From the New York Times, 7/20/1866
AN EXECUTION IN RICHMOND.
A Revolting Accident on the Scaffold.
From the Richmond Whig, July 17.
In October last, as our readers are aware, Mr. and Mrs. GERALD, of Rockbridge County, were the victims of a brutal murder, and ISAAC CHANEY, a negro, being arrested on suspicion of committing the deed, was tried before a Military Commission, found guilty and condemned to death. After being for some time confined at Staunton, he was removed to the Libby Prison in this city, and various days were fixed for his execution, but he was as often reprieved. The fatal day was at last set for yesterday, and the prisoner given to understand that he need hope for no further reprieves.
CHANEY, for some time previous to the day fixed for his execution, held daily interviews with two negro preachers, under whose ministrations he professed a change of heart and his readiness to die.
The execution, which took place in the interior of the prison, was strictly private, and only persons holding special permits from Gen. TERRY were admitted, but this did not prevent the gathering of an immense throng around the prison, seemingly inspired by a curiosity to gaze at the walls, within which was to be enacted the fearful tragedy, or possibly hoping to get a glimpse as he made the fatal plunge.
The negro divines above alluded to, JAS. H. HOLMES and NELSON P. VANDERVAUGHN, spent the morning in the cell of the condemned man, who ate his breakfast with apparent relish after a sound night’s sleep. He then confessed having committed the murder for which he was about to die, stating that he was induced to the act by feelings of animosity toward Mr. GERALD, expressing his regret for the act, acknowledging the justice of his sentence, and professing himself ready to die.
At 11:15 the prisoner was led from his cell accompanied by his reverend friends, and conducted to the trap-door on the third floor of the building. He was stout, thick set, and very black, about five feet nine inches in height, thirty-two years of age, weighing about 175 pounds, and with a countenance brutal and sensual, expressive of much low cunning and ferocity. The face was that of a bold, bad, passionate revengeful man, and a physiognomist would have pronounced him capable of any crime.
The rope is attached to a stationary windlass over the trap-door already referred to, and the black cap was drawn over the face of the doomed man, who bore himself with wonderful coolness, not a tremor being visible, as the rope was adjusted and he bade farewell to the group around him. At 10:40 the trap sprung and the murderer fell with lightning rapidity through the drop, but the rope which was new and prepared expressly for the occasion, and which had been thoroughly tested, gave way, and the prisoner fell to the second floor. He alighted on his feet, tottered a moment, and fell back supporting himself on his hands. He was raised up, but did not seem to be seriously injured, and remarked that “he didn’t mind hanging, but didn’t like to be choked in that way.”
He was led up-stairs, and a new rope being procured, the murderer was swung off at 11:40. His neck was broken instantly, and he died without a struggle, only a few convulsive tremors of his limbs being visible. The body hung for twenty minutes, and life being pronounced by Drs. BROWN and TREMAINE, extinct, the corpse was cut down and delivered to the Freedmen’s Bureau for burial.
This negro was born in Ohio, in 1834, joined the Federal army during the war, being attached to SHERMAN’S cavalry, was captured by the Confederates, and sold to Mr. GERALD. In October last he murdered his master and set fire to his house, burning up Mrs. GERALD, who was asleep in the house at the time. For once military law has awarded justice.