Browsing "Crimes of War"

The Old Hate

Sherman’s soldiers spared little from looting and destruction in North Carolina as they had done in Georgia and South Carolina. After the conflict, wartime Governor Zebulon Vance wrote: “When a general organizes a corps of thieves and plunderers as a part of his invading army, and licenses beforehand their outrages, he and all who countenance, aid or abet, invite the execration of mankind. This peculiar arm of the military service, it is charged and believed, was instituted by General Sherman in his invasion of the Southern States. Certain it is that the operations of his “Bummer Corps” were as regular and un-rebuked, if not as much commended for their efficiency, as any other division of his army, and their atrocities were often justified or excused on the ground that “such is war.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Old Hate

“Long before you ever came into North Carolina, your name was a terror to us; news of your march through Georgia and South Carolina had preceded you. “Massa Harold” (my great-grandfather) had expected you to have horns and hoofs; he must have been surprised when you appeared on a neighboring plantation as an ordinary man of forty-five with a head of unruly red hair and a shaggy beard.

But your soldiers were hungry, and they scouted the country-side for food. That is why they came to our house. (No, it was not one of those story-book mansions with white columns; it was only a two-room log cabin. There had been better days for the family, but that is another story.)

On that morning in March of 1865 when your “bummers” rode up to our gate, “Ole Mammy” (my great-grandmother, then a woman of forty-seven) was standing in the yard. Beside her stood a young woman of eighteen (Aunt Fed), a boy of nine (Uncle Richard), and a little girl of six (Aunt Queen), and a Negro slave (“Aunt Bessie”) . . . and Frank (my grandfather, then aged thirteen) were down in the swamp with an old horse and a cow. (Three older sons had been taken prisoners at the fall of Fort Fisher just the month before.)

Your men found the cow; she would not be quiet and so ended in your pot. (She was dry anyhow.) Frank came up to the house and found your men digging in a ditch for a keg of gold which “Aunt Bessie” had told them was buried there. (People still come and dig for that treasure, but ‘ther aint nare been one.”) Thanks for cleaning out the ditch.

And we got the feathers picked up and the bed ticks sewed back together. Thus far, we were about even; you got the cow, and we kept the horse; you cleaned out the ditch and made us clean up the house. But the thing that made us mad was that pot of chicken stew.

Frank remembered it well. It was the last chicken they had. “Old Mammy” had saved it for an emergency. When she heard that you were over on the Faison Plantation, she knew that the emergency had come. She had hoped her family would have it eaten before you came, but it was still in the pot when she heard that dreaded cry, “Yankees, Yankees; the Yankees are coming.”

And everyone had to hurry to his place. At first your soldiers were nice enough, but after all that digging they were short on manners. They ransacked the house, and not finding the gold, they spied the small pot on the hearth. Now, if your men had drawn up a chair and had said grace like Christians ought to do and had eaten the stew, it might have passed without being recorded. But no, your men were mad and poured out stew on the floor and then stepped on the pieces of chicken. This was too much for that hungry thirteen year old boy; he darted up from his stool with fire in his eyes. “God damn you dirty rascals.”

(A Southerner’s Apology to General Sherman, A Reticule by Dr. James H. Blackmore, Flashes of Duplin’s History and Government, Faison and Pearl McGowen, Edwards & Broughton, 1971, pp. 243-244)

Leaving Poor Women Their Tears and Their Memory

Gen. Samuel G. French was New Jersey-born and living in Mississippi when the war commenced; he assumed command of North Carolina’s Cape Fear District in March, 1862 and fortified the city against attack from the sea. His adjutant from then through the end of the war was Captain Charles D. Myers, a native of New York City and successful prewar merchant in Wilmington. French possessed a dim view of Sherman’s abilities as a military officer.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Leaving Poor Women Their Tears and Their Memory

“The much-vaunted “march to the sea” was a pleasure excursion, through a well-cultivated country . . . Sherman boastfully writes that he “destroyed two hundred sixty-five miles of railroad, carried off ten thousand mules, and countless slaves; that he did damage to the amount of $100,000,000. Of this, his army got $20,000,000, and the $80,000,000 was waste,” as they went “looting” through Georgia.

But not content with this, when “this cruel war was over,” he presented the delectable spectacle of “how we went thieving through Georgia” at the grand review of his army in Washington, by mounting his bummers on mules laden with chickens, ducks, geese, lambs, pigs and other farm productions, unblushingly displayed, to cover up the concealed money, jewelry and plate taken from the helpless women – to delight the President, to edify the loyal people, to gratify the hatred of the populace to the South, to popularize the thirst for plundering made by his troops, to be an object lesson to the present generation, to instill a broader view of moral right, to heighten modest sensibilities, to refine the delicate tastes of young ladies, to humiliate a conquered people; or wherefore was this unwise “Punch and Judy” show given?

During the revolutionary war, when the British fleet ascended the Potomac river, one ship sailed up to Mount Vernon – the residence of the arch rebel, Washington – and made a requisition for provisions which his agent filled. The English commander must have been a gentleman because he did not burn the dwelling, insult the family, nor commit robbery!!!

Gen. Bradley T. Johnston, in his life of General J.E. Johnston, quotes that, “Abubekr in the year 634 gave his chiefs of the army of Syria orders as follows: Remember that you are always in the presence of God, on the verge of death, and in the assurance of judgment and the hope of paradise. When you fight the battles of the Lord acquit yourselves like men, without turning your backs; but let not your victory be stained with the blood of women and children. Destroy no palm tree, nor burn any fields of corn . . . nor do any mischief to cattle, only such as you kill to eat . . .”

It is not I who charge Sherman with destroying cornfields, cutting down fruit trees, or “driving off one cow and one pig;” he himself boasts as having done it. If he did take “one cow and one pig,” he kindly left the poor women their tears and their memory.”

(Two Wars, The Autobiography & Diary of Gen. Samuel G. French, CSA, Confederate Veteran, 1901, pp. 264-266)

Sherman’s Progressive Soldiers at Smithfield

It is said the path Sherman’s “bummers” cut through North Carolina left a trail devoid of roosters, which no longer crowed in the morning because they didn’t exist. One Northern general wrote that his foragers were in truth “highwaymen, with all of their cruelty and ferocity and none of their courage; their victims are usually old men, women and children, and Negroes whom they rob and maltreat without mercy, firing dwellings and outbuildings filled with grain . . . These men are a disgrace to the name of soldier and country.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sherman’s Progressive Soldiers at Smithfield

[Northern Chaplain John J. Hight’s Diary] Wednesday, April 12 [1865]:

“This has been a morning of most wonderful excitement and enthusiasm. A dispatch has been read to each Regiment, from General Sherman, announcing the capture of [Gen. Robert E.] Lee’s entire army by General Grant. Such a serenade of bands Smithfield [North Carolina] has never had before, and will never have again. The troops move rapidly across the Neuse [River] . . . the design is to push on towards Raleigh and bring [Gen. Joseph E.] Johnston to an engagement, if possible.

We yesterday passed a house where there had been skirmishing. The woman declared that the shooting almost scared her to death. “Was it infantry or cavalry?” inquired someone.

I took a walk about the town. The Masonic and Odd Fellows’ Halls have been rifled. In the latter there is a skeleton, in a coffin. Saw an old dismounted gun lying near the riverbank. It must date back to as early as the Revolution.

At the court house I noticed the shelves, in the offices, are emptied of their contents on the floor. The archives of [Johnston] county lie in confusion amongst the dirt. Many of the documents date back to old colonial times, when legal proceedings were done in the King’s name.

The churches are [broken] open, and the books scattered about the pews. At the graveyard I noticed the graves of a number of rebels, bearing ominous dates – about the time of the Bentonville fight. In the same yard there is blood, seemingly where one of our soldiers was killed yesterday.

[Sherman’s] aide-de-camp, Major Henry Hitchcock provides more details: “At Smithfield, on the morning of the 12th [of April] . . . Even in Smithfield the public stocks “went up” – visibly; for some of “the boys” set fire to them.” I refer to the wooden stocks, near the jail, a comfortable institution for the improvement of criminals which the “conservative Old North State has retained from colonial times.

Another Sherman aide-de-camp, Major Nichols, adds . . . “The court house and jail stand in the public square, and that relic of the past, the public stocks, stood by the side of the jail until our progressive soldiers cut down the machine and burned it.”

(Smithfield, As Seen by Sherman’s Soldiers, Don Wharton, 1977, Smithfield Herald Publishing Company, excerpts, pp. 8-11)

Highwaymen in North Carolina

Though it is claimed that Sherman did not sack and burn North Carolina as he did South Carolina, there is scant evidence that the former did not suffer as did the latter. In the bummer’s path were helpless women, children and old men – whose scarce food supplies, valuables and farm animals were made off with by soldiers in blue.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Highwaymen in North Carolina

“[T]he “corn-crib” and “fodder-stack” commandoes could look back upon a plentiful harvest between Fayetteville and Goldsboro. Meat and meal had been found in abundance. So skillfully had [Sherman’s] “bummers” covered this region that the rooster no longer crowed in the morning because he no longer existed. Had the rooster escaped with his life, there would have been no fence rail for him to stand on.

[General J.D. Morgan said] “I have some men in my command . . . who have mistaken the name and meaning of the term foragers, and have become under that name highwaymen, with all of their cruelty and ferocity and none of their courage; their victims are usually old men, women and children, and Negroes whom the rob and maltreat without mercy, firing dwelling and outhouses even when filled with grain . . . These men are a disgrace to the name of soldier and the country . . . ”

Elizabeth Collier, an eighteen year-old girl of Everittsville, [North Carolina] entered in her diary:

“On Monday morning, the 20th [March], the first foraging party made their appearance at Everittsville. They asked for flour and seeing we were disposed not to give it, made a rush in the house and took it himself—the cowardly creature even pointed his gun at us – helpless women. Looking out, we soon saw that poor little Everittsville was filled with Yankees and they were plundering the houses . . . everything outside was destroyed – all provisions taken – fences knocked down – horse, cows, carriages, and buggies stolen, and everything else the witches could lay their hands on – even to the servants clothes.”

(The Civil War in North Carolina, John G. Barrett, UNC Press, 1963, pp. 346-347)

Drafting Able-Bodies Slaves

Northern incursions into coastal areas would either carry away slaves to cripple Southern agricultural production, or impress male slaves into Northern military service. Massachusetts led the North in counting slave recruits against their troop quotas, thus leaving many white citizens free to remain home during the war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Drafting Able-Bodies Slaves

“When [General] David Hunter returned to [South Carolina’s Sea] islands on January 20, 1863 . . . he brought with him James Montgomery, the man who would become the colonel of the Second [Union] South Carolina Regiment. Montgomery had gone to Kansas with John Brown and afterward became one of the most prominent leaders among the Jayhawkers. Like Brown, he sought to use the slaves to free slaves; and again, like Brown, his preferred tactic was the Kansas-style raid — swift, terrifying, and devastating, taking all that could be carried, and burning all that was left behind. Perfected in practice, the raid became the professional trademark of “Mon’gomery’s boys” and, to some extent that of the Negro soldier in South Carolina.

On March 10, he landed in Jacksonville [Florida] along with [Col. Thomas W.] Higginson’s command and led a foray seventy-five miles inland, returning laden with booty and a large number of potential soldiers — lately slaves. In May and June, raids up the Ashepoo and Combahee rivers in South Carolina and an attack on the village of Darien, Georgia supplied more recruits. Meanwhile, Hunter issued an order drafting all able-bodied Negro men remaining on the plantations. Others were seized in the night by squads of Negro soldiers. On one plantation on St. Helena, Betsey’s husband was thus taken, leaving her with ten children and a “heart most broke.”

Those who attempted to evade the draft were roughly treated. Josh, who had fled to the marshes, was tracked to his hiding place and when he again tried to elude his pursuers was shot down and captured. Negro civilians suffered under the draft and resented the manner of its enforcement . . . ”the draft is either taking or frightening off most of the men,” lamented one of the [Northern missionary] superintendents at the end of March, 1863.

During [the] early history [of Negro impressments] the new regiments were plagued by desertions which were freely excused on the ground of ignorance . . . Private William Span, having been recaptured on his eighth or ninth defection, was brought before the colonel in his tent. Montgomery asked Span if he wished to offer and excuse. Span said no. “Then,” declared the colonel, “you will be shot at half-past nine this morning.”

(After Slavery, The Negro in South Carolina During Reconstruction, Joel Williamson, UNC Press, 1965, pp. 17- 20)

 

Uncle Gibb’s Liberators

The passage below describes the surrender and occupation of Smithville, now Southport, North Carolina in late January 1865 after Fort Fisher had fallen to Northern forces. The town’s public offices were plundered by the troops and those like Uncle Gibb suffered ill-treatment from soldiers who sought buried valuables.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Uncle Gibb’s Liberators

“Now Smithville [North Carolina] had relapsed into its state of quiet, but not the quiet of former days . . . Negroes however reaped a rich harvest in the shape of clothing from soldiers and blankets of which the forest was strewn.

A large assembly of Negro men, women and children had collected at the boat in order to greet their “saviors,” and to fall upon their necks and kiss them if such liberties should be allowed. [Northern] Captain [William] Cushing then addressed the sable crowd and informed them that they were free, that they were in all respects equal to the whites and would be so treated. In order to make that this was true he directed that they [the Negroes] should form a procession and give three cheers which they did saying, “God bless Massa Lincum, we’re free” and “Massa Lincum is cumin in a day or two to bring each of us a mule and deed for forty acres of land.”

The procession then started to move, and wild cheering for “Massa Lincum.” There were some small United States flags scattered among the crowds which they waved frantically in the air, crying “hallelujah, hallelujah.” The procession then moved through the garrison to Moore Street, a motley crowd dressed in every conceivable style bearing banners of anything that was bright color and they started down Moore Street amid cheering for “Massa Lincum.”

In the procession which had marched around town was “Uncle Gibb,” and in his posterity “Uncle Gibb” had been treated during his entire life as kindly as any white citizen in the town. He had a house to live in, plenty of food and clothes, and a horse and dray; and it was difficult to perceive how he had bettered his condition by freedom; but he soon found out as he was brought a prisoner into the [Northern army] Garrison for some alleged offense.

Here he was tied up by the thumbs to an oak tree which stood there, and hoisted till his toes barely touched the ground. This was done in full view of his own sister who was cooking in an adjoining kitchen, and who fainted and fell at the awful sight. We thus had an opportunity to find out whether the new friends of the colored race were any better than the old friends who had treated him with such kindness.

The ceremony attending the surrender [of Smithville] having been completed, the boat containing the plunder was dispatched back to the [USS] Monticello, and there being apparently nothing to do on shore, the sailors were given liberty and the officers proceeded to enjoy themselves.

The sailors spread themselves over the town, and proceeded first to inspect the public buildings. They broke open the court house and its offices, tore up such papers as they found lying around, among which happened to be the entire record of the Court of Equity and scattered them about the streets. They went to the Academy building in which was a Masonic Hall, and stole the jewels of the Order, and carried them to the ship.”

(Reminiscences, Dr. D.W. Curtis, Special Collections, W.M. Randall Library, UNCW, pp. 33-37)

An Inhuman and Barbarous Act

Fully aware of the sufferings of Northern prisoners in the South due to the blockade, President Jefferson Davis in the summer of 1864 sent commissioners to Washington to bring US surgeons to the Southern camps to dispense medicine. No reply was ever received and Lincoln refused to meet the commissioners, leading Davis to wonder if Federal were prisoners left to suffer, and afterward photographed “to aid in firing the popular heart of the North?”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

An Inhuman and Barbarous Act

“The South had been dependent upon the outside world for medicine of all kinds, except “home remedies” used by many of its people. Of all imported, none was so necessary in the South as quinine, since malaria was prevalent over most of the region.

As if striking at the most vulnerable spot in the Confederacy, the United States, immediately upon the outbreak of war, placed medicine on the contraband list. Few war measures caused feeling to run so high in both the North and the South, for many felt this to be an inhuman, barbarous act.

When the American Medical Association met in New York in 1864, some doctors decided that they would try to get the restrictions regarding medicine going into the Confederacy lifted in the name of humanity, but their motion to that effect was tabled “indefinitely.” And the restrictions were not removed for the duration of the war. A poem urging the continuance of the contraband principle was widely circulated in the Northern newspapers as follows:

“No more quinine – let ‘em shake; No more Spaldings pills – let their heads aches; No morphine – let ‘em lie awake: No mercury for the rebels take though fever all their vitals bake;

No nitre drops, their heat to slake; No splinters though their necks they break, And, above all, no Southern rake, Shall have his ‘wine for stomacks sake,’ Till full apology make.”

From the adoption of Federal restrictions, there was never sufficient medicine to relieve the sickness and suffering in the Confederacy.

Medicines and surgical equipment were captured from time to time, but this became increasingly rare as the course of the war turned against the Confederates. And when such supplies were captured, they were diverted to military channels and had no effect on the supply of medicines for civilians.

The second source of supply, through running the blockade, proved far more successful. Small in bulk and high in price, medicine became part of the cargo of nearly every blockade runner. Land blockade-running was more interesting than running of the water blockade. Drugs were sent down the [Mississippi] river originally from Paducah, Kentucky, or Cairo, Illinois, by Northern speculators or traders and were sent ashore into the Confederacy at night.

During the late winter and early spring of 1862, a story was widely circulated that some of the quinine sent into Tennessee and Arkansas in this manner was poisoned; heated editorials and warnings followed. The quinine was believed to contain strychnine, and the people were cautioned against its use.”

(Ersatz in the Confederacy, Shortages and Substitutes on the Southern Homefront, Mary Elizabeth Massey, University of South Carolina Press, 1952, excerpts, pp. 115-117)

Reconstruction, the Most Shameful Period of Our History

The following is an excerpt from an 1892 address by Lt. Col. Alfred Moore Waddell to the Alumni Association of the University of North Carolina. He served as a United States Congress 1871-1879.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Reconstruction, the Most Shameful Period of Our History

“[Reconstruction] constitutes the one indelible and appalling disgrace of the American people — the one chapter of their history which contains no redeeming feature to relieve it from the endless execration of the civilized world.

A distinguished orator from a Northern State declared in Congress in 1872 that one-third of the boundaries of this Republic had been filled “with all the curses and calamities ever recorded in the annals of the worst governments known on the pages of history,” and attacking the [radical Republican] authors of these calamities, he exclaimed,

“From turret to foundation you tore down the governments of eleven States. You left not one stone upon another. You rent all their local laws and machinery into fragments, and trampled upon their ruins. Not a vestige of their former construction remained.”

And again he said:

“A more sweeping and universal exclusion from all the benefits, rights, trusts, honors, enjoyments, liberties, and control of government was never enacted against a whole people, without respect to age or sex, in the annals of the human race. The disgraceful disabilities imposed against the Jews for nearly eighteen hundred years by the blind and bigoted nations of the earth were never more complete or appalling.”

Those old enough to remember that most shameful period of our history will readily recall the degradation, the crimes against civilization, and the terrorism which then prevailed, and how, amidst the general dismay, the faint-hearted stood helpless and silent before the arbitrary and reckless power exercised over them.”

(The Life and Character of William L. Saunders, address to the Alumni Association of the University of North Carolina, Tuesday, May 31, 1892, Col. Alfred Moore Waddell of Wilmington)

The War Against Civilians

Lee’s grand army departed Gettysburg “dog-tired and hungry.” Poorly fed, they have existed on bread, berries and green apples with the horses eating only grass, and only after arriving at Culpepper did the men enjoy a cooked meal and the horses found loose corn. Of the battle at Gettysburg, Lee tells President Davis not to blame his men, that he alone is to blame “in perhaps expecting too much of [his army’s] prowess and valor.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The War Against Civilians

“August 4 [1863]: Culpepper civilians are apprehensive again. [General JEB] Stuart has not even enough men to protect them from the Federal raiders who seem to cross the Rappahannock at will. Sally Armstrong’s family is still plagued by the blue devils.

“Nothing but Yankees from morning to night,” she protested on July 29, “no signs of them leaving yet.” She hears of how horribly the Federals have been treating people in Fauquier County, and lives “in dread of having the infantry come over and pillage.” “Great anxiety we live in . . . our neighbors . . . have had almost every mouthful taken from them.”

[Nearby enemy regiments have] emboldened Culpepper slaves to dash toward Union lines all along the river, from Kelly’s Ford to Waterloo. On one evening alone, about forty “children of Ham,” as [the enemy commander] calls them, moved within his picket lines . . . . Many of the boys and men will be hired by Federal officers as body servants, although some officers refuse under any circumstances to hire “wretched niggers.”

Most have been mere field hands as slaves, complains one [Northern officer], and therefore are ignorant of the duties of a personal servant. “To this ignorance,” he elaborates, “must be added the natural laziness, lying, and dirt of the Negro, which surpasses anything an ordinary white man is capable of.” Not [all Northern troops] agree with this assessment . . . A member of the 20th New York Militia admires “the thousands” of contraband blacks laboring in [General] Meade’s camps as cooks, teamsters and servants . . . he informs his mother. He believes the blacks “as a class” exhibit more “native sense” than the majority of white Southerners.

[Meade] makes no move [and many sense] that Meade is not yet comfortable as the army’s commander. Word has it that he nearly gave up the fight at Gettysburg after the second day, and he now seems overly deliberate and cautious.

Meanwhile, Culpepper’s civilians hunker down. Captain Charles Francis Adams, Jr., commanding the Union picket force on the Hazel River . . . knows that these people hate him and his men, but he understands the reason. He has witnessed daily “acts of pillage and outrage on the poor and defenceless” that make his “hair stand on end,” and cause him to “loathe all war.” [His] Soldiers, usually under cover of darkness, break into homes, rifle closets and drawers, take what they like, and abuse and threaten their victims. Some citizens are too terrified to sleep.

“Poor Virginia!” laments Captain Adams. “Her fighting men have been slaughtered; her old men have been ruined; her women and children are starving and outraged; her servants have run away or been stolen; her fields have been desolated; her towns have been depopulated.”

“The horrors of war are not all to be found in the battle-field,” he laments, “and every army pillages and outrages to a terrible extent.”

“What shall I write for these times?” [Sally] asks her diary. “Yankees doing all conceivable wickedness.” “If God did not rule we would die in despair. He only can help us.”

(Seasons of War, The Ordeal of a Confederate Community, 1861-1865, Daniel E. Sutherland, LSU Press, 1995, excerpts, pp. 269-276)

War is Not Hell Unless a Devil Wages It

War is Not Hell Unless a Devil Wages It

“Petition to the Postmaster General by the Citizens of Texas:

We, the citizens of Huntsville, Tex., respectfully petition the Postmaster General to place on sale in this State no stamps or postal cards bearing the likeness of W.T. Sherman. We are loyal citizens, we love our country, we wish to forget the past differences and bitterness; but there are two things which no true Southerner will ever forget or cease to teach his children to remember. These are the deeds of W.T. Sherman and the period of Reconstruction.

There were enough brave and chivalrous Union generals in the Civil War to furnish subjects for stamps, and we object to the face of a ruffian who made war on women and children being placed among the faces or Washington, Franklin, Jefferson . . . and other honorable men and forced upon our children when we have done nothing to deserve insult.

Sherman observed the laws of civilized warfare only when he had a hostile army to fear. When Hood was defeated the people were helpless and defenseless, he set his bummers upon them and boasted of it. Union armies were not bad unless they had bad leaders. Among civilized people war is not hell unless a devil wages it.

If this man’s face is forced before us in this way, we shall be forced to teach in public those lessons in history which we teach by the fireside, even if those with goods to sell preach that all should be forgotten.

If W.T. Sherman’s face must be held up to view, send it to those who love his character and celebrate his victory in song, but not to those whose homes he robbed, whose daughters he insulted, whose sons he murdered, and whose cities and homes he burned.”

(Sherman’s Picture on US Postage Stamps, Confederate Veteran, June, 1911, pg. 272)

 

 

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