Posthumous Pardons for Wrongful Execution of Soldiers in 1917

On December 11, 1917, 13 soldiers were hanged one after the other after one of the largest murder trials in U.S. history. The story behind these deaths began a few months before, when, on August 23, 1917, white Houston police officers burst into the home of a black woman. The officers assaulted her and pulled her into the street, wearing only her nightgown, as her children watched. A black solder, Alonso Edwards of the 24thInfantry Regiment, tried to rescue the woman when a white police officer pistol-whipped and arrested him.

Later, Captain Charles Baltimore, one of the most respected soldiers in the 24thregiment, went to the police station to check on Edwards. While there, Baltimore was beaten by the police, shot, and then arrested for “bucking police authority.”

While Baltimore was released a bit later, false reports had reached the camp that the Captain had been killed. In response, 156 black soldiers of the 3rd Battalion took up rifles, defied orders to stay in the base, and marched to Houston to challenge the police about their brutality and racism. When they arrived, the soldiers fought police and local residents in gun battles before returning to camp. This event was known as the Houston Riot of 1917.

Martial law was declared in Houston the next day, and the soldiers were sent to New Mexico. However, 63 black soldiers went on trial for participating in a mutiny that killed 17 people (4 police officers, 9 civilians, and 2 soldiers). The soldiers were all represented by Major Harry S. Grier, who taught at the U.S. Military Academy but was not a lawyer and had no trial experience. All soldiers pled not guilty, but 13 soldiers were convicted and sentenced to hang, 41 men were given life sentences, and 5 were acquitted.

Exactly 100 years later, the descendants of 3 of the executed men have petitioned the U.S. government for posthumous pardons for the soldiers arguing they suffered grave injustices at the hands of the government when they were executed by hanging after a defective trial by court-martial. The petitions were sent to the White House earlier this year, and the families are still waiting for a response.

If you’re facing a trial by court-martial, don’t hesitate to give our Hinesville military law attorneys a call. Our lawyers have years of prior military experience to offer your case, so we have a team with a unique perspective on the specific challenges military members face. Let us see how we can assist.

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