Murder of Joseph Bragg at Covington
Former Mayor Samuel R. Shelton witnessed the execution of Peter Bragg, who “was taken to the roadside east of Covington, and near the bridge over Town Creek, and there hung by a rope thrown over the limb of a hackberry tree in expiation of the foul crime in which he took part in.”
Mayor Shelton added:
“During these troublesome times (Fall 1863,) the people of Tipton had foes without and foes within. On the one hand, the Federals were over-running the country and plundering its citizens and on the other, they were subjected to depredations…of horse thieves and murderers…
“A band was formed composed of deserters from the Confederate army whose avowed purpose was to rob the… (Unionist) people…but whose real object was to rob any one who had money…The leader of this band was (Lewis) Davis (Jr.), a young man who was born and reared in Covington…he soon found accomplices in the person of Shaver, Gardner and others.”
Lewis Davis Jr. had joined the “Tipton Rifles,” 4th Tennessee infantry; he deserted following the Battle of Shiloh.
Addison Sleeth, of the 52nd Indiana Infantry stationed at Fort Pillow, witnessed the hangings:
“The sheriff and…two deputies took the prisoner from the jail…placed him on a mule and led the way. We boys followed in column of fours and the citizens brought up the rear. When we reached an elm tree in the edge of a grove we halted;…formed a square facing inward with the prisoner and officers inside and the crowd outside. The Negro was told that he had to die and was asked if he had anything to say. He then told the story of how he and the two white men committed a murder so horrible that it made one’s flesh creep to listen to it.”
Within a few days, Davis was captured and confined in the Covington jail. The sheriff requested soldiers from Fort Pillow to help prevent the rescue of Davis by members of his gang. The soldiers came and surrounded the jail. Addison Sleeth describes the hanging the next day:
“At 10 o’clock, the fall-in call sounded and when we were in line, the sheriff and two guards brought out a slender rather fine looking young man who looked to be not over 22 or 23 years old…he had a worn look,…was pale and nervous but there was nothing in his looks to denote the depth of wickedness and crime into which he had fallen.
“Our line of march to the fatal tree was one company in front, then the sheriff and…(deputies?) and our company in the rear.
“A large crowd of citizens were scattered all along the line among them the wife, mother and sisters of the prisoner. On the way down, I rode along side of the sheriff and prisoner…I remember the prisoner turned to us…and said, ‘Boys, it looks hard to jerk a man up and hang him without giving him a trial.’ When we asked him if he was guilty he did not say.
“We reached the tree on which we had seen the Negro hanged…formed a hollow square facing inward with the sheriff, prisoner and his wife who had never left his side, inside and the crowd outside. The prisoner sat on a mule with his hands tied behind him and was talking to his young wife who held his tied hands. The sheriff asked him if he had anything to say. He made no reply…
“The sheriff drew the black cap over his face, placed the noose around his neck. His wife gave one wild scream and fell in the dust at the feet of the mule apparently lifeless. Citizens picked her up and took her away and the mule was led from under the prisoner. The rope slipped its fastening to the limb letting the victim’s feet touch the ground. He drew up and his knees touched the ground before the rope could be drawn up. The rope was drawn up and after five minutes struggling the body became still. We remained till life was extinct and left behind us one of the most trying scenes on the nerves we had to witness in the four years service.
“In less than a week the third and last of the murderers was hanged from the same limb but we were not there to see it.”