Age: 22, credited to Rouses Point, NY
Unit(s): 5th VT INF
Service: enl 8/29/61, m/i 9/16/61, Pvt, Co. A, 5th VT INF, dsrtd 1/11/62, rtnd 11/1/63, shot 12/18/63 by sentence of GCM, executed by firing squad for desertion
See Legend for expansion of abbreviationsVITALS
Birth: abt 1839, Watervliet, NY
Burial: Buried in an unmarked grave, , VA
Marker/Plot: Not recorded
Findagrave Memorial #: 0
(There may be a Findagrave Memorial, but we have not recorded it)
Alias?: None noted
College?: Not Found
Veterans Home?: Not Found
(If there are state digraphs above, this soldier spent some time in a state or national soldiers' home in that state after the war)
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Died in Virginia
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Execution of John Tague and George Blowers
On the 18th of December, the regiment had the novel and painful experience of witnessing the execution of one of their number for desertion. He was a young recruit, named George E. Blowers who had enlisted three months previously and has been assigned to Co. A., of the Second regiment. He and a man of the Fifth Vermont named John Tague, had been convicted by a General Court Martial of desertion under aggravated circumstances. That military crime was becoming frequent and the army authorities had decided that some examples must be made. The men were sentenced to be shot to death by musketry, and the sentence was executed in the presence of the entire division. At three o, clock in the afternoon, Howe's division was formed in three sides of a hollow square, enclosing the commanding general and his staff. The prisoners were brought in an ambulance, guarded by 4 men of the Provost guard, to whom was entrusted the execution of the sentence. After the reading by the Asst. Adjutant General of the division of the findings and sentences of the court martial, prayer was offered by Chaplain Mack of the Third Vermont; the men knelt on their coffins; and each placing his right hand over his heart as a signal that he was ready for death, the muskets rang out at the word of command, and both fell forward and expired instantly. It was a solemn transaction and made a deep sensation in the regiment. Blowers was the only man of the Second Vermont executed for desertion during the war, though several members of the regiment were sent to the Dry Tortugas and otherwise punished for the same offence.
George G. Benedict, Vermont in the Civil War, (Free Press Association, Burlington, Vt., 1888), i:111.
Mr. H. P. Thompson, Orderly Sergeant of Company H, 49th New York, and later in charge of the provost guard, then asked if the S. P. U. H. would like to hear concerning the execution of two deserters.
"Yes," said their representative; "give us a description of how deserters were executed."
"Well, I remember what I am going to tell as well as if it happened only yesterday. The prominent part I bore in the sad affair fixed it indelibly on my mind.
"It was near Brandy Station, Va., on the 3d of December, 1863. Desertions were becoming too frequent, and something had to be done to stop the disloyalty. Seventeen deserters had been tried and sentenced at this time; but fifteen were pardoned by the general proclamation of President Lincoln, pardoning all deserters who would return and take their places in the ranks. The two who were not pardoned were George Blowers, of Company A, 2d Vermont, and John Tague, Company A, 5th Vermont. There were a great many trials for desertion during the war, but deserters were seldom executed; they usually received a lighter sentence. The most general sentence was that the deserter should return to the army and serve out all of his original time of enlistment which had not been served, without pay or allowance. For instance, if a soldier who had enlisted for four years had deserted at the end of six months, he would be brought back when caught, and be compelled to serve three years and six months more. This was the penalty, except in flagrant cases.
"Some were sent to Dry Tortugas, which was almost equivalent to banishment. Dry Tortugas is a group of islands belonging to the United States, at the entrance of the Gulf of Mexico, 120 miles west southwest of Cape Sable, the southern extremity of Florida. The islands are very low and swampy, partly covered with mangrove bushes, which is a species of tropical fruit resembling the paw paw and banana. It was a dismal place, and deserters were compelled to serve out a term of years with ball and chain, the same as other prisoners.
"Occasionally there was a man hung; but Tague and Blowers were to be shot. The provost marshal of the county or locality where they were caught had returned them, as was the custom, to their regiment, and drawn his bounty, which was a reward of $50 apiece (I believe), offered by the State in which they were found.
"The court-martial then tried and sentenced them, and they were placed in tents by themselves in charge of the provost guard, which was chosen pro rata from the different regiments of a division. The guard in this instance was a detail of twenty men chosen from the regular provost guard. When a deserter was put under guard, two or three of these men would stand with loaded muskets around the tent of the deserter, being relieved every two hours. No soldier was ever made to stand guard over a deserter from his own company or regiment, for, of course, it was always painful for one comrade to be compelled to enforce a severe law upon a fellow comrade, and possibly a schoolmate, or even a brother, and then there was danger of a plot to escape if an intimacy of this kind were allowed. So these two boys from Vermont were handed over to our regiment, the 49th New York.
"It was a beautiful morning. The sky was clear, the sun shone brightly, the air was soft and still, and two ambulances, containing rough wooden coffins, were brought up to the tents where the prisoners were under guard. Each soldier was then placed in an ambulance, on his coffin, and the retinue proceeded to the place of execution, about a mile from the headquarters of the guard. The ambulances were drawn this distance by the soldiers who were to do the shooting. When they arrived at the chosen place, the division, composed of about ten thousand soldiers, was formed into a hollow square to witness the sad affair. A hollow square is a double line of soldiers on three sides of a square, fronting the fourth side, which is left open, as the objective point of operations. It was used on this occasion for an imposing display, and to intimidate and prevent other soldiers present from committing a like crime.
"It was a scene full of awe, never to be forgotten by those who took part. All who witnessed it seemed to feel the solemn presence of death. When the coffins were placed in the open part of the square, John Tague attempted to be jovial by rapping in the bottom of his coffin and asking some of the boys if they could not put shavings or something in it, as it would be a pretty hard nest; but no applause greeted his remark, and it reacted upon him with solemn force. The adjutant general then stepped out into a position a little forward from the center of the square, and in a clear, but tremulous voice, read the finding of the court-martial to the troops. The guns used by the provost guard on occasions like this were always loaded by a person appointed for the purpose. It would not do to let soldiers load their own guns, as they would probably put in blank cartridges. The feeling of responsibility for a death was too intense in such cases. However, one blank cartridge was always put into one of the guns, so that each of the men who did the shooting might suppose that he had the blank, and that his shot did not kill the prisoner.
"When the adjutant finished reading, the guard was ordered forward, divided into two platoons of ten each, and the guns were handed to them. As I have said, I shall never forget this particular moment. I had charge of one of the platoons, and the orders were that the man having such charge should step up with a loaded musket and blow out the
brains of the victim in case the volley discharged at him by the platoon failed to kill! I held my musket ready in my hand, and was to shoot John Tague. The other platoon was in charge of Sergeant Otis B. Hayes. He was a man of strong nerve and moral courage, but at this time he was as pale as death and as weak as a child; in fact, he could hardly stand. He was to end the life of George Blowers, if the ten shots from his platoon failed.
"While the finding of the court-martial was being read by the adjutant, the doomed men stood up. But they were now ordered to kneel on their coffins. A quarter-sheet of ordinary note paper-called by the boys a 'paper heart'- was then pinned on the coat of each victim, over his heart. When this was done, there was an awful silence. The doomed boys had not been blindfolded, and each countenance, though brave to the last, betrayed the solemn consciousness that within a minute more they would be within the pale of death. All was suspense. Clapping his hands to his heart, John Tague said, 'Boys, shoot me here-make no mistake!' Then came the final order from the provost marshal:
"'Ready! Aim! Fire!'
"Tague fell forward on his face and never breathed again; but Blowers was horribly mangled, and fell forward on his hands and knees, exclaiming:
"'Oh! my God - my God!'
"Sergeant Hayes trembled like an aspen. He was to end the poor fellow's existence! He advanced toward the spot, while ten thousand soldiers held their hushed breath. But, to the relief of all, Blowers died before the Sergeant reached him; and the troops formed company front, and marched in review past the coffins to view the bodies of their dead comrades."
"That is true to the letter, and well given," said Andrew W. Brazee, late major of the 49th New York. "I was the provost marshal who gave the order,'and remember it well."
Washington Davis, Camp-Fire Chats of the Civil War,..., (P.A. Stone & Co., Lansing, MI, 1889), pp. 27-31
Execution of Deserters
The Burlington Free Press, January 1, 1864, Page 4
EXECUTIONS IN THE VERMONT BRIGADE - A letter in the Rutland Herald gives the following account of the recent executions in the Vermont Brigade. It is dated Dec. 19th:
Yesterday for the first time, during this war, Vermont soldiers were executed for the crime of desertion. On that day private John Tague, 5th Vt. Vols., and private George E. Blowers, 2d Vt. Vols., having been convicted of desertion under aggravated circumstances, were shot to death by musketry in the presence of the Division.
At about three o’clock, P.M., the Division was placed in position at the designated point, forming three sides of a square inclosing the Commanding General with his staff. Soon after two ambulances, each containing one of the prisoners sitting beside the coffin, closely guarded by a detachment of the Provost Guard, approached the square. The detachment, twenty-four in number, commanded by a Lieutenant, formed the detail to which was entrusted the execution of the sentence of death. The coffins were placed upon the ground by the side of two newly dug graves, and the condemned persons took their places near them. A dirge was performed by the Band while the solemn preparations went on. Lt. Col. Stone, acting Adjutant General of the Division, then read the report of the proceedings of the Court Martial in each case, each one advancing a few paces and removing his hat, when his name was pronounced, and at the conclusion returning to his former position. They now knelt with the Chaplains of the 5th and 3d Vermont Regiments, while the latter offered prayer, after which, having conversed a moment with the prisoners, they shook hands with them and retired. The guard then took a position about twenty yard[s] from and facing the prisoners, who knelt upon their coffins, while a Sergeant placed a target upon their breasts so as to cover their hearts. The guard was then brought to a "ready," the prisoners removed their hats, placing them upon a stake fixed in the ground near them, and brought their right hands to their hearts as a signal that they were ready; then followed with fearful distinction the words, "Ready, aim, fire," and with scarcely a groan both fell forward and instantly expired.
Tague maintained throughout an air of reckless indifference and even volunteered to assist in moving his coffin from the ambulance and to aid the Sergeant in adjusting the target. He was a desperate fellow, had deserted two or three times, and was an inmate of the guard house nearly all the time while with his regiment. The other was evidently much affected by the awful fate awaiting him, but preserved a firm and resolute bearing to the last.
Thus closed a scene far more terrible than any of the horrors of war which it had thus far been our fate to witness. Many a soldier who had never known fear in battle was awed to tears by the solemnity of the occasion. Yet there was no mawkish sympathy for those who had deserted a cause to which they had solemnly plighted their lives, and it seemed to be universally felt that their fate, though terrible, was just.
Submitted by: Denis & Karen Jaquish.
See also Desertion.