“Petty Depredations, Pillage, &c”

June 4, 1861
Commanders North and South were no doubt all experiencing the difficulties of taking several hundred thousand volunteers and turning them into a functioning army. Two northern generals, Benjamin Butler at Fort Monroe, Virginia, and Irvin McDowell at Arlington, reported about it today.

Butler reported that he had:

heard with pain that there are instances of despoliation of private property by some persons who have smuggled themselves among the soldiers of his command. This must not and shall not be. The rights of private property and of peaceable citizens must be respected. When the exigencies of the service require that private property be taken for public use, it must be done by proper officers, giving suitable vouchers therefor. It is made the special duty of every officer in command of any post, or of any troops on detached service or in camp, to cause all offenders in the matter of this order to be sent to headquarters for punishment, and such measure of justice will be meted out to them as is due to thieves and plunderers. 

Union soldiers, however they are not necessarily thieves and plunderers.

McDowell reported “numerous acts of petty depredations, pillage, &c., which have exasperated the inhabitants and chilled the hopes of the Union men.”

He credited the problem to poor leadership, and said that all units with discipline problems should be assigned to experienced officers. Soldiers, he said, should be “restrained as well as led; and where, as is the case with many, they are not so by their officers, they must have some one immediately over them who can and will.”

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. II, pp. 664-665

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