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AUTHOR:  Donna J. Hart

On February 10, 1864, William Hardy Daugherty was one of 13 men hanged in Kinston, North Carolina, having been convicted of treason against the Confederacy.  Watching the executions were their wives, neighbors, friends, and even former comrades in arms.  The hangings were carried out quickly and largely at the behest of General George E. Pickett, who some think ordered the executions out of frustration for his bitter defeat some months before at Gettysburg.1  The proceedings moved so quickly because the men were not allowed to speak for themselves nor allowed representative counsel.  They were part of a larger group of over 50 men.  Fifteen of them, including Daugherty, were from Jones County and had all started their service in the 8th Battalion, North Carolina Partisan Rangers, serving under Colonel John H. Nethercutt.  When I first read this story, I wondered how so many men from the same company could desert and join the Union army.  Like the old radio newscaster, Paul Harvey, I just felt that there had to be some “rest of the story.”

Apparently, when the 8th Battalion was formed, the recruits were promised that their unit was for “home” or local defense only.  William joined the regiment on July 16, 1862, serving as a substitute for Joel Heath, who may have been the brother or cousin of his wife Catherine Heath.  According to the contract he signed with Heath, Daugherty was to be paid $500 and receive 250 acres of land.2  For a poor man—a man who could not read or write,3 a farmer and turpentine-maker, and a man who was blind in one eye—this was an overwhelming opportunity for a better life for his wife and young children.

But in the late summer of 1863, the 8th Battalion was dissolved as a separate unit and absorbed into a larger regiment, which was soon reassigned to Wilmington.  In response, approximately 300 men from the original 8th Battalion deserted.  Eventually, all but 50 of them returned to service, but Daugherty was among those who did not.  Instead, most of the 50 deserters then joined Company F of the 2nd North Carolina Volunteers, a Union regiment that was stationed in the Jones county area.

The complexity of the situation on the ground is indicated by the fact that Confederates held Kinston, but Union forces held New Bern, which was only 35 miles away.  The deserters were literally caught in the middle.  On February 2, 1864, Daugherty’s federal regiment was overwhelmed in battle and forced to surrender to troops led by General Robert F. Hoke, CSA.4  When 22 of the now Federal soldiers were discovered to have been Confederate deserters, they were hanged over a period of several days.

John Paris, chaplain to the 54th Regiment, the Confederate unit that Daugherty was supposed to have been transferred to, echoed what was probably the feeling of many locals toward the men:

“I have arrived at the conclusion that the deserter, under all and every circumstance, belongs to the [most] wicked and abandoned grade of society morally, that can be found in the land.  They are generally illiterate, ignorant and vicious. Possessed of prejudices, proceeding from gross ignorance, against government and government officials; they can readily listen to any appeal made to these prejudices, let it come from what quarter may.”5

In a diary entry for February 22, 1864, he described the execution:

“The thirteen marched to the gallows with apparent resignation.  Some of them I hope were prepared for their doom. Others I fear were not.  On the scaffold they were all arranged in one row.  At a given signal, the trap fell, and they were in eternity in a few moments.  The scene was truly appalling, but it was as truly the deserters’ doom.  Many of them said, ‘I never expected to come to such an end as this.’  But yet were deserters, and as such they ought to have expected such a doom.  The names of these misguided men were, John I. Brock, Wm. Haddock, Jesse Summerlin, A. I. Brittain, Wm. Jones, Lewis Freeman, Calvin Huffman, Stephen Jones, Joseph Brock, Lewis Taylor, Charles Cuthrell, W. C. Daughtry [sic] and John Freeman.  Ten of them were deserters from Nethercutt’s Battalion.”6

Treatment of these men’s bodies after their deaths was less than respectful. Many were stripped nearly naked, and in some cases, family members were not allowed to claim and bury their loved one for as much as a week.  The wives and children themselves also experienced harsh treatment.  One woman testified that a Confederate officer came to her home and took away her horse and all provisions, leaving her and her 5 small children literally destitute.  Worse, she was kept under house arrest for 3 days and nights.7  And the Kinston community itself often ridiculed and even threatened family members.

It is no wonder, then, the choices Catherine Heath Daugherty made for her family.  In her 1871 petition to the United States Government for a widow’s pension, she specifically testifies that she has only one child, Nancy E. Daugherty, born May 3, 1853.8  She indicates that she had a son Ivy, who was born October 17, 1860, but that he is dead.  The truth, however, is that he was not dead.9  He appears in several censuses from 1870 to 1900.  My guess is that Catherine had hidden him away as best she could, so that he wouldn’t suffer the prejudice and mistreatment from the community for being the child of a traitor.

Despite the issue of tragic consequences for his family, the question we can’t answer is where William Hardy Daugherty’s loyalties really lay: To Jones County, to the Confederacy, or to the Union.  My own opinion is that he really didn’t care about slavery; he didn’t own any slaves.  He didn’t care about the war; it wasn’t his war.  It seems to be a fairly common story of a rich man paying off a poor man to do the job that he didn’t want to do himself. I think William Hardy made the decisions he made, solely in an attempt to provide in the best way he could for his family.

This story is taken from Descendants of Owen Dogharty, by Donna J. Hart, Morgantown KY, Heart to Heart Publ., 2014, pp. 244-245.


1 Gerard A. Patterson, Justice or Atrocity: General George E. Pickett and the Kinston, N.C., Hangings, Gettysburg, PA, Thomas Publications, 1998.

2 Craven County Deed Book 26, pp. 464-465.

3 Noted in the 1850 census.

4 Another source says that they surrendered after two weeks of being constantly “menaced by the enemy.” See Judkin Jay Browning, “’Little Souled Mercenaries’? The Buffaloes of Eastern North Carolina during the Civil War,” The North Carolina Historical Review, 77, no. 3, July 2000, pp. 337 – 363.

5 “The Deserter’s Doom,” The North Carolina Presbyterian, Vol. 7, No. 15, Fayetteville, NC, April 13, 1864.

6 “The Deserter’s Doom.”

7 J. Kenneth Davis, Kinston Hangings, accessed at <http://www.historicalpreservationgroup.org/ hpghislinks/kinston22.html>, October 24, 2014. Davis asks not to be quoted without permission. I have tried repeatedly to locate him and ask for permission, but have been unsuccessful. So I’ve used him as a source, but not quoted him.

8 The 1850 census shows an older child, Ann C., who was 3 months old at the time, but this child must have died because she does not appear in the 1860 census.

9 See her very interesting series of petitions to the Government, transcribed by Lonne S. Heath in 2002, at <http://www.historicalpreservationgroup.org/kh_widow_daughtery.html>. The originals are William Hardy Daugherty, Civil War Pension Papers of Widow Catherine Heath Daugherty, File No. 187724. The pension papers are found at the National Archives in Washington, DC, in Box 33389, Certificate No. 147762.

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