Each week I present an actual event in the lives of those who resided in or came to Franklin, Tennessee during the Civil War. The region serves as a microcosm of the nation (as well as the focus of my dissertation), and these events ask of you – what would you have done in their place?…
This week you are Col. John Baird, Union commander at Fort Granger in Franklin, Tennessee. It is the night of June 8th, 1863. There has been heavy fighting recently, including an attack your fort by Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry.
This evening, two men in Federal uniform show up with signed passes from Gen. James Garfield. You ask their identity and allow them to inspect the fort. You also invite them to stay the night, which they decline. As they ride on, you wonder if you should have vetted them further. You call them back to the fort and telegraph your commander, Maj. Gen William Rosecrans, for clarification.
Meanwhile, the two men admit they are one Lt. Walter Peter, aged 22, and Col. Lawrence Orton age 26, both of the Confederate Army, and they claim to have entered the fort on a bet.
The telegraph comes back from Rosecrans. He has no idea who they are. Try them as spies. If they are guilty, execute them in the morning. What do you do?
What did Col. Baird do? Reluctantly, Baird followed orders. The young men were hanged the following morning, with nearly the entire Union garrison standing at attention. And although hundreds of Union and Confederate soldiers had died in and around Franklin before this incident, the sadness of the execution moved many in the garrison to tears, and the event was reported in newspapers across the country.