Murder in Fredericksburg: Suspects and Scapegoats (Part 2)

From Beth Parnicza:

This post is the second in a series on the murder of a Fredericksburg shopkeeper’s brother in May 1865, as the Army of the Potomac’s Sixth Army Corps passed through Fredericksburg on their way home from war. Part one can be found here.

What happened to the Miller brothers after they left Charles’ shop? Officials in the Army of the Potomac called a court martial as soon as they identified the four soldiers who had entered the shop. Charles’ testimony on May 31, 1865, shed some light on the situation:

“The one who called for the cherries and one of the last three which came in and walked out there & crossed the street myself and my brother walked out and went down [the] street on the same side where I lived. While we were walking down the street the two which I saw cross the street recrossed the street. I heard nothing of them except that when we were near the middle of the graveyard on the street they came close to us, about 5 or 6 feet of us nearly as I can guess and one of them said ‘Tap’ so much as I could understand. At the same time as soon as they said that word there was two bricks thrown at myself and my brother, my brother was knocked down at once, and one brick struck me very slight on my elbow. I then jumped to the left hand side out into the road trying to escape. Two more bricks were thrown after me but did not strike me. I hallowed once ‘Guard’ to try to stop them from following me up.”

After this harrowing experience, Charles made it to the headquarters of Col. Sumner, and they attempted to find the men responsible but were unsuccessful.

Detailed map showing the Miller brothers proceeding down Commerce Street toward the river, with the Union soldiers first crossing to the corner opposite Miller's store, then proceeding down Commerce Street and attacking the brothers.

Detail of the movements of each group, according to Charles Miller, August Ebert, and Louis Kruger, with some corroboration by the Union soldiers on trial. Green lines and text indicate movements of the Miller brothers heading down Commerce Street toward downtown and the Rappahannock River, and blue lines show the movements of at least two of the soldiers. It should be noted that the exchange may have taken place some feet further down Commerce Street, as there were two cemeteries along their route. Base map: Virtual Fredericksburg

Charles returned to the shop to find his brother grievously wounded in the head, retrieved by Mr. Louis Kruger, Mr. August Ebert, and the young boy who had been sitting outside the shop. After his brother passed away between 1 and 2 in the morning, it became imperative to find the soldiers who had, intentionally or unintentionally, killed an innocent citizen.

Based on descriptions given, Lieutenant A. H. Russell of the 19th Wisconsin, in charge of the Provost Guard, arrested four men: James Lynch, Co. A, 61st Pennsylvania Infantry; Amos Fielding, Co. C, 61st Pennsylvania Infantry; John Wilson, Co. G, 67th Pennsylvania Infantry; and William Irvin, Co. D, 67th Pennsylvania Infantry. All of these men were soldiers from the Army of the Potomac’s Sixth Corps, passing through Fredericksburg on their way north to be discharged from duty as the war drew to a close.

Louis Kruger had verified their identities based on Amos Fielding wearing a white handkerchief, and he recollected William Irvin by his teeth. Further identification was rendered unnecessary by the testimony of the first accused, James Lynch, who identified all four of them as having been in Miller’s store the night of the incident.

James Lynch was a Philadelphia native who had been wounded in the right hand at the Battle of the Wilderness and had left the hospital to visit home during his recovery, where he was arrested for desertion. Lynch could not sign his own name, but made his mark on all of his documentation.

"x" mark made on James Lynch's enlistment papers

James Lynch’s mark on his enlistment papers

Of the other three he confirmed were with him on the evening of May 25, John Wilson was a 22-year-old laborer, born in Ireland and serving as a substitute for Thomas Farney, who had been drafted. Wilson had enlisted in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Amos Fielding was 23 years old, with dark hair, gray eyes, and a light complexion. Fielding had enlisted in Pittsburgh and was wounded on May 31, 1862 at Fair Oaks, and deserted the army on May 4, 1864 on the army’s march to Ely’s Ford at the beginning of the Overland Campaign. Fielding was caught in Pittsburgh and returned to the army. He also had hired an African American camp servant and cook named Doctor Galland.

Document titled "Declaration of Recruit" featuring the signature of Amos Fielding and two witnesses.

Amos Fielding’s signature volunteering him for three years’ service in the army at age 21, on December 20, 1863.

According to Lynch’s detailed testimony, William Irvin and John Wilson were the first to enter the store, and Wilson intended to treat them all. Wilson had called for all of the articles. Earlier, Irvin had treated Fielding to a fresh, white handkerchief, and Wilson wore a clean one to match.

Lynch was the first one to leave, with Amos Fielding right behind. Lynch claimed they crossed two streets and stood on a corner.

Soon, they saw Irvin, Wilson, and “one Citizen” coming out of the store, who crossed the street and continued down toward the river. Wilson came back to pick up a brick, chased after the citizen, and threw the brick, striking the man down. Lynch said he heard Wilson say something to the effect that “he stopped that man from following him.”

When Wilson took the stand, he claimed that he could not remember many of the details of that night, but there was no disturbance, nor did he hear any dispute about payment for the articles ordered and consumed.

Throughout the court martial, several witnesses were asked if they noticed that members of the party had exchanged hats or caps. While Lynch claimed that he thought Irvin wore Fielding’s hat the next morning, Wilson said he had not changed hats, and nor did anyone else.

While the picture James Lynch painted was clearer and pinned the blame largely on the shoulders of one of the party, it was not the full story. Wilson’s vague testimony did little to refute the charges that now appeared strongly against him. The verdict hinged on testimony from one of the least likely sources.

Beth Parnicza

Sources: Compiled Service Record, Private James Lynch, 61st Pennsylvania Infantry; Compiled Service Record, Private John Wilson, 67th Pennsylvania Infantry; Compiled Service Record, Private Amos Fielding, 67th Pennsylvania Infantry; Court Martial for William Irvin, John Wilson, and Amos Fielding, May 28, 1865, NARA File #mm-3131; Court Martial for James Lynch and John Wilson, NARA File: oo-926


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