Saturday, March 17, 2012

“Execution of Champ Ferguson.”


20, "He met death in a brave spirit and unflinching determination to die game."

"Execution of Champ Ferguson."

Scene at the Scaffold.


Champ Ferguson was executed in the yard of the State Penitentiary yesterday forenoon. About three hundred passes were issued by the authorities, and fully that number surrounded the scaffold. At 10 o'clock precisely, we entered a hack, with several reporters of the city press, drove to the State Prison, having been informed by the Provost Marshal that the execution would take place in the forenoon. We found a large concourse of people at the outer wall, who were eager to pass the guards, but they were kept back by a strong military force. On reaching the gate of the prison we were met by Col. Shafter, the Post Commandant, and Capt. Dykeman, Provost Marshal. On entering the yard, we he held the scaffold, which was formed by two perpendicular beams, with a cross bar at the top, and a floor about five feet from the ground. The trap door was about three feet square, and fastened by a rope which was tied over the edge of the flooring, so that on chopping it with a sharp hatchet, the trap would fall, Nearly an hour was consumed after we arrived, in the arranging the rope and other fixtures around the scaffold.


By request of the reporters, Colonel Shafter conducted them to the cell in the prison, in order to get his last words. We found him in communion with his wife and daughter. Colonel Shafter asked Champ if he had anything to say to the reporters of the city press. He replied that he only desired to have a private interview with the reporter if the Dispatch, to whom he had made his confession. We entered the cell in accompany with Lieutenant A.M. Coddington. He stated that he had no desire to alter any of his confession made to us on Wednesday, but had a few more words to add to it. We noted them down, and give them in connection, which follows the report of the execution.

The Parting Scene with his Family.

On emerging from his cell, Colonel Shafter politely requested Mrs. Ferguson and her daughter to take their final leave of the husband and father. The only persons present were the three officers, Chaplain Coddington and ourself. It was a painful scene, and brought tears to the eyes of all who witnessed it. The wife grasped his hand firmly, and gave him a loving, farewell look. They did not embrace. She turned and surrendered herself to the terrible anguish of her heart. The daughter, as we have before mentioned, is a lovely and beautiful girl of sixteen, with large, expressive, black eyes, and a sweet countenance. As she approached her father for the last time on this side of the grave, he opened is wide arms to receive her, and her head fell on his bosom. No words were uttered by either of them for about one minute. The few persons turned from the scene with tears in their eyes. The last bitter word of command was give, and the lovely maiden shrieked, "farewell, my poor, poor papa!" The mother and daughter then retired to a brick building adjoining the prison.

Champ Ferguson on the Scaffold.

On bidding his final adieu to his little family, Champ turned to the executioner who had the ropes, and asked, "must I be tied?" He was informed that it was customary. He then calmly folded his hands behind his back and was tied at the elbows and wrists. He was asked if the rope was too tight, or painful, to which he replied, after moving himself, that he was very comfortable. He remarked that he feed ought also to be tied, to which the execution informed him that it would be done on the scaffold. The guards then formed on either side of him, and with a firm step, he advanced through the hall of the prison, and entered the yard by the side gate, the chaplain being in front of him and the Post Commandant and Provost Marshal on either side. The walls of the prison were guarded by colored soldiers, and a hollow square was formed around the scaffold by the 16th Infantry. On entering the yard of the prison, Champ held his head up, and deliberately surveyed the audience. When he approached the scaffold, he cast his eyes upward, as if to see what it was like, and then mounted the stairs with a firm step, and turned to the spectators. He recognized several familiar faces in the throng and politely bowed to each of them. He appeared like a man who was about to make a speech on some leading topic, and simply paused to refresh his memory. He scanned the spectators closely, and not a muscle or nerve contracted. He was in excellent health and looks as well, perhaps, as he ever did in his life. A find suit of black broadcloth added greatly to his personal [sic], and he appeared very neatly dressed.

Charges and Sentence.

The commandant of the Post, Colonel Shafter, proceeded to read the charges and specifications together with the sentence of the Court. As the different charges were read he either bowed in acknowledgement or shook his head in denial of them. He emphatically denied the killing of the twelve soldiers at Saltsville [sic].  He turned indifferently at the mention of Stover, and when the name of Elam Huddleston was read, he shook his head, and remarked that he could tell it better than that. He bowed his head at the mention of several names, acknowledging that he killed them. The Colonel then said; "In accordance with the sentence I have read, Champ Ferguson, I am going to execute you." He never evinced a single emotion, and with an iron nerve, and countenance firm and determined, replied, "I am ready to die."

At the conclusion, the Chaplain, Rev. Mr. Bunting, offered up a beautiful prayer, invoking the blessing of Almighty God o the doomed man. It was quite evident that Ferguson was deeply affected the touching words of the minister, and several large tears glistened in his eyes. He turned to Col. Shafter at the conclusion of the prayer, and asked him to take his handkerchief from his side pocket and wife his face. The Colonel complied with the request at the same time conversing with him in an undertone. They were woods of cheer, for his countenance lit up in radiance. The Colonel then asked him if he had any feelings toward the officers or any other who were performing the painful duty. He replied
"None in the world, I thank you for your kindness to me."

The coffin was placed directly in front of the gallows, and in full view, it was a neat raised cherry coffin, lined and trimmed in good style.

His Last Words.

The Colonel asked him if he had any remarks to make. He replied that he had plenty to say if he only knew how to say it. He requested that his remains be placed in "that box," nodding at the coffin, and turned over to his wife to be taken to White county, Tennessee. "I do not want to be buried in such soil as this.

The Final Drop

The white cap was drawn over his face, and Col. Shafter again repeated the question, "Have you anything further to say?" He replied that he had not. The Colonel then gave the motion to the executioner to take his post. Champ exclaimed in a clear and loud voice, "Good Lord have mercy on my soul!" As these words fell upon his lips, the executioner chipped the rope, and the trap fell, landing Champ Ferguson into eternity. The reporters were assigned a position on the right, and close to any scaffold. The fall did not break his neck, but it killed him instantly, so far as the pain was concerned. The distance was two feet, and as Ferguson was a man that would weight one hundred and eighty pounds, it was not strange that the fall produced instant death, or rather rendered him insensible to suffering. We observed a mere contraction of the hands after he fell, but not a struggle was made by him.

After he had hung about five minutes, we notice two or three contractions of the shoulders, but they were scarcely noticed. The trap dropped at 20 minutes to 12 o'clock. The Surgeons, three of them, stated that his pulse was perceptible seventeen minutes after the fall, but it was more fluttering of the last spark of life.  A few drops of blood gushed from his nose and was noticed on the white cap. After the body had hung for thirty minutes, life was pronounced extinct, and it was cut down and after removing the cords from his arms and legs, placed in the coffin. A neat hearse was waiting at the gate, and the remains placed in it, and turned over to his family. We visited the wife and daughter immediately after the event, and found them calm and reconciled to their terrible misfortune. They both possessed the great nerve and determination that characterized Champ, and have help up under their multiplied troubles in a wonderful manner. They left last evening in company with some of their friends, taking the remains to their home in White county, near Sparta, where they will be interred, in accordance with his dying request.

The horrors of a lengthy strangulation, or slow torture, were, thank God, averted on this occasion, and we cannot close without commanding the dignified, polite and efficient manner in which the officer performed their duty. The best order prevailed, and no awkward blunders of mistake were made by any one of them. It was entirely relieved of all sensation, and the spectators could scarcely realize that a human being had been launched into eternity. When we arrived from the prison, after the execution, we found a rumor in circulation that Champ had been pardoned or had his sentence commuted at the last moment. Many persons believed it, and it was the general impression that he would not be hung, but have his sentence changed to imprisonment for life. Every effort was made to save him. A courier was sent to Washington, and hopes were entertained to a very late hour, but Champ Ferguson was doomed to die. He met death in a brave spirit and unflinching determination to die game. We have witnessed some sixteen executions, but never saw a man such nerve to the last.

Nashville Dispatch, October 21, 1865.

No comments: