The Huntsville Massacre

By Joy Russell
Madison County Genealogical & Historical Society

[published in the 01/31/08 edition of The Madison County Record]

One hundred and forty-five years ago, approximately 5000 Union soldiers were camped about a mile east of Huntsville in a field located on the Samuel P. Vaughn farm.  The Union troops, under the command of General Francis Herron, arrived here on January 7th, 1863, and remained until about January 18th, 1863. These Union soldier’s actions during this short period included pursuing bands of Confederate guerillas operating in this area and chasing groups of bushwhackers who were roaming the countryside.

On January 10th, 1863, nine men who were Southern sympathizers, were removed from the guardhouse in the predawn hours of a cold, icy morning and were taken to a field on the banks of Vaughn’s Branch where they were lined up and shot by members of Company G of the 8th Missouri Calvary commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Elias Briggs Baldwin.  Eight of the men died as a result of this execution and the ninth man survived but was shot in the back of the head with the bullet going through his head, knocking out a lot of his teeth.  He succeeded in crawling about a quarter of a mile to the nearby home of Mrs. Elizabeth Vaughn, where she nursed him for over a month and after his recovery he returned to Mississippi.  This man told the story of what had happened and who was responsible for it, as did Hugh Berry who survived for one day after being shot.

The events of the Huntsville Massacre weren’t talked about for years after it happened and weren’t even mentioned in Goodspeed’s 1889 History of Madison County, which recording all of the historical events of importance.  It wasn’t until an article telling about the murders appeared in the Northwest Arkansas Times in September 1974, entitled “The Gravestones Bear Witness” by John I. Smith, that people began to talk about what had happened and to do dig into the events leading up to it.  Why wasn’t it talked about, you may ask.  Madison County was split in its alligiance to the North and the South during The Civil War.  Neighbors fought against neighbors and men who had been friends became enemies.  Even members of the same family fought against each other. The murders of these eight men affected Madison County in an enormous way as you will see later.

Events Leading Up To the Massacre

Isaac Murphy and two of his daughters moved to Huntsville before the Civil War and in 1856, Isaac Murphy was elected to the State Senate.  In 1861 Murphy was elected to represent the people of Madison County as a Unionist delegate to the State Secession Convention to vote on the matter of the state’s secession from the Union.  Murphy voted “no” on secession and after two voting sessions, Murphy was the lone delegate in the entire state who voted “not in favor of Arkansas leaving the Union.”  Huntsville residents initially approved of his vote, however, as the Civil War went on, people turned against Murphy and he was threatened with bodily harm in Huntsville resulting in him leaving the area and taking a civilian position with the Union Army under General Samuel Curtis.  Colonel James M. Johnson and his brother, Frank Johnson, both from Madison County were also Union supporters and were at Pea Ridge with these same troops, along with another Madison County resident, E. D. Ham.

Murphy wanted his daughters to leave Huntsville but these plans failed to work out and they remained in Huntsville where they were constantly harassed by locals.  In the fall of 1862, just before the Battle of Prairie Grove, Murphy’s daughters visited him where he was stationed with the troops near Pea Ridge.  On November 16, 1862, the daughters were returned to Huntsville along with an escort of twenty-five Union soldiers for their protection.  Due to Confederate activity in Huntsville, the escort of soldiers stopped outside of Huntsville and the Murphy daughters continued home on their own.

The twenty-five Union soldiers who had escorted the girls were surprised by local guerillas just west of Huntsville on Holman Creek, and eighteen of them were killed in the skirmish.  The remaining seven soldiers returned to Pea Ridge and reported the events that had taken place.  These events angered the Union commanders, as well as Isaac Murphy, and were not soon to be forgotten.  After the Battle of Prairie Grove on 7 December 1862, the Union group under the command of General Herron was given orders to head east to the Mississippi River to join forces with General Grant in his push towards Vicksburg.

By heading east, these soldiers would go directly through Madison County, where there was knowledge of Confederate activity.  In addition, this provided an opportunity to follow up on the harassment of the Murphy girls and those who might have taken part in the slaughter of the Union soldiers who had escorted the girls to Huntsville.

Herron’s army along with Isaac Murphy arrived in Huntsville on January 7, 1863.  Within days, these Union troops rounded up citizens who were believed to be Southern sympathizers and held them in the guardhouse.  Before daylight on January 10th, 1863, Chesley H. Boatright; William Berry; Hugh Samuel Berry; John William Moody; Askin Hughes; John Hughes; Watson P. Stevens; Parson Robert Coleman Young; and another man believed to be John or Bill Parks, were taken out of the guardhouse and led to the encampment of the Union soldiers just outside of town where they were executed by being shot.  All of the men died with the exception of Mr. Parks, who was the man who crawled to the Vaughn house and recovered.  Within a few days of the execution, the Union troops left the area.  Five of the men killed were buried in local cemeteries by their families.  It is believed that the remaining three men were buried at the site of the execution, and for many years a wooden fence surrounded that area.  Each year the site would be decorated with wildflowers and mussel shells in honor of the men who died. 

What happened to the soldiers who shot the men?

Lieutenant Colonel Elias Briggs Baldwin, who was the commander of Company G, 8th Missouri Calvary, was charged with the violation of the Sixth Article of War, for the murders of prisoners of war before they had been tried, convicted and sentenced to death by legal authority of the United States.  Baldwin denied that he was responsible for the murders and the court tried to get the testimony of Isaac Murphy and General Herron, but they never showed up at the proceedings.  Charges against Baldwin were dropped and he received an honorable discharge on 24 June 1863.  The final result was that no one was ever punished for these crimes.

There was never any solid evidence that linked Isaac Murphy, Colonel James Johnson and E. D. Ham to this event, but many locals believed that they played a big part in the arrest and execution of those men who were shot.  Nothing was ever discovered as to the identity of those responsible for the deaths of the eighteen men of the Union escort.

How did the Massacre Affect Madison County?

Odeon Lodge No. 44, Free and Accepted Masons, was chartered in Huntsville in 1851.  There was only one college in the state and in December 1854, The Arkansas General Assembly approved a 100 year charter for the “Huntsville Masonic Institute” and gave it full authority to “confer such degrees in the Arts and Sciences as are usually conferred in the United States.”  Within three weeks, the “Pleasant View Female Seminary” was also approved, and all of the sudden Huntsville, Arkansas, was the home of two colleges.  Isaac Murphy and his daughters came to Huntsville to work at these two colleges.

Many men of the area were members of this lodge and ended up pledging their loyalties to different sides during the Civil War.  It is uncertain exactly what happened in Odeon Lodge after the War, but several men were tried for unMasonic conduct before the Lodge membership and expelled.  After this trial and expulsion of members, the Lodge rarely met, and in 1875, the Grand Master of Masons of Arkansas ordered the charter taken away and the doors of Odeon Lodge were closed.  When this happened the two colleges in Huntsville supported by the Lodge closed their doors forever.  It was determined later that the trial by the Lodge was not proper, and two years later a new charter was obtained under the name of Huntsville Lodge No. 364, which is still active today.

Kevin Hatfield states, “If this had not happened, I think there was a very good chance that those two colleges would still be in operation today.  Imagine how Huntsville would look and also Madison County, with two universities that were already several years older than the University of Arkansas.  Oh yes, Colonel James Johnson was the one who picked the site for the U of A in Fayetteville.  He was on their board of trustees and had we not hacked him off, he might have said, let’s put this U of A in Huntsville.  We might be calling the hogs here!!”    The Charter for the college was active for 100 years, so at any time up to 1954 a college could have been established in Huntsville.

Murphy went on to become the 8th Governor of Arkansas; he died on 8 September 1882, and is buried in Huntsville Cemetery.

The Huntsville Massacre Monument

A granite monument has been erected at the site of the Massacre by The Madison County Genealogical & Historical Society and Huntsville Lodge No. 364, Free and Accepted Masons.   A ceremony was held on 30 September 2006, to honor the men who died there, and to dedicate the monument.  Huntsville Lodge No. 364 conducted a ceremony for the men who were Masons.  Members of the First Arkansas Light Artillery, Sons of the Confederate Veterans, and Civil War re-enactors saluted the men with three volleys fired from muskets, while Confederate flags surrounded the monument and eight grapevine wreaths, each bearing the name of a man who died here, stood along the banks of Vaughn Branch.  Luella Wood, a local re-enactor dressed in a hoop-skirted mourning outfit, read a poem by Civil War-era poet, Henry Timrod.  The monument is located on private property and is not accessible by the public.

Photos - Dedication of the Monument on 30 September 2006
(Click on photo for larger image)

Monument Monument reads:  “Location of The Huntsville Massacre on 10 January 1863.  In Memory of the brave men of Huntsville and Madison County, who were executed at this location by Union soldiers.  This monument erected Summer 2005 by The Madison County Genealogical & Historical Society and Huntsville Lodge #364, Free and Accepted Masons.”   This monument is located on private property and cannot be visited without prior permission.

Monument marking the site of The Huntsville Massacre, surrounded by Confederate flags and eight grapevine wreaths bearing the names of the eight men who died here on 10 January 1863.  Justin Phillips, a descendant of the Vaughn family who owned the farm at the time of the Massacre, played “Amazing Grace” on his bagpipes at the dedication ceremony.  He can be seen in the background. 

Monument3 Monument marking the site of The Huntsville Massacre, surrounded by Confederate flags and eight grapevine wreaths bearing the names of the eight men who died here on 10 January 1863.  Doug Dobbyn, member of Huntsville Masonic Lodge No. 364, is shown conducting the memorial ceremony honoring the men who were Masons.
Monument4 Cassie Boehm and Shane Crusha place mussel shells and wildflowers at the base of the monument honoring the men who died in the Huntsville Massacre, while Confederate flags and grapevine wreaths bearing the names of the deceased, surround the monument in the background.  The symbolic lambskin apron and sprig of evergreen placed on the monument to honor the Masonic brothers, can be seen on top of the monument.
Monument5 Cassie Boehm and Shane Crusha place mussel shells and wildflowers at the base of the monument following the tradition of honoring the men who died here, as Luella Woods looks on.
Monument5 Members of the First Arkansas Light Artillery, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and other local Civil War re-enactors, fire three volleys of shots from muskets at the dedication in a tribute to the men who died here.

This is just a synopsis of the more detailed information that is available about this event. The Madison County Genealogical & Historical Society has published a 40 page book entitled “The Huntsville Massacre”, which includes all of the detailed information about the Massacre, as well as color photos of the monument and the dedication ceremony.  The Historical Society is located in the old public library building in the Huntsville Community Center, and we invite you to stop by and take a look at this book and the many others that we have on the history of Madison County.

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