150 Years Ago This Week: Living under military occupation

July/August 1862

As July 1862 moved towards its closing days, Maj. Gen. John Pope, commanding the Federal troops in and around Rappahannock County, added to his previously issued orders exacting harsh treatment on the citizens living near where his troops were posted. His latest orders decreed that any male who was detained and refused to take an Oath of Allegiance to the Union would be sent south, and if found again in the area, treated as a spy and summarily executed without trial. Any person violating the oath was to have his property confiscated and destroyed.

At a small plantation a few miles south of Sperryville at about this time, a Federal lieutenant by the name of James Watson (or Wilson, the records are somewhat illegible) stopped with a squad of soldiers and said they wanted something to eat. The property owner provided a meal, which the soldiers apparently enjoyed. Afterwards, they walked about the property and noticed a small pond, surrounded by a border of rocks. The officer walked around the pond on the stones, and one of the daughters of the property owner admonished him to be careful of the loose stones. In short order, the rocks under the lieutenant’s feet gave way, pitching him into the pond. Several of the soldiers laughed, along with the two daughters and one of the slave girls. The officer climbed out of the pond, soaking wet and angry. He ordered everyone present to shut up, and then drew his revolver on the slave girl, cursing that he was not going to have a slave laughing at him. He was about to fire when a sergeant stepped up and reminded the officer that he had been warned about the loose rocks. The daughters and the slave girl fled, and the soldiers went on their way. Such was daily life living under military occupation.

Fighting during the waning days of July took place on all fronts: in western Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Louisiana and in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The governors of Texas, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana petitioned President Davis for a commanding general, money, arms and ammunition, “for, without them we cannot use our strength, nor fully develop the mighty power of resistance that is in our midst.” In St. Stephens, New Brunswick, Canada, the St. Croix Herald, a pro-Union newspaper, was attacked by a mob and its equipment destroyed.

On Tuesday, July 29, the Confederate cruiser Alabama left Liverpool in England, after an unsuccessful attempt by Federal authorities to keep the raider in port. The same day, Belle Boyd, the young woman from Front Royal who had been such help to Maj. Gen. Thomas Jackson in May, was arrested near Warrenton on charges of being a Confederate spy and mail courier. She was conveyed to Old Capitol Prison in Washington but later released for lack of evidence. She would continue in her role as one of the more famous Confederate women spies.

On July 30, in response to the letter from the Confederate governors, Maj. Gen. Theophilis Holmes assumed command of the Trans-Mississippi Department, in charge of Confederate military operations west of the Mississippi River. In Boston, church bells from New Orleans confiscated by Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler were sold at auction, to be melted into cannon for the North.

Referring to Gen. Pope’s harsh orders and edicts of seizure of private property without compensation, the threats that citizens were to be shot as spies and the seizure of citizens as hostages in areas occupied by his Army of Virginia, President Jefferson Davis issued orders July 31 that any commissioned officers captured from Gen. Pope’s army were to be treated as felons rather than as prisoners of war, as they had put themselves in the position “of robbers and murderers.” Mr. Davis said he regretted having to threaten retaliation on the officers, but placed the blame upon the United States.

As August 1862 opened, Davis wrote to Gen. Robert E. Lee, protesting against alleged atrocities to civilians and soldiers by Federal authorities. That same Aug. 1, Gen. Pope began issuing orders to begin moving his army out of Rappahannock County and advance on Orange Courthouse, in preparation for a general movement towards the Confederate capital at Richmond.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles

A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.