150 Years Ago: “People not actively engaged in rebellion should not… suffer…”

Issued on this day in 1862 from General U.S. Grant’s headquarters:

GENERAL ORDERS No. 4.
HDQRS. DEPARTMENT OF THE TENNESSEE,
Jackson, Tenn., November 3, 1862.

It has been reported to the general commanding that many families within the limits of the military guards of this department are in a suffering condition–lacking food and clothing–and without any possible means of earning or procuring support. People not actively engaged in rebellion should not be allowed to suffer from hunger in reach of a country abounding with supplies. The Government, never the cause of this state of affairs, should not be subjected to the burden of furnishing the necessary relief, but the weight should fall on those who by act, encouragement, or sympathy have caused the want now experienced. It is therefore ordered:

I. The necessary expenses for the relief needed must be borne by sympathizers with the rebellion.

II. District commanders throughout this department will cause the extent of these wants to be ascertained and the necessary supplies to be procured and distributed.

III. To this end district commanders will cause all persons known to be disloyal within reach of their respective commands to be assessed in proportion to their relative ability to pay, and cause such assessments to be collected and discreetly applied. Assessments may be paid in money or supplies.

IV. A suitable chaplain or other commissioned officer will be appointed at each post where it may be necessary to distribute supplies under this order, who shall have charge of the distribution of supplies and who shall be held responsible for the faithful performance of his duties, and that no supplies are unworthily bestowed.

V. Commissaries of subsistence will be allowed to sell provisions, at the rates charged officers, to such persons as are designated to distribute them, on certificates that they are for such purpose and are necessary to save suffering.

VI. Officers collecting assessments will keep an accurate account of all moneys and provisions so collected, and from whom, and send their accounts through their immediate commanding officers to the chief commissary of the department to be audited.

The chief commissary of the department will designate in a circular how the abstract of such sales is to be kept and returned.

By command of Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant:
JNO. A. RAWLINS,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

This order is somewhat neglected by history, being overshadowed by the more controversial General Order No. 11. Now days, we’d apply some quaint political term to the procurement and distribution of supplies. But wasn’t this just another facet to the “hard war”?

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2 responses to “150 Years Ago: “People not actively engaged in rebellion should not… suffer…”

  1. Craig, a similar circumstance involving starving non-combatants that General Grant confronted in Tennessee was also encountered during the Army of the Potomac’s winter encampment in Culpeper County (VA), 1863-1864–but was handled by the eastern army in a far different manner.. Whereas Grant refused to dip into U.S. Government assets in order to feed hungry civilians, the Army of the Potomac alternatively sustained Culpeper civilians during their long winter of occupation in Virginia’s Piedmont.

    Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt, 1st Cavalry Division commander alerted army headquarters just before Christmas 1863 to the following: “I respectfully call attention…to the condition of the citizens of Culpeper and its environs.” General Merritt added, “Almost all of them are suffering from the necessities of life and some will starve soon if their condition is not bettered..Very few, if any, will take the oath of allegiance to the United States…(but) something must be given them to eat.”

    And so it came to pass that General Meade approved the distribution of foodstuffs to citizens from U.S. Army supply depots at Brandy Station, whereas Grant impressed disloyal citizens out west to obtain food for starving Tennesseans.

    Does this difference in philosophies between Grant and Meade reveal an important distinction between the two men? Does one army commander, for example, retain the view that war is both total and hard on everybody involved? Does one commander consciously believe that the war must be brought home directly to civilians?

    One cannot convincingly argue that Meade is more compassionate than Grant when assessing this decision as to whether or not non-combatants should be fed at the occupying army’s expense, but I’d submit that this diametrically opposing view point is worthy of greater scholarly scrutiny.

    Clark B. Hall

    • I could also argue that in 1862 Tennessee, Grant had access to ample sustenance from the pro-rebel factions. Where as in 1863 Virginia, the place had been picked over quite well by both armies. So were Meade’s actions less that of compassionate sentiment, or more admission of fact.

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