Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 38


After the executions Key, knowing that he, and all those prominently
connected with the hanging, would be in hourly danger of assassination if
they remained inside, secured details as nurses and ward-masters in the
hospital, and went outside. In this crowd were Key, Ned Carrigan, Limber
Jim, Dick McCullough, the six hangmen, the two Corporals who pulled the

props from under the scaffold, and perhaps some others whom I do not now

In the meanwhile provision had been made for the future maintenance of
order in the prison by the organization of a regular police force, which
in time came to number twelve hundred men. These were divided into
companies, under appropriate officers. Guards were detailed for certain
locations, patrols passed through the camp in all directions continually,
and signals with whistles could summon sufficient assistance to suppress
any disturbance, or carry out any orders from the chief.

The chieftainship was first held by Key, but when he went outside he
appointed Sergeant A. R. Hill, of the One Hundredth O. V. I.--now a
resident of Wauseon, Ohio,--his successor. Hill was one of the
notabilities of that immense throng. A great, broad-shouldered, giant,
in the prime of his manhood--the beginning of his thirtieth year--he was
as good-natured as big, and as mild-mannered as brave. He spoke slowly,
softly, and with a slightly rustic twang, that was very tempting to a
certain class of sharps to take him up for a "luberly greeny." The man
who did so usually repented his error in sack-cloth and ashes.

Hill first came into prominence as the victor in the most stubbornly
contested fight in the prison history of Belle Isle. When the squad of
the One Hundredth Ohio--captured at Limestone Station, East Tennessee, in
September,1863--arrived on Belle Isle, a certain Jack Oliver, of the
Nineteenth Indiana, was the undisputed fistic monarch of the Island.
He did not bear his blushing honors modestly; few of a right arm that
indefinite locality known as "the middle of next week," is something
that the possessor can as little resist showing as can a girl her first
solitaire ring. To know that one can certainly strike a disagreeable
fellow out of time is pretty sure to breed a desire to do that thing
whenever occasion serves. Jack Oliver was one who did not let his biceps
rust in inaction, but thrashed everybody on the Island whom he thought
needed it, and his ideas as to those who should be included in this class
widened daily, until it began to appear that he would soon feel it his
duty to let no unwhipped man escape, but pound everybody on the Island.

One day his evil genius led him to abuse a rather elderly man belonging
to Hill's mess. As he fired off his tirade of contumely, Hill said with
more than his usual "soft" rusticity:

--an--old--one--such--bad names."

Jack Oliver turned on him savagely.

"Well! may be you want to take it up?"

The grin on Hill's face looked still more verdant, as he answered with
gentle deliberation:


Jack foamed, but his fiercest bluster could not drive that infantile
smile from Hill's face, nor provoke a change in the calm slowness of his

It was evident that nothing would do but a battle-royal, and Jack had
sense enough to see that the imperturbable rustic was likely to give him
a job of some difficulty. He went off and came back with his clan, while
Hill's comrades of the One Hundredth gathered around to insure him fair
play. Jack pulled off his coat and vest, rolled up his sleeves, and made
other elaborate preparations for the affray. Hill, without removing a
garment, said, as he surveyed him with a mocking smile:


Jack roared out,

"By ---, I'll make you partickeler before I get through with you. Now,
how shall we settle this? Regular stand-up-and knock-down, or rough and

If anything Hill's face was more vacantly serene, and his tones blander
than ever, as he answered:

"Strike--any--gait--that--suits--you,--Mister;--I guess--I--will--be

They closed. Hill feinted with his left, and as Jack uncovered to guard,
he caught him fairly on the lower left ribs, by a blow from his mighty
right fist, that sounded--as one of the by-standers expressed it--"like
striking a hollow log with a maul."

The color in Jack's face paled. He did not seem to understand how he had
laid himself open to such a pass, and made the same mistake, receiving
again a sounding blow in the short ribs. This taught him nothing,
either, for again he opened his guard in response to a feint, and again
caught a blow on his luckless left, ribs, that drove the blood from his
face and the breath from his body. He reeled back among his supporters
for an instant to breathe. Recovering his wind, be dashed at Hill
feinted strongly with his right, but delivered a terrible kick against
the lower part of the latter's abdomen. Both closed and fought savagely
at half-arm's length for an instant; during which Hill struck Jack so
fairly in the mouth as to break out three front teeth, which the latter
swallowed. Then they clenched and struggled to throw each other. Hill's
superior strength and skill crushed his opponent to the ground, and he
fell upon him. As they grappled there, one of Jack's followers sought to
aid his leader by catching Hill by the hair, intending to kick him in the
face. In an instant he was knocked down by a stalwart member of the One
Hundredth, and then literally lifted out of the ring by kicks.

Jack was soon so badly beaten as to be unable to cry "enough!" One of
his friends did that service for him, the fight ceased, and thenceforth
Mr. Oliver resigned his pugilistic crown, and retired to the shades of
private life. He died of scurvy and diarrhea, some months afterward, in

The almost hourly scenes of violence and crime that marked the days and
nights before the Regulators began operations were now succeeded by the
greatest order. The prison was freer from crime than the best governed
City. There were frequent squabbles and fights, of course, and many
petty larcenies. Rations of bread and of wood, articles of clothing,
and the wretched little cans and half canteens that formed our cooking
utensils, were still stolen, but all these were in a sneak-thief way.
There was an entire absence of the audacious open-day robbery and murder
--the "raiding" of the previous few weeks. The summary punishment
inflicted on the condemned was sufficient to cow even bolder men than the
Raiders, and they were frightened into at least quiescence.

Sergeant Hill's administration was vigorous, and secured the best
results. He became a judge of all infractions of morals and law, and sat
at the door of his tent to dispense justice to all comers, like the Cadi
of a Mahometan Village. His judicial methods and punishments also
reminded one strongly of the primitive judicature of Oriental lands.
The wronged one came before him and told his tale: he had his blouse, or
his quart cup, or his shoes, or his watch, or his money stolen during the
night. The suspected one was also summoned, confronted with his accuser,
and sharply interrogated. Hill would revolve the stories in his mind,
decide the innocence or guilt of the accused, and if he thought the
accusation sustained, order the culprit to punishment. He did not
imitate his Mussulman prototypes to the extent of bowstringing or
decapitating the condemned, nor did he cut any thief's hands off, nor yet
nail his ears to a doorpost, but he introduced a modification of the
bastinado that made those who were punished by it even wish they were
dead. The instrument used was what is called in the South a "shake"
--a split shingle, a yard or more long, and with one end whittled down to
form a handle. The culprit was made to bend down until he could catch
around his ankles with his hands. The part of the body thus brought into
most prominence was denuded of clothing and "spanked" from one to twenty
times, as Hill ordered, by the "shake" in same strong and willing hand.
It was very amusing--to the bystanders. The "spankee" never seemed to
enter very heartily into the mirth of the occasion. As a rule he slept
on his face for a week or so after, and took his meals standing.

The fear of the spanking, and Hill's skill in detecting the guilty ones,
had a very salutary effect upon the smaller criminals.

The Raiders who had been put into irons were very restive under the
infliction, and begged Hill daily to release them. They professed the
greatest penitence, and promised the most exemplary behavior for the
future. Hill refused to release them, declaring that they should wear
the irons until delivered up to our Government.

One of the Raiders--named Heffron--had, shortly after his arrest, turned
State's evidence, and given testimony that assisted materially in the
conviction of his companions. One morning, a week or so after the
hanging, his body was found lying among the other dead at the South Gate.
The impression made by the fingers of the hand that had strangled him,
were still plainly visible about the throat. There was no doubt as to
why he had been killed, or that the Raiders were his murderers, but the
actual perpetrators were never discovered.

John McElroy