Monday, August 24, 2009

A Prison Mutiny At Cahaba Ala.

Cahaba, Ala., January 23, 1865.
General J. D. IMBODEN, August, Ga.:

GENERAL: On the morning of Friday, January 20, there was a mutiny in the Federal prison under my command. The prisoners simultaneously rushed upon the interior guards, disarmed and captured them. They then placed them under guard in the water - closets. Two sentinels posted at the entrance of the main prison from the stockade succeeded in making their escape and in giving the alarm to the sentries on the ramparts and the reserve guard. A courier was dispatches to the commanding officer of the troops at the post, who promptly ordered out the battalion under arms. A piece of artillery was brought to bear upon the prisoners, and all was very soon quieted down and inquest made for the ringleaders. I issued an order stopping the rations of the prisoners until the ringleaders were announced.

This had the effect of securing five witnesses, whose testimony in the main is concurrent, and led to the detection and arrest of those most prominent in the affair. The man with whom the scheme originated was one George Schellar, alias *Captain Hanchett and Robert Cox. This Schellar was captured by General Forrest near Nashville, Tenn., December 3, 1864. He was disguised as a citizen and was so registered and imprisoned by the provost - marshal - general of the Army of Tennessee, and at every post where it became necessary in his transit to this place. You will see by his confession that he declares his object to have been to be speedily sent through the lines. The most probable conjecture is that he dressed himself as a citizen and put himself in position to be captured, for the purpose of obtaining information of the strength and movements of the Confederate forces.

After the defeat of the mutiny I made a demand upon his company in the prison for him, but could get no satisfaction. I then stationed his messmates along a line and passed all the prisoners, requiring them to identify and point him out as he passed. I did not succeed. I then took the prisoners that I had arrested and placed them on my right. Among these was one of the informers who knew him. I instructed him to put his foot upon mine as he approached. I then again passed the prisoners through a guard at open ranks, and by the strategy indicated above I succeeded in arresting him. He was very much excited, and when I addressed him by his alias he confessed that he was not George Schellar, but *Captain Hanchett, of Company M, Sixteenth Illinois Cavalry, and at the time of his capture acting assistant adjutant - general on Colonel Capron's staff, commanding a brigade.

The prisoners has shaved off his moustache and whiskers, changed his clothes, and otherwise tried to disguise himself. This he did to avoid detection. The investigation was conducted by several officers and myself before the commandant of the post, and from the testimony and his own confession, &c., in undoubtedly the ringleader of the mutiny and a most unmitigated scoundrel. All of us who were present at this investigation are thoroughly convicted, not only of his guilty leadership in this mutiny, but that he is an exceedingly dangerous and bad man. The colonel commanding post is thoroughly of the opinion that hiss mission among us was that of a spy. Hence he was securely ironed and with seven of hiss confederates confined in a dungeon in the county jail.

By reading the in closed transcript of the testimony elicited in the investigation you will be able to form a pretty correct opinion of the history of this transaction and the degree of guilt which attaches to each particular individual under arrest. During the excitement not a single prisoner effected his escape.

The question which I desire answered is: What course is it proper to pursue with the chiefs of this mutiny and those who were leagued with them? Having no statute, regulation, or precedent to govern us, we are at a loss to know what courses to adopt, and I most respectfully ask the instructions of the general commanding.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Captain, Commanding.

* Hiram s. Hanchett, Rank CPT., Company M. Unit 16 IL. US CAV. Residence WOODSTOCK, MCHENRY CO, IL., Age 37, Height 5' 7 ½, Hair DARK, Eyes DARK, Complexion FAIR, Marital Status MARRIED, Occupation LAWYER, Nativity CANADA, Joined When NOV 4, 1862 Joined Where WOODSTOCK, IL., for 3 years, Muster In MAY 19, 1863, Muster In Where CAMP BUTLER, IL. Remarks COMMISSIONED MAJOR NOT MUSTERED CAPTURED NOV 22, 1864 NEAR HENRYVILLE TENN., STILL A PRISONER OF WAR

POST OF CAHABA, ALA., January 25, 1865.
Respectfully forwarded for the information of and orders from the brigadier - general commanding the prison department.

I am fully convinced that Captain Hanchett, alias Schellar, is a spy and a dangerous man and deserves a spy's fate.

Lieutenant - Colonel, Commanding Post.


Evidence elicited at the headquarters of the post concerning the mutiny in Federal prison, Cahaba, Ala., January 20, between the hours [of] 3 and 4 a. m.

Arrest - *George Schellar, alias Captain Hanchett, called. Wad told by commandant that he would not be required to give evidence against himself, but that if he had any voluntary statement to make to proceed. Said he is captain of Company M, Sixteenth Illinois Cavalry. At time captured was acting assistant adjutant - general Colonel Capron's staff, commanding brigade. The inducement for him to pass himself as a citizen was that Colonel Kofer said that the citizens would be passed through the lines immediately. Was not the instigator of the mutiny, but took part in it.

Arrest - Private Robert Cox, Company G, One hundred and fifteenth Ohio, called. Does not know anything about the mutiny. Heard a noise and got up and walked toward the front entrance, and Captain Hanchett grabbed him by the arm, handed him a musket, and told him to take it, which he did, and set it down about two paces from the place where he received it. Captain Hanchett continued to run to and for from the entrance of the prison, calling for 100 men, and when he failed to get them ordered everybody to their bunks. Does not know how many were engaged in the mutiny. Heard the men speaking of the attempt to break out one week before, but does not remember any names. He recognized Captain Hanchett as the man who placed the musket in his hands.

Witness - *Francis M. Prim, M, Nineteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, called. Recognized Robert Cox, One hundred and fifteenth Ohio, as one of three men who charged up to the entrance with a musket in his hand. When they charged the guard they ran. Recognized Captain Hanchett as the man who ran over him in returning from the main entrance to the middle of the prison, as also he who called for 100 men.

*Francis M. Primrm, Private, mustered in August 9, 1863, Company M, Nineteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, Prisoner from November 23, 1864, to April 4, 1865; discharged by General Order, June 24, 1865

Arrest - Private John W. Lightbody, Company D, Eighteenth Ohio infantry, called. Knew nothing about the mutiny until the alarm was given. When he got up saw three muskets lying between the bunks as the entrance. Knew nothing about the plan to capture the guards. Knows nothing about Captain Hanchett. Heard men crying out "the guard has been captured," and "get up." Captain Hanchett had on citizens' clothes and wore a heavy beard.

Witness - *Private George [W.] Salter, D, Third Iowa Cavalry, called. Recognizes Captain Hanchett and Private Cox and being the two men who charged the guard at the entrance with muskets. Mentions that John W. Lightbody, Eighteenth Ohio, told him the evening before the mutiny that it was the purpose of the prisoners to break out that night. Recognize Lightbody as the man who was busily engaged in the middle of the prison when 100 men were called for. Heard him say, "Come on, boys," and when they did not respond Captain Hanchett said, "Let them go; they are a damned set of cowards."

*Salter, George W. Age 19. Residence Van Buren County. Enlisted Feb. 22, 1864. Mustered March 16, 1864. Mustered out Aug. 9, 1865, Atlanta, Ga.

Witness - Citizen Jacob E. Lachler, passenger on steamer Prairie State, citizen of Pennsylvania, called. Belongs to same mess as Captain Hanchett. Knew nothing of mutiny until he heard a guard hallo. Captain Hanchett represented himself as a citizen. Did not tell him mess of the intended mutiny.

Citizen E. McCullough, pilot steamer Prairie State, plying between Nashville and Saint Louis, stated substantially the same as Lachler.

Witness - Citizen E. Baker, New York captured on the turnpike, five miles from Nashville, called. In Government employ. First he knew of the disturbance was that he heard some one hallooing. Captain Hanchett mess with him, but did not inform the mess of the mutiny. It was the prevalent opinion among the prisoners that Captain H. was the instigator of the plot. Recognizes Hanchett ass the man who went into the prison under the name of George Schellar. Recognizes Hanchett and Schellar as identical.

Arrest - *George W. Riley, corporal, Twenty-seventh Illinois Infantry, called. Knows nothing at all about the mutiny.

* George W. Riley, enlisted as a private, Company I Unit 27 IL US INF
Residence NEPONSET, BUREAU CO, IL., Age 20, Height 5' 9, Hair DARK, Eyes HAZEL, Complexion DARK, Occupation FARMER, Nativity PA., Joined When JAN 1, 1864, Joined Where BLAINS X ROADS, TN., Period 3 YRS. Muster In FEB 12, 1864, Muster In Where CHATTANOOGA, TN. Remarks VETERAN TRANS TO CO E 9 ILL INF (AS CONSOLIDATED) APR 10, 1865.

Arrest - Private Godfrey Hammarberg, H, Ninth Minnesota Infantry, called. Told George Salter, D, Third Iowa Cavalry, that George Riley, told him that a certain whistle would blow, and if he heard another whistle he must get up and give held. Then asked him if they thought they could get out of prison. Replied, "did not think they could;" "have seen so many trials made at is." Recognizes G. W. Riley, corporal, Twenty - seventh Illinois, as the man who told him about the whistle. Says he did not hear the second whistle. Did not see Riley during the disturbance. First he knew of the riot was when the Confederate officer came in the prison and demanded the muskets of the prisoners. Heard that there was a captain of the U. S. Army who was "playing off citizen" in prison. Heard some one call for 100 men a short time before the Confederate officer came into the prison, and as he entered he heard some one say "Lay down."

Witness - Private *George W. Sherman, Fourth Michigan Cavalry, called. Says a man by the name of Becker he saw running through the prison calling for 100 men. Saw James Morrison running through prison with a gun. George Hoff, one of the instigators.

*George W. Sherman, Home Farmington, Michigan, enlistment age 21.

Arrest - Private Thompson Hanson, E, Ninth Ohio Cavalry, called, Knew nothing about the plot of the prisoners to get out.

Arrest - Martin A. Becker, Company D, Thirteenth Wisconsin Infantry, cook for sick in prison, called. Said: Didn't get out of my bunk night of riot but once, and that to go to spring. About half - past 4 a. m. was aroused by a noise in the middle of prison, when I raised up in my bunk and was four or five men holding a man, whom they said had been stealing blankets. I immediately afterward heard a man call for 100 men, and say, "The guards are captured." Soon after I heard a man say, "Lay down." I deny that I an one of those called for 100 men. It was the prevailing opinion in the prison that Captain Hanchett was one of the leaders in the disturbance.

Arrest - James Morrison, Company G, Nineteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, cook for sick in prison, called. First he knew of the disturbance was when the men were ordered back by a Confederate officer. Then said: The first I heard of the disturbance was some one calling out, "He will never steal another blanket." Shortly afterward I saw several men running through the prison with guns, and heard one of them crying out for 100 men.

Arrest - *Osmond F. Foster, I, Seventh Pennsylvania Cavalry, called, said:
Did not get off my bunk the night of the disturbance. First I knew of it heard some one say something about stealing a blanket. Captain Hanchett, under his assumed name of George Schellar, was introduced to me on hiss arrival at prison, and was represented to be steward on a steam - boat; shortly after heard he was a captain in the U. S. Army. Never told any person that Becker was the leader of a previous plan in which 200 men were enlisted, but which was not executed, nor that he not under arrest. Knew nothing about the mutiny beforehand. It was the prevailing opinion of the prisoners that Captain Hanchett was the leader of the mutiny. Recognize him as one of the me now under arrest. Heard since the riot that about twenty or twenty-five were engaged in it. Do not know the intention of the men in case they succeeded. Was not a participant, and knew nothing of it before it occurred.

*Osmond F. Foster, Private, Mustered in August 18, 1863, Prisoner from October 1, 1864, to May 20, 1865; discharged June 27, 1865.

Arrest - *George H. Hoff, F, One hundred and fourteenth Illinois Infantry:

Knew nothing of the riot until I saw a piece of artillery in the door of the prison and bearing upon my bunk, when I got down and went inside the main bunk-room. The first I knew of the riot was i heard some one cry, "Steal another blanket, will you?" Also one calling out for 100 men. I raised up from my bunk and saw a Confederate officer standing in the door with a piece of artillery, and demanding the muskets taken from the guard. I then got down from my bunk and went to another part of the prison on which the cannon was not bearing. I thought the plot to get out a very foolish one. I could not myself have escaped, as I was wounded.

*George H. Hoff, Rank PVT., Company F., Unit 114 IL. US INF., Residence TALLULA, MENARD CO, IL., Age 19, Height 6' Hair DARK, Eyes GRAY, Complexion DARK, Marital Status SINGLE, Occupation BLACKSMITH, Nativity TRENTON, MERCER CO, N. J., Joined When AUG 11, 1862, Joined Where TALLULA, IL., Period 3 YRS., Muster In SEP 18, 1862, Muster In Where SPRINGFIELD, IL., Muster Out AUG 10, 1865, Muster Out Where SPRINGFIELD, IL., Remarks CAPTURED AT GUNTOWN MISS JUN 10, 1864.

Doctor Whitfield, surgeon of the prison, was here called in to examine the prisoners, to see if he was physically disabled to make a march, and testified that he is capable of making a march any distance and "not at all incapacitated from his wound."
Prisoners recalled: I did not know a single man engaged in the plot, but said that I would remain in prison 122 days before I would inform on the mutineers, if I knew.

Arrest - *Patrick Ponsonby, G, Thirteenth Illinois Infantry: About 8 o'clock the night of the riot I was sitting on my bunk when one of the men came to me and asked if I knew anything about the break they intended to make that night. I told him that I did not, and that it would be very foolish as I once broke out of prison at Meridian and afterward gave myself up, knowing I could not make our lines. Miller was the name of the man who asked me if I knew anything about the plot. The next morning I was awakened by men crying out "He will not steal another blanket." Shortly after I heard some one calling for 100 men. So far as I could see there was no responses to the call, but many of the prisoners cried out, "Lay down." About ten minutes afterward a Confederate officer came to the door of the prison with a cannon and demanded of the prisoners the guns. Was told that Captain Hanchett came into the prison as a citizens, but heard that after the riot he changed his citizens' clothes said that he was a captain in the U. S. Army. It was the prevailing opinion of the prisoners that Captain Hanchett was a captain in the U. S. Army and that he was the instigator of the mutiny.

*Patrick Ponsonby, Rank PVT., Company G. Unit 13 IL., US INF., Residence ST CHARLES, KANE CO, IL., Age 22, Height 6' ½, Hair LIGHT, Eyes LIGHT, Complexion LIGHT, Marital Status SINGLE, Occupation COOPER, Nativity LIMERICK, LIMERICK, IRELAND. Joined When JUN 6, 1861, Joined Where DIXON, IL., Period 3 YRS, Muster In JUN 6, 1861, Muster In Where DIXON, IL., Muster Out JUN 2, 1865, Muster Out Where SPRINGFIELD, IL., Remarks CAPTURED AT MADISON ALA 17 MAY 1864.

Witness - George Stoneman, recalled: I know Martin A. Becker; saw him running about the prison and calling for 100 men; attention drawn to him by his cries for men. This was after it had been announced that the guards had been captured. Becker said, "The guards have all been mugged - and my God, boys, ain't you going to stand by me?" (Identified Becker under arrest as the man.) Prisoner said, "Lay down; did you never see a crazy man?" and did not manifest a disposition to join him. Becker went to the back part of the prison and I saw no more of him. Thompson Hanson told me that Becker was one of the instigators of the mutiny. I was informed that only twenty men attacked the guards and that they depended on other joining the. I know James Morrison; I saw him before the men were ordered back by Confederate officers, running from the front entrance with a gun. This was before 100 men were called for. Shortly after leaving the entrance two men turned off to the right and went down the dead-line, and Morrison moved in the direction of the privy. This the last I saw of him. I know Osmond F. Foster; did not see him the night of the disturbance; I saw him after and he told me that "we got up a plan before in which a large number were engaged, and before the time occurred some one turned traitor and the scheme was abandoned. This time we thought it best to have only twenty." Foster admitted to me that he was a participator. I know George H. Hoff. Did not see him on the night of the riot; he told me the next morning that there was a major - general in there who got up the mutiny. Said he knew who the mutineers were, but that he would stay in prison 122 days and fast before he would give any information. Did not say that he had anything to do with it. I know Patrick Ponsonby; was sitting on a bunk with Thompson Hanson and Posnonby passed; Hanson pointed to him and remarked, "There is a man who was engaged in the mutiny."

Captain, Commanding Prison.

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