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Sherman's bummers,’ and some of their work.

Alabama agricultural and mechanical College, Auburn, Ala., August 25th, 1884.
Rev. Dr. John William Jones, Secretary Southern Historical Society:
Dear Sir,—At the suggestion of several friends I send you the enclosed interesting extracts from a private letter, written to me, soon after the downfall of the Confederacy, by Captain E. J. Hale, Jr., who was my Assistant-Adjutant General. The Captain is an elegant, educated gentleman, and was as gallant a young officer as ever drew blade in defence of the ‘Lost Cause.’ As editor of the Fayetteville Observer, which was a power in North Carolina during the war, he is now ably following in the footsteps of his staunch, talented and distinguished father.

Yours, very respectfully,

Fayetteville, N. C., July 31st, 1865.
my Dear General:

It would be impossible to give you an adequate idea of the destruction of property in this good old town. It may not be an average instance, but it is one, the force of whose truth we feel only too fully. My father's property, before the war, was easily convertible into about $85 to $100,000 in specie. He has not now a particle of property which will bring him a dollar of income. His office, with everything in it, was burned by Sherman's order. Slocum, who executed the order, with a number of other Generals, sat on the verandah of a hotel opposite watching the progress of the flames, while they hobnobbed over wines stolen from our cellar. A fine brick building adjacent, also belonging to my father, was burned at the same time. The cotton factory, of which he was a large shareholder, was burned, while his bank, railroad, and other stocks are worse than worthless, for the bank stock, at least, may bring him in debt, as the stockholders are responsible. In fact, he has nothing left, besides the ruins of his town buildings and a few town lots which promise to be of little value hereafter, in this desolated town, and are of no value at present, save his residence, which (with brother's house) Sherman [428] made a great parade of saving from a mob (composed of corps and division commanders, a nephew of Henry Ward Beecher, and so on down, by sending to each house an officer of his staff, after my brother's had been pillaged and my father's to some extent. By some accidental good fortune, however, my mother secured a guard before the ‘bummers’ had made much progress in the house, and to this circumstance we are indebted for our daily food, several month's supply of which my father had hid the night before he left, in the upper rooms of the house, and the greater part of which was saved.

You have, doubtless, heard of Sherman's ‘bummers.’ The Yankees would have you believe that they were only the straggling pillagers usually found, with all armies. Several letters written by officers of Sherman's army, intercepted near this town, give this the lie. In some of these letters were descriptions of the whole bumming process, and from them it appears that it was a regularly organized system, under the authority of General Sherman himself; that one-fifth of the proceeds fell to General Sherman, another fifth to the other general officers, another fifth to the line officers, and the remaining two-fifths to the enlisted men. There were pure silver bummers, plated-ware bummers, jewelry bummers, women's-clothing bummers, provision bummers, and, in fine, a bummer or bummers for every kind of stealable thing. No bummer of one specialty interfering with the stealables of another. A pretty picture of a conquering army, indeed, but true.

Well, I am scribbling away just as if I were talking to you, for I feel to-night in humor for having one of our late-at-night tent talks, which poor Ed. Nicholson used to laugh about, while he would mimic you punching the fire and puffing your pipe. Ah! how the pleasures of winter quarters and the biovuac come back to us now, divested of a remembrance of every disagreeable incident. I can see the big tent on the Rapidan; I feel as if I were with you in the cosy little one on Jones's farm, smoke, smoke, smoke, talk, talk, talk—how we rattled away the hours far into the morning. Is our present humiliating freedom from danger a change for the better?

But I must blow away these spectres of tobacco smoke and battle smoke, and tell you still more about myself, and I know you will pardon so much talk about self when you remember how necessarily egotistical must be the first letter to a friend, after an interval of months, since a parting such as ours at ill-starred Appomattox.

I forgot to say that I have not yet taken the oath, but, of course, [429] will do so eventually. If I live in this country, as I expect now to do, I shall feel it my duty to demean myself as a good and true citizen.

Yours affectionately,

Notes and Queries.

the term ‘Rebellion’ as applied to our ‘war between the States’ has been again and again repudiated by our most careful Confederate critics, and candid writers on the other side are coming to admit that the war was in no just sense a rebellion. We took occasion in our December (1883) number to protest against the use of this inaccurate and offensive term as the title of the publications of the ‘War Records Office,’ and this elicited from our friend E. L. Wells, of Charleston, S. C., the following well put comment. Our friend's point is decidedly ‘well taken’:

I notice that in criticising the title ‘Rebellion’ affixed to certain State Papers by Washington officials, you speak of the term as one which is as inapplicable to the popular movement of 1861 as it would be if applied to that of 1776. I should think there was this difference: The uprising of 1776, however justifiable morally it may have been, was legally a rebellion of disloyal subjects against their government.

The war of secession, on the contrary, was in pursuance of legal right, and was not against a “government” at all, but was waged between States or sectional populations; therefore, whatever else it may have been, it certainly was not a “ Rebellion.”

Yours, very respectfully,

‘the historic apple tree at Appomattox’ has been so often shown to be a myth that we have been both surprised and amused at seeing the story recently revived in one of our Southern papers, whose editor gives the following version of it:

We yesterday had a conversation with a gentleman who was present at the time the negotiations for the surrender were going on, in which he asserted most positively that these negotiations were carried on under a large apple tree in a farm-yard, and that, according to his [430] recollection, there were no pine trees near the spot, as it is stated by Dr. Paris. He says that when General Lee met the commissioners appointed by General Grant, the curiosity of every one was aroused, and every excuse was made to get near the spot where the parties were discussing the terms of the surrender. To keep these off and prevent interruption, the First Regiment of Engineers, under Colonel Talcott, of which our informant was a member, was formed in a hollow square around the assembled officers. They occupied camp stools, and had a table on which the writing was done, and they were seated under the shade of a large apple tree. Colonel Talcott's reigiment formed around them, prevented any interruption until the preliminary papers were signed, and the Federal officers left for Grant's headquarters.

This was, we think our informant stated, on Sunday. On the Tuesday following he had occasion to pass the spot, and not a vestige of the apple tree was left. Even the roots of the tree were dug up and carried away as mementoes of the great occasion. It may have been that the surrender was consummated at some other place, but the negotiations certainly took place under the “apple tree at Appomattox,” and there is no “myth” about this celebrated tree.

Now, the gentleman referred to was simply mistaken in his facts. The truth is that no ‘negotiations’ ever occurred under an ‘apple tree’—that the ‘negotiations’ were not through ‘commissioners,’ but between Generals Lee and Grant themselves—and that they first met, not ‘under an apple tree,’ but in the ‘McLean house’ at Appomattox Courthouse, and that the only possible interest which could attach to an apple tree was that while General Lee was waiting for his messenger to come back from General Grant and designate the place of their interview, the old hero rested under the shade in an orchard. We had these facts not only from members of his staff, but from General Lee himself, who once gave a party of us in Lexington a detailed account of the surrender.

It is perfectly true that Federal soldiers cut to pieces the so-called ‘historic apple tree,’ dug up its roots, and even cut up and carried off all of the other apple trees in the orchard. It is also true that ‘hungry Rebs.’ in Richmond sold to Northern ‘relic-hunters’ tons of ‘Appomattox apple tree.’ But this does not redeem the story, or make the surrender, or any negotiations concerning it, to have occurred ‘under an apple tree.’

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