The Hampton area of Virginia was evacuated by Gen. John B. Magruder’s forces in early August 1861; the region had become unstable after the enemy seized property and slaves, and by late July the Hampton-Fortress Monroe area had nearly 1000 blacks seized during enemy raids on upriver plantations. The intention was identical to Lord Dunmore’s in 1775 – deny Virginia its agricultural workers and arm them against their former owners.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Lincoln’s Army of Roughs and Jailbirds
“On Monday, May 27  . . . soon after breakfast, several boats were seen loaded with [Yankee] troops going up the river and being so near the land, it was apparent they intended to land at the wharves. One can imagine the great excitement created by the sight of the troops. War seemed to have come in the midst of perfect peace.
Very soon after, a squad of marines came to the house and advised father to go and ask protection of the commanding officer, who turned out to be General [Northcott] Phelps. They said many of the soldiers were the rough and jailbirds of Boston and would steal and destroy everything unless it was guarded.
General Phelps was the colonel of the 1st Vermont (Regiment) but on account of his West Point training had been made brigadier-general . . . There were three regiments landed: the 7th New York, all Germans, were stationed next to our house, all on our land; the 1st Vermont, and the Massachusetts, next to Captain Wilbern’s.
In order to conciliate the guard, we furnished them with food, but they were very suspicious, and I usually had to eat some of it to show that it was not poisoned.
Tuesday afternoon I went over to the [enemy] camp . . . and witnessed something of what war was. It seemed that the colonel of the Massachusetts Regiment was very mad because Phelps had been promoted over him and for this reason perhaps had given passes to a great many of his men to go out of the lines . . . At any rate, a large number had gone out of camp and plundered the whole neighborhood.
They seemed to have stripped the farms and houses of everything conceivable. I learned afterwards that the thieves, finding that they would be arrested, had left most of the plunder in the thickets outside the pickets, all of which was brought into camp, in the night.
As only two of the Vermonters were arrested, and very few of the Germans, the Massachusetts Regiment became very indignant and made many threats. I now saw what a soldier would do if unrestrained and in what he conceived an enemy’s country . . . there was fear of mutiny, for we were informed by our guard that the Vermont Regiment was expecting an attack, and if we heard any firing we would know it was between them and the Massachusetts Regiment.
The Negroes had not tried to protect anything from the pillaging of the soldiers . . . What furniture or other things they wanted had been carried away by them. A small safe that father had used in his store in Hampton . . . had been taken out in the yard and broken open. The valuables were all stolen and books and papers scattered about the yard.”
(When the Yankees Came, Civil War and Reconstruction on the Virginia Peninsula, George Benjamin West, Park Rouse, Jr., editor, The Dietz Press, 1977, excerpts, pp. 47-50)