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Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Friday, April 12, 2013

General Marsena Rudolph Patrick

In my research for my upcoming title, I Had Rather Die (please note the title change from previous blogs), about rape in the Civil War, I've come across many dark, heartbreaking stories. Oftentimes, the officers weren't as sympathetic to the women as one would have hoped. General Patrick was a notable exception. He was from New York and a graduate from West Point. Whether he was considered a good general by historians, I really don't know. My research was of a very different nature.

In 1864, Virginia, a woman had been raped by two men. She sought out General Patrick to report the crime. Through her tears, he listened to her story and promised that he would do whatever he could to bring the men to justice. At the same time, he wasn't hopeful of the outcome. In an army of over 100,000, he informed her that it would be difficult finding the men responsible for the attack.

He wrote in his diary:
There seemed to be no clew [sic] to the perpetrators, at first, but the leader could not keep away from the Spot, after the crime, & was the first to speak of it-- He was arrested & to make his own Story good, he had to tell of his comrade-- They were identified by the woman & her cousin...
As it turns out, not only were the men found guilty, they were among the few soldiers who received the death penalty for the crime of rape. Such a finding was rare during the era because few took the accusation of rape seriously. This is partly what impressed me about General Patrick. He went the extra mile to help a woman seek justice.

A couple of months after the execution, he rode out to the woman's house again to see how she was doing. She told him that they had a guard, so the soldiers didn't bother her much, "and she is now 'All Right'..."

An abridged version of General Patrick's diary with the title of Inside Lincoln's Army was published in 1964, but I sought out his actual diary at the Library of Congress. That's how I felt as if he had truly shared a piece of himself with me. His writing was detailed and eloquent. I wished I'd had the time to read all of it. More importantly though, I wished I had a way to thank him for taking a woman at her word and helping to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Kim Murphy

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