The Mountain Laurel
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The Tragic Story of General Henry Webb

Information By Archie L. Goad © 1995

Issue: Winter, 1995

General Henry Webb (circa 1841-1880).General Henry Webb (circa 1841-1880).General Henry Webb was born in Carroll County, Virginia circa 1841, to Robert "Robin" Webb (circa 1804 and died 1884) and Catherine Elizabeth Nester. His grandparents were James Austin Webb (born circa 1783 and died 28 May 1870) and Sarah Rachael Goad (born circa 1783 and died sometime around 1850). General Henry Webb married Rachael Nester on May 12, 1857 in Carroll County, Virginia. She was born May 28, 1835 in Carroll County, Virginia to Joshua and Rebecca Cock Nester.

Being of both the Webb and Goad generation, I have heard General Webb mentioned in connection with his being hung. As a child, I always thought that he might have received that punishment for stealing a horse. I also thought that General Webb was a "General" in the Confederate Army. That assumption however, was far from the truth. General Henry Webb was a private in the CSA and General was only a given name. He had a brother who was named Major, but was never a Major in the military.

According to Jeffrey C. Weaver in a publication the "63rd Virginia Infantry" manufactured by H.E. Howard, Inc. of Lynchburg, Virginia, in the muster roll of the 63rd the following was printed:

"Webb, General Henry: Co G/1(2). Enlisted 5/ 15/62. Discharged 4/15/63. Transferred to Co. #. 30th BN. Va. Inf, deserted and then sentenced to serve one year in the penitentiary by court-martial. Returned to the 63rd. Still on the roll when deserted 8/26/63. Took oath and went north on 9/25/64. Taken POW in Carroll County. Light hair and complexion, blue eyes, 5'10". born ca 1839 in Carroll County. Hanged for murder in Carroll Co. 1/9/80, buried in the family cemetery."

In further information, it is stated that the dates are confusing, as he could not have been court marshaled before he deserted. He served time in Louisville, Kentucky and may have been a POW as the north later used that prison facility to house prisoners. From the book Webb Families by Turner, the following is mentioned: "Tradition is that General Webb was a very likable man who had the misfortune of getting into a fight with John Nestor whom he later shot and killed. He was tried, convicted and put to death for the killing even though most people thought the killing was justified."

The following two reports are said to have been hand copies by persons unknown to me from the actual articles in the Wytheville Dispatch. [Editor's Note: In the book "Wythe County History, A Bicentennial History" by Mary B. Kegley, I found the following in formation about the Wytheville Dispatch newspaper. It was probably begun about 1862 as a weekly paper by a D.A. St. Clair. His print shop was burned during the Battle of Wytheville and for a few months (1864-65) the paper was published in Hillsville, which is in Carroll County. The paper resumed business after that in Wytheville again, and continued until 1907 when it merged with the Southwest Virginia Enterprise, the newspaper still in existence and serving Wythe County today.]

History of Webb's Crime

The history of the crime is as follows: On the fourth day of August, 1879 Joshua Nestor, Sr., who was a man of about 85 years of age was at work with his wife binding oats in a field about 11 o'clock in the morning, and was shot in the back and instantly killed by some person at that time unknown. Suspicion immediately rested on his nephew and son-in-law, General H. Webb.

The sheriff at once summoned his posse, composed of over a hundred men, who after an arduous search among the cliffs and hills, succeeded in capturing their man on the 8th day of August. He was brought to Hillsville and lodged in the county jail to await trial for one of the vilest murders ever committed in the borders of our state.

His counsel chose the circuit court for his trial, and at the October term of the court Webb's trial came up. He was ably defended by prominent members of the local bar, and his council neglected nothing that could have assisted him to escape his awful death. The evidence adduced by the prosecution was almost wholly circumstantial. It was substantially that the ball removed from the body of the Nestor was of peculiar shape; such as used by the prisoner.

The rest in the woods, from which it was clear Nestor had been shot, was in such a position that none but a left-handed man as the prisoner proved to have been, could have struck the object aimed at; that the tracks leading from this rest to Webb's house were made by shoes exactly similar in shape and size as those usually worn by him; and bark displaced from the tree and the holes made in the soft earth between the tree and the soft earth between the prisoner's house fitted the ferrule of a cane which Webb was in the habit of using. The final and strongest link in the chain was the fact of his proposition to a Patrick County friend, some time prior to the murder, to butcher the old man and divide the spoils of his property which Webb, through his wife, would inherit at Nestor's demise.

These testimonies became so weighty and incontrovertible, combined with the energy of the prosecuting counsel, that in accordance with the verdict of the jury, on the 26th day of Oct. Judge Fulton pronounced sentence of death upon him. A petition was placed before the Governor praying that his sentence be commuted to imprisonment for life in the penitentiary, which was refused. Subsequently his counsel applied to the Court of Appeals, in session at Richmond, for a writ of error and supersede as; the application was denied. Webb was a criminal of the blackest hue; a terror to those of his neighborhood, and a reproach to his county. The general impression is that his doom is just.

The Halter In Carroll
General H. Webb pays the final penalty for murder - Scenes at the close History of the crime
(Special to the Wytheville Dispatch,
Hillsville, Va., Jan. 9, 1880)

General H. Webb was executed at this place today, for the murder of Joshua Nestor, Sr. An immense throng numbering perhaps three or four thousand persons was assembled in and about town to witness the last revolting scene in the great criminal's life. The prisoner had been calm and seemed resigned to his fate. He made a profession of religion some time since, but insisted that he was innocent until Sunday, Dec. 28th. when some friends gave him some liquor, with which he became intoxicated. He then confessed that he had committed the murder and implicated his wife in the murder. Upon recovering from his intoxication, he was told of what he [said] and he promptly and flatly denied it and again protested his innocence; but on the day before his execution he again confessed his crime, but said, "I thought I was justifiable in what I did. I was told that the old man Nestor had threatened my life and my wife's."

He was interviewed today at about ten o'clock but was not inclined to be communicative. He was calm and firm until the end of the last talk, when the sheriff prepared him for hanging and showed him his coffin. His brave mien was swept away by a flood of tears; and turning to his wife implored her to meet him in heaven. The parting between the husband and wife would have wrung sympathy from the stoniest heart.

At about 10:30 o'clock while he was still engaged with his ministers in his preparation, spiritual the sheriff took him from his cell and proceeded to the place of his execution, followed by about forty citizens and your and other reporters, who witnessed the execution. After ascending the scaffold he called several gentlemen to him and bidding them farewell ask them to meet him in Heaven, and said that he was as certain of "going to Glory" as that he was standing alive.

In answer to a question by the New York Herald's reporter as to his guilt he said: "Put in the papers what you please of me; I am to hang for nothing." He was then bound and the sheriff adjusted the rope, after which the condemned man ask for a drink of water, which was given him. He then said: "This is unjust; I ought not to be here. I see you are cutting the rope and down I go!" He became composed when on the scaffold and received the noose without a tremor; he died like a man.

The trap fell at ten minutes before eleven o'clock. In ten minutes his pulse ceased to beat, and in twenty-five more he was cut down, placed in his coffin, and his remains turned over to his relatives. The execution was private, and it was conducted in a corral formed by planks set on end. The physicians attending were Drs. Joseph and John Tipton and Z.C. Hall. Sheriff Marshall and his deputies certainly deserve credit for the manner in which the execution was conducted. There was not the slightest mishap or mismanagement.