Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Murder Of Ben A. Berry, 1864.

The following story is true and was put together from four reports of October 24 & 26, and November 11, & 12, 1864, these reports were taken from the Official Records of the Rebellion.

It was November, 1864, and Thomas Berry had just finish a letter telling him his brother had been killed at the prison at Helena Ark. Thomas just couldn’t believe it, not after all Ben had been through. Ben had been a member of Colonel Neely's regiment, he had been captured at Abbeville, some eighteen months ago, was taken North, and after some months was released from prison upon a sick parole. He was later taken to Vicksburg to be exchanged, but while going down the Mississippi River he jumped overboard and made his escape. Ben’s health being very bad, he made his way to our father's, in Crittenden County, Ark. On the 3rd of this month he was arrested while sick in bed, and taken to Helena.

While Ben was going from the boat to the prison the lieutenant in charge of the guard accused him of belonging to Colonel Dobbin's regiment; Ben said he did not. The lieutenant then said, "Do you dispute my word?" Ben replied, "I dispute any one's word who says that I belong to Colonel Dobbin's regiment." Then the cowardly lieutenant took a gun from one of the guard and struck at ben several times with the bayonet. Ben stood up, and when he did the lieutenant fired upon him, shooting Ben through the breast, killing him instantly.

Thomas Quarles, John Smith, and Arthur Thompson, also one Tannehill, were prisoners along with Ben and witnessed the whole affair, This occurred on the 7th [4th] of this month. The Federal lieutenant says his justification was that Ben was running from him, trying to make his escape. The witnesses said this occurred in open daylight in the streets of Helena, and he was surrounded by Federal soldiers, and no sane man under the circumstances would have attempted an escape. The witnesses all stated that the ball entered his breast, showing that he had his face to the Lieutenant and was not running at the time he was shot. In light of what Thomas knew and read the evidence shows this was nothing less the murder,

Thomas took pen in hand and wrote to Major General N. B. Forrest, at Austin Mississippi, asking for a investigation into the death of his brother. The letter reached General Forrest while in the field who in turn sent a report to Major General C. C. Washburn, commanding U. S. forces at Memphis, with the request that he will cause this affair to be thoroughly investigated, and if the officer be guilty of the murder, as within alleged, that he be punished accordingly.

General Washburn wrote to General N. B. Buford who was at the Headquarters for the Eastern District of Arkansas, which was at Helena Arkansas. Buford made his investigation in his finish report it was stated:

That at the time of the shooting of Ben. A. Berry, a prisoner of war, the fact was reported to me a few minutes after it occurred, and I caused an immediate investigation to be made. The facts were, that three prisoners of war, of whom Berry was one, were delivered to the provost marshal on the 4th of October last, and were sent by him to the military prison in charge of the privates of the guard. As they were on their way two of the prisoners were allowed to stop at a store to purchase some necessary articles. Berry passed on in charge of one only of the guard, Private Allen Robertson, Company F, Thirty-third Missouri Volunteers. The time was about sunset. When within about 200 yards of the prison, on the corduroy road, which is elevated about four feet above the land adjoining, Berry started to run.

The guard instantly leveled his gun and shot him. At the instant he was turning round, and seeing the gun pointed at him, exclaimed, "For God's sake don't shoot me." The fire and exclamation were about simultaneous. The guard is a good soldier, only nineteen years old. Had he not shot the prisoner would have escaped. No altercation occurred. Captain Edwin Bancroft, Battery E, Second U. S. Colored Artillery, was on the spot in one minute after it occurred. Berry was running so fast that his hat fell off twenty feet from the place where his body lay. Berry had escaped twice before, but not as related in this letter. I append below the certificates of two of the citizens referred to. The other two are prisoners of war; they did not witness the affair.

There was a follow up to this report by Arthur Thompson and John C. O. Smith, Helena Arkansas who stated, We certify that we have given no one the information upon which Thomas Berry could base the statements contained in his letter above in reference to the death of his brother, neither have we any evidence that the statements are true.

Thomas had read all the reports of his brothers death and even thought they called it a justified shooting in his heart he knew it was murder.

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