Today in History:

11 Series I Volume XXVIII-II Serial 47 - Ft. Sumter - Ft. Wagner Part II


Charleston, S. C., July 4, 1863.

Brigadier General Q. A. GILLMORE,

Commanding U. S. Forces, Port Royal, S. C.:

GENERAL: In the interest of humanity, it seems to be my duty to address you, with a view of effecting some understanding as to the future conduct of the war in this quarter.

You are aware, of course, of the fact that on or about the 2nd ultimo an expedition, set on foot by your predecessor in command, Major-General Hunter, entered the Combahee River, in South Carolina, and seized and carried away a large number of negro slaves from several large plantations on that stream. My present object, however, is not to enter upon a discussion touching that species of pillaging, but to acquaint you formally that more than one of the large plantations thus visited and ravaged were otherwise and further pillaged, and their private dwellings, warehouses, and other buildings wantonly consumed by the torch. All this, be it observed, rendered necessary by no military exigency; that is, with no possible view to the destruction of that which was being used for military purposes, either of offense or defense, or in near vicinage to batteries or works occupied by your adversary, or which, if left standing, could endanger or in any military way affect the safety of your forces or obstruct your operations, either present or future, and, finally, the owners of which were men not even bearing arms in this war.

A day or two later, another expedition burned about two-thirds of the village of Bluffton, a summer resort of the planters of the sea-coast of South Carolina, and undefended and indefensible place. The best houses were selected for destruction, and for the act no possible provocation may be thurthfully alleged.

Late yet, the 11th of June, the village of Darien, in the State of Georgia, was laid waste by your soldiers, and every building in it but one church and three small houses burned to the ground; there, as at Bluffton, no defense having been made, or any act of provocation previously committed, either by the owners of the devastated place or by the soldiery of the Confederate States there or in any part of this department.

Again, as far back as the last of March, when evacuating Jacksonville, in East Florida, your troops set on fire and destroyed the larger part of that town, including several churches, not, assuredly, to cover their embarkation, but merely as a measure of vindictive and illegitimate hostility.

You have, of course, the right to seize and hold our towns and districts of country, if able to do so, that is, to exercise for the time the privilege of eminent domain, but not to ravage and destroy the houses or other property of the individuals of the country. The eminent domain and the property of the Government are legitimate objects of "conquest," but private property and houses, movable and immovable, are not. You may appropriate the spoils of the battle-field, or the booty of a camp which you have captured, or even, in extreme cases, when aggravated by an improper defense, may sack a town or city carried by storm. But the pillage of the open country and of undefended places has long ago been given up as a usage or legitimate measure of war. At most, contributions can be levied upon and collected of the people; and these, even, says Vattel, must be moderate, if the general who resorts to them wishes