Guerilla Execution of 1864 (Little Rock)

A pair of Confederate guerrillas—Jeremiah Earnest and Thomas Jefferson Miller—were hanged at the state penitentiary in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on March 18, 1864, for murdering three Unionists and threatening others.

A native of Sevier County, Tennessee, farmer Jeremiah Earnest was living at South Fork in Montgomery County with his wife, Sarah, and their eight children when the Civil War began. He enrolled in Company F, Fourth Arkansas Infantry Regiment (CS) at Mount Ida (Montgomery County) on January 6, 1862, but was declared unfit for duty about four months later while suffering from dropsy and was released from the army.

Earnest, age forty-three, recruited a home guard company, and Thomas Jefferson Miller, who had lived in Pike County and had run for the Arkansas General Assembly before the war, led another. Their irregular soldiers joined with a third band at a church on Antoine Creek in Clark County on or about July 13, 1863, and fanned out, seeking to arrest Unionists and conscript other men into the Confederate army.

Among the men they arrested were seventy-year-old Elijah Osburn, his son Jesse Osburn, and Jackson Childers. They were tried by the guerrillas for being “Union men” and sentenced to hang. While the younger men pledged to join the Confederate army if they were allowed to live, Elijah Osburn declared, “When you hang me, you will hoist a Union flag.” All three men were executed.

Earnest and Miller were captured by Union troops in the fall of 1863 and confined in the penitentiary in Little Rock. They were tried separately by a military tribunal in January and February 1864 for the three murders and for threatening to hang several other Unionists; Earnest was also charged with assisting in the April 1863 hanging of Hugh P. Williams at Fans Mills (Montgomery County). Though several defense witnesses claimed that neither Earnest nor Miller were present when Childress and the Osburns were killed, both men were convicted and sentenced to hang.

On March 18, 1864, the Sixty-First Illinois Infantry Regiment entered the yard of the penitentiary and formed a hollow square around the gallows. Earnest and Miller, their arms pinioned, were led from the prison. A private in the regiment wrote, “They ascended the scaffold, were placed with their feet on the trap, the nooses were adjusted, the trap was sprung—and it was all over.” While acknowledging that “the crimes of which these men were convicted were peculiarly atrocious,” the soldier, who had also witnessed the hanging of David O. Dodd a few months earlier, wrote that “to see any man strung up like a dog, and hanged in cold blood, is a nauseating and debasing spectacle.” An Iowa soldier wrote home about the hanging, stating that “there are hundreds of men in this [war] that deserve hanging as much as Ernest [sic] did, and if a man ever did need hanging, he certainly did.”

For additional information:
Popchock, Barry, ed. Soldier Boy: The Civil War Letters of Charles O. Musser, 29th Iowa. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995.

Ross, Margaret. “Two Men Are Hanged at State Penitentiary.” Arkansas Gazette, March 18, 1964, p. 7B.

Stillwell, Leander. The Story of a Common Soldier of Army Life in the Civil War, 1861–1865. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific, 2005.

Williams, Charles G. “The Confederate Home Guard in Southwest Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 49 (Summer 1990): 168–172.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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