General Custer – Shenandoah 1864

Whilst researching some American issues as they appear in nineteenth century Welsh newspapers I came across this unexpected detail. It is from the Cardiff Times on 18 November 1864 which picks up and repeats a report about an incident during the American Civil War.

To General Cluster, in the Shenandoah Valley, belongs the proud pre-eminence of having been the first to subject children to the supreme penalties of martial law. The Telegraph’s correspondent, on the authority of an eye-witness, states that a boy not 16 years of age, has been shot to death in cold blood by order of his commander. A musket had been found in his possession, and he was adjudged a rebel.
The circumstances of his death are absolutely sickening.
His mother and sister came to General Custer to plead for mercy. The general sat on horseback and listened very stoically to their heart-rending entreaties. The boy-prisoner stood on the other side, regarding the arbiter of his fate with white face and wistful eyes, and ever and anon patting the neck of the General’s horse, as though to conciliate the master through his steed.
General Custer, true to the instincts of Transatlantic politeness, heard the ladies to the end, and then turning to a corporal, said, very coolly, “Well, you can go and bury him.”
No other death- warrant was required. Even the formalities of a drumhead court-martial and the services of a squad of soldiers were dispensed with. The corporal just led the little lad away, put a revolver to his head, and blew his brains out.


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