Sunday, July 31, 2011

August 1, 1861 (Thursday): Ugly Rumors

Arlington House, Lee's Home and McDowell's Headquarters

Arlington, August 1, 1861.

General J. E. JOHNSTON, Commanding at Manassas, Va.

GENERAL: I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 31st ultimo by flag of truce. You state information has been given you that two of your soldiers whilst upon picket duty were hung near Centerville on the night of the 17th of July. This is certainly utterly without foundation, and should be classed with those rumors and accusations made against you as well as against me by people with overheated imaginations. It has as little truth as the charge generally believed here that you fired on our hospital knowing it to be such, and that your troops bayoneted all our wounded who fell into their hands, a charge I have not hesitated even against most positive direct evidence to put down as false.
I have never heard of the hanging of any man by the troops under my command and am confident not one has been hung. At the time you state, the evening of the 17th, we were not in possession of Centerville. All your men who have fallen into my hands have been treated with every consideration of which their position admitted.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Official Records Series II, Vol. 3, Part 1, Page 24. 
Before the war was over there would be such incidents, but nothing in the record indicates McDowell’s men committed such an act.  It is possible the rumor grew from a story on July 20 in the New York Herald which describes Union forces capturing and hanging a Confederate who had been seen bayoneting wounded Union soldiers.  But the dates involved don’t match the description referenced here of two pickets from the 17th at Centreville.

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