A COWARDLY MURDER
By S. C. Turnbo
Mr. William F. Robinson, a veteran of the Civil War on the union side, told the writer the following account of a dastardly murder in Civil War times. Mr. Robinson said that a coward always did a cowardly act by killing men when they had all the advantage on their side. A brave soldier killed men in accordance with the rules of war. I am going to tell you a story of a murder which was committed in our army and in the presence of a large number of men, I myself being a witness to it. One day while a body of us were escorting a wagon train loaded with supplies for the troops and while passing over the old wire road between Mudtown and Fayetteville, Arkansas, and ten miles northeast of the last named place we met a man that was walking and leading a horse by the bridle reins. When the man met the advance guard and the front wagon he left the road and walked along near the side of it until he met the hindmost wagon and rear guard. We were cavalry and I belonged to the rear guard and just after we had passed by him I saw him get back into the road to go on his way. Just as he did so one of our men who was a rough character and was more like a Coasack than an American soldier aimed his gun at the man and shot him down without the least provocation. It was simply a cold-blooded murder. The troops were halted at once and the commanding officer ordered the murderer arrested immediately which was promptly done and placed under guard. It turned out in a few minutes that an officer of the escort had urged and persuaded the man to shoot the civilian and this officer was also arrested. In the meantime a great commotion among the soldiers took place for they did not approve of the killing. It was a hot time then for we expected every moment to be attacked by the enemy and while skirmishers and videttes were on the alert watching for the approach of the southern men our commander Captain Charley Moss, order a hasty investigation made of the dead body of the man for the purpose of identification and three or four officers were detailed to make the examination and report as quick as possible. The man was dressed in citizens clothes. It developed that he carried a lot of papers on his person which lead to his identification. It also turned out that he was a union man and was on his way out of Arkansas into Missouri. He had a roll of promissory notes and a sum of money. I cannot call to mind the name of the man nor what part of Arkansas he hailed from. As we expected an attack from the southern forces we could not remain any longer than really necessary and the examination was hurried through with and when it was completed Captain Moss called for three volunteers to bury the dead man as decent as the circumstances would admit and I and my brother Zeke Robinson and an other man offered our, services and the Captain directed us to pick up the body and. put it in a wagon and haul it to the first house where we could borrow some tools to dig a grave with and bury it. We found that it was only a half a mile to the next house where the lady of the house loaned us a hoe and shovel and the teamster whose wagon the body was in drove the wagon to the edge of the forest where we took the dead man out of the wagon into the woods and laid him down on the ground out of sight of the road and after selecting a spot of ground for the resting place for the remains we went to work and dug a shallow grave and placed the body in it without a coffin and dressed in the same clothes he was killed in. Then we filled in the dirt and made a little mound and made it smooth. Just as we finished we supposed that an enemy was near us and we dropped the tools at the grave and mounting our horses we sped away from there at a rapid gait. As we galloped by the house we hallooed to the lady and informed her where we had left her hoe and shovel. We never stopped or slowed up our horses until we caught up with the command. The alarm was a false one for we were not attacked. I learned after we reached headquarters that the soldier who committed the murder and the officer who instigated It were court martialed but I never did find out whether they were punished or not for in a short time thereafter I was transferred to another command," Mr. Robinson related this account to me at his residence near Aneta, Indian Territory, one day in June, 1906.
Springfield-Greene County Library