Friday, September 21, 2012

September 21 - Tennessee Civil War Notes

21, Major-General W. T. Sherman’s reply to the editor of the Memphis Daily Bulletin [1] relative to policy of Federal army relative to punishement of depredations

HEADQUARTERS FIFTH DIVISION, Memphis, Tennessee, September 21, 1862.
Editor Bulletin:
Sir: Your comments o­n the recent orders of Generals Halleck and McClellan[2] afford the occasion appropriate for me to make public the fact that there is a law of Congress...reenacted o­n the 10th of April, 1806, and in force ever since. That law reads:
“All officers and soldiers are behave themselves orderly in quarters and o­n the march; and whoever shall commit any waste of spoil, either in walks of trees, parks, warrens, fish-ponds, houses and gardens, cornfields, inclosures or meadows, or shall maliciously destroy and property whatever belonging to the inhabitants of the United States, unless by order of the commander-in-chief of the armies of said United States shall (besides such penalties as they are liable to by law) be punished according to the nature and degree of the offense, buy the judgment of a general or regimental court-martial.”
Such is the law of Congress; and the orders of the commander-in-chief are, that officers or soldiers convicted of straggling and pillaging shall be punished with death. These orders have not come to me officially, but I have seen them in newspapers, and am satisfied that they express the determination of the commander-in-chief. Straggling and pillaging have ever been great military crimes; and every officer and soldier in my command knows what stress I have laid upon them, and that, so far as in my power lies, I will punish them to the full extent of the law and orders.
The law is o­ne thing, the execution of the law another. God himself has commanded: “Thou shall not kill,” “thou shalt not steal,” “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods,” etc., Will any o­ne say these things are not done now as well as before these laws here announced at Sinai? I admit the law to be that “no officer or soldier of the United States shall commit waste of destruction of cornfields, orchards, potato-patches, or nay kind of pillage o­n the property of friend or foe near Memphis,” and that I stand prepared to execute the law as far as possible.
No officer or soldier should enter the house or premise of any peaceable citizen, no matter what his politics, unless o­n business; wand no such officer or soldier can force an entrance unless he have a written order from a commanding officer or provost-marshal, which written authority must be exhibited if demanded. When property such as forage, building or other materials are needed by the Unites states, a receipt will be given by the officer taking the them, which receipt should be presented to the quartermaster, who will substitute therefore a regular voucher, to be paid according to the circumstances of the case. If the officer refuse to give such a receipt, the citizen my fairly infer that the property is wrongfully taken, and he should, for his own protection, ascertain the name, rank, and regiment of the officer, and report him in writing. If any soldier commits waster or destruction, the person whose property is thus wasted must find out the name, company, and regiment of the actual transgressor. In order to punish there must be a trial, and there must be testimony. It is not sufficient that a general accusation be made, that soldiers are doing this or that. I cannot punish my whole command, or a whole battalion, because o­ne or two bad soldiers do wrong. The punishment must reach the perpetrators, and no o­ne can identify them as well as the party who is interested. The State of Tennessee does not hold itself responsible for acts of larceny committed by her citizens, not does the United states or any other nation. These are individual acts of wrong, and punishment can o­nly be inflicted o­n the wrong-doer. I know the difficulty of identifying particular soldiers, but difficulties do not alter the importance of principles of justice. They should stimulate the parties to increase their efforts to find out the actual perpetrators of the crime..
Colonels of regiments and commanders of corps are liable to severe punishment for permitting their men to leave their camps to commit waste or destruction; but I know full well that many of the acts attributed to soldiers are committed by citizens and negroes, and are charged to soldier because of a desire to find fault with them; but this o­nly reacts upon the community and increases the mischief. While every officer would willingly follow up an accusation against any o­ne or more of his men whose manes or description were given immediately after the discovery of the act, he would naturally resent any general charge against his good [sic] men, for the criminal conduct of a few bad o­nes.
I have examined into many of the cases of complaint made in this general way, and felt mortified that our soldiers should do acts which are nothing more or less than stealing, but I was powerless with some clew whereby to reach the rightful party. I know that the great mass of our soldiers would scorn to steal of commit crime, and I will not therefore entertain vague and general complaints, but stand prepared always to follow up any reasonable complaint when the charge is define and the names of witnesses furnished.
I know, moreover, in some instances when our soldiers are complained of, that they have been insulted by sneering remarks about “Yankees,” “Northern barbarians,” “Lincoln’s hirelings,” etc. When people forget their obligations to a Government that made them respected among the nations of the earth, and speak contemptuously of the flag which is the silent emblem of that country, I will not go out of my way to protect them or their property. I will punish the soldiers for trespass of waste if adjudged by a court-martial, because they disobey orders; but soldiers are men and citizens as well as soldiers and should promptly resent any insult to their country, come from what quarter it may. I mention this phase because it takes from the officer the disposition he would otherwise feel to follow up the inquiry and punish the wrong-doers.
Again, armies in motion or stationary must commit some waste. Flankers must led down fences and cross fields; and, when an attack is contemplated or apprehended, a command will naturally clear the ground of houses, fences, and trees. This is waste, but is the natural consequence of war, chargeable o­n those who caused the war. So in fortifying a place, dwelling-houses must be taken, materials used, even wasted, and great damage done, which in the end may prove useless. This, too, is an expense not chargeable to us, but to those who made the war; and generally war is destruction and nothing else.
We must bear this in mind, that however peaceful things look, we are really at war, and much that looks like waste or destruction is o­nly the removal of objects that obstruct our fire, or would afford cover to an enemy.
This class of waste must be distinguished from the wanton waste committed by army-stragglers, which is wrong, and can be punished by the death-penalty if proper testimony can be produced.
Yours, etc.,
W.T. Sherman, Major-General Commanding
Memoirs of W.T Sherman[3]------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[1] This letter is not found in the OR, nor can the newspaper article mentioned to be found.
[2] Not found.
[3] William Tecumseh Sherman, Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman, (NY: Library Classics of the United States, 1990) , pp. 298-301.

21-October 17, 1862 Confederate conscription efforts in East Tennessee
HDQRS. CONFEDERATE STATES FORCES, Chattanooga, Tenn., September 21, 1862.
His Excellency ISHAM G. HARRIS, Governor of Tennessee:
GOVERNOR: I have been directed by the Secretary of War to move my headquarters to Knoxville and assume command in East Tennessee. An important part of my duty will be the execution of the conscript law, which the department thinks will require great judgment, firmness, and prudence, and I am directed to confer and act in concert with you. I should be glad to have a personal interview with you, but as that is impracticable at this time, I respectfully request you will communicate with me fully and freely in writing, and favor me with any suggestions you may have to make as to the best mode of executing the best mode of executing the law for the best interest of the country. It will give me pleasure to co-operate with you in the execution of the law.
Address me at Knoxville, where I expect to be to-morrow evening.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
SAM. JONES, Maj.-Gen.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 16, pt. II, p. 862.
KNOXVILLE, October 17, 1862.
Secretary of War:
I am informed that the President is authorized to suspend the execution of the conscript act in any section troops under any previous act. I earnestly recommend that he suspend it in East Tennessee for a few days; say until the 1st November, and designate the act under which I may receive organized troops. If this is done, I can, I am sure, have in the service before the end of the month nearly every man in East Tennessee now worth having. The measures I am taking to produce a loyal feeling in East Tennessee will be aided. People who have fled to the mountains to avoid conscription will return to the cultivation of the land and gathering corn, all of which is now much neglected, and the troops needed to enforce the conscript law may be better employed elsewhere. Will write more fully on same subject. Please answer as early as possible.
SAM. JONES, Maj.-Gen.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 16, pt. II, p. 953.
William G. Swan, the Tennessee Representative from the Second District (East Tennessee) to the Confederate Congress in Richmond, wrote the following letter to President Jefferson C. Davis on October 21, 1862. He was irritated with the suspension of the Confederate conscription in East Tennessee:
My Dear Sir:
General Jones, to accomplish that which we sought to preclude and prevent by an act of Congress, now favors a suspension of conscription. You will remember that when I conferred with you in reference to the matter of fixing a time -- a day certain -- after which if regiments or battalions were organized they should not be received, that the 1st of October was determined upon to prevent the hurried and hasty organizations which would be formed in the time intervening between the introduction of the bill in the Senate and its approval by you. Now, it so happens that regiments have been organized, as I knew they would be, and General Jones, though informed by me of the passage of the act and its precise terms(for a copy of it was immediately published in the Knoxville Register), advised those who have participated in forming these regiments and companies that he will, buy the ruse of suspending the conscription for a few days, have them received into the service. This would be a manifest and palpable evasion of the law as it occurs to me, and should by no means be tolerated. It certainly would defeat the very purpose for which the law was enacted. I presume General Jones will not say to you that is impracticable to execute the law in East Tennessee, as he has said to me that he can execute it. The tories all through the country have it that the law will not be enforced, and if pending the enrollment now in progress its operation for a day even suspended [sic], it will embolden them to such a degree that I shall not be surprised if they hereafter resist outright. Your are of course aware advised that General Bragg’s entire command is now entering East Tennessee. It will be an easy and proper disposition of the men who have volunteered, and whom General Jones would now have you receive as new regiments, to place them at once in the old Tennessee regiments in General Bragg’s army. I know very well that these suggestions are not such as present popular clamor in East Tennessee would have me to urge upon your consideration, but prompted by a sense of duty to the country* I am constrained to urge your the course I advise.
OR, Ser. IV, Vol. 2, p. 138.

*Ed. note - While Swan was perfectly willing to conscript others, apparently he was not interested in volunteering or being drafted into the service himself. He had volunteered early in the war, but ran soon thereafter for the Confederate House of Representatives in 1861. According to one hilarious newspaper story, the “exceedingly good-looking and urban [sic]...Hon. William G. Swan” Confederate Congressman from Knoxville, was hurrying to the train station “to say good bye to a lady friend when he had neared the depot, and at the moment that his glances met that of the lady...two stalwart men, William Murphy and Zeke Gilliam, of Rucker’s peripatetic ‘body snatchers’ [i.e., conscription officers] accosted him --
‘Well,’ one of them said, ‘you can’t make the trip this time, we want you up at Col. Blake’s where they provide quarters for conscripts.’
‘Ah!’ answered the smiling Congressman, ‘I am the representative from this district in the C.S. Congress.’
‘You can’t come that game [sic]’ said Gilliam. ‘We have already sent to the camp of [instruction] upwards of fifteen bony fidy [sic] Congressmen.’
‘Well, I’m not joking’ said Mr. Swan.
‘Nor are we’ said Rucker’s men. ‘You must march.’
A distinguished lawyer and a great railway king came to the rescue of the Congressman. All without avail -- Mr. Swan [was taken to] headquarters, more than a mile, was there identified and dismissed.
He hardly knew whether to laugh or swear as he moved himself down the road. He would indulge a sort of smile now and then, but instantly would clench his fist and stamp his feet when he reflected on the disappointment to which he had been subjected at the depot, by the operation of that pet measure of his, the Conscript Act.
Chattanooga Daily Rebel, November 6, 1862.

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