Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Post image for … she thought it first rate treatment that my men only killed her sheep and did n’t rifle her dwelling and beat her.

… she thought it first rate treatment that my men only killed her sheep and did n’t rifle her dwelling and beat her.

August 9, 2013

Adams Family Civil War letters; US Minister to the UK and his sons.

Charles Francis Adams, Jr., to his Mother

Camp of the 1st Mass. Cav’y
Sulphur Springs, August 9, 1863

They ‘re not very unlike us and really pleasant, sociable men — their cavalry, now that we have whipped them out of their conceit. There’s much better feeling between Yankees and Southerners now than there ever was before, and now we meet on very pleasant terms.

Not so with the non-combatants, only! don’t they hate us? and I must say with cause. Everywhere war is horrid — no more so here than elsewhere, and we are not so bad as other nations, as we see from the fact that of all our troops the Germans, as ruffians, thieves and scourges, are most terribly dreaded by all natives of Virginia. They say they don’t fear the Cavalry, but they dread the Infantry and the Germans. They turn pale at the name of the 11th Corps. As for me, I can only say if they don’t fear the cavalry, I don’t want to see those they do fear, as I see only Cavalry, and I daily see from them acts of pillage and outrage on the poor and defenceless which make my hair stand on end and cause me to loathe all war. We owe a high debt to Colonel Williams for the high stand he took on this subject in our regiment, a stand at the start which enables us now, amidst universal demoralization and pillage around us, to hold our men substantially in check. Poor Virginia! She has drunk deep of the cup and today she is draining the last bitter dregs. 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 most bitter against Virginia would, were they here, say it was enough. They have come to be thankful for a little thing at last. It was sad enough the other day when I was on picket out here. Kilpatrick’s ruffians had just gone through the country when we came out and relieved them, and presently I was sent down to Hazel River with my squadron. The first day an old woman came groaning up and said that my men were chasing her four sheep, all that she had left. I told her I would see to it, but meanwhile two of the four were gone. I ordered all killing of stock at once to stop, and did it savagely, for the old woman bored me. Early next morning up she panted again. Two of my men were chasing the two sheep left. Hereat I had roll-calls and cursed and swore and denounced vengeance on the first man I could catch, but I could n’t fix on any one. Meanwhile I thought things were getting as bad in this regiment as in the others and felt rather ashamed of myself. That evening the old woman sent me a present of butter and milk. I remarked to Flint “coals of fire” and sent her back some sugar. But next day she hobbled into camp and the truth came out, the bitter truth. Far from being coals of fire the milk and butter was an expression of gratitude to be continued every evening while I remained, and oh! she did “hope I was n’t going away; my men behaved so well, she felt so safe with them there. She was seventy-four years old, but those who had been there before had broken into her house in the night, and broken into her closets and drawers, and stolen all her meat and provisions, and abused and threatened her; and she had n’t been able to sleep for nights, and last night, when she heard that I was there she had slept so well, and she did hope I was going to stay,” and so on, from which I discovered that she thought it first rate treatment that my men only killed her sheep and did n’t rifle her dwelling and beat her. And this is the Cavalry which the Virginians say they’re “not afraid of”; only the Infantry and (a shudder) “the Germans.” It’s awful here now in these respects and this country is just going to be cleaned out. As for me I expect we shall earn a lofty reputation as philanthropists if we only allow our men to take horses and cattle. One of the charges against McClellan was that he gave guards to the houses of prominent Virginians. He never did anything of which he has more cause to be proud, and those who advance that against him as a charge are either demons or ignoramuses in the horrors of war. If I could have my say there should be a guard at every house and barn within the lines of the army, and the taking an article of property from any, even the most offensively outspoken, rebel, should be instantly punished by death. I would also punish straggling with death. I would do this on strictly humane principles. The horrors of war are not all to be found in the battle-field and every army pillages and outrages to a terrible extent. By establishing guards and making straggling the highest military offense, you not only divest war of its main horrors, so far as all noncombatants are concerned, but you stop the greatest cause of demoralisation in all armies, and, by keeping men in the ranks, bring your whole force effectively before the enemy. In the Maryland campaign last year McClellan’s army left behind 12,000 fighting men — stragglers, plundering the land. So it goes. Traditionally I rate Cromwell’s army above any other in history because in those respects he had it so completely in hand; but, as a rule, the English are very brutal and bad in those respects. Napoleon’s army lived on pillage, but did not straggle. They say the Germans are the worst and most cruel of all, as vide the thirty years war. . . .

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