Attack of Negro Soldiers Upon Two Policemen

January 4, 1866


The murder of a white police officer by African Americans heightens racial tensions in Alabama.


The greatest consternation prevailed in the city last night on account of the killing of Officer Thomas J.McFadden, of the city police, by a negro soldier. As near as we could gather them, the facts are these: Between 9 and 10 o'clock, Officers McFadden, Spaulding, and another, while patrolling they beat on Water street, between Third and Fourth, heard two or three shots fired in what is knows as O'Neil's alley. The officer advanced into the alley to ascertain the cause of the firing, which they to have proceeded from a disreputable negro den about half way up the alley. They started into the house, and were met by a part of negroes, armed and unarmed, who resisted their approach. A general scuffle and shooting ensued between the negroes and officers, during which Thomas J.McFadden was shot through the head with a Spencer rifle ball, and instantly killed. Mr. Spaulding received several contusions upon the head and body, but was not seriously hurt. The negro soldier who shot Officer McFadden was arrested shortly afterwards by Officer Slater. His name is John Berdet, an the had been stationed as a guard at the Government buildings on Second street, between Main and the river. There were several other guards with the murderer. They left their posts and visited the negro house of ill-fame early in the night, and were no doubt drank at the time of the melee. The report of Mr.McFadden's death spread over the city like wildfire, and the police force of the city were incensed to an alarming degree. For a while a disastrous riot seemed inevitable, but, luckily the excitement subsided before nay of the negroes were caught. Almost the entire police force rallied to the neighborhood of the murder, and up to twelve o'clock they had made ten arrests, all negroes, seven men and three women. With the exception of the negro soldier, Berdet, the parties arrested were those living in the house where McFadden was killed. General Palmer promptly detailed extra guards from the Second United States Infantry to aid the police in patrolling the city and apprehending the negro soldiers. We could not learn whether the guards had captured any of the negro soldiers or not, but it is probably that all of them will be caught. This diabolical case demands immediate action, and we trust there will be no useless ceremony in bringing the guilty to justice. The body of Officer McFadden was removed to the police office by his fellow-officers, and the Coroner summoned to hold an inquest. We will furnish additional particular to-morrow.
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Justin Barlow


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“Attack of Negro Soldiers Upon Two Policemen,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed May 28, 2023,