Watermelony Death

10 07 2020

Oh, the things we find.

Now that I’ve fallen into the black hole of Newspapers.com, I find that I can’t just focus on Bull Run stuff. I recall reading once that Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit and Unbroken, reads ALL of the papers when she’s researching her subject – that is, she reads the whole paper. This in fact is how she came across the story of Unbroken, while she was researching Seabiscuit. Anyway, today I was cruising through the August 1, 1861 issue of the Richmond Dispatch. On page two I came across this tidbit, a reminder that there are stories everywhere.

Lamentable Affair – We learn that Capt. Charles H. Axson, of South Carolina, was killed last Tuesday evening, near Wilson, North Carolina, on the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, by Arthur B. Davis, of the Second Georgia Regiment. The main particulars of the affair, as we learn from eyewitnesses, are as follows:

Capt. Axson, en route for Richmond, was bringing with him some watermelons and fine tropical fruit, as a present to distinguished friends in Richmond. Davis, while intoxicated, cut open several of the melons and crushed others. He afterwards approached the Captain and offered as an apology the remark that he was drunk, to which the Captain replied that being drunk was no excuse for stealing. During the day Davis again approached the Captain, and declared that he was sorry for what he had done while intoxicated, and was willing to make any apology for it. The Captain replied that he was satisfied, shook his hand and joined him in a drink. – They appeared afterwards to be friendly for some hours. In the afternoon, Davis being again under the influence of liquor, was making a rather careless exhibition of side-arms, when the Captain, in a good humor, and apparently remonstrating, held him for a moment. Being released, Davis withdrew for a moment to another car; but soon returned, with pistol in hand, demanding to know who was the man who had imposed on him. Captain A, supposing at once that he was the person alluded to, stepped forward, and was shot in the breast by Davis when very near him. Capt. A. died instantly. Davis was arrested.

Capt. Axson was the commander of Company “M,” First Regiment South Carolina Volunteers, which returned home a few weeks since. He was returning with his company again to enter the service. He was a true Southern man and a gallant officer. His company were warmly devoted to him, and are much afflicted by his untimely death.

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The next day, in the same paper, on the same page (semi-colons abound!):

The Late Homicide Followed by an Attempt at Murder! – Yesterday we learned that young Davis, who shot Capt. Axson on the Wilmington cars on Tuesday evening, was taken by a mob from a car on the south side of the river, opposite the city, and after being conveyed some half mile or so, was shot and stabbed several times. Though not killed outright, it is feared that his wounds are mortal. Some account of this shocking affair will be found in our local column, and it is also referred to in a letter, which we publish below.

We published yesterday an account of the killing of Capt Axson, which was furnished by a member of his company. We regret that in it the paper was led into the statement of circumstances that certainly reflect upon Mr. Davis, and are disputed. We are satisfied that he was a gentleman most respectably connected, and held in warm esteem amongst his fellow citizens. We give place very readily to the following communication in his vindication;

Richmond, Va., August 1st, 1861.

Editors Dispatch: Sir – In your issue of this morning, under the heading of “Lamentable Affairs,” I find an account of the shooting of Captain Axson, 1st South Carolina Volunteers, by Mr. Davis, of 2d Georgia Volunteers. So far as the fact of Captain Axson having been shot by Mr. Davis you are correct, and in so far only. From disinterested eye-witnesses, (witnesses who do not belong to either State, South Carolina or Georgia,) I learn that both parties were inebriated; that Mr. Davis did cut one, or perhaps more, melons of Captain Axson’s; when taxed for so doing Mr. Davis apologized, stating that he had supposed they were for sale, (as fruit was thus exposed all along the line,) and that he expected to pay for them on the appearance of the owner; that he was sorry for the mistake; that the excuse satisfied Captain A., when both drank together, more than once. A dispute afterwards arose, during which Captain Axson held Mr. Davis to the floor, choking him. On being released, Mr. Davis left the car, and procuring his side-arms returned to the car and to his seat, remarking that he would not suffer himself to be thus imposed on again; that on Captain Axson’s making a rush on him, Mr. Davis shot him. Your informant neglected to state to you other facts: that Major Butt, of the Second Georgia Regiment immediately arrested Mr. D, disarmed him and conveyed him to this city; that he left him in one of the cars, under a corporal’s guard, and went to hunt up the proper authorities, to whom he intended to surrender him; that during his absence the guard was set upon by a posse of armed men, (supposed to belong to Capt. Axson’s company;) that being no longer able to hold him the guard surrendered him, on the possee or mob promising to only convey him to the proper authorities; that the armed mob took Mr. Davis a half mile out of town, and there brutally murdered him; shooting him, and on his falling, one of the party ran up and stabbed him. Major Butt having taken his arms from him, no such cowardly assassination would have been attempted; for men who could this act, would have lacked the courage to have attacked him openly, when armed. Mr. Davis is well known in Georgia; his previous character has been unimpeachable. His conduct at home and abroad has been that of the true gentleman. The blood of Georgia’s Governors flow not in other veins, and the 2d Georgia Regiment had hoped that the press of Richmond would have waited until a judicial investigation had thrown full light on the affair. I do not know why the disposition of the fruit being bought by Capt. A. was mentioned. The piece says it was or “distinguished friends of Richmond.” If, by this mention, it was intended to leave the impression of social inequality on the part of Mr. D, it should have been left out; for Mr. D., socially, was any one’s equal. He occupied in his native State a high social position and deservedly. He was connected with (and never disgraced his connection,) the most honorable families in Georgia, begin a grandson of ex-Gov. Schley. So much for “distinguished friends” and its inference.

Respectfully,
W. A. T.

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There’s more, in other papers (for example, here), but I can’t delve too deeply into it. But YOU can! Let me know what you turn up in the comments section.

Capt. Charles H. Axson at FindAGrave

I couldn’t find anything definitive on Arthur B. Davis, but from what I can gather his wounds were not fatal.


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