetected. His efforts at self-defense nevertheless
failed. After testifying against his fellow Union soldiers, he himself became the last person
court-martialed and sentenced to death.

Upon arrival in Kinston on February 4, the prisoners were taken to the Lenoir County
Courthouse. There they were observed by curious townspeople. The men were then removed to the
dungeon of the Kinston jail to await court-martial and execution of their sentences. Conditions
in the jail were harsh. Visitors reported that the prisoners slept on the floor and existed on
a diet of one cracker a day. Those fortunate enough to have relatives and friends living nearby
had their suffering relieved by gifts of extra food and quilts for bedding.

As directed by the court, the execution of Haskett and Jones took place on Friday, February 5.
That morning, the two condemned men were visited in the jail by Reverend John Paris, chaplain
of the 54th North Carolina Regiment, who was assigned to tend to their spiritual needs. He was
a Confederate loyalist who had little sympathy for deserters. In his words, Haskett and Jones
were both "illiterate" and the "most unfeeling andhardened men I have ever encountered."

While Paris was attending to the 2 condemned men, preparations were being made for their
deaths. The rarity of execution by hanging left military authorities in the embarrassing
position of having to search for rope as well as for a hangman. Both were found at the railroad
depot, where Confederate Sgt Blunt King was with a shipment of pontoon boats from the New Bern
expedition. He was ordered to take rope from the pontoons and report to the execution site.
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Next:
Pickett in N.C.(part 2) - His Crimes; Union Response; Pickett hides in Montreal, Canada

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Sources:
-Civil War Hangings and Other Executions
www.Fold3.com

-Essential Civil War Curriculum by Professor Lesley J. Gordon of Akron April 2011
www.essential.civilwar.ve.edu

-"What Happened to Me, by LaSalle Corbell Pickett" New York; Brentano's 1917.
Mrs. George Pickett describes some experiences while in exile in Montreal, Canada
in 1866"
www.history.furman.edu

-"War Crime or Justice? General George Pickett and"
www.homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com

-North Carolina Union Volunteers (Read printed orders here)
www.buffaloesoldiers27june1862.wordpress.com

-"Major General George E. Pickett"
www.historicalpreservationgroup.org
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--BBF
 

whitworth

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Jun 18, 2005
Year ago I worked in North Carolina, mainly in the west, and became familiar with the local history. The more hills and mountains in the county, the less support for the Confederacy. Noticed this in my trek through the mountain areas of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.



HDQRs. FIRST BRIGADE, NORTH CAROLINA HOME GUARDS,
Mars Hill College, Madison County, N. C., April 12, 1864.
Governor Z. B. VANCE:
A dispatch reached me last night that a band of tories, said to be
headed by Montreval Ray, numbering about seventy-five men came
into Burnsville, Yancey County, on Sunday night last, the 10th instant,
surprised the guard, broke open the magazine, and took all the arms
and ammunition; broke open Brayly’s store and carried off the con-
tents; attacked Captain Lyons, the local enrolling officer, in his room,
shot him in the arm slightly, but accidentally he made his escape.
They carried off all the guns they could carry; the balance they broke.
They took, I suppose, about 100 State guns. No one else wounded.
They also took off the bacon brought in by my commissary—about 500
pounds. On the day before about fifty women assembled together, of
said county, and marched in a body to a store-house near David Prof-
fltt’s and pressed about sixty bushels of Government wheat and carried
it off. I very much regret the loss of the arms. On Monday previous
to the robbery I wrote to one of the captains in that county and to the
ordnance officer to either remove the guns and ammunition or see that a
sufficient guard was placed there to protect them. It seems that neither
was done. I also nrged on the citizens to lay to a helping hand in this
hour of danger, but all done no good. The county is gone up. It has
got to be impossible to get any man out there unless he is dragged out,
with but very few exceptions. There was but a small guard there, and
the citizens all ran on the first approach of the tories. I have 100 men
at this place to guard against Kirk, of Laurel, and cannot reduce the
force, and to call out any more home guards at this time is only certain
destruction to the country eventually. In fact, it seems to me that
there is a determination of the people in the country generally to do no
more service in the cause.
Swarms of men liable to conscription are gone to the tories or to the
Yankees—some men that you would have no idea of—while many
others are fleeing east of the Blue Ridge for refuge. John S. McElroy
and all the cavalry, J. W. Anderson and many others, are gone to Burke
for refuge. This discourages those who are left behind, and on the
back of that conscription [is] now going on, and a very tyrannical course
pursued by the officers charged with the business, and men conscribed
and cleaned out as raked with a fine-toothed comb, and if any are left
if they are called upon to do a little home-guard service, they at once
apply for a writ of habeas corpus and get off. Some three or four cases
[have] been tried by Judge Read the last two weeks and the men
released. What are we to do? •There are no Confederate troops
scarcely in the western district of North Carolina. Longstreet is said
to have reft Tennessee. This emboldens the tories, and they are now
largely recruited by conscript renegades and very soon it is possible our
country may be full of Yankees. Give me your advice and orders. I
have been doing as I thought the best I could under all circumstances.
How far you may consider me culpable for the loss of the Yancey guns,
&c., I cannot say. I am sorry I did not act more promptly in their
removal, but I thought when the citizens were warned of their danger,
as I had warne(l them and told them it was impossible for me to send
them any force, that they would at once rally to their own defense and
use the guns against their foes, but alas, I was sadly mistaken; if I had
not believed that I would have brought the arms and ammunition to
these headquarters. If something is not done immediately for this
country we will all be ruined, for the home guards now will not do to
depend on. I have written you several times on subjects of importance
to me, and received no answer. I know your time is valuable to you
and that you are pressed to death with business, but some instructions
from you would be of great benefit to me and some encouragement to
our citizens. Do let me hear from you at once.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. W. McELROY,
Brigadier- General, Corn manding First Brigade,
 

CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Honored Fallen Comrade
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Location
Laurinburg NC
Interestingly, there were so many desertions from the 2nd NC (US) when called to fight that the unionists combined the 2nd regiment with the 1st NC (US) near the end of the war.

“When it came time for the ‘Buffaloes’ to take to the field, they took to the woods.”
Federal officer disgusted at the 1st and 2nd NC regiments (US) unwillingness to fight.
 

CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Honored Fallen Comrade
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Location
Laurinburg NC
That is why Pickett fled to Canada after the war, He was afraid he would be charged with War Crimes...

Nice post Bonny...

The fact that nothing much came of the Pickett persecution may have had something to do the Federal government reluctance to bring up the subject of war crimes after the war.

"There is a class of people (in the South), men, women and children, who must be killed or banished before you can hope for peace and order."

William T Sherman
 

ole

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Near Kankakee
Thing is that NC was rather sharply divided between Union and Confederacy. There were divisions in every state, but NC had its doubts. Those that enlisted as Confederates often turned Union, and those that enlisted as Union just as often turned Confederate.

The amazing statistic is that North Carolinians had the highest number of "volunteers" for the Confederacy and the highest number of deserters from the Confederacy. A conflicted state, to be sure.

This, in no way, is meant to disparage the bravery of NC troops in gray. Just to point out the internal conflicts. Offically, North Carolina made it easier to desert than, say, Virginia.
 

ole

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Near Kankakee
The fact that nothing much came of the Pickett persecution may have had something to do the Federal government reluctance to bring up the subject of war crimes after the war.
We've been over this before. Although there were those who wanted to hang every Rebel, cooler minds prevailed. Put it behind us. Move on. There is nothing to be gained in retribution.
 

Bonny Blue Flag

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jun 21, 2008
Location
Irving, Texas
I agree, Ole.

Pickett knows there is a chance he could be jailed, court-martialed, even executed.

His efforts to take the Oath are thwarted by Secretary of War Stanton.

Pickett writes all these letters to Grant from Canada asking him for help in getting Executive clemency from President Johnson. He writes letters to every officer he trusts, friends and family members to help. All to no avail.

It wasn't until Pickett's letter to Grant on 3.12.1866 that he received parole. What made the difference in this letter and none of the others....he stopped blaming others, stopped begging for what he thought was rightfully
his - Executive clemency, he stopped reacting in fear.

Instead, he started looking towards the future; the welfare of his family and his ability to provide for them; acknowledging that the War was over.

From his letter to Grant: "wishing some assurance that I not be disturbed in my effort to keep my family from starvation; and my desire to be protected from assaults by those who wanted to keep the War going, in my humble opinion."

--BBF
 

CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Honored Fallen Comrade
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Location
Laurinburg NC
Thing is that NC was rather sharply divided between Union and Confederacy. There were divisions in every state, but NC had its doubts. Those that enlisted as Confederates often turned Union, and those that enlisted as Union just as often turned Confederate.

The amazing statistic is that North Carolinians had the highest number of "volunteers" for the Confederacy and the highest number of deserters from the Confederacy. A conflicted state, to be sure.

This, in no way, is meant to disparage the bravery of NC troops in gray. Just to point out the internal conflicts. Offically, North Carolina made it easier to desert than, say, Virginia.


In both armies, the desertion rate has been somewhat overstated in that many desertions were more like awols with the many of offenders returning to duty either voluntarily or involuntarily. In North Carolina approximately 8,000 deserters returned to duty one way or the other.

”While I am able for service I intend to stand by the cause while a banner floats to tell where Freedom and freedom’s sons still support her cause.”

Major Walter Clark of the North Carolina Junior Reserve Brigade in a letter to his mother
 

Draven

Cadet
Joined
Jan 30, 2017
Thank you so much Bonny for posting this story. I have read it many many times and I feel like it is a story that needs to continue to be told, to ensure those men are not forgotten. I know this is a very old thread but I just found this website today. I can add a more personal element to this story if anyone would care to learn more about one of the men now known as the Kinston 22.
 
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