From the Richmond Dispatch, 9/8/1895, p. 10, c. 1

Louis Napoleon’s Was the Initial Execution During the Late War.
How His Confederate, George Elam, Escaped – The Latter’s Shameful Treatment of Pretty Charlotte Gilman – A Mother’s Devotion.

Early in the war the Confederate States Congress passed a law which prescribed that any person found guilty of counterfeiting Confederate States Treasury notes should be punished by hanging. It was ascertained that a good deal of counterfeiting had been done, and the detective forces were on the alert to find the guilty parties. Many persons were arrested, charged with the offence, but upon examination it was found that the evidence against them was not sufficient to sustain the charge, and they were released. But in the spring of 1862 John Richardson alias Louis Napoleon and George Elam, both of Richmond, were arrested and confined in Castle Godwin, charged with the offence of counterfeiting Confederate Treasury notes. (Castle Godwin was the first military prison established in the city, and it was situated in the valley just below the Exchange Hotel, and was the building previously used by Mr. Lumpkin for the keeping and retention of negro slaves whom he held for sale. It was well known as “Lumpkin’s jail.”)


Napoleon was carried before Confederate States Commissioner William F. Watson, who held a preliminary examination, and having found sufficient evidence to induce him to believe that there was probable cause of guilt, sent the accused on to be indicted in the Confederate States District Court. William F. Watson was a whole-souled, genial son of old Erin, beloved by everybody for his companionable qualities, a good lawyer, and the law partner of Robert W. Hughes, still surviving as an eminent judge of the United States District Court in this city.

The District Court of the Confederacy was presided over by Judge William D. Halyburton, an honest man and a good lawyer. Patrick Henry Aylett, the versatile genius, the accomplished writer, and the skillful lawyer, was the District-Attorney, and John Harmer Gilmer, Esq., was Napoleon’s counsel.


Napoleon was indicted before the court for counterfeiting Confederate notes, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged by the neck until he was dead. His execution was postponed for some months, in order that other parties, who were implicated with him, might be tried, the witnesses in these cases not having then been found. Finally, on the 21st day of August, 1862, he was executed. His was the first execution directed by the District Court for the violation of laws of the Congress of the Confederate States.

Napoleon, after his conviction, had been sent to Danville, to be confined in jail there for safe-keeping. On the 20th he was brought back to Richmond and put in the city jail. He told Henry Myers, the Deputy Confederate States Marshal under Colonel Wiley (the marshal who superintended his execution), that it had been his intention, as he came from Danville on the cars, to have killed his custodians and make his escape; but he was so closely watched that he had no opportunity to do so. From an early hour on the 21st Rev. Father Baratta was with Napoleon at the jail, administering to him the consolations of religion.

At fifteen minutes to 11 o’clock the jail doors were opened and the prisoner appeared, looking calm and self-possessed. He took off his hat and bowed to the large crowd which was before him, previously to being seated upon his coffin, which was in an ordinary furniture-wagon on the street. A detachment of Colonel Wyate M. Elliott’s City Battalion, under command of Lieutenant Johnson, formed a hollow square around the vehicle, and escorted the prisoner up Valley street to the place of execution, which was situated to the east of the almshouse, near the spot where, in 1832, Reed and Clements (convicted of piracy), and afterwards John and James Williams (convicted of the murder of Mrs. Winston and her child), were hanged. Napoleon and the soldiers were followed by about one thousand persons, among whom were any women.


After arriving at the scaffold the condemned man, with Deputy-Marshal Myers and Father Baratta, ascended the platform, and stood upon the drop. Over one half an hour was spent by the prisoner in conference with his spiritual adviser, during which time he confessed the crime of which he had been convicted. Five minutes before 12 o’clock the black cap was drawn over his head, and at 12 precisely the drop fell, and Napoleon was soon a mass of inanimate clay, dangling between Heaven and earth. He fell about four feet – a distance sufficient to have broken his neck; and but few twitching were observable after the fall. His body was then lowered, and, the rope being carefully removed, his corpse was put in the coffin.

He was about 30 years of age, and made his living by peddling fruit around the city. It is just to state that my memory of the scene about which I am writing has been refreshed by a recent inspection of the contemporaneous accounts of it published in the newspapers of that period, and it is, therefore, quite accurate and vivid. Napoleon stated, in his confession that George Elam and himself went to the lithographic establishment of Hoyer and Ludwig, who were employed by the government to engrave the notes. Elam broke open the door, and they found on the table in the room eight sheets of $10 notes, already printed. They then put the $100 plate upon the form, and struck off $800 for each of them. They then left, and went to a house near Mayo’s bridge, and the proprietor gave them a good note from which they counterfeited the signatures on those which they had. Elam, being a good writer, it was said, did the counterfeiting. Napoleon passed a good deal of the money, and had often gone into stores and suggested that, perhaps, his notes might be bad, but parties always took them.


George Elam was also arraigned for trial, but his trial was postponed until the next term of the court, and he was remanded to the city jail for safe-keeping until it could come off and until absent witnesses could be found. Judge William W. Crump, the last and sole survivor of the distinguished criminal lawyers who practiced their profession in Richmond between 1840 and 1860, and the peer of the best of them, was his counsel. He moved the court to quash the indictment against Elam upon the ground that it was insufficient and not properly drawn, and the Court sustained his motion. Charlotte Gilman was an important witness against Elam. He was her lover, and, woman-like, she determined not to appear as a witness against him, and she fled from the city; but several months after she was arrested in Memphis, Tenn., brought back to Richmond, and was confined in Castle Thunder, to be ready to be used as a witness on Elam’s trial. But his trial never came off, for he broke jail and escaped and was never heard of afterwards during the war. Notwithstanding, in the hope that he might be recaptured, Charlotte Gilman was held in prison for nearly two years before she was released. Whose fault this was I am not able to say. Frequent efforts for her release were made to General Winder, the military commander of Richmond, who referred the parties to the District-Court Judge, who in turn referred them back to the General. Finally Charlotte was discharged by the General on the order of the District Court. Charlotte was a good-looking girl, about 18 years of age, and while in prison behaved herself with propriety. She was frequently visited by her poor old mother, who brought whatever she could to make her daughter more comfortable. I often thought when I saw the mother, sad and broken-hearted, visiting her daughter, under the circumstances by which she was surrounded, what a striking illustration it was of the strength of a mother’s love. Though all the world had forsaken the daughter, though she was imprisoned and disgraced, yet with a mother’s love, unfathomable and all-bounding, she did not forsake her child, but took her to her bosom and administered the consolations of her affection and forgiveness. Elam courted and gained the affection and love of Charlotte when she was but 16 years of age. He persuaded her to run away with him to Weldon N. C., to be married, but after arriving there he failed to comply with his promise of marriage and left her.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            R. D. W.

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