- The Washington Times - Friday, August 27, 2004

Last week’s page explored Civil War correspondence between enemies and among allies, friendly or hostile in tone.

More examples:

Field commander with on-site political critic

May 11, 1864: Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, observing at the Wilderness, said of an attack by Maj. Gen. Gouverneur Warren, “I witnessed [the general assault] in Warren’s front … executed with the caution and absence of comprehensive ensemble which seem to characterize that officer. … On [Brig. Gen. H.G.] Wright’s front something better was done.”

Headquarters versus field

July 30, 1862: Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman wrote from Memphis protesting Washington’s order encouraging cotton trade. “I have been very busy in answering the innumerable questions of civilians, and hope they are now about through. I found so many Jews and speculators here trading in cotton, and secessionists had become so open in refusing anything but gold, that I have felt myself bound to stop it. The gold has but one use — the purchase of arms and ammunition. Of course I have respected all permits by yourself or the Secretary of the Treasury, but in these new cases I have stopped it.”

Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck wrote Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant that he read in newspapers that Sherman had forbidden “payment of gold for cotton” while another officer permitted it. Halleck discussed the inconsistency with the secretary of the Treasury, who directed “me to say that the payment of gold” is acceptable. “Instruct General Sherman accordingly.”

On Aug. 11, Sherman wrote Grant that he would obey the order but “move heaven and earth for its repeal, as I believe it will be fatal to our results.” He suggested in a letter to Washington that cotton needed should be “seized and procured … by the usual operations of war, but the spending of gold and money will enable our enemy to arm the horde of people that now swarm the entire South. This cotton order is worse to us than a defeat.”

Stop the presses

April 12, 1863: A Union order in Memphis, Tenn., directed the provost marshal to “cause the entire press of the city of Memphis to be suppressed. He will take possession of the officers and material there unto belonging, leaving the same in safe custody, not to be used without orders from these headquarters.” The editors of the Bulletin were to be “immediately arrested and sent under guard to the headquarters of the commanding general by the first boat.”

June 7, 1864: A Union letter condemned Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Edward Crapsey for publishing a “libelous statement on the commanding general of this army,” a statement he acknowledged was false, based on “idle camp rumor.” Crapsey was to “be arrested and paraded through the lines with a placard marked ‘libeler of the press’ and that he be then put without the lines and not permitted to return.”

Prison complaints

April 13, 1863 Fort Delaware prisoner Confederate Brig. Gen. T.J. Churchill protested treatment he and other Confederates received before reaching there.

“Believing that it is not only the policy but the wish of your Government that the conduct of the present unfortunate war in which we are engaged should be conducted as far as possible upon principles of humanity [I protest] the conduct of [those] in charge of the Confederate prisoners lately confined at Camp Chase, Ohio.

“Upon leaving there I was subjected to the grossest and most inhuman treatment, my person insulted, the clothing torn from my back, my baggage robbed of all it contained, my overcoat and gloves taken and some of the officers of my staff even had their shirts stripped from their persons.” He complained that articles he bought in the South were taken from him “apparently from no other motive than the meanest malice.”

The Union endorsement noted, “These officers generally complain of their treatment at the time of their leaving Camp Chase.”

Dec. 1, 1862: Union Pvt. Charles Marsh wrote the Confederate secretary of war questioning his imprisonment with criminals rather than with prisoners of war. “True I am a poor private and that must be the reason I am overlooked.”

A what?

Dec. 24, 1862: A Union provost wrote, “I have the honor to report … [receiving] a prisoner of war … in the shape of a female wearing male apparel charged as a spy for the rebels. … She is a coarse-looking creature, scarcely answering the description of la fille du regiment.”

Who wants to fight?

July 15, 1863: Abraham Lincoln addressed his secretary of war after Gettysburg, worried that Gen. George Meade and others just wanted to get the Confederates “over the river, without another fight.” “Please tell me, if you know, who was the one corps commander who was for fighting, in the council of war on Sunday night.”

Welcome to North Carolina: Small lots available

Feb. 25, 1863: D.H. Hill assumed command of troops in North Carolina. “Your brutal and malignant enemy is putting forth efforts unexampled in the history of the world” and “[w]e must make the war unpopular with the mercenary vandals of the North by harassing and annoying them. We must cut down to 6 feet by 2 the dominions of the farms which these plunderers propose to appropriate.”

He warned that “[t]he safety of the entire command depends upon their [cavalry’s] vigilance and the faithfulness of their reports. [Cavalrymen] who permit themselves to be surprised deserve to die, and … [I] will spare no efforts to secure their deserts.” Scouts “who through fright bring in wild and sensational reports … will be court-martialed for cowardice.”

He closed, “Those who have never been in battle will thus be enabled to enjoy the novel sensation of listening to the sound of hostile shot and shell, and those who have listened a great way off will be allowed to come some miles nearer, and compare the sensation caused by the distant cannonade with that produced by the rattle of musketry.”

Opposite categories

Late in 1862: Gen. A.P. Hill’s Sharpsburg report stated he had lost “that pure, gallant, and accomplished Christian soldier, General Garland, who had no superiors and few equals in the service. The Yankees … lost General Reno, a renegade Virginian … killed by a happy shot” from a North Carolina regiment.

Prizes for deserter shootings

Nov. 15, 1864: An order of a Union brigade addressed the problem of desertion. “Hereafter at least one or more reliable men will be placed on each picket post, and if any man attempts to desert, shoot him down at once. Do this as a solemn duty to your country and our cause, and you shall be rewarded by a furlough and a recommendation for promotion.”

A tribute

July 22, 1865: Grant wrote of his men, “All that was possible for men to do in battle they have done.” He added, “Let them hope for perpetual peace and harmony with that enemy whose manhood, however mistaken the cause, drew forth such herculean deeds of valor.”

Col. Charles A. Jones, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, is a lawyer and writer in Norfolk. His ancestors served in North Carolina units.


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