Sunday, July 27, 2008

He Died in Place of His Brother

from "It Happened in the Civil War" by Dr. Michael R. Bradley

Today a small, crumbling stone with an almost illegible inscription on the courthouse square at Fayetteville, Tennessee, is the only physical reminder of John R. Massey, a man who gave his life for his brother in the summer of 1864. But his story is one that deserves to be remembered as an act of sacrifice that happened in the Civil War. July 15, 1864, was a bright, pleasant day in the county seat of Lincoln County, Tennessee, and life was about as good as it would get during the latter stages of the war. The gardens were beginning to produce early vegetables, and the monotony of the winter's diet of salted and dried food was being broken. The weather was turning hot, but that was to be expected in mid-southern Tennessee at that time of the year. The Confederate Army of Tennessee had been gone from the area for almost a year following the Tullahoma campaign, but as yet there was no permanent Union garrison in the village, only occasional visits from forage trains or a patrol out on a scout.Fayetteville was in disputed territory. As the traffic along the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad increased in support of Sherman's campaign in North Georgia, an increasing number of Confederate cavalry and guerrilla units moved into the area around Fayetteville, attempting to interdict that traffic. These elusive units made life miserable for the Union garrisons guarding the railroad, so much so that one Union general, Eliazar A. Payne, decided to take drastic action.Suddenly, the morning quiet of the July day in the county seat village of Fayetteville was shattered by gunfire. Union troops under General Payne rode into town, shooting left and right. Soon smoke was rising from numerous points as barns and outbuildings were set afire. Squeals of pigs and squawks of chickens blended with screams of terrified women as hostages were seized and dragged to the courthouse in the middle of the village. From the hostages assembled these four were selected for execution: Thomas Massey, William Pickett, Franklin Burroughs, and Dr. J. W. Miller. Their lives would be spared only if someone in town gave information as to the whereabouts of a camp of Confederate cavalry or guerrillas. Franklin Burroughs had come to the courthouse to purchase a marriage license; he planned to wed the next day. William Pickett had come to town to purchase needed supplies at the general store. Thomas Massey was on his way to work when he was taken by the Union troops. Dr. Miller was not with the original group but was taken hostage later in the day. Years later Dr. Miller's son recalled the terrifying events of that day:
The day of the raid was a bright, sunny day. All nature was clad in its new garment of green. New Irish potatoes and English peas about ready for the table and our first "mess" appeared then. My brother and myself had helped our mother get these vegetables from the garden, she having apprised my father of the fact that "We are going to have Irish potatoes and new peas for dinner." This delighted him, as he was very fond of such things. Dr. Miller, it should be noted, had only recently been released from Camp Chase, Illinois, having been held there as a prisoner of war since the fall of Fort Donelson in February 1862. His son continued:
This pleasure and anticipation was soon swept away, followed with despair, distress, mental anguish and vanishing hope -- my father was arrested, charged with harboring bushwhackers, the same as Massey and the others. The officers who took him in charge and carried him off gave my mother no information as to his fate, despite her pleadings for some knowledge of it, any more than to say, "All damned bushwhacker harborers would be shot and sent to hell." At 11:30 mother received notice that all prisoners taken, charged just as mentioned, would be killed at the same time, 3:00 that evening. General Payne had led his troops a short distance out of town to the top of a nearby hill and halted them there for their midday dinner. The Miller family's cook had proceeded with the preparation for their dinner despite all the confusion, and when Mrs. Miller learned that her husband was still close to town, she prepared a plate of the potatoes and peas and sent his son and a young African-American slave to bring it to him. As his son described it:
We found him sitting under a beech tree, surrounded with six or eight men as a guard. Upon being handed his dinner he courteously invited his guards to eat with him, they refused but urged him to eat quickly since they might move at any moment. While he was eating General Payne rode up, surrounded by his staff, all on fine horses, bright uniforms, sabers dangling. Payne rode very near my father, not more than six feet away and made a statement ever memorable to me, "You G-d d----d grey-eyed bushwhacking sympathizer. I'll have you shot at three o'clock this evening with Thomas Massey and the other damned scoundrels." I grabbed my father by the neck and begged for his life, but the officers forced me away and told me to leave. When my father hugged me to his bosom he said, "Good bye, my little boy, I'll never see you again." No one but a confiding child in a similar condition can realize the awful agony of that moment. Soon after these scenes transpired, General Payne received a visitor, John R. Massey. John had heard of the arrest of his brother, Thomas, and of the impending execution. He had ridden into town from his home west of Fayetteville and had gone to see General Payne to plead for his brother's life. John made two points: His brother Thomas had nothing to do with the Confederate army and had probably been identified as a harborer of bushwhackers by a neighbor who had a grudge against him; and, Thomas was the father of a family of young children who would suffer a good deal, emotionally and financially, by the loss of their father. General Payne was unmoved by these arguments. Then John said, "If you must have Massey blood, take mine." Immediately, Payne agreed, releasing Thomas and arresting John in his place.At three o'clock the Union soldiers fell into ranks with loaded rifles. Burroughs and Pickett were overcome by the situation and collapsed to the ground. John Massey reached down, seized each by the shirt collar and pulled them erect. "Kneel to God, but never to dogs like these!" Ripping open his shirt, Massey then said, "Do you so-called soldiers think you can hit the target at this range?" Gesturing at his heart, he concluded, "Then aim right here." A volley of shots rang out and the three collapsed. Burroughs still moved, so an officer ran him through with his saber. At dark the young woman who was to have married Burroughs on the next day, Miss Molly Goodrich, ventured up the road to where the Yankees had paused, and there found the bodies of Massey, Pickett, and Burroughs lying as they had fallen. Dr. Miller, for reasons unknown, was taken some 9 or 10 miles farther toward Shelbyville and released. That night he was joyously reunited with his family.All these deaths were tragic, and Payne had disobeyed the rules of war in taking hostages and murdering them. Most moving was the death of John R. Massey, a man innocent of any offense against the government of the United States, who volunteered to take the place of his brother in facing execution.


Steve Chattin said...

I found John Masseys grave there in Fayetteville. He is buried in a church cemetery there. His stone reads John R. Massey 1864 A Confederate Martyr. A photo of his stone can be seen in the historical section of

Real Reb said...

Thank you Steve