Civil War

KN, p. 55 “Murder During the Civil War.”

It’s Summer and for us that means road trips to nearby American battlefields to learn about our military history or to watch a reenactment. New Jersey has plenty of battlegrounds because of the Revolutionary War, but since I have more time on my hands these days, we decided to drive to rural Pennsylvania, to the area where the bloodiest battle of the Civil War was fought over 150 years ago – Gettysburg.


We discovered at the Visitor’s Center that there were over 50,000 casualties in the three days of Gettysburg, more than the entire population of our hometown in New Jersey. The records also show that of the 600,000 + who died during the four years of the Civil War, 520 were murdered. The totals are staggering, but the fact that murders were counted separately tells me that someone was trying to follow the law during the war, even though standards for justice were not the same in the 1860s as they are now.


Motives for murder have not changed: greed, love, revenge. But, what would be considered murder now, might have been accepted as ‘he had it coming,’ back then. Tons of western movies (and history books) tell us that if a man caught a thief stealing his horse in the mid 19th c., nobody would have blamed him for shooting the culprit dead in his tracks.


Keeping that in mind, after looking at a couple of pamphlets from the Visitor Center gift shop, I’m suspicious about that official Civil War murder count. I read:


*The Union and Confederacy viewed acts of war differently. The North considered Sherman’s burning of Atlanta acceptable. Southerners thought it criminal.


*Officers needed in battle, got away with killing fellow officers. Confederate Gen. Marmaduke killed Gen. Walker in an illegal duel, but only spent a few hours in jail.


*The side holding the upper hand wrote, interpreted, and enforced the law. Henry Wirz was convicted of crimes/murders committed at Andersonville, but similar offenses at a Northern prison were ignored at the end of the war.


Setting aside the appalling conditions at the P.O.W. camps that caused the deaths of thousands, the murder count is probably off.


*Source: www.civilwarhome.com

*Source: Buhk, Tobin T., “True Crime in the Civil War” Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2012.

*Photo by Patti Phillips

 

Save

Visiting Detectives – Sheriff Will Denton

 

 

It’s no secret that I’m a Gettysburg/Civil War buff.  The local bookstore got a new title in, “Last Stand at Bitter Creek,” written by Tom Rizzo, who seems to share my interest in 19th century law enforcement. As I read his tale of a Sheriff back in that era, I began to imagine what it would be like to sit down and chat with that Sheriff about a case.

 

Meet Sheriff Will Denton.

 

 

 

Sheriff Will Denton leaned back in the chair and stretched his legs in front of him, which gave him a little relief from the pain. A constant reminder that no one can outrun a bullet. He flashed a tired smile at Charlie Kerrian, and wondered how many other lawmen, or detectives, sought this man’s counsel.

 

Denton occupied the middle ground between the mid-forties and mid-fifties, his face a pattern of deep lines reflecting his experience and competence. His laid-back demeanor wasn’t accidental. It served the purpose of luring most bad eggs he confronted into a false sense of comfort. He wore his holster low and strapped down, the sign of someone who meant business.

 

“So here’s my problem. I got this railroad detective coming who thinks someone he’s hunting is holed up in my town. But I hear he’s a trigger-happy hothead. I don’t want the folks nervous, scared or edgy in anyway, and I’m trying to figure out how best to handle this.”

 

Kerrian took a sip of coffee from the mug he was holding and swallowed.

 

“From my understanding, Sheriff Denton, you have a reputation of being able to handle anything that comes your way. So, why seek input from me on this particular occasion?”

 

Denton hadn’t realized Kerrian knew anything about him. He admired his thoroughness. “Truth is, I’ve never enjoyed the luxury of talking things out with anyone. The town can’t afford to hire me a deputy. The only ones I ever confide in about anything are Hiram who owns the livery. He does a good job as my unofficial eyes and ears since I spend so much time roamin’ the countryside. And, I share my concerns on occasion with Ms. Brennan, who runs a local tavern.”

 

Denton, absent-mindedly slid his hand back to the handle of the Peacemaker he wore, making sure the small leather strip at the back of his holster was still looped over the hammer to keep it in place.

 

“I make it a point to learn everything about strangers who visit our fine town—even if they wear a badge,” Denton said. “Hotheads make me nervous. The last one I confronted put a bullet in my thigh.”

 

“And, what happened to him?”

 

Denton frowned. “He’s pretty much dead.”

 

“I have a feeling strangers who visit your town don’t stay long, Sheriff.”

 

Denton’s green eyes flickered with amusement. “We’ve had our share of roustabouts with the war ending. I tend to be an impatient sort when it comes to trouble. I figure it’s best to head off a problem rather than fix one. But, just the same, it wouldn’t do me or the town much good to have to shoot Mecklin.” He smiled. “That’s the railroad detective.”

 

Kerrian returned the smile. “Why does this man concern you so much?”

 

“From what I’ve heard, he’s quick to take charge. Prides himself on always getting his man.”

 

“Is that so bad?”

 

“Only when the innocent get in the way. He’s always left a few bodies between him and the man’s he’s hunting. No one has ever called his hand. Seems to have free rein wherever he goes.”

 

“Why?”

 

“It’s all about accommodation. The railroad pretty much calls the shots in small towns like ours. Money talks,” Denton said, lifting his hand to the side of his face and rubbing his thumb back-and-forth against the tips of his four fingers. “If your town’s lucky enough to be touched by the magic wand of the iron rail, it can’t help but grow.”

 

“And?” Kerrian said, squinting at his visitor.

 

“And, if the railroad decides to pull up stakes and leave, bad things happen. Those places just die up. They wither away. Become ghost towns. We fought long and hard to attract the railroad. Mecklin is the lead detective, with a long record of success and he pretty much can do what he wants because he has brought bad people to justice and recovered thousands of dollars in stolen gold.”

 

“What’s your end game, sheriff?”

 

“I don’t want him turned loose to do as he pleases.”

 

“So, don’t let him.”

 

“Easier said than done, Detective Kerrian. The town council has pretty much told me to butt out. Or, if I do butt in, to let Mecklin call the shots and not interfere in a way that puts the town at risk of looking uncooperative in the eyes of the railroad.”

 

Kerrian didn’t say anything, and closed his eyes. Seconds later, he opened one eyelid and squinted, and then opened the second one, seeming to bring Denton into sharp focus. The movement of the eyelids reminded Denton of a couple of windows opening.

 

“My intuition tells me you’re not going to allow Mr. Mecklin to have his way, no matter what the risk. No matter what the consequences.”

 

“Is that your advice?”

 

“You don’t need advice, sheriff. You just needed to hear the words out loud.”

 

A smile played on Will Denton’s lips.

 

“Reckon you’re right about that, Detective. My town. My rules.

 

A door to another room opened, and a gentle-looking woman smiled at Denton, and nodded to her husband, who glanced at his pocket watch.

 

“Will, we’d like you to join us for a home-cooked meal and a glass of sweet tea. And, one of Sheila’s wonderful desserts, of course.  Would you do us the honor?”

 

Denton stood up, unbuckled the gun belt, and draped it over the arm of the chair. 

 

“Best offer I’ve had today, Charlie.”

 

# # #

Thanks to Will Denton (aka Tom Rizzo) for stopping by Kerrian’s Notebook and giving us a glimpse into the life of a cop from another century. If you have any questions for Tom, please leave them in the comments. Tom posts some great articles about the West, so be sure to look for him online.

 

About the Author:

A passion for 19th century American history, Tom’s debut novel—LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK—includes several elements of historical fact. The novel was a finalist for the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best Western First Novel.

 

His second book is entitled HEROES & ROGUES: THE GOOD & THE BAD OF THE AMERICAN WEST.

 

His writing journey has taken him from radio and television news reporting to the Associated Press, where he worked as a correspondent, followed by several years in advertising and public relations.

 

He grew up in central Ohio, lived in Great Britain for several years, and now calls Houston, Texas, home.

 

Tom is a member of Western Writers of America, Wild West History Association, and Western Fictioneers.

Contact Info

Blog:          http://tomrizzo.com/ 

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/TomRizzoWrites

Twitter:      http://twitter.com/TomRizzoWrites     

Email:       Tom@TomRizzo.com

 

 

 

 

KN, p. 56 “How many cannons at Gettysburg?”

 

Cannon located along the line of trees on Seminary Ridge.

 

Our trip to Gettysburg started with a stop at the Visitor’s Center where we picked up guide books and maps of the Gettysburg National Military Park. We decided to take the self-guided tour through the 6,000 acres of battlefields so that we could take plenty of photos and move at our own pace. Our plan was to follow the maps in order of the original battles 149 years ago. We had three days to get it done.

 

It’s tough not to be struck by the different terrain the soldiers had to deal with – gradual hills, wide fields cut with a few split rail fences, tree covered rocky outcroppings. It was sunny and hot during our drive, so weather conditions were pretty similar to that of the soldiers back then. Except we were wearing shorts, had on comfortable shoes, carried plenty of water, and we were traveling by car. The Union and Confederate soldiers were not as well equipped.

 

There were cannons everywhere. The guidebooks said that over 650 guns were hauled into the area by both horses and men. Much of the artillery seen on the hills today saw use during the Gettysburg campaigns.

 

There are a few reasons that cannons played a big role at Gettysburg:

*The constant, deafening level of noise was meant to demoralize the infantry waiting for orders to cross the open fields.

*Holding the high ground was easier with the cannons firing from close to a mile away, cutting down soldiers before they moved in on the hill.

*The large percentage of rifled guns meant that cannons could be fired with greater accuracy over a distance than the smoothbore cannons. That resulted in more damage to more men in the enemy camp with minimal risk to your own side.

 

This is a cast iron rifled gun, stamped (starting clockwise at 12:00) with the serial number of the gun, the manufacturer, the year of production, the weight of the gun, and last, the inspector’s initials (9:00).

 

Rear view of cannon, showing knob used to adjust the angle of the cannon, which changes the range of the shot.

 

Statue in honor of men who fired and maintained the cannons, valuable pieces of equipment at Gettysburg.

 

Downtown Gettysburg building. The small flag shows the location of a cannonball fired during one of the skirmishes through town.

 

 

 

My dad (who served in the infantry in WW2) told me once that basic training included crawling under barbed wire during live ammo fire from either artillery or rifles firing across the fields in front of the soldiers. If you panicked and stood up, you were dead.

 

At Gettysburg, if a soldier had a grudge against a guy in his outfit, it would not have been that hard to shoot him in the back during one of the charges. Who would have bothered to check each body to see where the kill shot came from, when thousands of guys lay dead in the fields?

 

Field Cannons

 

 

*Source: Holt, Betsy. “Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center: Official Guidebook,” Nashville, Tennessee, Beckon Books, 2011.

 

*Source: Newton, George W. “Silent Sentinels: A Reference Guide to the Artillery at Gettysburg,” New York, NY, Savas Beatie LLC, 2005.

 

 

*Photos by Patti Phillips

 

Save

Save

Scroll to Top