Chapter 16: June 4, 1863, The Execution of William Gruver and William McKee, The App Brothers in the Civil War


On June 4th, William McKee, and William Gruver were members of Company A, 46th Pennsylvania Regiment, Logan Guards, first defenders from Mifflin county. These boys were arrested for desertion, tried and sentenced to be shot.

General Lee was now on his march of invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania. June 13th, 1863. Many of Company G, the writer among them, had gone out in the morning to work upon fortifications, and felling trees. Government whiskey was furnished us in large camp kettles, which held about five gallons. Captain Krider, of Company F, who was in command of this detail, said that every man who drank water that day would be fined five dollars. The consequence was that when evening came all, with a very few exceptions and the writer was not one of the exceptions either, were drunk as drunk could be. We arrived at camp about six o’clock, had no time to get our suppers, but were ordered to pack up and fall in.

We marched all night until noon next day, when we encamped at Dumphries near our old camp ground of the winter of 1862 and 1863. Traveled 25 miles. Many of the boys were so overcome‑I think that’s what they call it, when they drink to excess‑that they had to be placed in an ambulance and hauled all night. The writer never spent a more miserable night during his army service, for I was so sick that I hardly knew how to get along. Several times during the night someone would come and say, “Schroyer, take a couple of swallows, it will help strengthen you and you will feel much better.” At that time I was two months and a few days over 20 years of age, but I am very thankful that I then had the courage to say no, and I spelled it with a big N, and a big O. I told the boys it would be a long time before I would take another drink of whiskey and I have not touched a drop since then.

Monday, June 5th, broke camp, crossed Occoquan Creek, passed Fairfax Court House. encamped about one mile from the town. Traveled 25 miles. Here we met Captain Roush’s Company B, 6th Pennsylvania Reserves. In this Company were a number of Selinsgrove boys, among them John Emmitt. Jr., son of Esquire Emmitt, who administered the oath to Company G when we started for the seat of war.

June 18th, broke camp, passed thru Dranesville, crossed Goose Creek and encamped about one mile from Leesburg. Traveled 14 miles. Leesburg is located in a beautiful valley about three miles from the Potomac River, and is in sight of the Balls Bluff battle field. Here General E. D. Baker was killed.

Friday, June 19th, we were called upon to witness the execution of William Gruver and William McKee, whose arrest and trial I have already mentioned. These lads were from Lewistown, Pa., but we were ignorant of this at the time of execution. They were arrested June 4th for desertion to the enemy. They were tried and sentenced by General Court Martial to be shot to death by musketry. One other was shot for the same offense at the same time, but his name I am unable to give. The writer would be glad to learn the name of this unfortunate man. The names of Gruver and McKee were not known to us until many years after the war. All were members of the 1st Division 12th army corps.

In this beautiful valley about one mile from Leesburg, Va., three graves were dug; a hollow square was formed by the troops; the guard or firing squad was placed in position. Then the ambulances came, each with a prisoner blindfolded, seated upon a rough box. When they arrived at the grave, the prisoners were taken from the ambulances, the rough boxes were placed beside the graves, and the lids placed thereon, upon which the men were seated. Short religious services were conducted by a chaplain, and then the Officer in command raised his handkerchief. The guard took aim and as he dropped his handkerchief, the squad fired. All three men fell dead into their rough boxes. Then all the troops were marched by the bodies of these unfortunate boys as an example and warning not to desert the cause to which they had sworn allegiance.

As we look back over the past 48 years we feel that undue haste was given this trial. Think of it, arrested June 4th‑ executed June 19th, just 15 days from arrest to execution. A story comes to us that these two boys were about 17 years of age when they enlisted on September 21st, 1861, that they had been with their commands and participated in all the battles fought by the 46th Regiment, and that their reputations were first class as soldiers. These boys had frequently asked for furloughs but never received any and then they undertook to French leave it home, intending to return again, but before this could be done they were arrested. One of the boys after his arrest had written to his father, a Mr. Gruver, at Lewistown, and he hurriedly went to Washington to see President Lincoln, and he received a pardon for the boy. While the army marched to Leesburg on the west side of the Potomac, the father on horse back rode leisurely on the east side of the river until reaching Edward’s Ferry, three miles from Leesburg. Here he crossed over and came to camp just about one hour after the boys had been shot. He had the pardon from President Lincoln in his pocket.

I have in my possession a dairy written on the field at the time of the execution which says the boys were arrested while attempting to desert to the enemy.

© Copyright Larry A. App and Stories Retold, 2013, all rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Larry A. App and Stories Retold with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About storiesretoldblogger

I am an Elkhart, Indiana native and became interested in applying video to history when consumer video cameras were first introduced on the market in the late 1970’s. My production company, Stories Retold, specializes in preserving oral history, traditions, and values with video. Primarily interviewing individuals, I sometimes document families, and on occasion document an entire community. My niche is developing a personal relationship with clients which helps me to tell their story just the way they would like to have it told. Everyone has a story worth preserving, and I enjoy discovering interesting stories from people with whom I come into contact on a daily basis. In years to come, these videos will be priceless as they portray original stories complete with visual images and actual voices filled with all the primary material and emotion that was intended to be. I gain a strong sense of personal satisfaction with each completed project whether it involves an individual or an entire community.
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