Gen. Milroy's Defense of the Folley in Western Virginia.
February 25, 1863
Gen. Milroy's Defense of the Folley in Western Virginia.
Gen. Halleck has directed Gen. Milroy to recind certain orders relating to the assessment of rebel sympathisers in Western Virginia as being issued without authority. In defence of his policy, Gen. Milroy has addressed a letter to the General in chief, from which we make the following extracts:
I respectfully ask permission to submit a few remarks relative to the circumstances which induced the issuing of the orders. I have been in command in West Virginia since the 30th May, 1861. During that time I have had under my command, besides troops from other states seven regiments of West Virginia volunteer infantry, seven companies of West Virginia cavalry, and two full West Virginia batteries. Of course I could not fail in my position to learn much of the views and feelings of the Union population, (largely in the majority,) of that region, and of the atrocities which it has suffered at the hands of the rebel government at Richmond.
That government has viewed the Union citizens of West Virginia in the double aspect of rebels against the Confederate States of America, and of the state of Virginia, and for that reason has regarded and treated them as outlaws, not entitled to the protection of the usages of civilized warfare. Influenced by this view that government has encouraged and patronized organizations in the region variouly known as mountain rangers, partizan rangers, bushwhackers, and guerilla bands of every description, composed of men enrolled in no regular army, and aknowledging no fealty to the usages of war as practised by civilized nations - men acting from no impulse of public duty, but instigated to action solely by the bare motives of rapine and plunder.
To such an extent did these lawless bands conduct their depredations, under the direct patronage of the government at Richmond, that the country in many localities was entirely denuded of its more portable chattels, such as horses, cattle and other live stock. Nor were their outrages confined to mere plundering. Murders of the most atrocious character were of daily occurrence.
the Rev. ____, a Methodist preacher, sixty years old, and Buzzard, his neighbor, citizens of Pocahontas county, and men of irreproachable morality, were last winter murdered in the presence of their families by these lawless bands. About the same time Mr. Arthur, a peac[e]able and unoffending farmer of Webster county, the father of ten children, was also murdered in the presence of his family by another of these lawless bands, of which a man by the name of Cheining was the leader and engaged in the atrocity.
These men were murdered for no other reason than that of an avowed devotion to the preservation of the Union. I succeeded in capturing Cheining, the murderer of Arthur. He was tried at Wheeling by a military commission, the murder clearly proved, and the sentence of death pronounced against him, but the Confederate Government extended the aegis of its protection over him, and claimed for him the rights of a prisoner of war. The above are only samples of numerous kindred occurrences.
Again, the rebellion found the inhabitants of West Virginia divided in opinion upon the momentous issue which it suddenly forced upon them; rancorous hatred between the contending parties, not unlike that which occurred between the Whigs and Tories of the revolution, estranged and embittered them.
The adherents of the rebellion regarded the crisis as presenting the question whether they or the adherents of the Union were to be the future proprietors of the country. They, therefore, endeavored to expel the Union faction. To this end they aided as informers and guides to the banditti, and also to detachments of the regular army of the Rebel Government in their raids against the Union population.
Such was the condition of affairs in Western Virginia when I took command there. It once occurred to me that a great advance towards the preservation of order and public safety would be accomplished if I could make the policy of citizens of rebel sentiments to discourage, instead of encouraging these raids and outrages. I therefore avowed my intention of compelling rebel citizens aiding in their perpetration to compensate the Union citizens for their losses, and I threatened them with the lex talionis. In some instances where the evidence of complicity by non-combatant rebel citizens was reasonably certain I compelled compensation by assessment. This course had the desired influence.
I felt justified in its adoption from the consideration that the violence of the times having expelled the civil tribunals from the land, the military authorities were to some extent responsible for the preservation of public order and justice. In my desire to preserve order within the limits of my command, I sometimes made threats, the execution of which I did not intend. During my whole administration in West Virginia I have not been accessory to a single death except in battle, or to the burning of a single house. I have not punished or molested any citizen on account of his political opinions.
To sustain me in these assertions I appeal with confidence to every honorable man at all acquainted with the facts. I was educated to the profession of arms, and have endeavored to commit no act, either on or off the battle field, that would tarnish my reputation as a soldier. The many officers of the rebel army who have fallen into my hands cannot do otherwise than bear testimony that I have extended to them the full benefit of the usages of war as practised by civilized nations.
I scorn the attempted stigmas of the unscrupulous homicide that holds sway at Richmond, but I dread the censure of my own Government, which I have endeavored faithfully to serve.
I submit these observations in no spirit of complaint against the course which the General-in-Chief has deemed it his duty to pursue, and ask that they may be candidly considered.
I am, very truly and respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
R. H. Milroy,
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: Undated: February 1863