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Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Final Act Of Retaliation - The Execution of PVT James M. Miller CSA

On March 2, 1865 near the town of Cheraw, South Carolina, a Confederate soldier was executed by Union soldiers under the command of Major General William T. Sherman in a final act of retaliation before the invading Union army left the Palmetto State and march north into North Carolina.

One of Sherman's Bummers was found dead near Big Lynch Creek.

Earlier, Sherman himself issued a standing order that one Confederate prisoner would be executed for ever Federal soldier found executed. The major of the dead Federal initially refused to pick a prisoner for execution. He believed that the soldier, a fellow unpopular among his own peers, might have been murdered by another Federal.

It would be learned years later that the Yankee had been killed by a Southern slave who had been taken by this soldier. When opportunity arose, the slave killed the Yankee and returned to his master's farm.

Regardless Sherman threatened the Union major with court-martial if the order was not carried out.

At about noon that day, lots were then drawn among the Confederate prisoners. One young prisoner was the unfortunate winner, but another prisoner, Private James M. Miller, an older man and father of nine, who had been captured by Union troops while traveling home on furlough, stepped forward and volunteered to take the younger man's place.

Private Miller was then taken by guard to execution.

According to eyewitness accounts, the Union major tried to tie his hands, but the Confederate asked for not restraints. The major then handed him a handkerchief and told the prisoner to drop it when his prayers were concluded.

According to a Wisconsin soldier who witnessed the scene:

"As the smoke floated away among the tall pines, our boys looked with sadness upon the bleeding corps of a brave old man who had met his death unflinchingly and heroically for the crime of another man. If the old man had bounded away into the forest, we'd never have run a step to catch him."

As witnessed in a Union diary entry:

"At noon the prisoners had by lot selected one of their number and was sent under guard to the 30th Ills - and was by them shot at 2 P.M.. The unfortunate man was over 40 years of age and the father of numerous family - me met his fate like a hero, five balls entered his breast. On visiting his grave afterward I found the following inscription: "James M. Miller Co. C Browns Batt. S.C. Infy. Who was shot to death in retaliation for a regularly detailed forager who was murdered and found near Big Lynch Creek S.C., March 2nd 1865."

Such acts of retaliation against the deaths of Bummers would continue to be repeated for at least another week or so, before threats of retaliation with Union officers captured by Confederate General Wade Hampton III caused Sherman to resend his previous order.

Pvt Miller's grave at Five Forks Methodist near Pageland, SC.

(Sources for this blog post may be found at: http://chesterfield.scgen.org/historicalsociety.html as well as the book: Touring the Carolinas' Civil War Sites by Clint Johnson ISBN 0-89587-146-7. All photos were taken by the Witherspoon-Barnes Camp #1445 Sons of Confederate Veterans.)

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