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Vandalism in Oxford, Mississippi, long...

"Crimes of the Civil War and Curse of the Funding System" by Henry Clay Dean, 1869


During the summer and autumn of 1862, Gen. Pemberton, at the head of a considerable Confederate force, held a stronglyfortified position on the left bank of the Tallahatchie River, thirteen miles north of Oxford, Mississippi, on the line of the Mississippi Central Railroad. Late in the month of November of that year, while Gen. Grant, with a vastly superior army, was pressing him in front, from the north, Gen. Pemberton, learning that his communications with Jackson and Vicksburg were threatened by an expedition which had set out from Helena with the object of capturing Grenada, decided to fall back himself upon Grenada. He withdrew from the river without loss i,f men or stores, and occupied his new position at his leisure, his rear-guard only having, in the meantime, a few unimportant skirmishes with Grant's advance. One of these skirmishes occurred a short distance north of Oxford, and was prolonged only until a train of cars laden with army stores, could be safely got away from the railroad station. The Confederates then retired unmolested, completely evacuating the town, and some time elapsed before the Federals entered it. The citizens were aware that Grant's forces were at hand, and that they might be expected at any moment to make their appearance ; but being themselves unarmed and defenseless, they apprehended no personal danger, and many of them, led by curiosity, remained upon the street. They were destined shortly to be undeceived. The Federal advance, consisting of Kansas and Wisconsin cavalry, armed with repeating rifles, rushed into the town like a whirlwind, firing indiscriminately upon every one found in the streets. A boy of fourteen, the son of a widowed mother, was shot down while he was chopping wood in the yard. A negro man, belonging to Dr. II. R. Chilton, went to agate with a couple of his master's children, to look at the soldiers as they passed. A volley was directed at the group, and the poor negro fell, shot through both thighs. An elderly citizen, quietly walking along the street, was fired on by a squad of cavalry. Drawing a white handkerchief from his pocket, he waved it at them in token of surrender. The murderous wretches replied by another volley. He then endeavored to gain the shelter of a neighboring building, and, an he ran, the soldiers galloped forward and sent a third volley after him, but he escaped unhurt. Doubtless, had the workmanship of the " Union " soldiers been commensurate with their malignity, at least two score of inoffensive citizens would then have been butchered in cold blood, for more than fifty of them were fired on. It is almost needless to observe that this conduct of the troops was not provoked by any attempted resistance on the part of the citizens.

The cavalry rapidly scoured the different streets of the town, and then, finding that they had no armed enemies to fear, they commenced the work of pillage and destruction. It was late in the afternoon when they entered the town. Before the morning dawned again, the place had been so thoroughly sacked that little remained to tempt the cupidity of the spoiler. Those "jayhawkers " well understood the art of " making night hideous " to the inhabitants, whose dwellings were overrun by ferocious and brutal ruffians, many of them intoxicated, who searched everywhere for valuables, appropriated all that they coveted, including, in many cases, the personal ornaments and even the dresses of ladies; demanding the surrender of watches and money at the mouth of the pistol, and wantonly destroying what they were unable to remove. Looking-glasses were smashed, pianos broken up, carpets cut to pieces, china demolished, paintings mutilated by thrusting bayonets through them, windows destroyed, feather beds ripped up and their contents given to the winds, and, in many cases, the large stocks of provisions which the families of that region were accustomed to keep in their smokehouses, were rendered unfit for food by knocking in the heads of barrels containing sugar, molasses, flour, vinegar, etc., and mingling all together with salt and ordure from the stable. Many a family who on the morning of the 2nd of December were surrounded with every comfort and supplied with stores sufficient for a twelvemonth, were twenty-four hours thereafter, without a morsel of food upon their premises, or even the means of preparing the most simple meal, for they had been deprived of everything that could serve as a cooking utensil. From time to time, during the 3rd and 4th of December, fresh bodies of Federal troops arrived in the town, and these, in turn, swarmed through every habitation, eagerly seeking to glean something from the wreck that had been left by their comrades, and exasperated against the citizens because they had so little remaining to be plundered. In one instance a negro woman was encouraged to make a personal assault upon her mistress, and armed soldiers stow! by, declaring that they would shoot the latter if she resisted. Refined and delicate ladies were compelled to listen to every species of profane and obscene language; to submit to the grossest and most cruel insults, and, too often, even to the only outrages that can be perpetrated against womanhood.

Every horse, mule, ox, cow, hog, sheep and fowl belonging to the inhabitants of the town and of the surrounding country, as far as Grant's foraging parties could penetrate, was remorselessly confiscated; all the corn, forage and provisions that could be found were seized, and nothing paid for. Cotton was worth sixty cents a pound. Grant issued an order forbidding sales at a higher price than twenty-five cents. If owners refused to sell at that price, it was taken from them without payment. One man, Mr. Fernandez, preferred to burn his cotton. In revenge, the Federals burned every building on his plantation, with all that they contained.

Gen. Grant was in Oxford when a portion of the outrages above enumerated were committed by his troops, and he made no efforts either to prevent them or to punish the perpetrators.

One of the highest offences known to military law is the violation, by a soldier, of a safe conduct granted by his commander. Gen. Grant, however, while at Oxford, suffered his pass to be violated with impunity. The Hon. James M. Howry, of Oxford, obtained a pass from Gen. Grant, requiring all United States troops to permit him to proceed unmolested, with a wagon and certain trunks, to his plantation, some forty miles below. Judge Howry was met, about five miles from town, by a company of Federal cavalry belonging to Quinby's Division, who compelled him to halt. He produced Gen. Grant's pass, countersigned by Gen. Quinby, but the soldiers, cursing him and Grant and Quinby, refused to respect the pass. They stripped the Judge to the skin, robbed him of all the money found upon his person, broke open and rifled his trunks, stole his mules and saddlehorses, and left him in the wood. He made his way back to Oxford and reported the facts to Gen. Grant, who listened impatiently to his statement and refused to afford him the slightest redress.

Judge Howry was the Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the University of Mississippi, a literary institution of high reputation, located at Oxford. The voluminous archives of the University were deposited in Judge Howry's office, and the Federal officers were aware of this fact. Such documents elsewhere have ever been regarded, by the custom of all civilized countries, as sacred from the hand of violence in war. But, in Oxford, the Federal soldiers were permitted by their officers in open day, to break open Judge Howry's office and to scatter the documents found therein, which can never be replaced, in the deep mud of the streets.
The collection of the State Geological Survey, which had been gathered and arranged with vast labor during many years, were contained in the University buildings at Oxford. The Federal soldiery were permitted to despoil that collection of everything they considered curious, leaving what remained an almost undistinguishable mass of rubbish."

A most reliable and responsible colonel of the Federal army told the writer that after the new levies were taken to the Western armies, that he travelled from Corinth down through the State of Mississippi by the lurid light of burning houses, plantations and cotton fields; until the whole heavens were covered with a sheet of flame, night after night, until they reached Holly Spring by the illumination of these infernal bonfires. Every attempt to arrest this work upon the part of the old regulars was at the peril of their lives, which were endangered by the inflammatory harangues of the chaplains and demagogues. These are given as illustrations of the character of the war.]

David Upton

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