February 27, 1865: Wade Hampton responds to Sherman

Wade Hampton III

Wade Hampton responds to Sherman’s threat of retaliation for the killing of captured foragers.

Official Records:


In the Field, February 27, 1865.
Major General W. T. SHERMAN, U. S. Army:

GENERAL: Your communication of the 24th instant reached me to-day. In it you state that it has been officially reported that your foraging parties are “murdered: after capture. You go onto say that you have “ordered a similar number of prisoners in our hands to be disposed of in like manner; ” that is to say, you have ordered a number of Confederate soldiers to be “marked. ” You characterize your order in proper terms, for the public voice, even in your own country, where it seldom dares to express itself in vindication of truth, honor, or justice, will surely agree with yout in pronouncing you guilty of murder of your order is carried out. Before dismissing this portion of your letter, I beg to assure you that for every soldier of mine “murdered” by you, I shall have executed at once two of yours, giving in all cases preference to any offices who may be in my hands.

In reference to the statement you make regarding the death of your foragers, I have only to say that I know nothing of it; that no orders given by me authorize the killing of prisoners after capture, and that I do not believe my men killed any of yours, except under circumstances in which it was perfectly legitimate and proper that they should kill them. It is a part of the system of the thieves whom you designate as your foragers to fire the dwellings of those citizens whom they have robbed. To check this inhuman system, which is justly execrated by every civilized nation, I have directed my men to shoot down all of your men who are caught burning houses. This order shall remain in force so long as you disgrace the profession of arms by allowing your men to destroy private dwellings.

You say that I cannot, of course, question your right to forage on the country- “It is a right as old as history. ” I do not, sir, question this right. But there is a right older, even, than this, and one more inalienable – the right that every man has to defend his home and to protect those who are dependent on him; and from my heart I wish that every old man and boy in my country who can fire a gun would shoot down, as he would a wild beast, the men who are desolating their land, burning their homes, and insulting their women.

You are particular in defending and claiming “war rights. ” May I ask if you enumerate among these the right to fire upon a defensess city without notice; to burn that city to the ground after it had been
surrendered by the inhabitants who claimed, though in vain, that protection which is always accorded in civilized warfare to non-combatants; to fire the dwelling houses of citizen after robbing them; and the petrate even darker crimes than these – crimes too black to be mentioned?

You have permitted, if your have not ordered, the commissioned of these offenses against humanity and the rules of war; you fired into the city of Columbia without a word of warning; after its surrender by the mayor, who demanded protection to private property, you laid the whole city in ashes, leaving amidst its ruins thousands of old men and helpless women and children, who are likely to perish of starvation and exposure. Your line of march can be traced by the lurid light of burning houses, and in more than one household there is now an agony far more bitter than that of death. The Indian scalped his victim regardless of age or sex, but with all his barbarity he always respected the persons of his female captives. Your soldiers, more savage than the Indian, insult those whose natural protectors are absent.
In conclusion, I have only to request that whenever you have any of my men “murdered” or “disposed of,” for the terms appear to be synonymous with you, you will let me hear of it, that I may know what action to take in the matter. In the meantime I shall hold fifty-six of your men as hostages for those whom you have ordered to be executed.

I am, yours, &c.,
WADE HAMPTON,
Lieutenant-General.

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