MANUSCRIPT PETITION IN REGARD TO CAPT. F.B. GURLEY - 4TH ALA. CAV.
[np: 1864]. 4to. Written in ink, and signed at the end by Royce on the verso of a single leaf. Several small holes [text unaffected], a few closed tears [two archival tape repairs]. Good+.
This unusual, insightful document illuminates the laws of war applicable during the bitter American Conflict. Royce's Petition seeking justice for Gurley is directed to the Confederate Commission of Exchange. Its author, Confederate Captain Moses Strong Royce, was captured in Tennessee and imprisoned at Nashville. His cell-mate, Captain Frank R. Gurley, had allegedly murdered Union General Robert McCook of Ohio, near Huntsville, Alabama, in August 1862. In October 1863 Gurley was captured and charged with the murder. Gurley, Union officials claimed, was a guerrilla who shot McCook while the General was lying in an ambulance. Southerners claimed that Gurley was not a guerrilla, but a regular soldier in the Confederacy's 4th Alabama Cavalry; and that he killed McCook according to the laws of war.
The pages of Harper's Weekly and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper fanned the flames, claiming that guerrillas or lawless Confederate cavalrymen caused the general's death; feelings ran high. "US General Grant wrote CS General Hardee in December of 1863 and said that although Gurley was a member of the Confederate army, that did not preclude him from being tried for having committed a foul murder" [online Huntsville-Madison County Public Library essay, 'Frank B. Gurley's 1866 Diary'].
Royce advises that he escaped from prison "on the 1st of March." War Department Records claim Royce was a still a prisoner at Nashville on April 6, 1864. That Record doubtless relied on outdated information. Having escaped in March 1864. Royce pleads Captain Gurley's case. "He was confined in a cell for sixty-eight days and allowed only about one hour a day for exercise and was put upon trial for the killing of Genl. McCook. He was obliged to employ counsel to defend himself at an expense of 2500 dollars in greenbacks. The evidence produced completely exonerated him of anything like MURDER, and the argument of his counsel was a complete vindication of his RIGHT as a soldier and an officer to do all that he did in bringing Genl. McCook to his death. When the trial was nearly ended four communications by flag of truce were sent to the court and were there read - one from Lt. Col. Hambrick, one from Genl. Forrest, one from Genl. Hardee and one from Genl. Johnston," assuring that Gurley was not a guerrilla but a duly enrolled member of the Confederate military forces. Nevertheless Gurley was found guilty and sentenced to death. [original italics are printed here in capital letters.]
"The undersigned believes that if an effort were to be made by the Confederate Commission of Exchange to have Capt. Gurley exchanged the Federal authorities would immediately send him forward for that purpose, and as a friend of Capt. Gurley the undersigned respectfully requests General Johnston to use his influence in procuring the exchange of Capt. Gurley. Respectfully submitted, M. S. Royce."
Even after War's end, the dispute continued. Gurley, having been released from prison in an administrative snafu, was re-arrested, charged, but finally released and placed on parole in April 1866. Item #36882