February 23, 1865: Retaliation for killing foragers


Sherman orders prisoners shot in retaliation for killing of foragers in South Carolina.

Official Records:

In the Field, Rocky Mount, February 23, 1865-10 a.m.
Major-General HOWARD,
Commanding Right Wing:

GENERAL: I have just been down to the bridge. It will take all of to-day and to-morrow to get this wing across and out. You may go ahead, but keep communication with me.

I expect Kilpatrick here this p.m. and will send him well to the left. He reports that two of his foraging parties were murdered by the enemy after capture and labeled, “Death to all foragers. ” Now it is clearly our war right to subsist our army on the enemy. Napoleon always did it, but could avail himself of the civil powers he found in existence to collect forage and provisions by regular impressments. We cannot do that here, and I contend if the enemy fails to defend his country we may rightfully appropriate what we want. If our foragers act under mine, yours, or other proper orders they must be protected.

I have ordered Kilpatrick to select of his prisoners man for man, shoot them, and leave them by the roadside labeled, so that our enemy will see that for every man he executes he takes the life of one of his own.

I want the foragers, however, to be kept within reasonable bounds for the sake of discipline. I will not protect them when they enter dwellings and commit wanton waste, such as woman’s apparel, jewelry, and such things as are not needed by our army; but they may destroy cotton or tobacco, because these are assumed by the rebel Government to belong to it, and are used as a valuable source of revenue.

Nor will I consent to our enemy taking the lives of our men on their judgment. They have lost all title to property, and can lose nothing not already forfeited; but we should punish for a departure from our orders, and if the people resist our foragers I will not deem it wrong, but the Confederate army must not be supposed the champion of any people.

I lay down these general rules and wish you to be governed by them. If any of your foragers are murdered, take life for life, leaving a record of each case.

I am, with respect,
Major-General, Commanding.

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