They should have hanged my grandfather...twice!

OleMissCub

Private
Joined
Aug 30, 2021
He was an out of uniform Confederate saboteur!

So in researching my ancestors I came across a rather shady character, my G3 Grandfather Jacob S. Dyer.

Here he is in the 1860 census working as a policeman in Memphis.

census1860.png


He then joins the 18th MS Cavalry. He serves for over a year and is wounded during one of Forrest's raids in Tennessee and seems to be a decent soldier. I'm continuing to go through his service records when suddenly this pops out:

"Sentenced to Alton Military Prison for the term of five years at hard labor"

alton.png


So I'm thinking what in the world is this all about??

I do some snooping and this is what I find. An indictment:

Charge - Conspiring to destroy property belonging to the United States, in violation of the laws of war.

Specification 1st - In this, that the said Jacob S. Dyer, a citizens of the United States, and owing allegiance thereto, assuming the semblance of peaceful pursuits, and not having the appearance or character of a soldier, did conspire....to burn steamboats on the Mississippi River, said steamboats being laden with the property of the United States. This at or near Hernando, Miss., between the 1st of July and the 1st of October, 1863.

Specification 2nd - In this, that the said Jacob S. Dyer, a citizen of the United States, as aforesaid, and not belonging to any regular organized force at war with the United States, and not having the character or appearance of a soldier, did conspire...with the design of destroying or obstructing the navigation of the Mississippi River...attempt to burn steamboats plying on the Mississippi River, said steamboats being laden with the property of the United States. This at or near Hernando, Miss., between the 1st of July and the 1st of October, 1863.

Specification 3rd - In this, that the said Jacob S. Dyer, a citizen of the United States, as aforesaid, and not belonging to any regular organized force at war with the United States, and not having the character or appearance of a soldier, did attempt to burn, with a view to destroy, a certain building on Front Row, in the city of Memphis, Tennessee, known as "Exchange Building" with the design of destroying certain ammunition and munitions of war belonging to the United States. This at or near Hernando, Miss., between the 1st of July and the 1st of October, 1863.

indictment.jpg


So he was then found guilty by this military tribunal and sentenced to 5 years of hard labor. They sent him to Alton Military Prison and put him in the civilian prisoner wing.

At some point in 1864, General James Chalmers, in charge of one of Forrest's cavalry brigades, writes a letter to Alton Military Prison with a list of names of soldiers who he thinks he may have been captured during their October 1863 raiding in Tennessee and asking if Alton has any of these troopers of his. Jacob Dyer's name is on this list. He gets a response from the commandant of Alton, which in part reads:

"I presume your communication refers to Mr. J.S. Dyer, lately of Hernando, Miss., who is now being held, not as a prisoner of war, but as a criminal. It has not heretofore been known that Mr. Dyer was a Confederate soldier...you may rest assured, sir, that he will be immediately recognized and considered a prisoner of war, and treated with the kindness and forbearance which the government of the United States is proud always to extend to its honorable prisoners of war."

So they move Jacob over to the POW camp side of the prison and when the war ends he is released with everyone else.

I next find him in the 1870 census living with his son (my GG Grandfather) under an assumed name! "Jacob Dannell". I can only presume that he knew the Feds made a mistake in releasing him and that any minute they'd be coming around the corner to get him. This was during Reconstruction, we can't forget, so Federal troops were still occupying his home town.

census1870.png


In the 1880 census (now that Federal troops are gone) he's back to living under his real name.

census1880.jpg


So a few take aways:

1. Perhaps his age helped him convince his captors that he wasn't a Confederate soldier since he would have been nearly 40 at the time. I guess he did a good enough job convincing them that he was a civilian that he was was spared the hangman's noose.

2. This must have been something he tried to do on his own without the knowledge or consent of any Confederate authorities. Otherwise why would Chalmers blow his cover like that? It seems like he just disappeared during the campaign and Chalmers assumed he had been captured, thus being why he ended up on Chalmbers' "do you have any of the following men?" letter.

3. He shockingly escaped the noose a second time because you'd think that the Union officer in charge of the prison would have been like "OH really....he's a soldier is he? Thanks for the heads up. We now get to retry him as a spy."

Anyways, just thought I'd share this whacky story!
 

bayonet

Corporal
Joined
Nov 7, 2012
Fun to research this stuff. My GG Grandfather was thrown in the Brig for 3 months and I got the paper work from the National Archives. As a Sergeant during campaigning in Virginia he told off a Lieutenant "G-d **** I'm as good a Man as you, get off your Horse and I'll lick the Hell out of you". Well he got busted to Private but got back his Sergeant stripes before mustering out. Sadly he missed Appomattox and his Cavalry outfit was there lining the road when Lee rode down to surrender. That would of been a great family story. He should of waited until the War was over to threaten the Officer darn it!
 
Joined
Sep 28, 2013
Location
Southwest Mississippi
Superb research @OleMissCub !

As others have said, finding the warts in our families are sometime more fun than finding the heroes.

Lord knows, my family has some questionable/shady characters.

None of the really old family members ever mentioned them. ( They even tried to change the subject) when I started asking questions.

:bounce:

Keep digging !

I'm sure you will find a lot more !
 

OleMissCub

Private
Joined
Aug 30, 2021
Incredible. If I'm reading that right this is a communication to the Confederate government asking for them to discharge Dyer so they don't have to re-try and re-sentence him, which would have almost certainly resulted in a death sentence.

So Mike pointed out to me the context of that statement in the Official Records. It sounds more like the Confederates are ****** and are threatening some form of retaliation.

The context is a string of messages from the Confederate exchange office with their Union counterparts. Some of the messages surrounding it:

Lieutenant Mosely, Lieutenant Bridges, and Captain Gurley, at
Nashville, are said to be condemned to death. Will you explain about
this? Also it is represented that ten other citizens and soldiers are in
the Nashville penitentiary, and it is represented to me by very reliable
authority that 100 of Col. Adam R. Johnson’s men and twenty-five or
thirty of General Morgan’s men, embracing three or four officers, are at
Louisville and not held or treated as prisoners of war. How is this?
All these men are regularly enlisted soldiers.

Captain Glover, of Hill’s scouts, and three privates are held in close
confinement at Chattanooga. All these are regularly in our service.
Why is this?

Sergt. John C. Nicholl, Second Kentucky, was hung at Johnson’s
Island, September 2, 1864. For what?

Capt. James M. Sublett, Forty-sixth Mississippi, was captured and
paroled at Vicksburg. He obtained permission from the Federal au-
thorities in Tennessee to visit his family at Murfreesborough on parole.
He was taken (though on parole) from Murfreesborough to Johnson’s
Island, where he has been for nearly a year. This officer, being on
parole, should be released.

Can you not send me Capt. William S. Waller aud Shultz Leach,
both confined at Johnson’s Island? Waller was to have been sent for
Captain Ives. Leach, I believe, is a private.

Jacob S. Dyer, a soldier in the Confederate service, has been sen-
tenced to five years’ hard labor at Alton, 111. He is now undergoing
sentence. The charges against him were based upon the supposition
that he was not a soldier. This is a mistake. Will you not release
him and thus avoid putting upon us the necessity of retaliation?

I will be very much obliged to you if you will bring next time Major
McCann, Capt. Kobt. H. Davis, Lieut. John D. Van Benthuysen, and
Lieut. Charles Norvell, all at Johnson’s Island. These officers have all
been there a very long time and I am very anxious for their release.
 
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