[SeMissourian.com] Fair ~ 70°F  
High: 93°F ~ Low: 73°F
Friday, July 11, 2014

A little hanging

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Information gathering methods have changed over the years.

During the Civil War, various ways of extracting information from un-willing prisoners, enemy soldiers or non-combatants (civilian men) were used. Times have changed and so have "information gathering methods". Recently, within the past two years, especially since 9/11, much has been published in the media about how terrible "water boarding is, which in effect is pouring water down a prisoners throat to create the sensation of drowning. Yes this is a cruel method of interrogation, however, in the Civil War both the Union and Confederates used "A Little Hanging" or "Stretching Hemp" which was also a cruel method of interrogation, but both methods usually received the desired results of acquiring the desired information.

"A Little Hanging" was when an enemy soldier or civilian was placed on a box or barrel with a hangman's knot of strong rope around his neck and the balance of the rope thrown over a high limb with the end held by two or more men, or it was tied to the trunk of another tree. After refusing to repeatedly answer questions the box or barrel was kicked out from under the prisoner who would be allowed to "choke" for a few seconds and then the box or barrel would be returned for him to stand on. The process would be a few seconds longer as it was repeated and if the information was not eventually acquired, very often the prisoner was executed by hanging. The following after action report contains "A Little Hanging" and is located on pages 258 and 259 in Series I, Vol. 41, Part I, "Reports of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion."

To: "Maj. J. Nelson Smith, Commanding Station, Independence, Mo.

Independence, Mo., Aug. 18, 1864.

Major: I have the honor to report that, in compliance with instructions, I left here on the 13th of August at 9:30 a.m., with 75 men from Companies C, D, F, I, L and M, 2nd Colorado Cavalry and proceeded northeast on the Lexington Road and struck the Missouri River four miles south of Richfield; patrolled the river-bank and vicinity for a distance of about five miles above Richfield until near the mouth of the Blue River, when being near night, I proceeded to Young's farm, about four miles from Blue Mills, where I camped for the night, having traveled about 35 miles.

While at this place learned that Fletch Taylor, Thrailkill and other bushwhackers had been in that vicinity. On starting next morning about three o'clock, scouting the country thoroughly in the vicinity of Six-Mile, learned that Taylor had procured a buggy and started for Lafayette County, being severely wounded. Struck the trail and followed if for about 15 miles, until, near Bone Hill, when lost it and after searching some time turned back on the Lexington road for Lafayette County. Found numerous signs of small parties of bushwhackers and finally reached the farm of one Ish, in Lafayette County, where by means of passing as bushwhackers (Note: Union patrol was disguised as bushwhackers by wearing civilian clothes!), I learned from a boy, whom I took and compelled to go with me, that there was a body of about 100 men encamped in Big Bottom, about six miles from that place.

I started for that point, but ascertained that doctors Murphy and Regan of Wellington, had amputated Taylor's arm the morning before and wishing to secure Murphy, who happened started 25 men to Wellington to bring him in and proceeded south with the command two miles to Ewing's farm, where I found Murphy, who happened to be there; arrested him, and forage being plenty fed the horses.

On examining Murphy found that he had reported the facts concerning Taylor to Lexington immediately after the amputation took place, but could learn nothing definite concerning his whereabouts. Before the detail sent to Wellington returned it was nearly night and thence I moved south to the house of one Fishback and camped for the night, having released Dr. Murphy. Traveled this day about 50 miles. Next morning started about sunrise and went in a southerly course to the Sni, striking it at the old mill-dam.

Thence proceeded in a west course to Gardiner's farm; struck from thence in the direction of Bone Hill and Judge Gray's farm, scouting thoroughly in the brush in that vicinity; arrived at the house of one Bord, near the line of Jackson and Lafayette Counties. On examining him at first could get no information from him; said he had never seen but six bushwhackers, saw them the evening before. Knew nothing of the whereabouts of any of them. I then made him go with us and told him to guide us to their camp. At first he denied as before, but finally took us to the camp where Fletch Taylor had his arm amputated and had left there very recently, as the signs were fresh and new.

Found bandages stained with blood, pillow, etc., but no man. Finding that Bord was only leading us through the brush in order to give the bushwhackers time to escape I gave him a little hanging, which immediately improved his knowledge of the country! He told me two bushwhackers had been at his house the evening before to see his daughter and on our starting again, he led us through the thickest kind of brush to four other camps, one of which had only been vacated that morning judging by the forage scattered around and other fresh signs; the other three were older, but had been used during the course of the summer. Searched the brush thoroughly, but could find no one.

Learned further from Bord that there were plenty of them in the country in small parties ranging from Big Bottom to Bone Hill. Having obtained what information from Bord I could, released him and struck west for Robinson's in Jackson County; trailed 15 to that place and followed in a southerly course, when they scattered (which is what bushwhackers did when being pursued) and I lost the trail: thence returned to the northwest, until I struck the eastern edge of Fire Prairie; thence west and startled another party of eight (bushwhackers) but at too great a distance to do anything with them. Struck the trail of a large party and followed them four miles to an old bridge across a ravine, where I heard a gun fired evidently as a signal for them to disperse, as the tracks scattered immediately and I lost them.

This vicinity is evidently full of small parties of them continually passing back and forth. After searching the brush I crossed Fire Prairie to the timber on the Blue and scouted up the river till I reached Spring Branch Crossing; thence returned to this place arriving here about 6 p.m. traveling that day about 65 miles.

E. W. Kingsbury Capt., 2nd Colorado Cavalry, Commanding Scout."

"Citizen" Bord was fortunate in that he survived "A Little Hanging" and was released to live another day! Whereas, many on both sides received more than "A Little Hanging" and died by "Stretching Hemp" with a very tight hangman's knot around the throat! War then and now was and is brutal and barbaric and of course the war went on.

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches