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Sunday, Mar. 29, 2015

Battlefield Dispatches No. 335: 'Shot to death'

Friday, September 21, 2012

To suggest that the longevity or life expectancy of a Missouri guerrilla, or leader of a detachment of guerrillas, during the Civil War could be very long would be a gross overstatement. The reality was that the longevity, or life span, of a guerrilla could be and was often very short, which in essence meant that a guerrilla, or "bushwhacker," who had a run of bad luck ended up dead. Such was the fate of a Bushwhacker captain by the name of Nevins whose career ended when he was captured, tried by a drum head court martial, convicted and shot to death in late September of 1862. The following after-action report describes the capture and execution of Capt. Nevins and is located in Series I, Vol. 13 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion on Pages 281 -282.

"Office of Provost Marshal-General,

Central Division of Missouri,

Jefferson City, Mo., Sept. 26, 1862.

Colonel: I have the honor to report that in obedience to orders received from you, on the 23rd instant I took command of a detachment consisting of Company E, 13th Regiment Missouri State Militia commanded by Capt. Maus; a detail of 10 men and one six pounder Howitzer from Capt. Wachsman's Battery, commanded by Lt. Bird and 15 enrolled militia under the command of Capt. Madden, my whole force consisting of 65 mounted men and one gun. I proceeded by boat to Hibernia on the Missouri River, and at 10 p.m. started on a forced march in the direction of Eureka, Boone County, where a rebel force was said to be encamped.

After proceeding a few miles, I received intelligence from some Union men who had been driven from their homes that a band of bushwhackers, headed by one Capt. Nevins, had been committing gross outrages in the neighborhood, plundering homes of Union men and threatening their lives. One of my informants, a man of advanced years, had been taken by them the night previous. A rope was put around his neck for the purpose of hanging him, but the bushwhackers were frightened away by some noise in the vicinity before they accomplished the murder.

I at once sent squads of my men hunting for these rebels in various directions. At daybreak, Capt. Nevins was captured in the vicinity of Eureka with his arms upon his person. He wore a mask when captured and had ordered his men to disperse in the brush upon getting intelligence of my approach.

Among his papers was found his oath of allegiance taken in Jefferson City on Oct. 23, 1861, before Brig. Gen. Price. I ordered a drum-head court martial for his trial.

The prisoner pleaded guilty to the charge of bushwhacking and violating his oath of allegiance and was condemned to be shot to death, all the officers in my command concurring in the sentence. I sent a detail of my men over the country with orders to arrest and bring into camp all the rebel sympathizers of the vicinity in order that they might witness the execution.

At noon of the 24th instant the sentence was carried into effect and the house of the prisoner was burned to the ground. Being satisfied from all the evidence brought to me that I was in a section of the country where a perfect reign of terror had been instituted by the lawless marauders lurking in the brush and deeming a terrible example necessary for the protection of Union men and the prevention of similar outrages in the future, I ordered all the houses belonging to the men of Capt. Nevins' gang to be burned to ashes and placed under arrest the citizens of the vicinity who openly avowed their rebel sentiments.

The evidence upon which I destroyed the houses furnished by Capt. Nevins, who gave me, before his execution, the names of his men who were then in the brush and who had been committing under his leadership the outrages for which he suffered. His statement was further corroborated by responsible witnesses. I then proceeded in the direction of Lindsey's Mill, where I discovered a recently abandoned camp. After scouting thoroughly over the country lying between Eureka, Bloomfield, Claysville and Cedar Creek I returned to Hibernia, having marched 80 miles in 22 hours and having arrested all the prominent rebels along my line of march.

Very Respectfully,

F.J. WHITE,

Major and Prov. Mar. Gen., Central div. of Missouri."

To: Col. F. L. Crawford, Comdg., Sub-District of Cole Co., Mo."

Now then, Capt. Nevins' career as the commanding officer of a detachment of Bushwhackers, or Confederate Guerrillas, was a short-lived success according to Major White's after-action report. However, Capt. Nevins' luck ran out to fight no more when he was captured, tried, convicted and shot to death. And, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches