Atrocities of War


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, February 7, 1863

This site features all the Harper's Weekly newspapers published during the Civil War. These newspapers can yield unique insights in the war, as they were created by eye-witnesses to the events depicted. You can watch history unfold before your eyes, week by week.

(Scroll Down to See Entire Page, or Newspaper Thumbnails below will take you to the page of interest)


David Porter

Porter and McClernand

Wall Street

Wall Street

General Hooker

General Hooker Takes Command

Gun Boats

Gun Boats


Civil War Torpedoes

Fredericksburg Poem

Battle of Fredericksburg Poem

War Atrocities

Atrocities of War

Fighting Joe Hooker

Fighting Joe Hooker

Monitor Sinking

Monitor "Weehawken" in Storm



Arkansas Post

Battle of Arkansas Post

River Torpedoes

River Torpedoes

Lavinia Warren

P. T. Barnum's "Miss Lavinia Warren




FEBRUARY 7, 1863.]



for me that I have never been an extravagant man."

"But, papa, we don't want all this much."

"Yes, yes; it is all right. You shall go into their family as a well-portioned girl, if you can't go as a Lady Maria. Come, don't trouble your little head any more about it. Give me one more kiss, and then we'll go and order the horses, and have a ride together, by way of keeping holiday. I deserve a holiday, don't I, Nelly?"

Some country people at work at the roadside, as the father and daughter passed along, stopped to admire their bright, happy looks, and one spoke of the hereditary handsomeness of the Wilkins's family (for the old man, the present Mr. Wilkins's father, had been fine-looking in his drab breeches and gaiters, and usual assumption of a yeoman's dress). Another said it was easy for the rich to be handsome; they had always plenty to eat, and could ride when they were tired of walking, and had no care for the morrow to keep them from sleeping at nights. And in sad acquiescence with their contrasted lot, the men went on with their hedging and ditching in silence.

And yet, if they had known—if the poor did know—the troubles and temptations of the rich; if those men had foreseen the lot darkening over the father, and including the daughter in its cloud; if Mr. Wilkins himself had even imagined such a future possible...... Well, there was truth in the old heathen saying, "Let Let no man be envied till his death."

Ellinor had no more rides with her father; no, not ever again; though they had stopped that afternoon at the summit of a breezy common, and looked at a ruined hall, not so very far off, and discussed whether they could reach it that day, and decided that it was too far away for any thing but a hurried inspection, and that some day soon they would make the old place into the principal object of an excursion. But a rainy time came on, when no rides were possible; and whether it was the influence of the weather, or some other care or trouble that oppressed him, Mr. Wilkins seemed to lose all wish for much active exercise, and rather sought a stimulus to his spirits and circulation in wine. But of this Ellinor was innocently unaware. He seemed dull and weary, and sat long, drowsing and drinking after dinner. If the servants had not been so fond of him for much previous generosity and kindness, they would have complained now, and with reason, of his irritability, for all sorts of things seemed to annoy him.

"You should get the master to take a ride with you, miss," said Dixon, one day, as he was putting Ellinor on her horse. "He is not looking well. He is studying too much at the office."

But when Ellinor named it to her father, he rather hastily replied that it was all very well for women to ride out whenever they liked—men had something else to do, and then, as he saw her look grave and puzzled, he softened down his abrupt saying by adding that Dunster had been making a fuss about his partner's non-attendance, and altogether taking a good deal upon himself in a very offensive way, so that he thought it better to go pretty regularly to the office, in order to show him who was master, senior partner, and head of the business, at any rate.

Ellinor sighed a little over her disappointment at her father's preoccupation, and then forgot her own little regret in anger at Mr. Dunster, who had seemed all along to be a thorn in her father's side, and had latterly gained some power and authority over him, the exercise of which Ellinor could not help thinking was a very impertinent line of conduct from a junior partner, so lately only a paid clerk, to his superior. There was a sense of something wrong in the Ford Bank household for many weeks about this time. Mr. Wilkins was not like himself, and his cheerful ways and careless genial speeches were missed, even on the days when he was not irritable, and evidently uneasy with himself and all about him. The spring was late in coming, and cold rain and sleet made any kind of out-of-door exercise a trouble and discomfort rather than a bright natural event in the course of the day. All sound of winter gayeties, of assemblies and meets, and jovial dinners, had died away, and the summer pleasures were as yet unthought of. Still Ellinor had a secret perennial spring of sunshine in her heart; whenever she thought of Ralph she could not feel much oppression from the present unspoken and indistinct gloom. He loved her—and oh, how she loved him! and, perhaps, this very next autumn—but that depended on his own success in his profession. After all, if it was not this autumn it would be the next; and with the letters that she received weekly, and the occasional visits that her lover ran down to Hamley to pay Mr. Ness, Ellinor felt as if she would almost prefer the delay of the time when she must leave her father's for a husband's roof.


IN vindication of the series of pictures on pages 88 and 89, which illustrate Southern chivalry, we present below a few extracts from the history of the war. Jeff Davis, in his proclamations, has constantly endeavored to make it appear that whereas the war was waged with chivalry and gentleness by the South, it was carried on with every circumstance of atrocious savagery by the Union troops. Here are a few examples of the chivalry of which the rebel boasts.


The Senate committee, appointed to inquire how the rebels had treated our dead on the field of Manassas or Bull Run, say in their report:

The rebels manifested a fiendish spirit in their treatment of our dead. Bodies were pried out of their graves, and Mrs. Pierce Butler, who lives near the place, said that she had seen the rebels boiling portions of the bodies of our

dead in order to obtain their bones as relics. They could not wait for them to decay. She said she had seen drumsticks made of Yankee shinbones, as they called them. She had seen a skull that one of the New Orleans Artillery had, which he said he was going to send home and have mounted, and that he intended to drink brandy punch out of it the day he was married. Many of the bones had been manufactured into finger rings.

The outrages upon the dead will revive the recollections of the cruelties to which savage tribes subjected their prisoners. They were buried, in many cases, naked, with their faces downward. They were left to decay in the open air, their bones being carried off as trophies, sometimes, as the testimony proves, to be used as personal adornments; and one witness deliberately avers that the head of one of our most gallant officers was cut off by a secessionist, to be turned to a drinking-cup on the occasion of his marriage. Monstrous as this revelation may appear to be, your committee have been informed that during the last two weeks the skull of a Union soldier has been exhibited in the office of the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Representatives, which had been converted to such a purpose, and which had been found on the person of one of the rebel prisoners taken in a recent conflict. The testimony of Governor Sprague, of Rhode Island, is most interesting. It confirms the worst reports against the rebel soldiers, and conclusively proves that the body of one of the bravest officers in the volunteer service was burned. He does not hesitate to add that the hyena desecration of the burned corpse was because the rebels believed it to be the body of Colonel Slocum, against whom they were infuriated for having displayed so much courage and chivalry in forcing his regiment fearlessly and bravely upon them.


A dispatch from Murfreesboro, dated December 31, says:

The enemy during yesterday harassed our rear with their cavalry, and captured some of our wounded men near Nolinsville. Rebel guerrilla bands attacked and burned our army wagons, ambulances, etc., and acted most outrageously, throwing the sick and wounded into the roads to die.

Major Slenmer and Captain King, who were being conveyed away wounded from the battle-field in an ambulance, were captured by the rebels, taken four miles away, and then paroled and thrown out on the road.

The Medical Director of General Grant's army, in an official report dated at Holly Springs on 30th December, says:

I received the assurance by General Van Dorn's Adjutant that the Armory Hospital should not be burned, but that it should be protected by a guard. Satisfied with this, I returned to my quarters, but had not been there an hour when I was informed that the building was in flames; and thus this fine structure, with two thousand bunks, an immense lot of drugs and surgical apparatus, thousands of blankets, sheets, and bed-sacks, was soon in ashes.

This proceeding, in violation of an express promise, and of all rules of civilized warfare, is an evidence of the barbarity and want of principle in the Confederate officers. But this was not all. An attempt was made to destroy the General Hospital, located on the main square, and which at the time contained over 500 sick.

A quantity of ordnance stores had been deposited in a building on the next block to the hospital, and by the order of General Van Dorn, as stated by the officer who had charge of the matter, the barrels of powder and boxes containing shell and cartridges were taken out and piled up nearly in front of the hospital and set fire to.

Two medical officers protested against this wanton act, but their requests were treated with contempt, and before there was time to remove the sick the walls and windows of the hospital were riddled with flying balls and shell, and finally a terrific explosion took place which shook the entire building, destroying almost every window and door in the establishment, wounding about twenty men, and creating a scene of the wildest confusion.

A large number of buildings on the public square took fire from the explosion, and it was only by the utmost efforts that the hospital was preserved as a shelter for the men in the night air.

Together with the medical officers who assisted me in caring for the sick and wounded on that trying day, I thought that the rebels had now done us all the harm in their power, but to injury insult was to be added in a manner I hope never to witness again. A rebel cavalry officer named Brewster, who stated he had been detailed by General Van Dorn to "march off every sick man that had not been paroled, collected together, pistol in hand, about 150 sick soldiers, forced them to rise from their beds and fall in line, threatening to shoot the medical officer who expostulated with him, and actually made the poor fellows, suffering from typhoid fever, pneumonia, and diarrhea, start with him on the road. The men fell down in the street and had to rise again for fear of being shot, when they were so weak that the slightest motion was agony. On being importuned if there was any thing in the name of humanity that could be done to stop his brutal proceedings, he finally consented to let them alone on receiving a paper, signed by all the surgeons present, stating that the men were too sick to walk, and their removal was an impossibility.

A newspaper correspondent writes:

One of the enemy's cavalry rode up to a wagon containing a wounded German soldier of Captain Langworthy's company, Second Wisconsin regiment, and, dragging him out by the hair of the head, piercing him through the body with his sword, yelling, "I'll teach you d—d black Abolitionists to come down here to fight us." The trooper then rushed upon the driver of the wagon, and, with a back cut of his sabre, nearly severed the man's head from his body, and he fell lifeless among his horses.

At the battle of Bull Run, an Ohio surgeon detailed for duty in a hospital, testified that it was assiduously shelled by the rebels while the wounded of both armies were being cared for in it.

The Philadelphia Inquirer contained the following, shortly after the battle:

A lieutenant of an Ohio regiment, now in this city, and who was at the battle of Bull Run, states that he saw several of our wounded bayoneted and having their throats cut by the members of the Alabama and Georgia regiments. The poor fellows begged for their lives, but their pleadings were disregarded, and with an oath the death-wound was inflicted.


The following account of the Murder of Robert L. McCook is in point:

On Tuesday last General Robert L. McCook, who was at the time very sick, was in an ambulance near Salem, Alabama, on his way to his brigade. The ambulance was traveling over the usual military road, and about ten o'clock in the morning it arrived at a plantation where there was an abundance of water. After refreshing themselves they passed on with the wounded General. Intelligence of his whereabouts and condition was quickly spread, it is supposed, for before the ambulance had proceeded three miles the driver discovered that he was pursued by guerrillas.

It was impossible to think of flight, and Gen. McCook's condition prohibited any idea of rescuing him. The guerrilla leader ordered the ambulance to stop, the assassins at the same time surrounding it. The vehicle was then upset, and the sick officer turned into the road. While on his knees, helpless and sick, he was fired at by a ruffian, and shot through the side.

The wound was fatal, General McCook surviving it but a few hours. He bore his sufferings heroically, and to the last manifested an undaunted spirit. His last words were: "Tell Aleck (alluding to his brother, General Alexander McDowell McCook) and the rest that I have tried to live like a man and do my duty."

Commissary Packham, of Piatt's Zouaves, communicates the following narrative of the murder of two members of that regiment by rebel guerrillas in Western Virginia:

A few days ago John Costallo and John Cerbe, Company

(Previous Page) rare fruit-trees, and a habit of purchasing any book or engraving he might take a fancy to, irrespective of the price, run away with the money, even though there be but one child. A year or two ago Mr. Wilkins had been startled into a system of exaggerated retrenchment—retrenchment which only lasted about six weeks—by the sudden bursting of a bubble speculation, in which he had invested a part of his father's savings. But as soon as the change in his habits, necessitated by his new economies, became irksome, he had comforted himself for his relapse into his former easy extravagance of living, by remembering the fact that Ellinor was engaged to the son of a man of large property; and that though Ralph was only the second son, yet that his mother's estate must come to him, as Mr. Ness had already informed Ellinor's father, on first hearing of her engagement.

Mr. Wilkins did not doubt that he could easily make Ellinor a fitting allowance, or even pay down a requisite dowry; but the doing so would involve an examination into the real state of his affairs, and this involved distasteful trouble. He had no idea how much more than mere temporary annoyance would arise out of the investigation. Until it was made he decided in his own mind that he would not speak to Ellinor on the subject of her lover's letter. So for the next few days she was kept in suspense, seeing little of her father; and during the short times that she was with him she was made aware that he was nervously anxious to keep the conversation engaged on general topics rather than on the one which she had at heart. Mr. Corbet had written to her by the same post as that on which he sent the letter, of which I have already spoken, to her father, telling her of its contents, and begging her (in all those sweet words which lovers know how to use) to urge her father to compliance for his sake — his, her lover's—who was pining and lonely in all the crowds of London, since her loved presence was not there. He did not care for money, save as for a means of hastening their marriage: indeed, if there were only some income fixed, however small, some time for their marriage fixed, however distant, he could be patient. He did not want superfluity of wealth; his habits were simple, as she well knew; and money enough would he theirs in time, both from her share of contingencies and the certainty of his finally possessing Bromley.

Ellinor delayed replying to this letter until her father should have spoken to her on the subject. But as she perceived that he avoided all such conversation, the young girl's heart failed her. She began to blame herself for wishing to leave him, to reproach herself for being accessory to any step which made him shun being alone with her, and look distressed and full of care as he did now. It was the usual struggle between father and lover for the possession of love, instead of the natural and graceful resignation of the parent to the prescribed course of things; and, as usual, it was the poor girl who bore the suffering for no fault of her own: although she blamed herself for being the cause of the disturbance in the previous order of affairs. Ellinor had no one to speak to confidentially but her father and her lover, and when they were at issue she could talk openly to neither, so she brooded over Mr. Corbet's unanswered letter and her father's silence, and became pale and dispirited. Once or twice she looked up suddenly, and caught her father's eye gazing upon her with a certain wistful anxiety; but the instant she saw this he pulled himself up, as it were, and would begin talking gayly about the small topics of the day.

At length Mr. Corbet grew impatient at not hearing either from Mr. Wilkins or Ellinor, and wrote urgently to the former, making known to him a new proposal suggested to him by his father, which was, that a certain sum should be paid down by Mr. Wilkins, which should be applied, under the management of trustees, to the improvement of the Bromley estate, out of the profits of which, or other sources in the elder Mr. Corbet's hands, a heavy rate of interest should be paid on this money, which would secure an income to the young couple immediately, and considerably increase the value of the estate upon which Ellinor's settlement was to be made. The terms offered for this laying down of ready money were so advantageous that Mr. Wilkins was strongly tempted to accede to them at once; as Ellinor's pale cheek and want of appetite had only that very morning smote upon his conscience, and this immediate transfer of ready money was, as a sacrifice, a soothing balm to his self-reproach, and laziness and dislike to immediate unpleasantness of action had its counterbalancing weakness in imprudence. Mr. Wilkins made some rough calculations on a piece of paper—deeds, and all such tests of accuracy being down at the office—discovered that he could pay down the sum required; wrote a letter agreeing to the proposal, and before he sealed it called Ellinor into his study, and bade her read what he had been writing, and tell him what she thought of it. He watched the color come rushing into her white face, her lips quiver and tremble, and even before the latter was ended she was in his arms, kissing him, and thanking him with blushing caresses rather than words.

"There, there!" said he, smiling and sighing; "that will do. Why, I do believe you took me for a hard-hearted father, just like a heroine's father in a book. You've looked as wobegone this week past as Ophelia. One can't make up one's mind in a day about such sums of money as this, little woman; and you should have let your old father have time to consider."

"Oh, papa! I was only afraid you were angry."

"Well, if I was a bit perplexed, seeing you look so ill and pining was not the way to bring me round. Old Corbet, I must say, is trying to make a good bargain for his son. It is well

D, with a loyal Virginian named Collins, attached to Company G as guide, were sent after a detachment of the Second loyal Virginia Cavalry, whom our colonel desired to he nearer our lines. When about 16 miles from camp they suddenly came upon a party of rebel militia, who fired, wounding the Virginia guide. Costallo and Cerbe instantly returned the fire, but before they could reload they were overpowered and taken to a Mrs. Gilkinson's. Next morning the rebels consulted upon the disposal of their prisoners. Some were for sending them to Richmond, some to their own head-quarters at Logan Court House, some for killing them, and Mrs. Gilkinson, to the eternal disgrace of Southern female fiends, wished one to be killed on her porch, so that she could dance in his blood.

The killing was done in the following manner, communicated to me by H. Mays, in our hospital, a short time before he died, from a wound he had just received while attempting to escape from the guard-house.

These are his dying words:

In the morning we took one up the run, a quarter of a mile from Mrs. Gilkinson's mill, tied his legs, and fixed him to a tree. Bill Pritchet, Lew Pritchet, Isam Miller, and Stevens, walked off a piece, and shot at him till they killed him. Question. Did you shoot? Answer. No; I and three others stood by; we all went back to Mrs. Gilkinson, got the other Zouave, brought him up the run, and he was killed. Q. Did you try to prevent them being shot in that manner? A. Yes. Q. Did either of the poor fellows say any thing while they were being so slowly and cruelly murdered? A. Yes; for as we took the last one up the run, past the first one shot, who lay at the tree, he stopped, looked at the dead body, and said, O God! don't murder me that way: I can die like a soldier, but, for God's sake, don't murder me; shoot me here! and he unbuttoned his Zouave jacket, and tore open his shirt. Q. Did you not persuade your men to have mercy, and grant the poor fellow his wish? A. Yes; I said I would see him safe to Logan; but they fixed him to a tree, and shot him. Q. How many times was he hit before he died? A. They had about three shots apiece at him. Q. Did most of the balls hit him? A. Yes. Q. Did they shoot at him after he was dead? A. No. Q. What became of Collins, the Virginian? A. They kept teasing him at Mrs. Gilkinson's till near noon; then took him away up the run, and killed him. I did not shoot once; all the shooting was done by the two Pritchets, Miller, and Stevens. Pritchet said they were to see who could hit nearest his heart without killing him. Q. How many times do you think the boys were hit? A. All the men shot three times; they hit every time. My name is Mays. I live on the Beech Fork. It is true.

The wretch soon died. Since writing the above our scouts have returned. They have killed Lew Pritchet, and got 13 prisoners, among whom we are in hopes to find all the abettors in the above horrible affair.

   Yours respectfully,

   A. PACEHAM, Piatt's Zouaves,

Commissary Thirty-fourth Regiment O. V.


A correspondent from the West says:

The Committee under the resolutions of inquiry are receiving testimony from Pea Ridge, showing incontestibly that there our dead were not only scalped by the rebels' Indian allies, but in other respects outraged.

Another writes:

You will of course have heard of the fact that the rebels had some three thousand Indians under the command of Albert Pike. Also that some twenty of our men who fell in the engagement under Colonel Osterhaus on Friday, and under General Davis on Saturday, and had the misfortune to be left on the field, were foully and fiendishly scalped, murdered, and robbed by these red-skinned wretches.


A correspondent from Murfreesboro writes:

All "contrabands" captured by the rebels on the Federal wagon-trains are immediately shot. Twenty thus killed are lying on the Murfreesboro Pike.

The Times correspondent says:

While at Aldie, on Thursday last, two citizens, named Moore and Ball, came within our lines and were detained as prisoners. The first-named is a son of the proprietor of Moore's flour-mills, at Aldie, on it branch of Goose Creek, and the latter is a large planter in the same town. They had "done nothing," so they said, and were neither bushwhackers nor soldiers, and were surprised at being detained within our lines when so near their homes, from which they had been absent some time. Upon being questioned closely they admitted that they had just come from the James River, and finally owned up that they had been running off "niXXers," having just taken a large gang, belonging to themselves and neighbors, southward in chains, to avoid losing them under the emancipation proclamation. I understand, from various sources, that the owners of this species of property, throughout this section of the State, are moving it off toward Richmond as fast as it can be spared from the plantations, and the slaveholders boast that there will not be a negro left in all this part of the State by the 1st of January next.

Another correspondent says:

The rebels in Secessia are busily engaged just now in running off to Richmond and beyond negroes and conscripts. A Union man, just from below Culpepper, says that he saw droves of negroes and white men on the road at different points, all strongly guarded. He does not exactly know which excited his pity most, the white or black men.


The following are a few extracts culled from army letters:

Every day new barbarities perpetrated by the rebels come to light. This week two soldiers who had straggled from the ranks on the march from — were found, it is reported on credible authority, by the roadside with their throats cut from ear to ear.

Here the rebels were guilty of barbarous atrocities. Many of the dead had their throats cut, and presented a horrible spectacle. One man was brought in who had had his eyes picked out by their bayonets. In short, they evinced the most unrelenting fury on finding this way of retreat cut off to them.

Numbers of our men were found with their throats cut, and some had their eyes picked out. One was found tied to a tree. But enough of these horrors—I must conclude.

To what depths of inhuman wickedness men, or fiends, can descend! Prisoners taken by the rebels were afterward deliberately murdered, and the fingers of our dead cut off to secure rings. We grow wiser every day.

One man says: They kept bayoneting me until I received fourteen wounds. One then left me, the other remaining over me, when a Union soldier coming up shot him in the breast, and he fell dead. I lay on the ground until ten o'clock next day.

The fellow at first made no reply, but, stooping down, seized the dead man by the hair and dragged him partially out of his grave, in order to get at the buttons on his clothes for trophies.

Another saw the brains of the wounded being beaten out by clubs, thus confirming the previous newspaper reports.

There is enough in these extracts to bear out the pictures on pages 88 and 89, horrible as they are, and to serve as a complete refutation of Jeff Davis's claim to superior chivalry. Will the foreign journals, who have made such an outcry about Butler and M'Neil, be so good as to let their readers hear of a few of these cases?




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