Execution of Hostages. Gallatin, Tennessee 1864
During Sherman’s operations against Atlanta and through Georgia Confederate Cavalry operated well behind the front lines, attempting to disrupt the flow of supplies through Tennessee. In areas where there remained strong secessionist support Union officers suspected that the cavalry was supported by civilians acting as informants and spies.
Union General Eleazar Paine commanded such a district which included areas in Tennessee and Kentucky. Civilian leaders of the area repeatedly accused Paine of committing what would today be considered war crimes. According to local leaders, Paine often released suspected spies after questioning, only to have Union troops on fresh mounts hunt them down and kill them as they attempted to make their way home.
On another occasion, Paine had four hostages taken and informed the local populace that all four would be shot in a public square for colluding with the enemy unless the information was forthcoming on the whereabouts of Confederate Cavalry units. Three were shot before Paine was satisfied that the townspeople had told Union officers all that they knew. Paine also deported some civilians to Canada, without trial, for aiding the enemy, confiscating their property.
Paine was investigated by a military commission which found the Union general had conducted several activities which were violations of military and civilian law, including extortion, the illegal imposition of taxes, the resale for personal profit of stolen goods, and corruption. He was tried under a general court-martial, which found him not guilty on all charges but one – having cursed a superior officer. The court found that the charges were the result of anti-Union sentiment in the region.
Nonetheless, Paine was sentenced to receive a reprimand directly from the President, which Secretary of War Edwin Stanton refused to forward to Lincoln for action. In central Tennessee, there is still ample literature and local sentiment which condemns Paine as a war criminal. Paine resigned from the army following Lee’s surrender in 1865 and returned to his pre-war career as a lawyer in Illinois.