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Confederate Officers Orders, Reports and Letters -- South Carolina

OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, vol 28, Part 2 (Ft. Sumter - Ft. Wagner) Chapter XL. CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.-UNION. Page 11 - 13

Charleston, S. C., July 4, 1863.

Brigadier General Q. A. GILLMORE,

Commanding U. S. Forces, Port Royal, S. C.:

GENERAL: In the interest of humanity, it seems to be my duty to address you, with a view of effecting some understanding as to the future conduct of the war in this quarter.
You are aware, of course, of the fact that on or about the 2nd ultimo an expedition, set on foot by your predecessor in command, Major-General Hunter, entered the Combahee River, in South Carolina, and seized and carried away a large number of negro slaves from several large plantations on that stream. My present object, however, is not to enter upon a discussion touching that species of pillaging, but to acquaint you formally that more than one of the large plantations thus visited and ravaged were otherwise and further pillaged, and their private dwellings, warehouses, and other buildings wantonly consumed by the torch. All this, be it observed, rendered necessary by no military exigency; that is, with no possible view to the destruction of that which was being used for military purposes, either of offense or defense, or in near vicinage to batteries or works occupied by your adversary, or which, if left standing, could endanger or in any military way affect the safety of your forces or obstruct your operations, either present or future, and, finally, the owners of which were men not even bearing arms in this war.

A day or two later, another expedition burned about two-thirds of the village of Bluffton, a summer resort of the planters of the sea-coast of South Carolina, and undefended and indefensible place. The best houses were selected for destruction, and for the act no possible provocation may be thurthfully alleged.

Late yet, the 11th of June, the village of Darien, in the State of Georgia, was laid waste by your soldiers, and every building in it but one church and three small houses burned to the ground; there, as at Bluffton, no defense having been made, or any act of provocation previously committed, either by the owners of the devastated place or by the soldiery of the Confederate States there or in any part of this department.

Again, as far back as the last of March, when evacuating Jacksonville, in East Florida, your troops set on fire and destroyed the larger part of that town, including several churches, not, assuredly, to cover their embarkation, but merely as a measure of vindictive and illegitimate hostility.

You have, of course, the right to seize and hold our towns and districts of country, if able to do so, that is, to exercise for the time the privilege of eminent domain, but not to ravage and destroy the houses or other property of the individuals of the country. The eminent domain and the property of the Government are legitimate objects of "conquest," but private property and houses, movable and immovable, are not. You may appropriate the spoils of the battle-field, or the booty of a camp which you have captured, or even, in extreme cases, when aggravated by an improper defense, may sack a town or city carried by storm. But the pillage of the open country and of undefended places has long ago been given up as a usage or legitimate measure of war. At most, contributions can be levied upon and collected of the people; and these, even, says Vattel, must be moderate, if the general who resorts to them wishes to enjoy an unsullied reputation and escape the reproach of cruelty and inhumanity.

You may, indeed, waste and destroy provisions and forage which you cannot carry away, and which, if left, would materially assist the operations of your enemy. But Vattel prescribes that even this must be done with "moderation and according to the exigency of the case." Those who tear up the vines and cut down the fruit trees are looked upon as savage barbarians, unless they do it with a view to punish the enemy for some gross violation of the laws of nations."

You cannot legitimately devastate and destroy by fire, or ravage the country of your enemy, except under the stress of stern necessity; that is, as measures of retaliation for a brutal warfare on his part. If you do so without an absolute necessity, such conduct is reported as the "result of hatred and fury." Savage and monstrous excess," Vattel terms it. -------------------------

In conclusion, it is my duty to inquire whether the acts which resulted in the burning of the defenseless villages of Darien and Bluffton, and the ravages on the Combahee, are regarded by you as legitimate measures of war, which you will feel authorized to resort to hereafter.

I inclose two newspaper accounts,* copied from the journals of the United States, giving relations of the transactions in question.

Respectfully, general, your obedient servant,

General, Commanding.

OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, vol 47, Part 2 (Columbia) OPERATIONS IN N. C., S. C., S. GA., AND E. FLA. Chapter LIX. Page - 330
February 7, 1865.

Major General O. O. HOWARD, U. S. Army,

Commanding, &c.:

GENERAL: I have the honor to propose that if the troops of your army be required to discontinue burning the houses of our citizens I will discontinue burning cotton. As an earnest of the good faith in which my proposition is tendered I leave at this place about 300 bales cotton unburned, worth, in New York, over a quarter of a million, and in our currency one million and a half. I trust my having commenced will cause you to use your influence to insure the acceptance of the proposition by your whole army. I trust that you will not deem it improper for me to ask that you will require the troops under your command to discontinue the wanton destruction of property not necessary for their sustenance.

Respectfully, general, your obedient servant,


Major-General, C. S. Army.

The Lowest types of “poor buckra”

The enemy cavalry reached Lancaster, South Carolina on 23 February 1865 as it continued its feint towards Charlotte. The invader had crossed “the Catawba at Rocky Mount” known for its scenes of a previous invader and struggle for American independence. Mrs. Foster’s father had already lost three of his plantations to enemy depredations – he hesitated about leaving his home on the approach of the enemy but her “mother insisted that he should leave us to our fate, and God’s providential care.”

From Mrs. J.H. Foster’s Diary:

“We awaited the coming of Sherman’s army with the greatest apprehension, for the reports that preceded its approach of the destruction and burning of everything in its wake were calculated to arouse the alarm of any civilized community.

I was standing in a high back porch, looking towards the old Methodist Church, when I saw one, two, then several, Yankees riding rapidly to Main street crossing; then I heard a gun fired, an a Negro girl ran through the hall and, in great excitement, said: “Lor’, they done killed old Mr. Jack Crockett.”

He was an old citizen who was too old to go to the war, to which he gave his two sons. He was crossing the street just as the Yankees rode into town, and they fired, without hitting him.

This, the beginning of the rabble, was rapidly increasing in numbers. They were entering residences on every hand, and as I turned to enter the hall, numbers were rapidly entering our front door and, very unceremoniously walking into bedrooms or other rooms; they asked for food, proceeded into closets, the storeroom, dairy, smokehouse. If the keys were not furnished, the butt end of a musket served to shiver the timbers, that they might gain access.

There were but few men in town. The white women and children, and their Negroes, were there to meet the emergency as best they could. As children, we looked with wonder at all those rude soldiers, going through closets, cupboards, drawers; desecrating, even by the touch of their hands, the very Lares and Penates of our household. We could see that our mother was very much exercised, for she thought best to unlock every door, drawer, or any place they might suspect her of hiding gold or silver, of which they seemed to think we had plenty.

Those Yankees filled their knapsacks with whatever pleased their fancy. The hams were tied to their saddles, or slung two across, and they ransacked every nook and cranny of the house. Many of them seemed drunk to me. They asked for whiskey, but my mother said she had none. They did not believe her and went searching through everything for it.

Several of them took the house servants and searched them for the jewelry we might have hidden on them. Even old mammy was forced to the smokehouse by threats and the pistol, to give up anything she had concealed. Our Negroes were too indignant over this treatment ever to have any use for Yankees. They believed them to be the lowest types of ‘poor buckra”….and their minds seemed set upon finding treasure.”

(When Sherman Came: Southern Women and the “Great March,” Katherine M. Jones, Bobbs-Merrill, 1964, pp. 230-232)

“They Whipped Mrs. R”

Chester, South Carolina, [February]. 27, 1865

“My Darling Sister, I am so rejoiced to be able to once more write you though it is more than probable this letter may never reach its destination. Every day we were in hourly expectation of a visit from Sherman’s troops. When Columbia was evacuated they sent all the Government stores to this place….The Treasury Department went through to Charlotte. I saw a good many of the girls….only stayed a few hours and were very anxious for me to go to North Carolina…..

I must tell you some of the outrages the Yankees have committed around here. An old man by the name of Brice lived in Fairfield District….The Yankees hung him because he would not tell where he had hid his money and silver. They robbed every house they passed, burnt a great many. They have burnt Tom Boulware’s and some houses near there, burnt Mary S. DeG’s gin house, cribs, etc., and took two watches and some other things from here.

They stripped old Mrs. R., Kate’s mother, and whipped her, destroyed everything Mrs. N. Beckham had to eat and the Boulware’s and Watson’s, I hear, are living off the corn left by our cavalry men in the woods. It has been some time since I have had as comfortable a night’s rest as I had last night….

Wheeler’s men killed sixteen Yanks I hear in retaliation for whipping Mrs. R. Oh Ann, I do think the idea of a Lady’s being stripped and whipped by those villains is outrageous, the most awful thing I have heard of. Oh Annie, is it not awful to see the way our people are suffering and the sin that is committed…..I just know people cannot die from fear…..”

(When Sherman Came: Southern Women and the “Great March,” Katherine M. Jones, Bobbs-Merrill, 1964, pp. 229-230)