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Official Report Relative to the conduct of Federal Troops in Western Louisiana -- Page 2

Official report relative to the conduct of federal troops in western Louisiana during the invasions of 1863 and 1864 Compiled from sworn testimony, under direction of Governor Henry W. Allen
Published 1865

Page 67-----
Dr. Davidson's statement.
" In the progress of the barbarous and unnatural war by the North against a country guilty only of loving the laws and religion of liberty,events have transpired having no parallel in history, and whose recital will never be believed save by thoee who witnessed them".

Page 63 -----

Beport of Honorable Thomas C, Manning, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Louisiana. Federal Atrocities—Burning and Sack of Alexandria.

Alexandria, La., December 22nd, 1864.
To His Excellency,
Henry W. Allen, Governor:

The devastation of this town and Parish by the enemy during the occupation of last spring was very thorough. Whether maddened by the failure of their campaign in it« ultimate purposes, they determined to destroy what they could not hold—or whether they only pursued here the policy of systematic pillage and conflagration, which their Press enforces and government approves—it is bootless to enquire.

Page 64 ---

The gunboats appeared before the town on the 15'h March, and' were soon succeeded by transports conveying the 16ih and I7th. corps d'armee of U. S., under command of Genl. A. J. Smith, from Fort De Russy, which he had captured a day or two before. License for unlimited pillage vas either expressly given or tacitly permitted them. Roving at will through the town, entering and sacking private houses and stores, the common soldiery had but to imitate the conduct of their officer in enacting the most degrading acts of dishonorable meanness.

A Capt. De West, of Mower's division, with two privates; after pilfering sundry inconsirerable articles, espied a silver watch on the persou of a Negro man. He was in his master's yard, watching the extraordinary spectacle of white men stealing in the open day, little dreaming that his own watch was in any danger. They relieved him of the encumbrance very speedily. (Affidavit No. 9.)

A characteristic instance of their affectionate care for the blacks is developed in affidavit No, 4. The affiant, you will perceive, is a free Negress. ----- She speaks with feeling of the loss of her sheets, table cloths and looking-glasses, her knives, forks and plates. Perhaps I shall be more graphic if I transcribe her own words. "The Yankees," says the woman, " came to my house the first day they entered town, and commenced stealing my poultry. On seeing me they asked who I was. I told them. They asked me who my master was. I said I had no master, that I was a free colored woman. They said I lied and that my master was hid. They commenced pillaging the house, taking out my knives and forks, plates, and table cloths, sheets, and looking glasses, and then palled down my house, which was a frame house- They asked me who the house belonged to. I told them it belonged to me, at which they cursed me, and called me liar again, and said niggers could not own property in the South, and before they stopped the house was cleaned pulled down, and even the bricks taken out of the chimney. My own clothes, and my daughter's, a grown woman, were all taken by them—among them some merinos and lawns, and my husband's gold watch, which I minded more than the clothes. My husband has been dead two years."

Page 65 --

The daughter of this free Negress, (Affidavit No. 6), went on the same day to Gen. Mower, and told him his soldiers had stolen " all her clothes, bonnets and jewelry." She got no satisfaction, and made no further effort to recover them, nor did she get back anything. " The Yankees said we should not have our things back; that they knew they were not ours, for colored people were not allowed to own so much property down here. * * * I went to Col. Shaw and told him the Union soldiers had killed and taken away my mother's hog, and had taken all of her provisions, and wanted him to give me some. He said I could go and kill some of the rebels' hogs ; that if I wanted to stay down here, I could get the rebels to feed me."

--- When the Negro failed to disclose his hoarded earnings the soldier or officer found access to his cabin, and soon brought to light the object of his search. But in most instances the Negro was seduced into an unsuspecting confidence by the assurance that the persons thus inquiring for his treasure were deputed specially by "Old Abe," or Gen. Banks, (the commander of the expedition,) to gather all such valuables, and that the negro would receive it again so soon as it and himself wore transported beyond the reach of the rebels. In this way large sums in the aggregate have been transferred from the pockets of our slaves to those poverty-stricken wretches of the North, whose eyes were never gladdened by a sight of much comfort, at their own homes as they found in our Negro cabins. Of course I refer here to the poorer class of whites, who compose the file of the Federal array.

Page 66 ---

Directly the "Black Hawk" arrived, (Porter's flag boat ;) her crew entered Rachel’s warehouse, rolled out the cotton, all of which was private property, and marked on one end C. S., and on the other U. S. N., thus endeavoring to make it appear the cotton was captured property of the Confederate Government. Rear Admiral Porter was present, witnessed the fraud, and seemed in high glee at the adroitness with which his rascally ingenuity could outwit Banks, and appropriate the spoils of the expedition. The same thing was repeated in every yard, barn and outhouse where they found cotton. They seemed to believe it was hidden everywhere.—[Aff. No. 9.]

Page 67 --
The same practice was followed here as elsewhere, of crowding them in a "contraband camp." The space between the levee and the edge of the river bank was used here for that purpose. It is of course very narrow, but large numbers were crowded into it, where the most fortunate succeeded in making a shanty, not larger than a dog kennel, in which as many crowded as could. The mortality was inevitably very great. Thence they were carried to the abandoned estates of the planters on the Teche, Lafourche and lower Mississippi, to work on what they denominate government plantations. The passionate prayer of families not to be separated was disregarded, and the men were thrust into the ranks, while the women and those of the children who survive, are put to work under the free labor system of Gen. Banks, under which they are fined for misconduct and laziness, and made to furnish their own clothes, and to beg for their own medicines—the result being that they never get either the one or the other, and the fines absorb their wages. The free Negro finds to his surprise, that his labor is thus appropriated by a task-master, who, unlike his former master, furnishes him neither with sufficient food or raiment, and at the end of the year, instead of the money which as a slave he always made by the sale of his poultry and of the corn or other produce of the little patch allotted him by his master, he finds himself without a dollar with which to make
a merry Christmas.

I have made a careful estimate of the number of slaves taken from this Parish by the enemy in the two expeditions of May, 1863, and March, 1864; and after comparing my own with that made by others, have no hesitation in stating the number at eight thousand. Some have been recaptured, a few returned, or rather were brought back, and all concur in representing their misery and destitution as deplorable, and the mortality as frightful. Gen. Banks in his tour through New England confesses the mortality to be one fourth, but it is believed to be at least one half.

Some details of the burning of Alexandria, La. ---

Page 70.
------ It became soon generally known throughout the town, that the enemy designed to devote the place to pillage and burning on the day they should evacuate it. Threats to this eflfect were publicly made by the privates as they walked the streets ; and the citizens were warned by those of the army less fanatical and brutal, to provide against such a contingency.

It was well known that friction matches were issued to the troops occupying the town two days before the evacuation, and for this purpose. Officers and men were overheard discussing the subject, and insisting that it should be carried into execution.

Page 71 --
-----At the
premises of Frozine, f. w. c, below the origin of the fire and to the rear of it, men entered the yard with a tin bucket and mop, and sprinkled the fencing and out-buildings with a mixture of turpnntine and camphene, spying that they "were preparing the place for Hell!"

While the fire was raging, Gen. A. J. Smith rode through the town, sword in hand, exclaiming—"Hurrah, boys, this looks like war!"

Page 72 ---
------ both of these officers ascribed the fire to these men belonging to Gen. A. J. Smith's command—remarking that he gave uo written orders, but that it was his custom to give them verbally, and that this was well understood by his mnn. It is due to this corps to say, that Capt. Slough, A. A. G , on' Smith's staff, on the retreat from Alexandria, stopped at the residence of John R. Williams and said to Mrs. Williams, his sister-in-law—'All the blame of the burning of the town will fall upon our corps; but the orders to burn were issued by Gen. Banks himself.'

Gen. Kilby Smith and Gen. Mower, who were with the advance column on the retreat, while near the residence of Mr. Thos. K. Smith, a planter of respectability and standing, remarked, "That the town of Alexandria would be burnt, and that they regretted exceedingly that the same had not been done with Natchitoches, but that the rebels pushed them so closely that they could not do it.

"In the face of all these facts, establishing clearly the purpose of the retiring army to destroy the town by fire, the apologists of General Banks, who represent him as weeping on beholding the burning town" and who attempt to ascribe the act as one of accident wholly, must be content to have their efforts in his behalf classed as a portion of the willful suppression of the truth, and design to gloss over the enormities and barbarities of their government and its agents, in the prosecution of a war of extermination.

Page 75--
----- The Episcopal and Methodist churches were burned, and every building upon twenty-two blocks.

----- Two doors below the Church was a house, "built," says its owner, (Affidavit No. 3,)
"entirely of brick, with slate roof and parapets.

------- It was blown up by the last party, doubtless by a torpedo, since it did not catch fire from the neighboring buildings, and that seemed the only means of destroying it.

The torpedo was exploded by means of a galvanic battery. I have now from the ruins a part of the battery, and jars, which I picked up, which are of course broken. I saw an officer set on fire the car-house of the Railroad. He sat on his horse and ejected from some sort of instrument in his hand, a liquid upon the roof, which immediately ignited and burned with great rapidity."

Page 76 & 77 ---
Besides the entire destruction of the Records of this Parish consumed the conflagmtion of the Court House, many valuable libraries were destroyed.

A skirmish was had near it (seven miles from this place) and one of their wounded comrades was carried to the piazza by the enemy. They retreated through the plantation, hard pressed by our cavalry, but halted long enough to set fire to the house with the aid of their matches and turpentine. Their wounded companion, unable to move himself; frantically implored them not to devote him to a sure and horrible death but his cries were unheeded and his ashes now mingle with the cinders of the house and it& contents.

Pages 79 - 86 are signed affidavits describing the above events. The last couple of pages are described as Yankee accounts about the burning of Alexandria which is to lengthy to post and only verifies the events from a reporters view. -- GP