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.)