HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF MISSOURI,
St. Louis, July 7, 1862.
Special Orders, No. 41.
From the report of Col. J. M. Glover of an investigation made by him, in pursuance of orders from these headquarters, of the circumstances under which one Colonel Best, a rebel spy, was executed by Major Tompkins, 13th Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, and affadavits accompanying said report, it is evident that the said Colonel Best richly deserved his fate, and would have received it at the hands of a military commission had he been tried; yet his case does not appear to have been one of that class which requires the summary punishment inflicted upon members of guerrilla bands when actually taken in arms engaged in their unlawful warfare. Best was undoubtedly a spy and was engaged in inciting insurrection, but the laws of war do not justify the punishment of even these crimes without trial, nor do they justify such treatment of guerrillas under any circumstances except where the formal process of law has failed to arrest the evil. When it becomes necessary to dispense with the form of trial and execute certain classes of outlaws upon the spot orders directing this course must be construed strictly and literally, and officers charged with the execution of such orders must be held to the most rigid accountability for going beyond the terms of the order.
The commanding general is satisfied, however, that while Major Tompkins erred in this case he did so honestly, believing that he was discharging with strict fidelity an important and disagreeable duty.
The commanding general therefore takes pleasure in honorably acquitting Major Tompkins of all intentional wrong and in restoring him to his command.
Major Tompkins will be immediately released from arrest and return to duty with his regiment.
By order of Brigadier-General Schofield,
C. W. MARSH,
[Apparently the major's heart was in the right place; so no harm, no foul. Bryan.]