View single post by PvtClewell
 Posted: Sat Jun 7th, 2008 02:13 am
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Joined: Wed Jun 13th, 2007
Location: North Carolina USA
Posts: 420

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This comes from Elizabeth Brown Pryor's book, 'Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee through his Private Letters':

"...Promoted to captain, Orton distinguished himself at the battle of Shiloh, leading an important charge and lending invaluable support to General Braxton Bragg. Still, he continued to be reckless — 'he was not a sound man,' wrote a comrade. In one instance, he ran his sword through a private who refused to salute him...

"...the first strange occurrence was that Orton changed his name from William Orton Williams to Lawrence William Orton, a variation of his brother's name...

"On the evening of June 8 (1863), Colonel Lawrence William Orton and Major George Dunlop appeared at Fort Granger near Franklin, Tennessee. They were dressed in Federal uniforms, including hats covered with crisp new havelocks — an item used to shield the head and neck from excessive sun. Dunlop was in reality another relative, Walter Gibson Peter. 'Gip' had spent his life trailing his exciting cousin Orton, and had evidently been talked into this excursion as well. The two introduced themselves as an inspection team from Washington, and told how they had been attacked and robbed by rebel pickets. Their papers seemed to be in order, and when they asked for a loan to continue their journey, the post commander, Colonel John P. Baird, advanced it. After they left, several officers at the fort began to question story. Something seemed odd: the havelocks, for example, had been used at the beginning of the war, but they had long since been discarded. Orton was also calling himself 'Auton,' and it seemed wrong that they would have been attacked and still escaped with their horses. The Union officers were also worried about the presence of rebel partisan Nathan Bedford Forrest in the neighborhood and anxious to protect their position. Finally, the two were followed and brought back to the camp, where they were placed under guard while frantic telegrams were sent to verify their identities, 'as they can given no consistent account of their conduct.' At length word came back from General James A. Garfield — who ostensibly had signed the bogus inspection team's orders — that there were 'no such this army, nor in any army so far as we know.' On searching the two more closely, Baird found that Dunlop's sword carried the inscription 'Lt. W.G. Peters, C.S.A.,' and that each man had his real name on the band of the headgear they had artfully covered with the havelocks.

"Baird contacted Washington again and was instructed to conduct as quick court-martial and, if found guilty, to hang the men immediately. The drum-head court-martial, among the most chilling of wartime events, took place in a dark tent, lit by rows of candles along the edge of a long table. One of those present remembered that the 'tiny flames threw garish shimmers of light on side-arms and brass buttons,' casting a fearful glow over the proceeding. When pressed, Williams and Peter confessed that they were Confederate soldiers, but denied repeatedly that they were spies. Williams alluded to a larger mission, vaguely mentioned something about France or Canada, but would divulge no details...In short, the two were pronounced guilty and sentenced to death...

"...At nine a.m., three hours after the execution was to have started, the company assembled, and the two men marched to the gallows. When Walter Peter began to whimper Orton announced: 'Let us die like men!' Then the wagon on which they were perched was driven from under them, their bodies left dangling in the air. According to newspaper accounts, neither died instantly, Gip struggled almost two minutes, and Orton, grabbing the rope with both hands, struggled for five minutes or longer.

"...Just what Walter Peter and Orton Williams were actually doing has remained a mystery. If they were indeed on an official mission, they played their final roles very well, for their secret has never been discovered.

"...Markie came to believe that they had embarked on an ill-advised lark, testing their courage and luck as they had together as boys. Lee, absolutely infuriated by the incident, also thought the men were off on an adventure and that their execution had been 'ordered from a spirit of malignant vindictiveness, common in a cowardly people.'

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