Private John S Downing of Company B, 51st New York Infantry was wounded at Antietam on 17 September 1862 – probably in the charge over what became known as Burnside Bridge – and survived the war, a Sergeant when he mustered out in July 1865.

After the war, though, his life took a terrible turn. In December 1878 his wife was found dead in their tenement home in Brooklyn, badly beaten, and he was charged with her murder. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and on 17 January 1879 was sentenced to life in prison. He spent the years 1879 through 1903 in Sing Sing Prison in New York.

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He was finally released on New Year’s Day 1904, by then 72 years old, after a pardon – his sentence commuted by New York’s Governor Benjamin B Odell, Jr.

The Governor noted that

Since Downing was convicted, the maximum penalty for manslaughter, first degree, has been reduced by the Legislature to imprisonment for twenty years, and after a careful consideration of the circumstances connected with his offense it seems just that he should receive some benefit from the change.


The long article here is from the New York Sun of 22 January 1903, page 10, online from the Library of Congress.

This brief notice of his pardon is from the Highland [VA] Recorder of 8 January 1904.

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