previous next


The burning of Hampton.

--There is no incident in the progress of war that occasions a keener sensation of regret than the configuration of towns and villages — the destruction of habitations around which load associations cluster, and consecrated temples within whose walls generations have worshipped — Yet painful as such an event may be, it is better that one should apply the torch to his own dwelling than leave it to be polluted by the presence of a barbarous foe. The burning of the town of Hampton was an act in regard to which there may still be a difference of opinion; and hence we are glad to have it in our power to lay before the public a letter, written by an intelligent gentleman who was despoiled by his property and driven from his home by the miserable invaders. The statement below will convince every render of the necessity of the act. We give the letter entire, though the writer seems to have been unaware that correct information as to the burning of the town had already been received in Richmond.

Yorktowns, Aug. 10th, 1861.

Messrs. Editors: Your information is right as to the burning of Hampton, but wrong as to the means by which it was done. The town, with the exception of two or three houses, is utterly destroyed. It was done, however, by our own people, to prevent its being appropriated to a far worse end than conflagration — that is, the fall and winter abode of Yankees and runaway negroes. The facts, as related to me by reliable persons direct from the place, are, that Gen. Magruder (who, by-the way, has his eyes and ears in their places,) had learned definitely and satisfactorily that Gen. Butler had issued, or was about to issue, an order that the town should be very strongly fortified, and occupied by his troops as their permanent quarters. This was doubtless a part of his ‘"plan for capturing a large number of slaves."’ Our military men had made one great mistake — though probably at that time it could not have been prevented — in allowing the invaders to occupy Newport News; and now that such a disaster could be prevented, every consideration of policy and strategy demanded that it should be. To occupy it with our own troops, would be to expose both the men and the town to destruction from the guns and mortars of Fortress Monroe. The choice was then between leaving the houses there for the aid and comfort of the enemy, and its destruction by fire. Every patriot would at once say, ‘ "Let it be destroyed."’ It is true, that the homes of many families, with all their endearing associations, were there. With not a few, every earthly comfort they possessed, in the way of house and furniture, was there. The writer is of that number. Yet who would not rather see his all utterly destroyed than to have it appropriated to shelter a wicked, cruel and relentless foe — a foe who, judging from past experience, would have destroyed it any how? In this light, I believe a majority of the sufferers now in exile will view it. Many of us, when we left Hampton, regarded its destruction as almost certain. Had we remained there, we would have required a large military force to protect us. This would have provoked its bombardment from both the fort and the shipping of the invaders. We should have been entirely at their mercy. If they came, as doubtless they would, to take possession, it would have been necessary for our forces to dislodge them. The consequence would have been the same — the utter destruction of the town, and with it a fearful loss of life on our side as well as theirs. As it turned out, the object of the enemy has been frustrated, and so far as we know, no life has been lost. There were very few white families there, a few faithful servants, who had done much to protect their masters' property, and a crowd of runaway negroes. All those, it is believed, made their escape before the torch was applied. There were no Yankees there.

The propriety, the necessity of the burning turns entirely on the reliability of the information as to the plan and purpose of the enemy, on which Gen. Magruder acted. On that point he no doubt is able to give ample satisfaction. Virtues.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Hampton (Virginia, United States) (4)
Fortress Monroe (Virginia, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Magruder (2)
Editors (1)
Butler (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
August 10th, 1861 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: