Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hard War

One element of that piece I wrote for the New York Times Disunion blog, read it here, was the imprisonment of twelve citizens of Huntsville, Alabama, on May 2, 1862. I have heard this story since I was very young. That the commanding general was tyrannical and imprisoned them as a display of his absolute authority, that they languished in the prison, refusing to take an oath of loyalty.  I have read different versions of this story in books and collections of letters, but it has always been a second-hand summary, not a direct source from the period.  I have wondered about the real details of that story.  First-hand accounts are hard to come by, but General Mitchel, who occupied the region beginning in early April 1862, included some details in his telegrams to the War Office in Washington.

I recently found the following fascinating article from the Memphis Daily Appeal of November 13, 1862.  The Appeal is another fascinating story.  After Memphis fell to Union troops in June 1862, the newspaper began printing on the road, first in Grenada, Mississippi, later in Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia, among other cities.  The Appeal was staunchly Confederate, and that point of view is made clear from the article.  The original is available here from the incredible resources of the Library of Congress. Take a look:

 The editor of the Richmond Whig says that he has read a statement put forth in pamphlet form, by twelve gentlemen who were arrested in Huntsville, Alabama, shortly after the occupation of the town by the Yankee troops, under the command of General Mitchel, on the 11th day of April, 1862. Their names were as follows: William McDowell, William Acklen, A.J. Withers, George P. Beirne, William H. Moore, S. Cruse, J.G. Wilson, T.S. McCalley, G.L. Mastin, Stephen W. Harris, Thomas Fearn, and Henry C. Lay. The last named of these gentlemen is a citizen of Arkansas, a bishop of the Protestant Episcopal church, who was accidentally in Huntsville. Mr. Wilson is also a clergyman. The statement says:
            “About the last of April, by a vigorous attack, the Federal force was driven out of the neighboring town of Athens, for a time. General Mitchel escaped ingloriously at the beginning of the fray, upon a railroad train, and on his return to Huntsville, introduced a system by which he hoped to repress the attacks of our guerilla parties. The signers of this paper were selected as the first subjects of this policy.” The arrests were made on the 2d of May. At first they were all confined in two rooms, but after an interview with Mitchel by Bishop Lay and two others of the prisoners, to which they were summoned by himself, and in which the canting and hypocritical cut-throat had much to say about his desire to “walk humbly with his God,” Bishop Lay and Rev. Mr. Wilson were placed in solitary confinement in separate rooms, under guard, and their families and friends, even correspondence, interdicted. In their interview referred to, Mitchel admitted that he had no charge against any of the gentlemen arrested, but he desired them to assist him in removing two causes of complaint. “One was, that the community would not exchange social courtesies with him and his officers. Such was the public sentiment, that a family to whom he had brought letters of introduction would not invite him into their house. He expected of the prisoners to promote kind social relations,” etc., etc. The other ground of complaint was, that the guerillas would not let his rapscallions alone. He submitted a paper to the prisoners, to be signed by them as a condition to being released, in which they were to pledge themselves to abstain from all acts of hostility, and to do their utmost to persuade others to do the same, so long as that portion of the State was occupied by United States troops. They were to express their abhorrence of all irregular warfare, and their conviction that those engaged in it deserved, and should receive, the punishment of death, etc., etc. This paper the prisoners unanimously refused to sign. At a late period, however, upon its modification in such a way as did not compromise their loyalty to the Confederate cause, and did not require them to express an opinion in regard to guerilla warfare, or any mode of war in which enlisted soldiers might be engaged, it was signed, and the prisoners were released.
            We make the following extract from the pamphlet:
            We care not to relate the subsequent arrests, insults and spoliations with which individuals of our number were visited while the discussion was in progress. A copy of the document No. 1, was kept at the office of the provost marshal, and passes were denied to all who refused to sign it. After our release, this paper was withdrawn, and another introduced binding the subscribers to give prompt information at headquarters of any guerilla movements which might come to his knowledge.
            And then, as the crowning act of his military administration, General Mitchel announced (let his sentence be remembered!) that the community was obstinately rebellious under his kind treatment! That he would “pelt us with stones and cannon balls instead of grass” he would “starve us into submission.” A pledge was prepared, equivalent in its terms to a renunciation of the “so called Southern Confederacy,” without which no one was allowed to send to mill, to bring in provisions, or to purchase articles of food. This order was carried into execution, and starvation actually threatened us, when General Buell unexpectedly arrived, and the order in question ceased to be executed.
            It is not our design to give a history of the occupation of North Alabama. It is a weary tale of rapine, arson and wanton destruction. We are humiliated at having been in the power of a man who habitually reported his achievements and successes known to his own soldiers to be fictions; who justly exposed himself to the suspicion of using his official influence and power for speculation in cotton; who studied daily some new device of insult and annoyance; who used every means to demoralize our negroes; who, in fine, boasted to a Southern woman that the North could overwhelm us with 500,000 armed men, who would ask no other recompense than the privilege of occupying our lands and ruining our daughters.
            Such, men of the South, are the foes with whom we have to deal, and such the measure you must receive when you leave your country to be possessed by the invader.

1 comment:

  1. Just got around to reading your excellent article and I thought of a recent program we had at the Morgan Co. Genealogical Society given by Peggy Towns. (I believe she used to work for Bud Cramer.) She has written a book called DUTY DRIVEN: The Plight of North Alabama African Americans during the Civil War and is about her ancestors and others who served in both the Union and Confederate armies. While I have not read it, it sounded quite interesting and is on my TBR list.
    Regards to Clovis,
    Susan Graben