I have all but finished researching and writing a first draft, with just another source or two to consult before the editing process begins. Fifteenth was the national headquarters of the American slave trade. My initial draft tells two stories of that trade: The story of the slave auctioneers, and the story of the slave traders. These stories are told from the lens of a New Orleans gentleman in search of help for his farm, and the events of the night of November 15th, 1862 when Lieut. J.O. Withmell got into some trouble in an alley off 15th between Main and Cary St.’s. It is the latter story whose article I will post here today. The deeper story of fifteenth street is harder to tell, and one that newspapers of the day did not report. It has been a challenge to get inside the head of a slave in one of the many jails along this street, and try to figure out the story they would tell.
“Murder of a Confederate officer–cold blooded Assassination.
–On Saturdaynight, about 11 o’clock, Lieut. J. O. Withmell, G. S. A., was assassinated in an alley on Cary street, between 14th and 15th streets. The deceased was an English man of highly-respectable position, and is represented to have been a brave and efficient officer. At the earliest stage of the war he commanded a loyal company of soldiers in St. Louis, and resisted the rule of the Yankee Gen. Lyon, (who was afterwards killed at Pen Ridge,) for which he was forced to fly from the city, though not before having exchanged shots with the invaders. The particulars of this cold blooded murder are furnished in the evidence given below at the inquest held over Lieut. W.’s remains at room No. 218 Exchange Hotel, to which place he was carried after receiving the fatal shot. The deceased was the son of an opulent merchant in London, and leaves a wife and child in St. Louis.
Charles S. Miller deposed, that six or seven men, including Withmell, the deceased, proposed to visit Mrs. Ann Thomas’s, where they were refused admittance. All went out; Withmell last, Withmell was shot as he stepped into the street from the alley. About 12 o’clock passed three men going in the alley. On the corner of Fourteenth and Main streets, where the public clock is kept, he heard remarks about three men who were standing at the corner, by one of his party. The shooting could not have been done by inmates of Ann Thomas’s house, or any of his party, as none of them had arms. Withmell was an Englishman, and came to the city on Friday last for the first time.
W. S. Carrick deposed: Said Withmell was the last one to come out of the alley. Heard a pistol shot. Col. B. D. Harman and myself helped to remove the wounded man; Harmon had hold of one side and myself the other; we carried him ten steps, when Withmell said he could not go further; he was supported to his hotel by us. After getting him there we took off his clothes and endeavored to persuade him that his wound was not mortal. Withmell died at twenty minutes to 12 o’clockSaturdaynight. On first getting near Ann Thomas’s door I saw three men entering the alley. First met the deceased in Memphis, where Colonel Harman was raising a regiment, of which Withmell was an officer. Afterwards met him in Grenada, Miss., and subsequently in Richmond. The deceased had been engaged in no difficulty so far as I knew. The deceased exclaimed, after being shot, “Why should they shoot me !” In the evening of Saturday, the witness, Col. Harman, and the deceased, were at the dress parade of the City Battalion on the Capital Square. Afterwards they went with a party to Ann Thomas’s, and, being refused admittance, retired. As they were going through the alley, and had gotten to Cary street, under a lamp-post opposite the Commissary Store, Withmell was shot from the alley. Afterwards applied to the guard, who refused to go. Heard no person running, or any noise after the shooting. The deceased was the last one of the party coming out of the alley.
John F. Pearce deposed, In company with some other gentlemen I went down 14th street between 11 and 12 o’clock. We went to Ann Thomas’s house, but could not get in, and quietly left. Withmell was the last who left the alley. A pistol shot was heard when Withmell was under the lamp at the corner below. The deceased exclaimed he was shot through. The party had no arms, and tried to get the assistance of the armed patrol guard to search the premises of Ann Thomas, but they refused. An officer rods by, whom we hailed. He stated that he was an officer of the Provost Guard, and would bring up men to their assistance, which he shortly did. On going into the alley at Ann Thomas’s some one remarked that it was a dark place, and some one might get killed. Miller thereupon said, “No, there are too many of us.” The party at the corner of 14th and Main streets might have heard Miller’s remark concerning them as we passed that corner. Withmell was a stranger to the witness.
Col. B. D. Harman deposed: Withmell was associated with me since April last in a military capacity. He was a man of fine military ideas, and of unexceptionable deportment. He was not at all addicted to drinking, and never knew him to be in a broil, or to have an unpleasant word with any one. He came to Richmond on Friday last at my request. He had drank no liquor, and I think the witness. Carrick’s, recollection of occurrences is about correct. I saw one man in Ann Thomas’s alley, though there might have been three. After the alarm, the men he saw near the corner of 14th and Main seemed to be a guard over the Purveyors store. They refused to go with the party when requested to do so. Saw no city police while the alarm was being raised. The deceased was the sen of an opulent merchant in London, and had a wife and child in St. Louis.
Thomas L. Hiltahimer, jr., testified as to the observation of Miller on passing the corner of Fourteenth and main streets, and seeing three men at the corner. After going to Ann Thomas’s and being refused admittance, witness was the foremost of the party coming out. Saw a man behind the gate leading from the alley, whom he took to be one of his party. Witness in coming out the alley ran against the guard on Fourteenth street, who would not go to their assistance. Afterwards met in the street an assistant Provost Marshal, who promised to bring up a guard, and did so in a few minutes. When Withmell was brought into the Exchange, one of the city watch appeared, who said he saw three men after the shooting coming up Fifteenth street. They turned into Alex. Nott’s alley, and when he asked them what they were going in there for, they replied that they had made a mistake, and turned and went down Main street.
The Surgeons who attended deceased, Messrs. L. R. Waring and J. H. Conway, not being present, as well as other witnesses, the Coroner adjourned the jury to meet again to day at 10 o’clock A. M., at No. 218 Exchange Hotel, and recognised the witnesses to appear before the Mayor on Tuesday, at 1 o’clock. The Coroner hopes to discover the guilty party by the testimony of the watchman, who is said to be able to identify the men whom he saw passing up Fifteenth street immediately after the shooting.
November 17, 1862.”
John C. McAuliff