On June 8, 1871, a witness named C. S. Cherry testified before Congress. His testimony appears in the “Report of the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Southern States.” This has become known as the Reconstruction Committee.

Google Books and other publishers have digitized the many volumes of the report and committee hearings, which Congress published in 1872. The testimony of C . S. Cherry appears in Volume VIII, pages 70-77, of the committee’s compilation of witnesses.

Many Cherrys appear in a Google search of Civil War Alabama. Was this man the Charles Story Cherry who urged his brothers to read in 1858?

Here are some clues from the testimony:

C. S. Cherry testified he had lived all his life in Chambers County, Alabama, until three or four days after the “last election.” Presumably that was the Congressional election of 1870.

Then he had moved to West Point, Georgia. Lt. William C. Cherry wrote that he had been born in 1840 in Chambers County but had moved as a child to West Point, Georgia. In 1861, he had enlisted in the West Point Guards.

Both men said their father had moved from South Carolina about 1835. C. S. Cherry testified he had been born in South Carolina but had moved to Alabama in 1839. He did not give his birth date. William Cherry wrote he had been born in Alabama in 1840.

The chairman of the committee asked C. S. Cherry:

Q. What caused you to leave the State of Alabama?

A. I left there three or four days after the election, for the reason that I was satisfied, if the democrats had carried the state, that if I attempted to live there, I would not live three days longer.

(VIII Test. 70; The Government Printing Office did not capitalize Democrats or Republicans in this document.)

The chairman asked how Cherry had decided he was in danger.

A. I knew that if the democrats had carried the State and [also] that congressional district, no republican who had taken an active part there for several years past, particularly a white republican, could live in the immediate neighborhood in which I live.

The chairman asked what facts led him to the conclusion:

A. [I] received intimation through a relative of mine, who is a democrat there, and a man of some prominence, . . . that if . . . the democrats had carried the State, it would not be safe for me to be seen in town another day. That [communication] was in the town of West Point, right there on the line between Georgia and Alabama. My office was in a little town called Blufftown, adjoining the town of West Point, and the State line is between the two.

Q. Had there been, in that neighborhood in Alabama, any acts of violence toward republicans?

A. Not in that immediate neighborhood for some months. Some ten miles above there a colored man had been killed, a preacher, and a man somewhat prominent in the county as a republican. He had been killed some ten or twelve days before.

Q. Were any threats made against you . . . .?

A. There was no attempt made upon my life just at that time. But we numbered about three white republicans , although our beat was largely republican (Test. 70).

The “beat,” Cherry said, was his voting precinct. He said:

“It was known to the republicans, and democrats as well, that what few white republicans were about there would be in danger of their lives.”

Cherry testified he had taken “an active part” in the voting canvass “by doing all I could for the ticket.” Cherry had a government job as “assistant assessor of internal revenue . . . for some years.”

Yet, he said, “[t]here were very few men, even of those white men who sometimes voted the republican ticket, who dared to come out openly and declare themselves republicans” (Test. 71).

C. S. Cherry said the murder of the “old colored man” seems to have taken place because he had opened a school. The assassins did not disguise themselves. He said that an “old white lady” who was boarding with the preacher said she knew three of them.

Q. Was there any political reason connected with that assassination?

A. The colored man was a man of some prominence as a republican. He was a man of character, and had been a preacher there ever since my earliest recollection. This old white lady was teaching a colored school in the neighborhood and boarding at this old colored preacher’s house; that is she had a room there, and they prepared her meals and sent them to her room . . . She could not go anywhere else to board; that is, with any white family in the neighborhood, I think she said. The school had been under way about a month, I understood, when this crowd went to the house at night and called out this old parson, Trammell, and killed him. The old lady said she was satisfied they would have killed her if she had not made her escape as she did in her night-clothes.

Q. Was any other explanation given of that murder?

A. None were given to the friends of the party; we all knew what it meant (Test. 71).

The witness said the authorities arrested no one. The finding of the coroner’s jury was that the preacher “came to his death by the hands of some persons unknown to the jury.”

In Cherry’s precinct, he testified, there were only three white Republicans. The entire white voting population of the precinct, he said, was “one hundred and sixty and odd,” and the “colored voting population, I think, was some five hundred and twenty-five” (Test. 73).

Congressman Van Trump of asked for the name of Cherry’s informant, which Cherry declined to give several times:

Q. I want his name.

A. He would not like me to give it, I know. It was told to me confidentially, very confidentially (Test. 72).

Congressman Van Trump later followed up:

Q. {I] want the name of the gentleman who told you you had better leave there.

A. I am very loath, Mr. Chairman, to answer that question, to give his name; I am very loath to do it; I do not like to do it (Test. 73).

The chairman then read aloud the statute governing the testimony of witnesses before Congress, which threatened indictment on a misdemeanor, a fine of up to $1,000, and a year’s imprisonment for refusal to answer any question (Test. 74).

A. [I] will qualify the part of my statement about the gentleman being a democrat, for that perhaps is going too far. He is not understood to be a republican; he has not taken part in politics since the war. I do not think he has ever registered or voted since the war. He certainly is not a republican (Test. 74).

Other members agreed that the question was pertinent, so Cherry answered:

A. His name is Colonel George Reese (id.).

That proved that the witness was Charles Story Cherry. Lt. Cherry wrote in his memoir that their mother was Mary Elizabeth Reese.

Cherry said Colonel Reese was a great-uncle, aged 74 or 75, living in Blufftown (id.).

Charles Cherry also testified that he had been a schoolteacher in Alabama, which might explain the quality of his letter to his brothers. He said he had been a Union man before organization of the Republican party in the state in 1867 (Test. 72).

Since the threats against him, he said he had moved to Washington, D. C., and was working as a clerk in the Census Bureau (id.).

The testimony showed quite a division in the Cherry family: one “Union man” with three brothers who had been Confederate soldiers. It also shows a white population outnumbered almost five to one in that corner of eastern Alabama.

But nothing can condone the assassination of the black preacher who had started a school and employed a white teacher. That unpunished terror in 19th-century Alabama sounds exactly like the Taliban in today’s Afghanistan.