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Doc. 53.-seizure of rebel property.


General Butler's order.

headquarters Eighteenth army corps, Department of Virginia and North-Carolina, Fortress Monroe, Va., Jan. 16, 1864.
General orders, No. 10.

To correct a misapprehension which seems to exist with the officers of this command as to their powers and duties in taking property for military purposes, and their accountability therefor; to afford just protection to peaceful and quiet citizens, from unauthorized and lawless acts, and to enable them to obtain speedy redress and remuneration therefor, if found loyal; to allow the taking in an orderly manner only, such property and material as may be necessary and useful for military purposes, or to deprive the enemy thereof, likely to fall into their hands, or if found in the hands of those in rebellion, or aiding the enemy; to give full force and effect to the example whenever it is found necessary to punish summarily offences, by the destruction of the property of offenders; [338]

It is ordered:

I. That private property of a peaceable inhabitant shall be seized only when needed for the use of the troops, either for shelter, transportation, fuel, or food, or from known enemies, to be turned over to the agents of the Treasury.

Secondly. It may be taken or destroyed, in order to deprive the enemy thereof, when in danger of falling into his hands, or to prevent its use by the enemy.

Thirdly. It may be destroyed, as a summary punishment for offences, such as discharging a musket by a citizen, from his house, upon a body of troops, or setting poisoned food before soldiers, or murder within a house, or using the house and property to secrete murderers, or as a rendezvous for felons and the like.

In each of these cases the act can be done only by the order of a commissioned officer, in command of an army, expedition, separate detachment, or post.

II. It has been brought to the notice of the Commanding General, that there is a reluctance on the part of officers seizing property, either as a military necessity or upon orders, to give to the party claiming certificates, showing such seizure, thereby leaving themselves liable to the imputation of having carried away property which they have not in fact taken, and exposing the United States to claims sometimes unfounded, and always exorbitant. There should be no. hesitation in giving such certificates. It does not add to the responsibility of the officer, but, on the contrary, is a protection both to himself and the Government. No officer should do an act which he is not willing to certify having done. It is therefore the duty of every officer, taking any property from any peaceable citizen, whether loyal or disloyal, to give a certificate to the party, claimant, or person from whom it is taken, place where and person from whom taken, with the name, regiment, and company, as the case may be, In full of the officer actually making the seizure; whether that seizure is made upon that officer's own responsibility, or under orders from his superior, and to make a report of the same to his immediate commander.

Such certificate should also state whether the property taken is that of a loyal or disloyal citizen, to the best of the information of the captor.

III. In case it becomes necessary, for military purposes, to destroy any houses, buildings, or other property, a certificate stating the cause of the act should be given by the officer making the order, or doing the act, to the person claiming, or it should be affixed to the nearest prominent object, if practicable, and in each case a report made to the immediate commander of the act done and of the certificate given.

Any officer taking property of a citizen for any purpose whatever, whether loyal or disloyal, without giving such certificate to the claimant, or destroying any property, without such certificate, and reporting the act as above provided, shall be deemed to be, and held guilty as for unauthorized and causeless plunder and embezzlement of the property taken, or for an unjustifiable destruction of property, as the case may be. In such cases, the Commanding General will not too much invoke the aid of a court-martial in punishing the offenders.

IV. Cases of difficulty have arisen where the negroes, formerly slaves, joining the troops of the United States on marches and expeditions, with intent to come within our lines for protection, bring with them property of their former masters.

While the theory adopted by some officers that all the property in the rebel States belongs to the negroes, because it is the product of their labor, is theoretically true, yet it is not such a truth as can be made the foundation of government action. Therefore negroes, while they are to be induced to join our marches and expeditions, are not to be allowed to bring with them any other than those personal effects which have belonged to them, or such property as the officer commanding may order.

If it becomes necessary to take means of transportation from their masters, it is to be receipted for by the officer in command, as in other cases, stating the purpose for which such transportation is taken.

V. Competent officers make good soldiers; efficient officers can prevent outrage and plunder on the part of their men. All officers will be held strictly responsible for the acts of their men, and will be held to make good all plundering by the troops under their immediate command.

In punishing the offences of plundering, the inquiry at these headquarters will be, not which men did the act complained of, but who was the immediate commander of the men liable for the outrage.

VI. All property, seized as above provided, must be accounted for, or turned over to the quartermaster or provost-marshal, to be taken up on their accounts, or the officer under whose command it is taken will be held liable for embezzlement.

By command of Major-General Butler. R. S. Davis, Major and Assistant Adjutant-General.

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