February 26, 1864: Views of the Meridian expedition from both sides

Gen. Sherman, from Harper’s Weekly, March 12, 1864

A Mobile paper printed a long letter dated Feb. 26 from a Mississippi resident, detailing the outrages committed by the Union troops in the Meridian vicinity. It appears that some troops got drunk and hit his wife with a leather strap, while he was in hiding. Most of the Union officers, though, appear to have protected the persons of the residents, and destruction of personal property was spotty. As we know, the goal was to destroy manufacturing and transport in the region, and they seem to have done that well.

Meanwhile, an item in the Richmond Daily Dispatch gives a different impression of Sherman’s raid, specifically reporting that “the enemy committed few depredations upon private property, beyond helping themselves to provisions.”

Finally, Harper’s Weekly gives the Union view of the expedition as a signal success. It is noteworthy that the Mobile correspondent talks of how the slaves “went” in the same way that his cutlery “went” — largely as property carried off without any volition of its own. Harper’s, on the other hand, says that 10,000 slaves were liberated. It is a mystery to the Mobile correspondent why the families of slaves so kindly raised by their masters would have left unless coerced by the Yankees.

Graphic Narrative of the Federal Raid in East Mississippi—
Inhuman and Dastardly Conduct of Officers and Men.

We are permitted to make public the following private letter from a well-known and reliable gentleman, giving a graphic account of Yankee atrocities and outrages in their late raid into Eastern Mississippi. Oh for a scourge of scorpions to lash the dastards naked through the world!

Marion, Miss., Feb. 26, 1864. Dear R_____:

I write you in the expectation that there may be a chance to send it to a point where it will be mailed. The vandals have been on us, over us, destroyed us and gone, God knows where. I wrote you about the 13th, saying they were near at hand; then all was panic, confusion, dismay—our army passing, people fleeing. On Saturday night and Sunday our main infantry force passed, and in good order and spirits—surprisingly so after such a march. I had, Micawber-like, waited for something to turn up, moved nothing, hid nothing, expected to stay and take the consequences.

Sunday several of our Generals breakfasted with me and advised my leaving, that I might be swung up, shot or taken North. I had no desire for either. In haste I secured some of my papers and effects as I could take on horseback, and as the firing began at Meridian I turned my back on my home, leaving my family to suffer for me. I made what I then though were ample arrangements to keep advised of what was happening, but remained at ten to twenty miles off for ten entire days without a word of news from home.

I had, unfortunately, by jumping a la Ravel a six foot fence (pickets), in saving myself from a neighbor’s dog, sprained my ankle which was so inflamed that I was on crutches [illegible] and could not scout around, and was so prevented from learning the fate of home. Rumors abounded and had every form. I was left to such and my own imagination, and years of language could not tell what I underwent. At last I saw a neighbor who had stood the storm, and learned the savages were gone.

I came home on the 24th, the 11th day of absence, and I can never describe what I have seen of their work. The worst corps enclosed my dwelling in their camps—my fences were burned, three out-houses; not a pound of meal or corn left, all my horses gone, all my cattle eaten, except one cow, my dwelling sacked, my wife repeatedly insulted and whipped; yes, actually whipped with a leather strap. This last act was among the first things done, about 10 A.M. Tuesday, and though she repeatedly and constantly inquired the protection of officers she received none till 4 P.M. During these six hours it was a continued scene of insult, plunder and terror. I was reported rich; money was demanded, her clothes in trunks were torn up and burned, all mine and the boys taken and worn.

At 4 P.M.—Gen. Smith’s Headquarters all the while in my yard in 50 feet of the house, he cursing and making she says no effort to protect her—a Major on his Staff, having more humanity than the mob over and under two captains who took up quarters in the house, and the Captains were Missourians—genteel brutes, who, like the rest, had an oath with every word—damned rebels, d—d women, cut your d—d throat, burn your d—d house, &c, &c. Where’s your d—d husband, your d—d sons, were kind inquiries and threats.

They remained in the yard four days and nights, moving only enough to have a new swarm of plunderers two or three times a day. The guards and the officers were equally robbers—only not so numerous. The Major (Fyan his name) she thinks was rather a gentleman; for after he promised her safety he promptly responded to every call she made. The second day came a band of courtesans—appearing first in the negro houses, there saying they were going to live in the house and strip the b—-h in it. A faithful negro notified my wife, who immediately asked the Major not to allow women to come into the house, that some were threatening to do so, and he went in person and drove them off; so that, though among the worst of men, she was saved from the presence of those women.

The entire yard and garden were dug for treasure, the negroes were robbed, floors near the ground taken up and the earth spaded. A General Shaw called in the evening to inquire if it was true she had been whipped, expressing a wish to have pointed out the man, that it was an outrage that would not have happened if her d—d husband had not had liquors on his place; that the liquor was the cause of it, and if there was more he would pour it out or take it to the Commissary. Unfortunately I did have liquor, which the scoundrels drank, but except the whipping my wife was not worse treated or pillaged than others. Not a lady that I have heard speak out but what was more or less insulted, by inquiries or proposals. One lady with the grey hairs and deep wrinkles of age was embraced and caressed by one of them.

The whole mass, by all accounts, were ruffians—thousands black Dutch, who could speak none or very little English; negroes in abundance, of all ages and sexes, fresh taken and veterans—no restraint was placed on any it seems. If an officer was appealed to, he was apt to say, “our boys don’t like the d—d rebels—they will do so. It ain’t right, but it’s the South’s fault,” &c.

What occurred around my place was only what happened everywhere they went. Those who stood it, can talk for days they say, and still convey but little of what they endured and saw. My wife says there were troops of boys—New York bad boys and circus followers along with learned dogs to scratch up the things lately hidden. Some of our own deserters were with them. Several acquaintances were seen and strange to say, several of our own people retired with them; among others Mrs. S. A. Coleman, President Soldiers’ Aid Society (living at the Station), and her family—husband and three sons. She has been very zealous in making charitable collections for our sick soldiers, writing touching appeals for clothing, &c.

Strange to say, they did not burn the Courthouse—burnt the buildings around it, jail, &c. They burnt all cotton, gin houses, &c. Marion Station, except the dwellings, was burned; our stock of bagging and rope and other plunder, at recent prices, in value over $50,000, with a part of our books and papers burnt, including Col. Crawford’s books and furniture. Fifteen of my negroes—four men, five women and six children, and 7 horses went. Crawford’s two shoemakers, the best negroes I ever saw—more than free before—and two [illegible] Every negro H. Meador had went. He had raised a family, the mother blind for some years, all went; left him no horse or cattle either, but did not burn his mill.

Meridian is thoroughly burned up, the Railroad destroyed to Lauderdale, and the Northeast and Southwest for 15 miles, not a straight rail that I have seen. If a man has never seen their work, it is worth a trip to look at it. Nearly all our plates, cups, &c., went off. We were deprived of pots, ovens, &c., and have 3 forks and 5 knives out of 3 dozen of each. Our little stock of medicines was singularly respected, but we were left nothing to live on except what we could pick up from their camps when they left. I had 60 [?] bushels wheat, it was fed to their horses.—My wife had an immense supply of preserves, jellies, &c.; all went with the glasses and jars containing them. Her supply of under-clothing was torn to rags and remarkable to say, only 3 quilts taken, no bed or mattress taken, though a party of 30 came for them and the sofa; yet on her appeal to Major Fyan they were spared—some saying as they left that the house and contents would be burned anyhow.

She says that at night all was quiet and nothing molested, yet during the 4 days and nights she never slept. Every one has the same tale of horror and terror. All the women are thoroughly in favor of the war now, and wishing they had hosts of sons to fight the accursed crew.

Negroes were alternately persuaded and coerced to go with them; robbed, stripped, cursed, and yet the poor devils went; some assigning as a reason that they should all starve if they remained. They burned three houses in my yard and moved the negroes out of theirs to burn them—two of my old negro men, on their knees, implored them out of the notion. The buildings were near each other, old and easy to take fire, and strange as [no?] water was used to prevent it, yet no house took fire from another.

The girls’ dolls were seized and Mary followed crying, offering anything else in the house for the dolls and got them back, with the mild remark—”give the d—d little rebel her d—-d dolls.” No profanity, blasphemy or vulgarity was left unused. In some things I escaped well, my dwelling was not burned—several others were. Rev. Mr. Phillips’ residence here, was burned without notice.—Mr. Foy was stripped of every negro, horse, his dwelling pillaged and burned, his wife ordered out by a negro with pistol cocked and told if she opened her d—d mouth he’d shoot her d—d brains out. Mr. Foy was taken possession of—told he could live two hours only—when they would hang him. 1¾ hours expired when an officer relieved him.—Citizens were robbed of their money out of their pockets; every insult and humiliation conceivable was used on all.

Not a cow except some spared milker, no hog or goat to be seen—skins, heads, entrails, &c, abundant. No cock crows or hen now cackles in this old town; not a chicken, duck, turkey or goose in it, or in hearing—all around are destroyed. My wife says that after she had been fleeced of all, they came with a mock politeness to tell her they had not anywhere east of Jackson found so many good things, so well fitted to suit them, nor no one who appeared to live so well—hoped she would fix up again soon, that they should garrison the country with negroes, and some men from the North would see to them, and they would want such things—that I was yet a rich man, and that I could hire negroes to work for me and do better than I ever did—that they could shortly have goods to sell at Meridian very cheap, and she could get such things as she had lost. They seemed to know the standing of every person, and then they pumped from every negro and child all they could.

There were New York, New Jersey and Western troops here. Gen. Veitch was one of the Generals. I am yet undecided what to do—think it likely I may decide to be a soldier while my brief candle will hold out, that I may make some one atone for their war on women.

Surely, such a people will not, like the Goths and Vandals did Rome, overrun and rule us. Can it be possible that civilization is to be extinguished in the country? Yet, we may be subjugated—it may be for a purpose. Be our fate what it may, the return of this army of plunderers, robbers, cut-throats, &c., to their homes cannot improve the people there; they are being educated to rapine, and they will be true to it. If we can only get rid of them ourselves, the North will go up in her civilization as these men will continue their course.

We are bad enough—I thought unequalled; but these devils are without rivals. Their officers are prompt, industrious; ours are slow and lazy; ease and women when to be found, and whisky always. You have never seen a country yet which has been run over by both armies. True the trains can’t get above DeSoto, yet it is worth the inconvenience of a visit to see if you can come. We can make you comfortable yet, though not in the eating way, and should be mighty happy to see you.


Richmond Daily Dispatch:

Sherman’s expedition.
–A gentleman who arrived in MobileWednesdaynight, says the Advertiser and Register, of the 25th, confirms in general the accounts from Mississippi and adds some interesting items:

He reports, on the authority of Yankee prisoners at Enterprise, that Hurlburt’s corps is retiring on Yazoo City and McPherson’s on Natchez. The prisoners attribute the failure of the expedition to the fact that Grierson and Logan were unable to make a junction with Sherman at Meridian. We do not understand Logan’s whereabouts, but Grierson came by Pontotoc. We are assured that Gen. Forrest whipped Grierson soundly at Tibbee, taking a considerable number of prisoners, and the latter retreated in the direction of North Alabama. The report of his being at Aberdeen is not fully substantiated, though there is a rumor that he has burned the town.

The damage done to the Mobile and Ohio Railroad extends from Lauderdale to two miles below Quitman, a distance of forty-six miles, all the bridges and trestle work being destroyed, and the track torn up for miles at intervals, as is elsewhere stated.

Everything at Lauderdale Springs was destroyed.

The Southern road is completely torn up from Jackson to Meridian.

Our informant states that the enemy committed few depredations upon private property, beyond helping themselves to provisions. At Quitman they took bed clothing, but their excuse was that they were misinformed as to the distance, and came without blankets, expecting to return the same day. They are supposed to have carried off about 800 negroes, selecting the likeliest, and in one or two instances driving back some lots that they did not consider eligible.
Some persons about Enterprise took the Yankee oath, and accompanied them on their retreat, but this was entirely voluntary, no attempt was made to enforce it.

The brigade that visited Quitman conversed freely of their plans, and inquired if there was not an attack going on upon the forts below Mobile — They understood that to be a part of the programme, the object being to divert the Confederate forces. They said they had no intention of moving against Mobile, and their excursion to Quitman was only for the purpose of destroying the bridge over the Chickasaw, to prevent troops from coming up the road. Their plan, as gathered from their movements and conversation, and from the statements of prisoners, was, after uniting with Grierson and Logan, to move upon Selma and Montgomery. According to the prisoners their next schemes is to hasten back to Grant and march upon Columbus, South Carolina.

Harper’s Weekly:


The details of General Sherman’s expedition show it to have been one of the most important successes of the war. It failed, indeed, to reach Selma, Alabama, owing to the want of cooperation from General Smith’s cavalry force, but the destruction of rebel property and of their railway communications inflicted an amount of damage fully compensating for all the difficulties and cost of the expedition. The results may be briefly stated as follows: The army marched 400 miles in 24 days, penetrating to Meridian, Mississippi, where it destroyed the rebel arsenal, stocked with valuable machinery for the manufacture of small arms and all sorts of ordnance stores, and burned twelve extensive Government sheds, a number of warehouses filled with military stores and ammunition, several grist-mills with 20,000 bushels of corn, and nearly every building occupied in any way for war purposes. The towns of Enterprise, Marion, Quitman, Hillsboro, Lake Station, Decatur, Breton, and others were devastated; while depots, flour-mills, cotton, bridges, at all points on the route, were either destroyed or rendered useless to the enemy. The seizure of Meridian alone is said to have been worth fifty millions of dollars to the Government.

The Mobile and Ohio Railroad was destroyed for fifty-six miles, and all other roads within reach of our forces were damaged beyond repair. A large number of locomotives and several trains of cars were also destroyed. The Mobile and Ohio Road, which was so thoroughly destroyed, was considered by engineers to be the finest built road in the United States, costing $50,000 per mile. It was built principally by English capitalists, and George Peabody, the London banker, owned several thousand shares. The destruction of this road will prevent the rebels from reinforcing Mobile by rail, and effectually cuts off the fertile region of country in Northern Mississippi from which the rebels derived immense subsistence supplies.

Nearly ten thousand slaves were liberated by the expedition, six thousand of whom accompanied it on its return to Vicksburg. The entire loss of the expedition did not exceed fifty men in killed and wounded, with about one hundred captured.

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