General: It is officially reported to me that our foraging parties are murdered after capture, and labelled, "Death to all Foragers."One instance of a lieutenant and seven men, near Chesterville
, and another of twenty, "near a ravine, eighty rods from the main road," about three miles from Feasterville.
I have ordered a similar number of prisoners in our hands to be disposed of in like manner.
I hold about one thousand prisoners captured in various ways, and can stand it as long as you; but I hardly think these murders are committed with your knowledge, and would suggest that you give notice to the people at large that every life taken by them simply results in the death of one of your confederates.
Of course you cannot question my right to forage on the country.
It is a war right as old as history.
The manner of exercising it varies with circumstances, and if the civil authorities will supply my requisitions I will forbid all foraging.
But I find no civil authorities who can respond to calls for forage or provisions, and therefore must collect directly of the people.
I have no doubt this is the occasion of much misbehavior on the part of our men, but I cannot permit an enemy to judge or punish with whole-sale murder.
Personally, I regret the bitter feelings engendered by this war; but they were to be expected, and I simply allege that those who struck the first blow, and made war inevitable, ought not, in fairness, to reproach us for the natural consequences.
I merely assert our war right to forage, and my resolve to protect my foragers to the extent of life for life.
I am, with respect,
Your obedient servant, W. T. Sherman
United States Army.
Official: John M. Otey
, Assistant Adjutant-General
General: Your communication of the 24th instant reached me to-day.
In it you state that it has been officially reported that your foraging parties were "murdered" after capture; and you go on to say that you had "ordered a similar number of prisoners in your hands to be disposed of in like manner." That is to say, you have ordered a number of Confederate soldiers to be "murdered."
You characterize your order in proper terms; for the public voice, even in your own country, where it seldom dares to express itself in vindication of truth, honor or justice, will surely agree with you in pronouncing you guilty of murder if your order is carried out.
Before dismissing this portion of your letter, I beg to assure you for every soldier of mine "murdered" by you I shall have executed at once two
of yours, giving, in all cases, preference to any officers who may be in my hands.
In reference to the statement you make regarding the death of your foragers, I have only to say that I know nothing of it; that no orders given by me authorize the killing of prisoners after capture, and that I do not believe that my men killed any of your except under circumstances in which it was perfectly legitimate and proper they should kill them.
It is a part of the system of the thieves whom you designate as your foragers to fire the dwellings of those citizens whom they have robbed.
To check this inhuman system, which is justly execrated by every civilized nation, I have directed my men to shoot down all of your men who are caught burning houses.
This order shall remain in force as long as you disgrace the profession of arms by allowing your men to destroy private dwellings.
You say that I cannot, of course, question your right to forage on the country. "It is a right as old as history." I do not, sir, question this right.
But there is a right older even than this, and one more inalienable — the right that every man has to defend his home and to protect those who are dependent upon him. And from my heart I wish that every old man and boy in my country who can fire a gun would shoot down, as he would a wild beast, the men who are desolating their land, burning their houses, and insulting their women.
You are particular in defining and claiming "war rights." May I ask if you enumerate among them the right to fire upon a defenceless city without notice; to burn that city to the ground after it had been surrendered by the authorities, who claimed, though in vain, that protection which is always accorded in civilized warfare to non-combatants; to fire the dwelling-houses of citizens after robbing them, and to perpetrate even darker crimes than these — crimes too black to be mentioned.
You have permitted, if you have not ordered, the commission of these offences against humanity and the rules of war. You fired into the city of Columbia
without a word of warning.
After its surrender by the Mayor
, who demanded protection to private property, you laid the whole city in ashes, leaving amid its ruins thousands of old men and helpless women and children, who are likely to perish of starvation and exposure.
Your line of march can be traced by the lurid light of burning houses, and in more than one household there is an agony far more bitter than that of death.
scalped his victim regardless of sex or age, but with all his barbarity he always respected the persons of his female captives.
Your soldiers, more savage than the Indian
, insult those whose natural protectors are absent.
In conclusion, I have only to request that whenever you have any of my men "disposed of" or "murdered"--for the terms appear to be synonymous with you — you will let me hear of it, in order that I may know what action to take in the matter.
In the meantime, I shall hold fifty-six of your men as hostages for those whom you have ordered to be executed.