Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 27.djvu/324
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SILENT ABOUT THE HANGING.
Lieutenant McMasters was never a prisoner no prisoners were taken. When he formed across the road he thought he had my men in a pen, but they dashed through his ranks and shot him as they passed. But why didn't Merritt tell the whole story that he hung six prisoners? The reason is obvious. Torbert, the corps commander, says: " Brig. -General Merritt's division went through Front Royal crossing the Shenandoah and stopping at Cedarville, in the meantime having a skirmish with Mosby's guerrillas at Front Roval, killing two officers and nine men." Torbert, like Merritt, is silent about the hanging, and no doubt for the same reason. None of my men were killed in the fight and none wounded. Custer's report says nothing about the Front Royal affair. Neither Torbert, Merritt or Custer was willing to assume the responsibility and odium or to go on record about the hanging. It was their duty to report the fact, and if justifiable, then the circumstances that justified it. No matter whether they were active or merely passive in the busi- ness, their silence gives it a dark complexion. A few days afterward I returned to my command. Many prisoners had been captured, but the men had taken no revenge. They were waiting for me. I determined to demand and enforce every belligerent right to which the soldiers of a great military power were entitled by the laws ol war. But I resolved to do it in the most humane manner, and in a calm, judicial spirit. I felt in doing it all the pangs of the weeping jailor when he handed the cup of hemlock to the great Athenian martyr. It was not an act of revenge, but a judicial sentence to save not only the lives of my own men, but the lives of the enemy. It had that effect. I regret that fate thrust such a duty upon me; I do not regret that I faced and performed it. The following corres- pondence speaks for itself:
NEAR MIDDLEBURG, LOUDOUN COUNTY,
October 29, 1864. (rcneral R. E. LEE,
Commanding the Army of Northern Virginia : GENERAL, I desire to bring, through you, to the notice of the government the brutal conduct of the enemy manifested towards citi- zens of this district since their occupation of Manassas road. When they first advanced up the road, we smashed up one of their trains, killing and wounding a large number. In retaliation they arrested