1st Alabama Cavalry - Est. 1862
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It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of Glenda McWhirter Todd. She passed away on September 3, 2017 surrounded by her family. She was a historian, genealogist, and author who prided herself on being a descendant of Andrew Ferrier McWhirter of the 1st Alabama Cavalry, USV. Her work over the past two decades and her dedication to the 1st Alabama Cavalry has created a legacy that will last for years to come.

Her life's work has touched thousands of people through the years, and I am glad that I had the pleasure to work with her as long as I did. My hope is that her work will live on for years to come to educate and inspire a new generation.

Stories about Troopers from the 1st Alabama

Picture Combined Service Record

Alex J Johnson

Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph
August 8, 1863

For the Telegraph

The quietude of Corinth was the other day disturbed by a scene that has but seldom been witnessed in the army of the south-west - a military execution. Some six weeks ago a man by the name of A. G. Johnson made his appearance at this post and proffered his services to the Government as a soldier, and was received into Co. D, of the 1st Alabama (Union) cavalry. About two weeks after his enlistment, when placed on picket, Johnson deserted his post, taking with him his horse and all the accoutrements so recently furnished him. Nothing more was heard of him untill the 19th inst., when a scouting party sent from this post captured a party of guerri’las about 8 miles out and among them was Johnson.

On the 21st a drumhead court was called and Johnson was found guilty of desertion and other offences, and was sentenced to be shot on the 23d, at 10 o'clock A. M. This exciting news spread as by magic through all the camps and the town.

By 8 o'clock, on the morning of the 23d, the military began to move from the various regiments and batteries toward the open field where the elocution was to take place. And by 9 ½ o'clock the entire military force of this post had formed three sides of a hollow square of about one-half of a mile long on each side. On the S. side and a portion of the W. side was the Cavalry, in three columns, packed as closely as the horses could stand. On the remainder of the west side the Infantry was massed in platoons, and on the north side was the Artillery; all of which made the most imposing military display that it was ever the fortune of your correspondent to witness. In addition to the military there, were a goodly number citizens, yet beside this army of soldiers their number appeared insignificant.

Soon after the lines were completed a procession was observed moving slowly from town. And, desiring to get as good a view as possible, of the prisoner, I rode in company with a friend to meet them. And as this whole region is without fences a large portion of the citizens that were on horseback gallopped across the field and formed a line on each side of the road over which the prisoner was passing. As he passed along within twenty yards of us we had a view of his features although they were partially obscured by his handkerchief which he held to his face. He seemed a picture of dejection and sorrow. And then his sadness was apparently heightened, about the time we met them, by the band that marched before the plain wagon that bore the prisoner, sitting on his coffin, striking up the "Dead March," that saddest and most mournful of music. Following the wagon, were the soldiers that were to perform the severe task of firing upon the victim doomed to death.

When this procession arrived at the south west corner of the hollow square, the prisoner alighted from the wagon; his coffin was taken and borne by four soldiers, before him, following the band, and these were followed by sixteen men with reversed arms. To the tune of the "Dead March, this company (the prisoner walking beside tee chaplain) slowly marched upon the outside of the south line of the square, and then back again on the inside of the same line, and thus they continued until they had parsed before all the regiments, and they arrived at the north-east corner of the square, when they wheeled and marched diagonally to the center, where the fatal volley was to be fired that in a moment was to send a man to the eternal world.

The coffin was placed upon the ground, when all except the chaplain, who had accompanied the prisoner to this, the saddest march that I had ever witnessed, stepped forward about 20 paces. The prisoner then kneeling upon his coffin, the chaplain, in a prayer, besought for him contrition and pardon and consolation. At the close of the prayer, a brief statement of the trial of the prisoner, and his sentence, was read at the head of each regiment. The officer in charge then stepped forward, blindfolded the prisoner, and desired him to kneel or sit on his coffin. But, poor man, be stood and begged for is life! if only for one day! And the officer of the law had almost to compel him to sit or kneel on his coffin. He finally yielded, and sat down. In a few seconds the fatal volley was fired, and seven balls took effect, passing through vital portions of his body. He fell so senseless that scarcely a muscle moved after his fall. Such is the penalty that military law has ordained for desertion. In this case there were important reasons why it should be rigorously executed.

A. D. O.

The Execution of Alex J. Johnson

Military justice systems often must preserve law and order under very difficult circumstances. In former times, punishments were harsh. Those who believe that little has changed should consider the following excerpt from the entry of 23 July 1863 in the diary of Corporal William W. Cluett, a drummer of the 57th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, part of the garrison of Corinth, a strategic railroad junction and the main Federal stronghold in northeastern Mississippi:

This morning we are ordered on review at 8 oclock in the large field to the south-east of Corinth, to witness the execution of a deserter named Johnson, from Company A, 1st Alabama Cavalry. At the appointed time the troops are all in line, the sun is intensely hot, and from the movements of the troops it is very dusty; soon the procession, with the unfortunate man, appear at the right of the column, a brass band playing the dead march; then the company of which he was a member; then four men carrying his coffin, the prisoner following, assisted by the Chaplain of the 66th Indiana; and then came the detail of twelve men who were to carry out the sentence of the Court Martial--that he be shot to death--passing along the line of the troops from right to left. The procession then marched to the center of the column, the place of execution. The prisoner was placed upon his coffin in a sitting position, a solemn and impressive prayer was offered by the chaplain after which he was blindfolded; the executioners take their position; the Provost Marshal gave the command and the unhappy man was launched into eternity. May his ignominious death prove a warning to all those who might be tempted to do likewise.

More Story Below

Through her research, author and 1st Alabama historian Glenda Todd corrects some information presented by Corporal Cluett. Trooper Johnson was a member of the 1st Alabama Cavalry, Company D. This full account of the execution of Trooper Johnson as reported by the Corinth Chanticleer, an occupation newspaper, comes from her book First Alabama Cavalry, USA: Homage to Patriotism.

Alex J. Johnson enlisted as a private in the 1st Alabama Cavalry, Company D on 1 June 1863 at Glendale, Mississippi. Eighteen day later, he deserted while on picket duty.

A letter dated 22 July 1863 by order of Brigadier General G.M. Dodge, Corinth, Mississippi, states the following, "Brigade Commanders will report their commands at 8 1/2 A.M. Thursday, July 23, (1863) on the parade ground east of Corinth, to witness the execution of A.J. Johnson, 1st Ala. Cavalry. - A staff officer will assign brigades their position as they arrive on the ground".

On February 2, 1977, The Daily Corinthian, Corinth, MS reported the following:

"During the Federal occupation of Corinth a deserter was court martialed and shot on July 23, 1863. According to the Corinth Chanticleer, an occupation newspaper": "Last Thursday the citizens and soldiers of Corinth were permitted to witness one of those awfully impressive spectacles which are the ligitimate result of crime when visited with retributive justice…. A private of Company D, 1st Alabama Cavalry had been found guilty by a military commission of deserting the service of the United States and joining her armed enemies. The place of execution was the parade ground some half mile southeast of town…. After the troops were stationed the prisoner was brought into the square from the right…in front of him his coffin was borne by four soldiers. He was attended by the Chaplain of the 81st Ohio… At precisely 23 minutes past nine, the band sounded the funeral dirge…The chaplain offered prayer and the order for the execution was read as ordered by Brigadier General G.M. Dodge. At four minutes past ten o'clock the order to fire was given after which the troops were marched past the corpse so that troops might have the opportunity of seeing the doom of a deserter. At the time of his desertion the soldier was posted as a vidette (sentry) near the post of Glendale, Mississippi. His last request was to see his photograph which had been taken the morning of the execution. This was denied but he was told that the picture would be sent to his wife."

The following was written in a letter by Charles H. Watson of the 52nd Illinois Infantry to his wife Libbie. This exccerpt of that letter is provided by Katherine Arbon, the recipient of a transcribed letter obtained from Mary Hiber who received the original letter prior to her father, Morris R. Watson's death.

Corinth 25 July 1863

…we have been having very warm weather for a few days and it has been quite dry but today we have had considerable rain last Thursday we were ordered out to witness the execution of a deserter A J Johnson of the 1st Alabama cavalry (Union) he deserted some time ago and joined a band of guerrillas was captured a few days ago with some other prisoners was tried for desertion and sentenced to be shot last Thursday the troops were all ordered out to witness the execution which took place on the parade ground east of Corinth the troops were drawn up in a hollow square something like this

"a" artillery "b" Infantry "c" cavalry the prisoner was brot in a wagon riding on his coffin the Procession composed of a brass band then the team with the prisoner then 24 men with guns as they arrived at "e" they halted the prisoner got out then four men took the coffin the procession headed by the band followed by the men with the coffin then the prisoner with the chaplain then the guard marched around the line to "f" then down to "g" where they halted the chaplain then offered up a prayer then the prisoner sat down on his coffin the bandage was tied about his eyes his hands tied behind him and with one volley his soul was ushered into eternity will it was a sad sight to see the man march around that line the band playing the solemn death march he following his coffin feeling that soon that was to be his house after he was shot he was placed beside his coffin and we were marched around in review before the body he was shot in the head and breast eight men fired at him seven of the guns I understand were loaded with ball one with a blank cartridge none of the men knew who had that gun well this is a branch of military service that I have not see before and don’t want to see again still I think it was perfectly right to shoot the man he possessed a knowledge of the place here its situation so he then deserted joined the enemy and could have led them in here or at least have troubled us a great deal…

Source: Richard J. Sommers, ed., Vignettes of Military History, Volume III (Carlisle Barracks, Pa.: US Army Military History Institute, February 1982), Vignette No. 177, contributed by Lieutenant Colonel Gerald C. Brown, drawn from William W. Cluett, History of the 57th Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry. From the US Army War College

Source: Glenda McWhirter Todd, First Alabama Cavalry, USA: Homage to Patriotism

Source: Katherin Abron, transcription of letter written by Charles Watson dated 25 July 1863.

Database created and maintained by Ryan Dupree.

Service records compiled by Glenda Todd and used with her permission. This and other information about the history of the First and the men who fought with the unit can be found in her book, First Alabama Cavalry, USA: Homage to Patriotism.

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