Farewell to this World: The Execution of Alexander Haun, Unionist

December 11, 1861 (Wednesday)

The last night in the life of Christopher Alexander Haun could not have been passed peacefully. The previous day, he had been found guilty of burning a railroad bridge and treason against the Confederacy in Eastern Tennessee. The trial, if one could call such a thing a “trial,” was short, but his sentencing came later. Though General William Carroll knew that Haun was sentenced to die by hanging, even receiving the Secretary of War’s approval, he neglected to tell his prisoner until morning. Haun was sentenced to hang from the neck until dead at noon.

The details of Haun’s arrest seem to be lost to history, but he begins his urgent, final letter to his wife, Elizabeth: “I want you to stay away from your mother and sister for they are not your friends or mine.” Did these rebels turn in their own family? Could they have chosen secession over not just their own country, but their own blood?

“Make the children read the Testament every Sabbath that they are not at preaching,” he continued, turning his thoughts to his little ones, “and every opportunity they have talk to them as you have heard me do and keep them away from all bad company. Do not suffer them to use bad words-nor quarrel with one another and learn them manners. It will be for their benefit. If anyone comes to your hungry turn them not away empty if you have it for them and the Lord will bless you more abundant.”

During his final night, did Alexander Haun take refuge and solace in the Gospels? And as his Lord promised to set the rest in order, so did this husband and father as he turned to practical matters.

He instructed his wife to keep the horse, to sow wheat and oats, to collect money that was owed by friends and neighbors, to cash in railroad bonds, sell land and his tools for making pottery.

“Do the best you can,” he encouraged his wife, knowing that he would be gone before the letter was even mailed, “this is a hard task, directing you with my death so near but I want to give the best advice I can while on earth and just think how a man feels in this situation knowing I must die in a few hours time.”

With no friend or dear ones close, Alexander had to see to his own body. “Colonel Baxter, I have to die today at 12 o’clock,” he wrote in a post-script. “I beg of you have my body sent to Midway Post Office directed to Elizabeth Haun. This much I beg of you-this is the 11th day of December 1861.”

And then, in closing, his final words to Elizabeth:

“I have the promise that my body will be sent home to you.
O live for heaven
Oh my bosom friend and children
Live for heaven, I pray.
My time is almost out, dear friends, farewell to this world-farewell to earth and
earthly troubles.
C. A. Haun”1

As he finished, the Confederate jailers arrived at his cell in a buckboard with a coffin in the rear to carry him away. The cart was surrounded by Rebel soldiers, savage looking and brandishing bayonets. Alexander asked to see a Methodist minister who lived in town, so that he could pray with him before dying. The Rebels supposedly replied, “We don’t permit any praying here for a damned Union-shrieker.”

The hanging was officiated by clergy from a Confederate regiment. Speaking for Alexander, the minister told the assembled executioners that the prisoner confessed that he had been led astray by Unionist sentiment, and that he was sorry for his wrong-doings. Alexander, however, cut in, denying that he had ever admitted any such thing.2

Christopher Alexander Haun was hanged at noon.

Over 150 other Unionists were held in the Eastern Tennessee jail without trial, and more were arriving every day. In a letter to the Secretary of War, General Carroll complained that civil authorities had wanted to try the prisoners in civil courts. These trials, felt Carroll, would not result in convictions, and so he wanted them to remain efficient, speedy and to end in guilty verdicts with executions within hours.

To combat this annoyance, Carroll placed Knoxville under martial law.3

  1. Tennessee Civil War Sourcebook edited by James B. Jones, Jr. []
  2. Sketches of the Rise, Progress, and Decline of Secession by W.G. Brownlow. []
  3. Official Records, Series 2, Vol. 1, p854. []
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Farewell to this World: The Execution of Alexander Haun, Unionist by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International