Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Massacre" of Guyandotte

Throughout the Civil War there were many reports of massacres perpetrated by either side on the other. While some did happen in some circumstances, many times they were simply small occurrences blown way out of proportion by newspapers to use as propaganda. One of these events occurred 150 years ago today.

A regiments of about 150 Unionists was training in the town of Guyandotte, now West Virginia. The townspeople, not liking to have the Federals among them, called in a group of 700 Confederate cavalry. At 7 pm they surrounded the town and attacked. The Confederates were successful in capturing 70 of the Federals. A few dozen were killed on either side. Reports of cruelty began circulating immediately. By the time the New York times printed the “details” of the event, facts were mostly absent from the account.
There were, it seems, stationed as a guard in the town something less than three hundred Union troops, all Virginians. The most of these the rebel inhabitants, by dint of delusive demonstrations of kindly feeling and anxious hospitality, beguiled to their houses on the evening in question, and then by a display of signals, announced to the guerilla cavalry of Ex-Congressman Jenins, lurking in the neighborhood, that the unconscious victims were garlanded for the slaughter. The butchers, five hundred in number, dashed into the town, fell upon the unarmed National soldiers, and after killing a number, as yet unascertained, made captives of the remainder, those only who had declined the hospitality of the conspirators escaping. While the fight was proceeding, the rebel population, male and female, assisted the destruction by firing from the windows upon their betrayed guests.

Had the possibility of reviving on any theatre of war in the nineteenth century the dramas of the Sicillian Vespers, St. Bartholomew's Night, and Glencoe, been preasserted, an outraged civilization must have pronounced the assertion a slander upon the age. Yet the spirit which suggested this Guyandotte massacre is even worse than that which prompted either of the three great tragedies referred to. The slain at Palermo were merciless foreign oppressors; at Paris, professors of a heresy which the murderers deemed it a sacred obligation to extirpate; in Scotland, outlaws whom the soldiery were under strict military orders to slay. But the victims at Guyandotte were the immediate brethren of the butchers; natives not only of the same country, but of the same State; differing neither in race or faith, differing only in opinion upon a question wholly political and social. That so devilish a plot should have been devised against such, and so pitilessly executed, is a fact only possible of a people whose institutions are essentially barbarous, the negative of right and clemency, the incarnation of all there is treacherous and cruel in unregenerated human nature.


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