Murder of James Cundiff and Execution of Lewis Stivers

I just found something on this and thought I should move my other references, scattered across several blogs, to this space.  So…here we go. 😉

During the first week of the 1862 Federal retreat from Cumberland Gap there was an incident at Manchester that has been shrouded in some mystery until today.

We have known that Private Lewis Stivers of Company B of the 7th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry was executed at Manchester for shooting another soldier in the same regiment, Private James Cundiff, but we didn’t know the details. Yesterday we received in the mail from Jim Hoffman at University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign the diary of David Dudley Carlton, 42nd Ohio, DeCourcy’s Brigade. Mr. Carlton’s account of the execution provides some excellent details of the execution of Lewis Stivers:

Items in the brackets [ ] are notes I’ve made into the text so you know who we are talking about. Spelling is as it appears in the original.
Sept 21
To day is Sunday and I have witnessed a sein which I hope never to see again. It was the execution of a man who had been sentenced to be shot for shooting one of his comrades. The particulars as near as I can

pg 90
learn are these. Co B of the [3rd later known as 7th] Ky ware out guarding a steam grist mill. And several of them ware playing cards and being more or less under the influence of liquor got into a dispute when one of them [Lewis Stivers] said he would fix & turned & went to the mill (which was about 20 rods) got his gun, loaded it, then went back and told the other one [James Cundiff] to look out for he was going to shoot him. (I have forgot his name) and instantly fired. The ball passed through his right hip & came out just above the left one causing almost instant death. He then swor he would shoot the rest of the crowd but they run before he got his gun loaded. He the left but was soon captured & confined in jail until he could have his trial which he had yesterday & was sentenced to be publicly shot today at 5OC.

About 3OC the crowd began to assemble at & around the jail and at 5 minutes before 6OC the jailor was seen to mount the stairs and lead forth the culprit (who was a man about 50 years of age) and placed him in a file of soldiers and marched him off to a field of death. He marched up to his grave accompanied by the band playing the Death’s March. His eyes was then blinded and made to kneel on his coffin. The executioners (12 in no) were stationed about 15 yds from the coffin. Then the command READY was given by Lieutenant Ross of the 16th OV then AIM. Look at the man kneeling on his coffin with his eyes blinded & grave behind him in which his form will soon be laying, what must be his feelings as he kneels (more like a stone than human being) and hears the command READY

AIM. But not a muscle moved. Then comes the last word he ever heard on this earth FIRE. 9 of 12 instantly fired (3 being held in reserve) the victim realed for an instant then fell forward dead. Pieced by 6 balls. I turned from the sean & with the crowd left the place hoping that I never should again witness such a scene.

Another source from the 42nd Ohio may be found here in Frank Holcomb Mason’s 1876 regimental history on pg126:

While there, a sad and unusual episode occurred – the execution of a soldier for murder. A private named Stivers had the evening before, while intoxicated, quarreled with a comrade, and shot him with his musket. A Court Martial was convened at nine the next morning; at ten the murderer was sentenced to be shot at five in the afternoon. The Division was to start at six in the evening, and at the hour appointed for the execution, De Courcy’s Brigade, on drill as usual, formed the sides of a hollow square. Just outside the center of the enclosed space was a shallow grave, and to this there came a detachment with the prisoner, followed by an open farm wagon, containing a plain wooden box rudely stained with lampblack. This was placed beside the grave, the death warrant read, and the eyes of the prisoner blindfolded with his handkerchief. He then knelt upon his coffin; the firing squad –  a detail of twelve men from the Sixteenth and Forty-Second Ohio – took their places, and the Lieutenant in command drew his sword.

“ready !” – the twelve rifles were raised and cocked; – “AiM !” –  they were leveled; – “fire!” There was a report as from one musket, and the poor fellow, pierced through the breast and neck by every bullet, sprang into the air and fell dead! The band struck up a march, the regiments filed by the Sank past the open grave, and the Brigade, without halting, took the road toward the North as rear guard of the Division.

Still another source are the Dickey Diaries.  Here we have the Henry Lucas entry in the Dickey Diaries I read this paragraph:

I was an overseer for the White’s, have known them all well. They were great money makers. I worked for James and Daughtery White. My stepfather Pierce Cottingim used to steer salt boats. I never did. My grandfather Richard Lucas was a man of great physical power. He was a drummer in the militia. A man named Butts from Tennessee, rode 400 miles to whip him. He rode up to grandfather’s saddler shop and called, “Does drummer Lucas live here?” Yes sir. Well, I live in Tennessee, 400 miles from here, and I have come to whip you. What have I done to you? Oh nothing, I am the bully of Tennessee and I understanf that you are the bully of Kentucky, and if I whip you, I will be the bully of the world. Well, do you wanna fight now, or can it wait til morning? Get down and go in. I keep a motel and it shall cost you nothing. No, I won’t whip a man and live off him too. Well, it may not turn out that way, said grandfather. He went to another motel. The next morning they fought after the manner of times and grandfather was victorious. The Tennessean seemed perfectly satisfied and returned to his home. My grandfather afterwards joined a Methodist Church. He was a big hearted hospitable man. My Materal Grandfather was John Cundiff. My father died when I was 6 years old, it was about 1828. Grandfather Cundiff was a loyal friend, he would do anything in his power for his friend, was a great power of elections. My Uncle John Cundiff killed Eli Bowlin.
Bowlin was a bully, a man of great power. He led my uncle to, Old Bill Duncil’s house, where ol Molly Henson lived. They had a quarell about the woman. Bowling kicked my uncle, a small man. He went away and came back with a dirt knife. He called Bowlin to the door and plunge it in to him. He died in a few minutes. My Uncle left the country and never returned. Uncle Sam Lucas took his wife to him. Eli Bowlin was a bad man. His son, James Bowling was hunting for Uncle John when he met my grandfather Cundiff. “Jim put that gun down”, we have gotton rid of 2 bad men and let the matter stop. The Cundiff’s of Breathitt are of the same stock.

This particular bit caught my attention:

My Uncle left the country and never returned. Uncle Sam Lucas took his wife to him. Eli Bowlin was a bad man. His son, James Bowling was hunting for Uncle John when he met my grandfather Cundiff. “Jim put that gun down”, we have gotton rid of 2bad men and let the matter stop. The Cundiff’s of Breathitt are of the same stock.

What stock? The “hunting a man down and killing them” stock or the “peacemaker” stock?

The Cundiff’s seemed to be of a mind to put up a fight when bullies come around. According to Mr. Lucas, they were bullies as well:

David Walker was the bully of Clay County when I was a young man and my uncle James Cundiff was almost equal. James Cundiff was killed by Lewis Stivers, son of Reverend George Stivers. I think Stivers was insane. He wanted to kill General Garrard. He was a soldier in Colonel Lucas’ company, when he killed Cundiff. They were camped at Manchester. Cundiff was in the same Company. Stivers was court marshalled and shot. Every ball took affect. General George Morgan was in command. There were 12 soldiers, 6 guns loaded. I came into town a few minutes after he was shot.

So…we have a drunk(Carlton’s diary) and possibly insane(Lucas’ Dickey entry) in Stivers up against a known bully (Lucas’ Dickey entry) on his home turf in Cundiff. Recipe for disaster? Here’s what I’m thinking…

Cundiff and the rest of the Guard relief are sitting “20 rods” from their post. Stivers, being perhaps a bit short on intellect and long on John Barleycorn, becomes the target of Cundiff’s bully rhetoric. Stivers leaves his post to confront Cundiff. Bullying language continues. Stivers says enough and “I’ll fix you”. Trots off to get his rifle and does the deed.

Couple of GLARING problems here:

1) Why didn’t the Sergeant of the Guard stop this insanity?
2) Why did the rest of the relief run off rather than tackling this guy?

1 Responses to Murder of James Cundiff and Execution of Lewis Stivers

  1. Sherry Baker says:

    Thanks for the kuddos Wayne.

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