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The Other Dodd

Within hours of Ephraim Dodd’s hanging on January 8, 1864, in Knoxville, 17-year-old David Owen Dodd, apparently no relation, met the same fate nearly 500 miles away, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Both were Rebels convicted of spying. Both were believed innocent by personal acquaintances. Both were condemned on evidence found in their own diaries. The similarity of the cases may be one of the war’s eeriest coincidences.

Two years earlier, David Dodd, too young and sickly to join the Confederate army, decided to serve the Confederacy as a telegraph operator. He filled that role for much of 1862 and 1863 in Arkansas and Louisiana, and also assisted his father as a sutler for the 3d Arkansas Dismounted Rifles in Mississippi and Alabama. Unlike Ephraim Dodd, David Dodd probably did gather intelligence for the Confederate army, though he did so without fully appreciating the potential consequences of his actions. One theory holds that Brigadier General James F. Fagan persuaded David to gather information about Union troops in Little Rock. More likely, a genuine Rebel spy named Frank Tomlinson, whom David knew casually, recruited the boy for intelligence work.

In any case, David visited Little Rock on business for his father in December 1863. While trying to return south through Federal lines, he was questioned and searched. The Federals found a derringer pistol and a memorandum book. The book contained a description, disguised in Morse Code, of Union infantry and artillery strength in the city. A two-day trial produced a guilty verdict, and a final appeal for clemency was refused.

On the morning of January 8, at the very hour Ephraim Dodd plunged through the gallows drop, David penned a consoling letter to his parents, in language strikingly similar to that written by Ephraim to his parents the previous evening. “I am prepared to die,” David wrote. “I expect to meet you all in heaven do not weep for me for I will be better off in heaven. I will soon be out of this world of sorrow and trouble.” Unlike Ephraim’s letter, however, David’s contained no final claim of innocence.

Some reports suggest a similar end for the Dodds, too. When David dropped through the gallows trap, the rope apparently was too long. As it stretched, his toes touched the ground, preventing a clean break of his neck. Some people speculated that he died as much from strangulation as from neck trauma. Friends claimed his body and buried him in nearby Mount Holly Cemetery. Today he is remembered as an Arkansas folk hero.