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Murder of Joseph C. Bragg at Covington

From May 9, 1862 through September 1865, Tipton’s Circuit Court did not convene due to the war. Judge Alexander W. Smith’s fatal stabbing of Anthony Bledsoe on Oct. 1, 1863, was considered self-defense. Another killing in Tipton occurred a couple of weeks later.

Joseph C. Bragg was a Virginia native born in 1825. In 1860, he was a farm overseer for Col. Bartlett M. Browder’s 500-acre plantation in District 12. Bragg was not married. By 1863, he was “supervising a number of newly-freed slaves on his uncle’s farm near Covington.

A Union soldier from Fort Pillow wrote the following on Nov. 3, 1863 for publication in the Newark, N. J., Daily Advertiser:

“The week before last 107 of us followed (Confederate) guerrillas toward Jackson for 4 days; almost immediately on our return we were ordered into Tipton County to look for Richardson’s gang reported to be near Portersville.

“We left Fort Pillow at 5 a.m. and ferried across the Hatchie River in a flat boat 5 horses at a time with a citizen guide rode to Portersville got there at 5 a.m. where we did not find any rebels; rained and cold we were nearly frozen; left the next morning at daylight we started for Covington…entering the town there at 3 p.m.; found the citizens turned out about to hang a Negro for killing his master; he had made a full confession of his guilt to a jury of 12 men summoned for the occasion, and they decided to hang him.

“The circumstances as I then learned from the Sheriff were as follows:

“‘A man named Bragg who lived near town, had incurred the displeasure of the guerillas by guiding us to their camps…and as he was known to have sums of money, two of Richardson’s men formed a plan to rob and murder him. The men named Davis and Shaver were formerly his neighbors.

“‘On Tuesday night they succeeded in getting the Negro (Peter Bragg) to entice (Joseph) Bragg a short distance from the house when he was seized by all three, dragged to the woods near by and made to say where his money was. He promised to do so if they would spare his life but they refused. Shot him down and then beat his brains out with clubs, and to make doubly sure work Davis tied a…belt around his neck and twisted it till the head was nearly severed from the body. They then stripped it, divided the clothes, then threw the mangled results in a hole, returned to the house and found $1,800 which the two white men carried off and leaving the Negro to care for himself. On being asked the next day where his master was the black brute was confused and told different stories which led to his arrest and he made the above confession after close questioning.

“‘We staid all night in town and returned to the fort the next day.’”

Peter Bragg had been promised $500 or his part in the crime. The Memphis Bulletin newspaper of Nov. 4,1863 reported:

“Col. Moore arrived from Fort Pillow about this time and it was expected that he would take the slave out of the hands of the citizens, but on learning the circumstances of the case, he assisted them in their purpose and the slave was executed.”

For the next four weeks, Tipton’s sheriff, deputies and constables searched for Peter Bragg’s partners in crime. Continued next week.

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