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XII. foraging.

“Can we all forget the foraging the boys were prone to do,
As with problematic rations we were marching Dixie through;
And the dulcet screech of chanticleer or soothing squeal of swine,
When occurred the grateful halt or brief excursion from the line?

There was one other source from which soldiers — at least, some soldiers — replenished their larder, or added to its variety. The means employed to accomplish this end was known as Foraging, which is generally understood to mean a seeking after food, whether for man or beast, and appropriating to one's own use whatsoever is found in this line, wheresoever it is found in an enemy's country. It took the army some time to adopt this mode of increasing its stores. This arose from the fact that early in the war many of the prominent government and military officers thought that a display of force with consideration shown the enemy's property would win the South back to her allegiance to the Union; but that if, on the other hand, they devastated property and appropriated personal effects, it would only embitter the enemy, unite them more solidly, and greatly prolong the war; so that for many months after war began, Northern troops were prohibited from seizing fence-rails, poultry, swine, straw, or any similar merchandise in which [232] they might under some circumstances feel a personal interest; and whenever straw-stacks and fences were appropriated by order of commanding officers, certificates to that effect were given the owners, who might expect at some time to be reimbursed. But the Rebellion waxed apace, and outgrew all possibility of certificating everybody whose property was entered upon or absorbed, and furthermore it came to be known that many who had received certificates were in collusion with the enemy, so that the issuance of these receipts gradually grew beautifully less.

Then, there was another obstacle in the way of a general adoption of foraging as an added means of support. It was the presence in the army of a large number of men who had learned the ten commandments, and could not, with their early training and education, look upon this taking to themselves the possessions of others without license as any different from stealing. These soldiers would neither forage nor share in the fruits of foraging. It can be readily imagined, then, that when one of this class commanded a regiment the diversion of foraging was not likely to be very general with his men. But as the war wore on, and it became more evident that such tender regard for Rebel property only strengthened the enemy and weakened the cause of the Union, conscientious scruples stepped to the rear, and the soldier who had them at the end of the war was a curiosity indeed.

There are some phases of this question of foraging which at this late day may be calmly considered, and the right and wrong of it carefully weighed. In the first place, international law declares that in a hostile section an army may save its rations and live off the country. To the large majority of the soldiers this would be sufficient warrant for them to appropriate from the enemy whatever they had a present liking for in the line of provisions. If all laws were based on absolute justice, the one quoted would settle the question finally, and leave nothing as an objection to foraging. [233] But while the majority make the laws, the consciences and convictions of the minority are not changed thereby. Each man's conscience must be a final law unto himself. It is well for it to be so. I only enlarge upon this for a moment to show that on all moral questions every intelligent man must in a meas-

A discovery. Act I.

ure make his own law, having Conscience as a guide.

The view which the average soldier took was, as already intimated, in harmony with the international law quoted. This view was, in substance, that the people of the South were in a state of rebellion against the government, notwithstanding that they had been duly

A discovery. Act II.

warned to desist from war and return to their allegiance; that they had therefore forfeited all claim to whatever property the soldier chose to appropriate; that this was one of the risks they assumed when they raised the banner of secession; that for this and perhaps other reasons, [234] they should be treated just as a foreign nation waging war against the United States, all of which may seem plausible at first view, and indeed it may be said just here that if the soldiers had always despoiled the enemy to supply their own pressing personal needs, or if they had always taken or destroyed only those things which could be of service to the enemy in the prosecution of the war, the arguments against foraging would be considerably weakened; but the authority to forage carried with it also the exercise of the office of judge and jury, from whom there was no appeal. If the owner of a lot of corn or poultry was to protest against losing it, on the ground that he was a Unionist, unless the proof was at hand, he would lose his case — that is, his corn and chickens. However sincere he may have been, it was not possible for him to establish his Union sentiments at short notice. Indeed, so many who really were “secesh” claimed to be good Union men, it came latterly to be assumed that the victim was playing a false role on all such occasions, and so the soldiers went straight for the plunder, heeding no remonstrances. Without doubt, hundreds of Union men throughout the South suffered losses in this way, which, if their loyalty could have been clearly shown, they would have been spared.

A good deal of the foraging, while unauthorized and forbidden by commanding officers, was often connived at by them, and they were frequently sharers in the spoils; but I was about to say that it was not always of the most judicious kind. No one, better than the old soldiers, knows how destitute many, if not most, of the houses along the line of march were of provisions, clothing, and domestic animals, after the first few months of the war. I will amend that statement. There was one class who knew better than the soldiers,the tenants of those houses knew that destitution bettersometimes feigned it, may be, but as a rule it was the ugly and distressing reality. I am dealing now with the Army [235] of the Potomac,, which travelled the same roads year after year, either before or behind the Rebel Army of Northern Virginia. In or near the routes of these bodies little was attempted by the people in the way of crop-raising, for their products were sure to feed one or the other of the two armies as they tramped up and down the state, so that destitution in some of the wayside cabins and farm-houses was often quite marked. No one with a heart less hard than flint could deprive such families of their last cow, shote, or ear of corn. Yet there were many unauthorized foragers who would not hesitate a moment to seize and carry off the last visible mouthful of food. So it has seemed to me that the cup of Rebellion was made unnecessarily bitter from the fact that such appeals too often fell on deaf ears. Granting it to be true that the Rebels had forfeited all right to whatever property their antagonists saw fit to appropriate, yet in the absence of those Rebels their families ought not to suffer want and distress; the innocent should not suffer for the guilty, and when nothing was known against them they should not have been deprived of their last morsel. But there were exceptions. There were some families who gave information to the Rebel army or detachments of it, by which fragments of ours were killed or captured, and when this was known the members of that family were likely sooner or later to suffer for it, as would naturally be expected.

Some of these families were so destitute that they were at times driven to appeal to the nearest army headquarters for rations to relieve their sufferings. To do this it was often necessary for them to walk many miles. Horses they had not. They could not keep them, for if the Union cavalry did not “borrow.,” the Rebel cavalry would impress them; so that they were not only without a beast of burden for farm work, but had none to use as a means of transportation. Now and then a sore-backed, emaciated, and generally usedup horse or mule, which had been abandoned and left in the [236] track of the army to die, was taken charge of, when the coast was clear, and nursed back into vitality enough to stand on at least three of his legs, when, by means of bits of tattered rope, twisted corn-husks, and odds and ends of leather which had seen better days, the sorry-looking brute, still bearing the brand U. S. or C. S. on his rump, partly concealed perhaps by his rusty oufit, was tackled into a nondescript vehicle, possibly the skeleton remains of what had been, in years

Going to Army Headquarters.

gone by, the elegant and stylish family carriage, but fully as often into a two-wheeled cart, which now answered all the purposes of the family in its altered circumstances. One would hardly expect to find in such a brute a Goldsmith Maid or a Jay Eye See in locomotion, and so as a matter of fact such a beast was urged on from behind by lusty thwacks from a cudgel, propelling the family at a headlong walkheadlong, because he was likely to go headlong at any moment, from lack of strength, over the rough Virginia roads.

When such a brute got to be pretty lively once more, unless he was concealed, he would soon fall into service again in one of the armies, and possibly another gasping skeleton left in his place; but later in the war all animals abandoned by the Union army were shot if any life remained in them, so that even this resource was to that extent cut [237] off from the inhabitants, and the family cow, while she was spared, was fitted out for such service.

But the soldiers did not always content themselves with taking eatables and forage. Destruction of the most wanton and inexcusable character was sometimes indulged in. It is charged upon them when the army entered Fredericksburg, in 1862, that they took especial delight in bayonetting mirrors, smashing piano-keys with musket-butts, pitching crockery out of windows, and destroying other such inoffensive material, which could be of no possible service to either party. If they had been imbibing commissary whiskey, they were all the more unreasonable and outrageous in their destruction. Whenever a man was detected in the enactment of such disgraceful and unsoldierly conduct, he was put under arrest, and sentenced by court-martial. But this class of men was an insignificantly small fraction of an army, although seeming very numerous to their victims.

A regularly authorized body of foragers, in charge of a commissioned officer, never gave way to excesses like those I have mentioned. Their task was usually well defined. It was to go out with wagons in quest of the contents of smoke-houses or barns or corn-barns; and if a flock of fowls or a few swine chanced to be a part of the livestock of the farms visited, the worse for the live-stock and Secessia, and the better for the Union army. The usual plunder secured by regular foraging parties was hams, bacon sides, flour, sweet potatoes, corn-meal, corn on the cob, and sometimes corn-shooks as they were called, that is, corn-leaves stripped. from the stalks, dried and bundled, for winter fodder. The neat cattle in the South get the most of their living in the winter by browsing, there being but little hay cured.

In traversing fresh territory, the army came upon extensive quantities of corn in corn-ricks. At Wilcox's Landing, on the James River, where we crossed in June, 1864, the [238] Rebel Wilcox, who had a splendid farm on the left bank of the river, had hundreds of bushels of corn, I should judge, which the forage trains took aboard before they crossed over; and on the south side of the James, east from Petersburg, where Northern troops had never before pene-

A corn-barn and hay-rick.

trated, many such stores of corn were appropriated to feed the thousands of loyal quadrupeds belonging to Uncle Sam.

In this section, too, and in the territory stretching from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, immense quantities of tobacco were found in the various stages of curing. The drying-houses were full of it. These houses were rude structures, having water-tight roofs, but with walls built of small logs placed two or three inches apart, to admit a free circulation of air. On poles running across the interior hung the stalks of tobacco, root upwards. Then, in other buildings were hogsheads pressed full of the “weed,” in another stage of the curing. It is well known that Petersburg is the centre of a very extensive tobacco-trade, and in that city are large tobacco-factories. But the war put a summary end to this business for the time, by closing northern markets and blockading southern ports, so that this article of foreign and domestic commerce accumulated in the hands of the producers to the very great extent found by the army when it appeared in that vicinity. Every soldier [239] who had a liking for tobacco helped himself as freely as he pleased, with no one caring to stay his hand. But I believe that the experts in smoking and chewing preferred the black navy plug of the sutler, at a dollar and a quarter, to this unprepared but purer article to be had by the taking.

Tobacco-drying houses.

While the army lay at Warrenton Sulphur Springs, after Gettysburg in ‘63, a detail of men was made from my company daily to take scythes from the “Battery wagon,” and, with a six-mule team, go off and now a load of grass wherever they could find it within our lines, to eke out the government forage. The same programme was enacted by other batteries in the corps.

As Sherman's Bummers achieved a notoriety as foragers par excellence, some facts regarding them will be of interest in this connection. Paragraphs 4 and 6 of Sherman's Special Field Orders 120, dated Nov. 9, 1864, just before starting for Savannah, read as follows:--

“ 4. The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route travelled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten days provisions for his command, and three days forage. Soldiers must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants or commit any trespass; but during a halt or camp they may be permitted to gather turnips, potatoes, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock in sight of their [240] camp. To regular foraging parties must be intrusted the gathering of provisions and forage at any distance from the road travelled.”

“6. As for horses, mules, wagons, etc., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit; discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor and industrious, usually neutral or friendly. Foraging parties may also take mules or horses, to replace the jaded animals of their trains or to serve as pack-mules, for the regiments or brigades. In all foraging of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates of the facts, but no receipts; and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.”

As Sherman was among the commanders who believed most heartily in having those who provoked the conflict suffer the full measure of their crime, the above instructions seem certainly very mild and humane. On page 182, Vol. II., of his Memoirs, and also on pages 207-8, in a letter to Grant, describing the march, he presents a summary of the working of the plan. His brigade foraging parties, usually comprising about fifty men, would set out before daylight, knowing the line of march for the day, and, proceeding on foot five or six miles from the column, visit every farm and plantation in range. Their plunder consisted of bacon, meal, turkeys, ducks, chickens, and whatever else was eatable for man or beast. These they would load into the farmwagon or family carriage, and rejoin the column, turning over their burden to the brigade commissary. “Often,” says Sherman, “would I pass these foraging parties at the roadside, waiting for their wagons to come up, and was amused at their strange collections — mules, horses, even cattle packed with old saddles, and loaded with hams, bacon, bags of corn-meal, and poultry of every description. ... [241] No doubt, many acts of pillage, robbery, and violence were committed by these foragers, usually called “bummers”; for I have since heard of jewelry taken from women, and the plunder of articles that never reached the commissary; but these acts were exceptional and incidental.” Sherman further states that his army started with about five thousand head of cattle and arrived at the sea with about ten thousand, and that the State of Georgia must have lost by his operations fifteen thousand first-rate mules. As to horses, he says that every one of the foraging party of fifty who set out daily on foot invariably returned mounted, accompanying the various wagon-loads of provisions and forage seized, and, as there were forty brigades, an approximation to the number of horses taken can be made.

But this travelling picnic of the Western armies was unique. There is nothing like it elsewhere in the history of the war. Certainly, the Army of the Potomac could not present anything to compare with it. As a matter of fact, there was no other movement in the war whose nature justified such a season of riotous living as this one. But it illustrates in a wholesale way the kind of business other armies did on a retail scale.

There was no arm of the service that presented such favorable opportunities for foraging as did the cavalry, and none, I may add, which look so great an advantage of its opportunity. In the first place, being the eyes and the ears of the army, and usually going in advance, cavalrymen skimmed the cream off the country when a general movement was making. Then when it was settled down in camp they were the outposts and never let anything in the line of poultry, bee-hives, milk-houses, and apple-jack, not to enumerate other delicacies which outlying farm-houses afforded, escape the most rigid inspection. Again, they were frequently engaged in raids through the country, from the nature of which they were compelled to live in large measure off southern products, seized as they went along; [242] but infantry and artillery must needs confine their quests for special rations to the homesteads near the line of march. The cavalry not only could and did search these when they led the advance, but also made requisitions on all houses in sight of the thoroughfares travelled, even when they were two or three miles away, so that, in all probability, they ate a smaller quantity of government rations, man for man, than did any other branch of the land-service; but they did not therefore always fare sumptuously, for now and then the cavalry too were in a strait for rations.

Next to the cavalry, the infantry stood the best chance of good living on foraged edibles, as their picket-duty took them away some distance from the main lines and often into the neighborhood of farm-houses, from which they would buy or take such additions to their rations as the premises afforded. Then, they went out in reconnoitring parties, or, perhaps, to do fatigue duty, such as the building of bridges, or the corduroying of roads, which also opened opportunities for them to enlist a few turkeys or chickens in the Union cause.

Perhaps the most unfortunate natives were those who chanced to live in a house by the roadside in the direct line of march of the army, for, from the time the head of the column struck such a house until the last straggler left it, there was a continuous stream of officers and men thronging into and about the premises, all ambitious to buy or beg or take whatsoever in the line of eatables and drinkables was to be had by either of these methods. The net result of this was to leave such families in a starving condition, and finally begging rations from the army. Those families by whose premises both armies marched were in the depths of distress, for Confederate soldiers let little in the way of provisions escape their maws on their line of march, even in Virginia; so that it was not unusual for such families to meet the Union advance with tearful eyes, and relate the losses which they had sustained and the beggary to which [243] they had been reduced by the seizure of their last cow and last ounce of corn-meal. Sometimes, no doubt, they deceived to ward off impending search and seizure from a new quarter, but as a rule the premises showed their statements to be true.

Sometimes the inhabitants were shrewd and watchful enough to scent danger and secrete the articles most precious to them till the danger was past; but not infrequently they were a little tardy in adopting such a measure, and were overhauled. just before they had reached cover, and

Scene at a wayside farm-house.

despoiled of the whole or a part of their treasure. The corn-fields of these roadside residents were the saddest of spectacles after the army had passed along in the early fall, for no native-born Southron had a finer appreciation of the excellent qualities of “roasting ears” than the average Yankee soldier, who left no stalk unstripped of its burden. Even the stalks themselves were used, to regale the appetites of the horses and mules.

Volumes might be filled with incidents of foraging. I will relate one or two that came under my own personal observation.

The people of Maryland undoubtedly enjoyed greater exemption from foragers, as a whole, than did those of Virginia, for a larger number of the former than of the [244] latter were supposed to be loyal and were therefore protected. I say supposed, for personally I am of the opinion that the Virginians were fully as loyal as the Marylanders. But a large number of the soldiers when fresh and new in the service saw an enemy in every bush, and recognized no white man south of Mason and Dixon's line as other than a “secesh.” Very often they were right, but the point I wish to make is that they indulged in foraging to a greater extent probably than troops which had been longer in service. Before my own company had seen any hard service it was located at Poolesville, thirty-eight miles from Washington, where it formed part of an independent brigade, which was included in the defences of Washington, and under the command of General Heintzelman. While we lay there drilling, growling, and feeding on government rations, a sergeant of the guard imperilled his chevrons by leading off a midnight foraging party, after having first communicated the general countersign to the entire party. On this particular occasion a flock of sheep was the object of the expedition. These sheep had been looked upon with longing eyes manly times by the men as they rode their horses to water by their pasture, which was, perhaps, half a mile or more from camp.

As soon as the foragers came upon them in the darkness, the sheep cantered away, and their adversaries, who could only see them when near to them, followed in full pursuit. As the chase up and down the enclosure, which was not a very large one, waxed warm, one of the party, more noted for his zeal than his discretion, drew a revolver and emptied nearly every barrel among the flock, doing no bodily injury to the sheep, however, but he did succeed in calling down upon his head the imprecations of the sergeant, for his lack of good-sense, and with reason, for in a few minutes the fire of the outer pickets was drawn. This being heard and reported in camp, the long-roll was sounded, calling into line the two regiments of infantry that lay near us, and [245] causing every preparation to be made to resist the supposed attack. The foragers, meanwhile, skulked back to camp by the shortest route, bringing with them two sheep that had been run down by some of the fleeter of the party. But no one save an interested few, inside or outside of the company, ever knew, until the story was told at a reunion of the company in ‘79 or ‘80, the cause of all the tumult in camp that dark winter's night.

On another occasion a party of five or six men stole out of camp at midnight, in quest of poultry. They knew of a farm-house where poultry was kept, but to ascertain its exact whereabouts at night was no easy task. On looking around the premises they found that there was no isolated outbuild-ing, whereupon they at once decided that the ell to the main house must be the place which contained the “biddies” ; but to enter that might rouse the farmer and his family, which they did not care to do. However, a council of war decided to take the risk, and storm the place. Investigation showed the door to be padlocked, but a piece of iron which lay conveniently near, on a window-sill, served to pull out the staple, and the door was open. Meanwhile, guards had been posted at the corners of the house, with drawn revolvers (which they would not have dared to fire), and the captures began. One man entered the ell, and, lighting a match, discovered that he had called at the right house, and that the feathered family were at home. Among them he caught a glimpse of two turkeys, and these, with four fowls taken one at a time by the neck, to control their noise, were passed to another man standing at the door with a pen-knife, who, having performed a successful surgical operation on each, gave them to a third party to put in a bag.

Back of our camp stood the house of a secessionist,--at least, “Black Mary,” his colored servant, said he was one,and in his kitchen and cook-stove, for the sum of twentyfive cents in scrip, having previously dressed and stuffed them, Mary cooked the turkeys most royally, and one commissioned [246] officer of our company, at least, sat down to one of the feasts, blissfully ignorant, of course, as to the source from which the special ration was drawn.

Bee-hives were among the most popular products of foraging. The soldiers tramped many a mile by night in quest of these depositories of sweets. I recall an incident occurring in the Tenth Vermont Regiment--once brigaded with my companywhen some of the foragers, who had been out on a tramp, brought a hive of bees into camp, after the men had wrapped themselves in their blankets, and, by way of a joke, set

No joke.

it down stealthily on the stomach of the captain of one of the companies, making business quite lively in that neighborhood shortly afterwards.

Foragers took other risks than that of punishment for absence from camp or the column without leave. They were not infrequently murdered on these expeditions. On the 7th of December, 1864, Warren's Fifth Corps was started southward from Petersburg, to destroy the Weldon Railroad still further. On their return, they found some of their men, who had straggled and foraged, lying by the roadside murdered, their bodies stark naked and shockingly mutilated. One of Sherman's men recently related how in the Carolinas one of his comrades was found hanged on a tree, bearing this inscription, “Death to all foragers.” A large number of men were made prisoners while away from their commands after the usual fruits of foragingjust how many, no one will ever know; and many of those not killed on the spot by their captors ended their lives in the prison-pens. [247]

During the expedition of the Fifth Corps alluded to, while the column had halted at some point in its march, a few uneasy spirits, wishing for something eatable to turn up, had made off down a hill, ahead of the column, had crossed a stream, and reached the vicinity of a house on the high ground the other side. Here a keen-scented cavalryman from the party had started up two turkeys, which, as the pursuit grew close, flew up on to the top of the smoke-house, whence, followed by their relentless pursuer, they went

The turkey he Didn't catch.

still higher, to the ridge-pole of the main house adjoining. Still up and forward pressed the trooper, his “soul in arms and eager for the fray,” and as the turkeys with fluttering wings edged away, the hungry veteran, now astride the ridge-pole, hopped along after, when ping! a bullet whistled by uncomfortably near him.

“What in thunder are you about!” blurted the cavalryman, suspecting his comrades of attempting to shoot off his quarry in the moment of victory.

Receiving no satisfactory response from his innocent companions, who had stood interested spectators of his exploit, yet unconscious of what he was exclaiming at, he once more addressed himself to the pursuit when, chuck! a bullet struck a shingle by his leg and threw the splinters in his face. There was no mistaking the mark or the marksman this time, and our trooper suddenly lost all relish for turkey, [248] and, standing not on the order of his going, came sliding and tumbling down off the roof, striking the ground with too much emphasis and a great deal of feeling, where, joined by his comrades, who by this time had taken in the situation, he beat a hasty retreat, followed by the jeers of the Johnnies, and rejoined the column.

A veteran of the Seventh New Hampshire tells of one Charley Swain, who was not only an excellent duty soldier,

A Dilemma.

but a champion forager. While this regiment lay at St. Augustine, Fla., in 1863, Swain started out on one of his quests for game, and, although it had grown rather scarce, at last found two small pigs penned up in the suburbs of the town. His resolve was immediately made to take them into camp. Securing a barrel, he laid it down, open at one end, in a corner of the pen, and without commotion soon had both grunters inside the barrel, and the barrel standing on end. By hard tugging he lifted it clear of the pen, and, taking it on his back, started rapidly for camp. But his passengers were not long reconciled to such quick and close [249] transit, for he had not proceeded far before grunts developed into squeals, squeals into internal dissensions, to which the bottom of the barrel at last succumbed, and a brace of pigs were coursing at liberty. Here was a poser for the spoilsman. If he caught them again, how should he carry them? While he was attempting to solve this problem the cavalry patrol hove in sight, and Swain made for camp, where, crestfallen and chagrined, he related how he had left to the greedy maws of the provost-guard the quarry which he had hoped to share with his mess that night.

In considering this question of foraging, it has not been my purpose to put the soldiers of the Union armies in an unfair or unfavorable position as compared with their opponents. It has been claimed that Southerners on northern soil were more vindictive and wanton than Northerners on southern soil; and the reason on which this statement is based is that the South hated the Yankees, but the North hated only slavery. Nor is it my intention to charge atrocities upon the best men of either army. They were committed by the few. And I do not wish to be understood as declaring foraging a black and atrocious act, for, as I have shown, it had a legal warrant. I only claim that when the order once goes forth it leads to excesses, which it is difficult to control, and such excesses are likely to seriously affect the unoffending, defenceless women and children with woes out of all proportion with their simple part in bringing on the strife. But so it always has been, and so it probably always will be, till wars and rumors of wars shall cease.

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