SAVANNAH, March 22, 1865.
His Excellency Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War.
Honorable Sir—I feel it my duty, as the head of the Catholic Church in Savannah, to inform you of the proceedings ordered by the military authorities against the Catholic cemetery of this city, to give expression to what I deem a legitimate complaint, and to enter a solemn protest in the name of the Catholic community.
Fortifications are now being erected upon the Catholic cemetery. A few days ago I received a communication, written by order of General Gillmore, informing me that he (the general) would make a personal inspection of the locality, and wished me to accompany him to the cemetery. On hearing of the arrival of the general in Savannah I did all I could to find him out, but in vain; and the day after his visit I learned, altogether accidentally, that 300 men were to be the next day on the graveyard to proceed to the work of disinterring the dead and erecting fortifications on their tombs. I thus had no chance to apply to Your Excellency at least for a suspension of the work.
It is my duty now to tell you that the cemetery infringed upon by Federal orders is the property of the Catholic Church, and has been by a solemn benediction devoted to the purpose of burying the dead. I must tell you that cemeteries are, in the views of the Catholic Church, consecrated ground, entitled to the same respect as churches of which they are an appendage. I must also state that there is a sentence of excommunication passed by the Church against those who usurp, invade, and occupy church property, or the property of pious places. Brutal force or infidel ideas may make light of such an ecclesiastical penalty, but there is a Power above which sides with the weak and defenseless and will act in due time, slow or obscure its operation may be.
Military necessity must not be a cloak to usurpation, bigotry, or impropriety. There is an abundance of ground to the right and to the left, in front and the rear of that little graveyard, which covers only three or four acres of ground. Fortifications might have been erected there without any desecration of a revered spot. This case involuntarily reminds me of the doomed vineyard of Naboth. The fortifications erected by the preceding Government are yet extant near the spot. The Confederates did not think it necessary to infringe upon the right of churches and cemeteries, although they had to defend the city against overpowering numbers. It is hard to see how such a military necessity should have arisen so suddenly now that there is no opposing force at all, and that the Confederates, far from being able to attack, evacuate everywhere what they had.
I thought I could not do less than send my humble protest on behalf of the Catholic Church, whose right and privileges I deem to be infringed by this proceeding; in behalf of an outraged community obliged now to carry away where they can the moldering remains of their relatives and friends; in behalf of the Irish-Catholic soldiers, who are obliged to perform the work of hyenas, and in behalf of those who will have to stand in the midst of exhalations arising from opened and mutilated graves,
I have the honor of being, very respectfully, yours,
Bishop of Savannah.