Notes on the Suicide of Lt. C. E. Earle

17 09 2020
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Richmond’s Exchange Hotel and Ballard House (contributed by reader Tom Leupold)

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Contributed by reader Tom Leupold

My last post  was an article in the August 8, 1861 Richmond Dispatch on the suicide of Lt. C. E. Earle, of Co. B, 4th South Carolina Infantry. I like to leave the items in the Resources section of this site generally free of opinion and analysis, other than providing links to where the reader can learn more. The interest this post has been surprising, considering I debated whether or not to include it in the first place, and has impelled me to provide a little more information.

As stated in commentary at the bottom of the post, I suspect the C. E. Earle in question is Claudius Eugene Earle, based on this site,  which for some reason shows his death date as July 7, 1861 as opposed to Aug. 7, but does show a birth date of 1835. Fold3 tells me that C. E. (and that’s how all his available records show, “C. E.”) was one of four Earles in Co. B, the others being Alexander C., G. W., and James W., all privates. I located a FindAGrave entry for a Claudius Eugene Earle in Anderson County, S. C., where Co. B was raised, but it shows birth and death dates in 1835. Was this another C. E. Earle, or perhaps was it some convention to allow for the burial of a suicide within the churchyard? I don’t know.

As to whether or not whatever action Earle saw at Frist Bull Run impacted his decision to leap from the 6th floor of Richmond’s Ballard House to Franklin St. below, I have no idea. Earle is mentioned twice in the after action report of Col. J. B. E. Sloan. Basically, Earle as a lieutenant was in command of Co. B. on the 21st (why Capt. W. W. Humphreys was not, I don’t know). First, the company was held in reserve at the Stone Bridge, with companies E and J (yes, J) deployed as skirmishers there. The rest of the regiment was sent to Matthews Hill. After the Confederates fell back across the Warrenton Pike… I’ll let Sloan take it from here:

Lieutenant Earle, commanding Company B (Palmetto Riflemen), and Captain Dean’s company (C), both reserves, occupied the position first held by the regiment (on the left of the road near the bridge) until after the battery retired, when they also retreated toward Lewis’ house and were then formed into a battalion, with portions of Captain Shanklin’s company, under Lieutenant Cherry, and Captain Long’s company and the New Orleans Zouaves, Captain ——-, and some Alabamians, under Major Whither and Colonel Thomas, of Maryland, and by them led to the field of battle on our extreme left. They charged a battery of the enemy, and, after a severe conflict, repulsed him. Sergeant Maxwell planted the colors of the Fourth Regiment South Carolina Volunteers on the cannon of the enemy and maintained his position until after his comrades had been repulsed by a superior force, who had deceived our men and prevented their firing upon them by using our colors and sign of recognition. During this contest Major Whitner had his horse shot under him while endeavoring to rally the men led to the charge.

And there, as far as I can tell, Earle disappears from the record, until showing up in the Dispatch eighteen days later.

What drove him to the act? Was it heredity, as the article suggests, something he saw or did during the battle of the 21st, something that happened before or afterwards unrelated to the battle, or some combination? It seems unlikely that Lt. Earle would have been given such responsibility as command of the regiment’s reserve had he been exhibiting signs of mental instability (though later in the war we can certainly point to many such cases). Was it what we today call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? I’m not a fan of post-mortem psychoanalysis after 159 years (although plenty of folks have based entire books on such drivel), so I won’t conject. But perhaps some reader out there has C. E. Earle in their tree, and can help us fill in the blanks with facts.

UPDATE: This from reader Brad in the comments:

Richmond Whig 8/8/61

Extraordinary Suicide.—Yesterday afternoon, about 4 o’clock, Lieut. C. E. Earle, of the Palmetto Rifles, 4th Regiment South Carolina Volunteers, (Col. Sloan) committed suicide by throwing himself from the front window, nearest the Eastern end, of the sixth or top story of the Ballard House. He fell upon the granite pavement below, and was instantly killed. His head and body were dreadfully fractured and crushed by the fearful concussion. The deceased was a native of Greenville, S. C. He had been sick at his room, in the Ballard House, for several days, but made bis appearance at the office, yesterday, and paid his bill, intending, as he intimated, to leave for Manassas this morning. A note found in his room, addressed to Mr. Ballard, indicates that he was laboring under an aberration of mind when he committed the rash act. He refers to certain “slanders,” charging him with refusing to recognize a young lady, whose name he mentions, and gives directions for the disposition of a considerable sum of money which he had left in the custody of Mr. Ballard.

There is also an article on the suicide in the 11/30/61 Daily Dispatch, page 2.

What caused the Dispatch to publish another article nearly 4 months later? Well, here it is (I apologize, some of image on Newspapers.com is too blurry to make out):

The Late Lieut. Earle. – The reader will remember the remarkable suicide of Lieut. Earle, at the Exchange Hotel, in August last. The reporter at that time employed in this office, noticed the event, in the local department, in a paragraph in which it was stated that the act was occasioned by insanity, which was hereditary in the deceased. – The [?] remark, so unnecessary and heedless, and in no view of the case justifiable, attraced the notice of Mr. Wm. E. Earle, a relative of Lieut. E, and he soon afterwards wrote to the editors denying the statement, and inquiring upon whose authority it was made. This letter, in the course of official business, was transferred to the local department, without reaching the editors, and was not properly answered, whilst the cause of [???] aggravated by a statement in the local column that Mr. Wm. E. Earle denied that insanity was inherited by his relative. That gentleman has recently brought [??] to the knowledge of the [???] never read the paragraph [???] or saw the letter of Mr. Earle. [??????] for the very objectionable statement is too vague to be entitled to notice.

This case is one of the wrongs of journalism growing out of inconsiderateness, without improper motive, which it must be confessed, occur too often, and which, in the nature of things, it is impossible fully to repair. We very much regret that this paper has been the medium of it, and make this explanation in justice to Mr. Wm. E. Earle and ourselves.

For now, that’s all I have. The family refuted the statement regarding the heredity of insanity. And the possibility that a woman was somehow associated with the act has been introduced. I’ll update here if I get any more, and if you find anything, please, be like Brad and leave a comment.


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17 09 2020
Brad

Richmond Whig 8/8/61
Extraordinary Suicide.—Yesterday afternoon, about 4 o’clock, Lieut. C. E. Earle, of the Palmetto Rifles, 4th Regiment South Carolina Volunteers, (Col. Sloan) committed suicide by throwing himself from the front window, nearest the Eastern end, of the sixth or top story of the Ballard House. He fell upon the granite pavement below, and was instantly killed. His head and body were dreadfully fractured and crushed by the fearful concussion. The deceased was a native of Greenville, S. C. He had been sick at his room, in the Ballard House, for several days, but made bis appearance at the office, yesterday, and paid his bill, intending, as he intimated, to leave for Manassas this morning. A note found in his room, addressed to Mr. Ballard, indicates that he was laboring under an aberration of mind when he committed the rash act. He refers to certain “slanders,” charging him with refusing to recognize a young lady, whose name he mentions, and gives directions for the disposition of a considerable sum of money which he had left in the custody of Mr. Ballard.

There is also an article on the suicide in the 11/30/61 Daily Dispatch, page 2.

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17 09 2020
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Brad. This adds to the puzzle. I’ll check out that later one…perhaps it gives more detail. There must have been some reason for them to run a story almost 4 months later.

I’ll amend this post to include the above.

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