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“Shooting prisoners is a game that two could play at.”
Ten dead men were picked up of the 92d, after the Nickojack slaughter, besides several who were mortally wounded. One sergeant who was with Lieutenant Scoville, while riding at the top of his horse’s speed right towards the rebel trap, had his horse shot and he fell full length in the middle of the road, throwing the rider head-over-heels rolling and tumbling into the corner of the fence by the roadside. The rebels were right at his heels riding as fast as their horses could carry them. Notwithstanding his bruises and hurts, the sergeant lay motionless. The whole rebel force rode within three feet of him and passed on. As soon as the last rebel got past he jumped up and cut across the fields to the timber and got away. He was the only man with Scoville who did escape.
At another point higher up the valley a squad of rebel cavalry struck a small post of our pickets and a race followed. Our boys got a fair start and the rebels made a desperate effort to catch them. One rebel was on a very fleet race horse and he “let him out” and rode right up to our boys, their horses not being fleet enough to keep out of his way, but the boys would not surrender to him and demanded that he surrender to them or they would shoot him off his horse. They compelled him to throw down his gu and revolver and stay with them. This was all done while their horses were running as fast as they could and the rebels in force close behind. Our boys stuck to their prisoner and carried him into camp.
O’Connor and Cattanach were both left for dead and were both shot after they had surrendered. Lieutenant Pointer of a Tennessee regiment, was the contemptible coward who did the shooting. He shot two or three others of the 92d, finishing them on the spot. O’Connor lived twenty-four hours and said he was captured in the trap; was dismounted and the guards sent back with them made them run. O’Connor had on a pair of new high-topped cavalry boots. A guard stopped him and ordered him to pull them off and deliver. He did so and got behind a little. The rebel hurried him to catch up. O’Connor was short-winded and could not keep on a constant run and told the guard so. At this point the work had been completed above; and Lieutenant Pointer rode up, flushed with excitement of shooting several of our men whom were prisoners, drew his revolver and plunged a ball through O’Connor. The ball passed through his abdomen, and O’Connor went down and was left for dead. The lieutenant and guard galloped on to catch up with the balance. O’Connor was picked up by the force that came down the valley under Captain Smith an conveyed to camp. He told this story while writhing in great agony and he died just twenty-four hours afterwards.
William Cattanach was a young man only just old enough to enter the army and was a new recruit. He was robust and healthy; in fact he was a perfect picture of health; fair skin and red cheeks and was the best-looking man in the regiment. Cattanach was the first man the cowardly Pointer shot. There is no doubt but what Cattanach’s fine appearance attracted the villain’s attention as the contrast between a copper-colored Southerner and Cattanach was so great. At the first shot the ball passed under two ribs. Then Cattanach threw up his hands and begged for his life but a coward and villain knows no mercy when he has the advantage. He shot Cattanach again, which brought him to the ground. The ball passed through the lungs and he continued to breathe, the air passing in and out of the ball hole as he inhaled or exhaled his breath. Men of great vitality do not die easy and although it seemed as if Cattanach’s wounds were enough to have killed him on the spot, yet he lived on with slight hope of recovery. He was brought to camp, his statements make and sworn to under oath. I took turns in sitting up with him and caring for him nights. His wounds were festered and he was feverish. He had much troubled sleep and horrible dreams disturbed his rest, dreams about the rebel barricade or trap in which he was caught and shot. He almost jumped out of his bed in great excitement trying to make “old Jane” jump the barricade. When the regiment and the whole army moved out, Cattanach was sent back to a hospital. Word shortly after came that he was dead, but just where he was when he died or where he was buried no man of the 92d could tell.
The whole Nickojack affair had created the most intense excitement among the men of the 92d and troops generally. Men killed in fair fighting is acceptable, but to kill a prisoner of war causes the utmost excitement and men could be heard to mutter everywhere that shooting prisoners is a game that two could play at. Emphasis added throughout.
The boys who caught the rebel on the run were first into camp and as they knew nothing of how the rest of us had been served, and they had met with no loss, their run to save themselves and their novel mode of capturing the prisoner they brought along was regarded as a laughable joke all around. But when the news first arrived of the great havoc along the picket lines, the officers anticipated the feelings of the men, and immediately caused the removal of the new prisoner to some parts unknown to the men of the 92d. This was a wise and timely move, for no sooner was word brought to camp than the real truth was distorted and exaggerated, and the wildest rumors were afloat. It was believed by some that the rebels had shot every man captured and all had fought, practically, under the black flag, neither giving, nor receiving “quarter.” Acting under such a belief, a rush was made to the place where the new prisoner was supposed to be held, to have him give an account of his position, but no prisoner was to be found. The 92d never had treated a prisoner in a cruel manner; but under the circumstances, had this prisoner been on hand at that critical moment, he might have been an exception to the rule. Little knots of men all about the camp were discussing the butchery of the morning and it seemed to be the settled conclusion of every man that the 92d would never take another prisoner.
On the afternoon of the 24th the regiment held a solemn funeral with ten corpses at the altar while three others were either dead or dying and would need burial the next day. Chaplain Cartwright preached the funeral sermon, in the open air, while the regiment stood around with uncovered heads. The sermon was very touching as those asleep in death were among the best men of the regiment. Great tears rolled down the sunburned cheeks of the kind-hearted chaplain and there was not a dry eye in the audience.
After the usual military ceremonies, three of the bodies were sent home for burial and seven coffins were lowered into seven newly made graves and the men returned to talk of avenging the wrong done by the rebels.
NEAR RINGOLD, GEORGIA, APRIL 26,1864
Excerpt from Three Years with the 92 Illinois: The Civil War Diary of John M. King edited by Claire E. Swedberg.
It can happen here. The Geneva Rules do apply.