150 Years Ago: Pope backs off the “Hard War” just a bit

When discussing General John Pope’s brief, but storied, time leading the Army of Virginia, we hear a lot about General Orders No. 5. Many times I’ve heard the opening lines repeated, with emotional emphasis, “Hereafter, as far as practicable, the troops of this command will subsist upon the country in which their operations are carried on.”

The order included some “fine print”, if you will, which described a process by which the Army of Virginia will gather supplies from the country it was operating within. If you read the orders literally, the officers were to manage the acquisition of these supplies. Where the owners were rightful, loyal citizens they would receive compensation – vouchers. As Robert pointed out last month, these points in the orders became important ingredients for Southern Claims after the war.

On surface, the purpose for all this acquisition was to ease the stress on Pope’s supply system… which, by the way, was subject to regular interruption by irregular activity. Now let’s cast aside the notion that the civilians of Northern Virginia lead some bucolic life in the midst of a war. Both sides had collected sustenance from the rich farmlands of Loudoun Valley, the Shenandoah, and the Piedmont. And if you think all the “collecting” was justly compensated, read up on the Unionists around Waterford. But of course Pope pushed the boundaries of the “acquisition” process in the summer of 1862. But it also reduced the resources that the Army of Northern Virginia could draw upon. Still, General Orders No. 5 was not, on its face, an official sanction for looting.

But we can be forgiven if we stretch General Orders No. 5 to give a “liberal foraging” license to Pope’s prototypical bummers. Apparently even Pope’s officers and men misinterpreted it too. Hence on this day (August 14) in 1862, Pope issued General Orders No. 19, clarifying the policy:

Headquarters Army of Virginia,
Near Cedar Mountain, Va., August 14, 1862.

The major-general commanding discovers with great dissatisfaction that General Orders, No. 5, requiring that the troops of this command be subsisted on the country in which their operations are conducted, has either been entirely misinterpreted or grossly abused by many of the officers and soldiers of this command. It is to be distinctly under stood that neither officer nor soldier has any right whatever, under the provisions of that order, to enter the house, molest the persons, or disturb the property of any citizen whatsoever.

Whenever it is necessary or convenient for the subsistence of the troops, provisions, forage, and such other articles as may be required will be taken possession of and used, but every seizure must be made solely by the order of the commanding officer of the troops then present and by the officer of the department through which the issues are made. Any officer or soldier who shall be found to have entered the house or molested the property of any citizen will be severely punished. Such acts of pillage and outrage are disgraceful to the army, and have neither been contemplated nor authorized by any orders whatsoever; the perpetrators of them, whether officers or soldiers, will be visited with a punishment which they will have reason to remember; and any officer or soldier absent from the limits of his camp found in any house whatever, without a written pass from his division or brigade commander, will be considered a pillager and treated accordingly. Army corps commanders will immediately establish mounted patrols, under charge of commissioned officers, which shall scour the whole country for 5 miles around their camps at least once every day, and at different hours, to bring into their respective commands all persons absent without proper authority, or who are engaged in any interruption of citizens living in the country; and commanding officers of regiments, or smaller separate commands, will be held responsible that neither officers nor men shall be absent from camp without proper authority.

By command of Major-General Pope:
R. O. SELFRIDGE,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

General Orders No. 5, being rather short and to the point, failed to clearly relate the commander’s intent. Pope issued General Orders No. 19 to correct that. What I find significant is not the refinement of a policy, but rather the tone used throughout the order. Pope openly complained, to his command mind you, of their improper acts. He offered out-right condemnation. If Pope angered some, when assuming command, with his candid remarks about their military prowess, he did little to assuage that anger with General Orders No. 19. One could easily read “general punishment for the acts of a few” into the words of this general order.

And at the tactical level, one has to wonder how much attention those daily patrols, five miles around each camp, diverted from the task at hand. At this very same time, General Robert E. Lee came to the Rappahannock looking for an opportunity to punish Pope and his army… in no small part due as reaction to General Orders No. 5.

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