John B. Cook

Stories of Guernsey county by Wm. Wolfe Page 287-288-289-290

John B. Cook.—In 1865 John B. Cook, who was serving as deputy provost marshal of the sixteenth congressional district, lived in a house (still standing) on the north side of Wheeling avenue, between Eleventh and Twelfth streets.  He was forty-eight years of age, five feet and ten inches in height, and weighed 180 pounds.  It was Cook’s duty to apprehend violators of the federal military laws.  He discharged his duties tactfully and efficiently, and as a citizen he held the confidence and esteem of all who knew him.  With him in the home were his wife and six children, the children ranging in age from two to fifteen years.

     On Sunday evening, March 5, between the hours of seven and eight o’clock, two strange men knocked at the front door of the Cook home.  Mrs. Cook was alone in the front room, the three older children being at church and the three younger asleep in an adjoining room.  Opening the door, she was asked if Mr. Cook was at home.  “He is in the back yard,” she replied, then closed the door.  The men walked away and turned north in the alley east of the house.  Cook was standing on the garden walk; without speaking a word one of the men fired a pistol at him from the alley.  The bullet went through Cook’s heart.  The men ran out the alley to the north, crossed Steubenville avenue and disappeared in the woods north of town.

     Hearing the shot, Mrs. Cook ran out the back door and found her husband lying dead on the walk.  Attracted by her screams, a crowd of people soon gathered on the spot.  Within a few minutes the news had spread over town.  It was a night of excitement.  Who were the murderers?  Why had they shot Cook?  Where were they now? In the darkness they could not be followed that night.

     State and County Aroused.On the following day Sheriff William Stewart had bills published and posted over the county, offering a reward of $1,000.00 for information leading to the arrest of the assassins.  Governor John Brough telegraphed a reward of $500.00.  The General Assembly, which was in session at the time, voted an additional $500,00.

     The heinousness of the crime, the mystery attending it, and the $2,000.00 offered for the capture of the men stirred the people of the whole county.  War-time excitement aggravated the situation.  All had not been harmony in Guernsey county.  There were some people who were suspected of being disloyal; they were not satisfied with the war.  Such people might be termed “fifth columnists: today.  Cook had been alert.  Were the assassins personal enemies of Cook, or were they the representatives of a group with designs against the government?

     Mrs. Cook said one of the men wore a soldier’s blue overcoat with a big cape, and a low-crowned hat.  He had a dark mustache, she said, and short thin whiskers.  She held a lamp in her hand while talking to him.  The other man stood back and it was too dark for her to see him plainly.  John Gallup, who lived north of the Cook home, heard a shot followed by the screams of a woman. He stepped to the gate in front of his house as two men came running by.  He asked the cause of the commotion and one of the men replied, “Some women are having a fuss over there.”  The men kept running north.  Tracks discovered in the mud the next morning showed that one of them had metal plates on the heels and toes of his boots. This was the clue that eventually led to their capture.

     John S. Campbell saw the telltale tracks near Oldham’s on the day after the murder and followed them beyond Liberty (Kimbolton), and this started a search in that direction.  Sarah Skinner, who lived a mile and half northwest of Washington, reported that two strange men called at her home on Tuesday, apparently half-starved, and asked for something to eat.  They told her they were hunting the men that had shot Cook, and then asked if Cook were dead.  They offered her a large bill for the food, which she refused to accept.  “We want to reach the National Road.” They said, and when told how to go, they took the opposite direction.  As they answered the description of the assassins the search was taken up at that point.  Reports came from Winchester, Antrim and Londonderry that two suspicious characters had been seen near those places.

     Suspects Captured.—Hundreds of men joined in the search.  On Thursday, March 9, a number of them ate dinner at Edward Carpenter’s near Londonderry. In the afternoon they dispersed in different directions.  Noticing a barn in a field across from the Carpenter home, two of the men went over to search it.  There seemed to be nothing within except some farm machinery and straw.  They were about to leave when one of them picked up a pitchfork and began probing in the straw.  Two feet down he struck something that caused him to withdraw the fork.  He remarked to his companion, “There is nothing here.”  But outside he beckoned for others to come they soon surrounded the barn. 
     The men under the straw were ordered to come out. They remained quiet until orders were given for al to fire at the straw pile; then they surrendered.  They denied knowing anything about the Cook murder.  It was a proud body of horsemen that brought them to Cambridge where they were lodged in jail (the old jail.)

     The prisoners gave their names as Hiram Oliver and John W. Hartup, two men whom Provost Marshal Cook had been ordered to arrest for deserting from the army, and the two men who, bearing the assumed names of William Jackson and William Davis, had lived in the southeastern part of the county for several months, and had been looked upon as criminals and Southern sympathizers.

     Were they innocent of the murder of Provost Marshal Cook as they claimed to be, and as many seemed to believe them to be.

     Trail of Oliver and Hartup.—The longest and most expensive case ever tried in Guernsey county was that of Hiram Oliver and John W. Hartup for the murder of Provost Marshal John B. Cook.  It began May 31, 1865, and continued to August 29, 1865 lasting, approximately three months. The cost of the trial exceeded $12,000.  The court room in the old court house not being large enough to accommodate the many officials, witnesses and others immediately interested, the case was tried in the Town Hall which stood on the site of the present Public Library.

     Oliver and Hartup were indicted by the Guernsey county grand jury for first degree murder.  Other crimes of which they were believed to be guilty, such as deserting the army, robbery and incendiarism, did not enter into the case.  The defendants’ attorneys were Hiram Skinner, J. M. Bushfield, Francis Creighton and Robert Savage, who expected their clients to be tried in the Guernsey county common pleas court.

     But General Hooker ordered a military trial and detailed a commission of ten army officers to Cambridge to conduct it.  They came from different states and were as follows: Capt. J.D. Taylor, judge advocate; Col. A.J. Warner, Col. John O. Major, Maj. Charles W. Moss, Capt. Samuel Place, Capt. J. H. Rice, Capt. A.J. Guthridge, Capt. James B. Dyer, Capt. R.C. Hicks and Lieut. E.E. Wilson.  They were accompanied here by Charles W. Stagg, official stenographer, an assistant stenographer and several attendants.

     Court opened with the counsel for the defense objecting to a military trial.  They claimed that their clients were to be tried for a civil offense, having been indicted and arraigned before the civil courts for the same crime here alleged against them.  The answer to this by the military commission was that the crime charged against the defense was purely a military offense, that the murder of Cook was not a crime against him as a citizen, but it was a crime against him as an officer of the government; that provost marshals were officers of the military arm of the government and that offenses against them were offenses against the government; over such cases the military court, not the civil court, had jurisdiction.  Further more, it was declared, the commission had been commanded to come to Cambridge and hear the case. 

It was the duty of its members to obey the orders of their superior, regardless of the civil court’s opinion.  The judge advocate ordered the prisoners arraigned.  They declared that they were innocent.

     Feeling was intense. On one hand there was danger that they would be delivered from the jail by their sympathizers; on the other, that would be taken out and lynched.  In the meantime President Lincoln was assassinated and the situation was aggravated.  There was a bitterness not unlike that manifested in the Vallandigham campaign two years before this time.  Six soldiers under Sergeant Henry M. Race were sent to Cambridge form Columbus to guard the prisoners day and night.

     Before the trial sixty-three witnesses were subpoenaed for the prosecution, and seventy-two for the defense; before it closed more than 150 witnesses were heard.  They came form several Ohio counties and from Pennsylvania and Illinois.  Counsel for the defense tried to prove an alibi for Oliver and Hartup, claiming that they were in Pennsylvania on the night of the murder.

     Day after day, as the trial progressed, the Town Hall was crowded to the utmost.  The case attracted wide attention. Newspaper men from distant cities were in Cambridge to report it.  Much of the testimony was immaterial.  The trial assumed a political character.  Capt. Joseph D. Taylor, the judge advocate, was the only Guernsey county member of the commission.  While he was highly praised for his courage and his management of the case by citizens of this and other counties, he was threatened with personal violence by sympathizers of the defendants.

     The cost, however, did not fall upon the county, but upon the federal government.  An itemized statement, published after the trial was over, showed the following; Two colonels received $1,538; one major, $590; five captains, $2,500; one judge advocate, $610; one lieutenant, $455; two stenographers, $1,320; witnesses, $1,800; rent of Town Hall; $100; rent of office for judge advocate, $50; orderlies, $300; special guard, $1,000; total, $10,253.  Other expenses incident to the trial brought the total to at least $12,000.  To this may be added the $2,000 reward offered for the capture of Oliver and Hartup.

     The defendants were found guilty and sentenced to be hung.  They were taken to Camp Chase, Columbus, were they were executed at one o’clock p.m., September 6, 1865.  Before ascending the scaffold Oliver confessed.


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