A South Carolinian calls for “protection against the destructive lawlessness” of Wheeler’s Command

The Charleston Courier reprinted a letter a Barnwell, South Carolina resident on the first page of its January 13, 1865.  The letter, addressed to Secretary of War James Seddon, carried the news-column title “Outrages of Wheeler’s Command”:

 Lower Three Runs, Barnwell District, S.C., Dec. 31, 1864

To Hon. J.A. Seddon, Secretary of War, Richmond, Va.:

I cannot forebear appealing to you in behalf of the producing population of the States of Georgia and South Carolina for protection against the destructive lawlessness of members of General Wheeler’s command. From August to Hardeeville the road is now strewn with corn left on the ground unconsumed.  Beeves have been shot down in the fields, one quarter taken off and the balance left for buzzards.  Horses are stolen out of wagons on the road, and by wholesale out of stables at night.

The writer saw an order from Gen. Wheeler, authorizing search to be made in his command for thirty-seven animals stolen from Mr. Fitzpatrick’s plantation, in Twiggs County, Ga., only four of which had, up to a few days ago, been recovered.  Within a few miles of this neighborhood, Wheeler’s men tried to rob a young lady of a horse while she was on a visit to a neighbor’s, but for the timely arrival of a citizen, who prevented the outrage being perpetrated.  It is no unusual sight to see these men ride into camp with all sorts of plunder. Private homes are visited; carpets, blankets, and other furniture they can lay their hands on, are taken by force in the presence of the owners.

We ask, respectfully, if the Government expects the people to bear such burdens, in addition to the ravages of the enemy?  Can such devastation by our our soldiery be permitted, and the farmer and soldier’s unprotected family have no redress? Are General Wheeler and his brigade commanders not responsible to the country for the depredations of the men under them?  By stealing the stock engaged in the production of food for our army, the tailing off in the production of corn alone in the States of Georgia and South Carolina may be counted by the hundred thousand bushels. Make the country one immense camp – let everybody be engaged in working or the support of the whole army, but for the sake of our glorious cause, give the producer the protection necessary to enable him to make bread for the army, and his little ones.  If Gen. Hampton’s cavalry had used Virginia and North Carolina as General Wheeler’s men have used Georgia and South Carolina, where would Gen. Lee now be?


The letter, obviously signed anonymously, also ran in the Charleston Mercury the following day.

These charges were not new.  All through December claims against Major-General Joseph Wheeler came in through military and civilian channels.  Governor Joseph Brown, of Georgia, called for a military inquiry.  On December 28, 1864, Wheeler responded to these claims in a lengthy letter to General Braxton Bragg.  Wheeler had plenty of explanations for the destruction committed by Confederates on Confederate citizens. These ranged from the ill-advised impressment of absentees to the ranks to the need to remove livestock from in front of the Federal advance.  Wheeler also claimed that roving bands, both Confederate and Federals, swarmed the countryside and falsely claimed to be from his command.   So, according to Wheeler, none of these deprivations were due to his, or his commanders, misconduct.

But, even Wheeler admitted these acts had occurred.  The cavalry chief went as far to issue General Orders No. 7, on December 29, 1864, to deter further injury on private property.  As with similar issues on the Federal side, we must consider that if Wheeler had to issue such an order, then these assaults on private property of southerners by Confederates did indeed occur.

Stories of deprivations committed by Federals during “the march” (considering here in the long sense – Georgia through the Carolinas) are thick and heavy.  One finds difficulty separating fact from fiction.  But nobody stands up to say “Wheeler’s men robbed my great-great-great-grandfather house an stole his horses!” Yet, we have the witness’ statements.

Interesting indeed what stuff gets lodged into, and what gets discarded, as confabulations are constructed through the generations.

(Citation from Charleston Courier, Friday, January 13, 1865, page 1, column 5.)

“The treatment of the citizens was respectful”: Transfer of Savannah’s refugees at Charleston

After taking several days to organize and transport the refugees requesting relocation from Savannah, Captain Joseph Audenried arrived at Charleston to conduct the transfer.  The procedural details of this transfer were much like those of the prisoner exchanges conducted in December at Charleston.  The most important detail of this procedure was, of course, the cessation of fires from the batteries that ringed the harbor.  Here, Audenried met a snag in the execution of his appointed task.  When the steamer J.R. Spaulding, with the refugees, approached Morris Island, signals went up to halt the ship.  Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig, commanding the forces on the island, reported later:

At 9 a.m. I received a signal dispatch from Captain [Gustavus] Scott, the commanding officer of the fleet, stating that a Captain Audenried was at the fleet with some citizens of Savannah to be sent through our lines by a flag of truce at Cole’s Island.  He reported to me that my signal sergeant had made an error in the dispatch, which should have read Charleston Harbor instead of Cole’s Island; that Captain Audenried represented himself as being one of General Sherman’s staff, and that he was sent here for the above-mentioned business by the order of General Sherman. Captain Scott was unable to inform me whether the officer had any written authority or instructions, but suffered the steamer to pass the picket monitor to the rendezvous of exchange.  As I had received no instructions from Major-General [John] Foster in regard to the truce I acted on my previous orders, and at once stopped the steamer in its progress before it had communicated with the rebel tug.

I like this reaction from Schimmelfennig.  He didn’t care who Audenried represented.  Without something in writing, the cease fire was not going to happen. Well, that something in writing came down shortly.  Schimmelfennig dutifully sent his aide to confer with Audenried, “to discover whether he was clothed with any written authority.”  Audenried had no written orders in this regard.  His orders were verbal.  Likely, within the scope of the armies that Sherman directly operated for the previous year, Audenried was familiar enough that his word was easily interpreted as the word of his boss.  But Schimmelfennig was outside of that familiarity and didn’t know Audenried from Adam, and “Upon such authority I told him I could not permit it….”

But, shortly after Audenried arrived at Fort Strong to confer with Schimmelfennig, enlightening orders arrived…

…while conversing with him I unexpectedly received the desired instructions from Major-General Foster, and at once allowed him to proceed.  I regret to say that the dispatch referred to was culpably delayed in being forwarded to me by some now unknown parties, who, when discovered, will be severely punished.  The unfortunate delay caused by this neglect of the quartermaster or captain of the steamer lasted about one hour.

Woe to the man who caused this delay and incurred the wrath of Schimmelfennig!

With that, the transfer went about without incident.  The Confederate steamer Chesterfield met the Spaulding, and the refugees passed the lines. The following day, the Charleston Courier ran a report of the transaction:

The approach of the “Chesterfield” was greeted by a rush of the lady refugees to the side of the “Spaulding,” waving their handkerehiefs with every exhibition of delight at the prospect of so soon being restored to their own people and Southern homes. As the “Chesterfield” ranged alongside, the meeting of friends and acquaintances, the many happy recognitions and pleasing countenances, presented an intensely interesting scene.

Of note, as the Courier continued with the story, was the treatment of the refugees while in Federal hands.  The experienced was at the same time pleasant and distressing:

The refugees state that the treatment of the citizens was respectful. Sentinels were posted with orders to shoot down without taking him to the Guard House any soldier found molesting citizens or forcing an entrance into any house.  Many families, formerly in good circumstances, were obliged to take in sewing and work hard to procure the necessities of life.

The Courier did not state the total number of refugees exchanged, simply saying “A large number were distributed round among our citizens.”  The paper listed 23 individuals and families who were taken to the Wayside Home.

From Audenried’s perspective, as a staff officer, he’d completed the task.  He’d taken this refugee issue off his general’s list of chores.  And he had done so without incident.  Tag this as “good staff work.”

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, page 45; Charleston Courier, Friday, January 13, 1865, Page 1, Column 1.)