Southern Civilians and the Union Army

Before civilians saw the Yankees, they usually heard them coming. The bellow of artillery and the rumble of wagon trains signaled the arrival of Union troops for the residents of invaded areas. Families who lived near the battle front also heard the sounds of maiming and death—the movement of ambulances and the cries of the dying, wounded, and sick. Many civilians could not quite believe what they were hearing. John C. Spence

Civilian Battle Rattle
Like many families across the war-torn South, this family fled with their prized possessions loaded on a cart to live as refugees in places that they hoped would prove safe. (National Archives)

of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, described his neighbors as ''never once dreaming that they should ever hear the roar of cannon, the rattle of muskets, or the groans of the dying'' (Spence 1993, 10).

As Union forces captured Confederate territory in 1862, more and more civilians came face to face with the horrors of war. In battle zones, the distinction between soldier and civilian often disintegrated. Townspeople in Murfreesboro found themselves in the line of fire on July 13, 1862, when Confederate colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry attacked the occupation forces. A young girl was shot in the face. Several major battles with horrific numbers of casualties took place in 1862, particularly late in the year. The bloody reality of the war came home to all civilians, North and South, but perhaps especially to those who witnessed the carnage. The mind-numbing death and destruction at Shiloh, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Stones River shocked and saddened civilians. Makeshift hospitals sprang up everywhere as severely wounded men overwhelmed the communities near these battlefields. Civilians helped care for the wounded in homes, schools, churches, hotels, stores, and public buildings. Marylanders who lived in and near the town of Sharpsburg did their best to cope with what would be the bloodiest day of the entire war, with 22,719 casualties at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862.

In 1861 and most of 1862, Union troops took a relatively lenient stance toward the civilians in occupied areas. President Lincoln and many other Northerners believed that most residents of the South had simply been duped by their slaveholding leaders into supporting the Confederacy and that, with benevolent treatment, these everyday citizens would soon change their allegiance.

Despite the relative leniency of early occupation, Confederate supporters chafed under Yankee rule. They resented the sounds of the occupation troops, from drilling to shouting and drinking. Union troops sometimes rang bells in occupied towns to signal Union victory; the prospect of such an eventuality prompted residents of Charleston, South Carolina, to send their bells inland to Columbia. Many Confederate civilians did not shy away from letting the Yankees know what they thought of them. Confederate supporters in New Orleans rained down insults on Union troops when they entered the city in May 1862. Residents shared with the soldiers their fervent hope that the yellow fever would soon take many of the occupiers away to what they saw as deserved early graves. Murfrees-boro, Tennessee, resident Mattie Ready vocally defended the Confederate cause to Union officers who occupied the town. Ready's outspoken defense of Kentucky cavalryman John Hunt Morgan to Yankee officers in the summer of 1862 got back to Morgan, and the two were married that December.

To the chagrin of Confederate supporters, romances between Union occupiers and Confederate women developed occasionally as well. Women who fraternized with Union troops did so knowing that they would likely be ostracized and threatened by family members and neighbors.

Because of the battle front's unrelenting demand for Confederate soldiers, the Southern home front increasingly became a female world. Women thus played an important role in the reception of Yankee troops in occupied areas. Union general Benjamin Butler quickly recognized this in New Orleans. Butler, whose hard-line policies governing civilian life in the Crescent City in 1862 presaged the adoption of harsher occupation terms throughout the occupied South, issued his infamous General Order Number 28 to stifle the vitriol directed at Union troops by Confederate women. Butler's order stated that women who insulted Union officers and soldiers would be treated as prostitutes. Although Butler's threat succeeded in making life more comfortable for his troops, he became a pariah among Confederate Southerners, who called him ''Beast'' Butler. His rigid control of civilian life prompted numerous complaints to his superiors, and President Lincoln replaced him late in 1862.

Although the harshness of Butler's rule stands out among occupied territory in the first few years of the war, Confederate supporters in all Union-held areas found themselves being governed by an alien authority that intended to regulate some of their activities. Tensions arose between civilians and Union occupiers, for example, over the payment of taxes, the confiscation of land, and the oath of allegiance, which was required of civilians who wanted to carry on their businesses or professions.

Because President Lincoln wanted commerce and agriculture to continue on a limited basis in Union-occupied territory, he encouraged Congress to pass laws to allow for the use of lands within Union-held areas. In June 1862, Congress instituted a real estate tax for residents of occupied areas. U.S. officials could confiscate the lands of planters who could not pay their taxes. The next month, Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act, which authorized federal troops to confiscate and make use of property that was being used to support the Confederacy, as well as the property of Confederate officers, officials, and active supporters.

The U.S. Treasury Department oversaw the leasing of abandoned and confiscated land within the Confederacy. The land could be leased to Northerners, loyal Southerners, and individuals of dubious loyalty who partnered with Unionists. At the same time, the Union military wanted to use some of the lands within occupied areas to support the occupation forces. Consequently, land confiscation not only resulted in friction between occupiers and civilians but also among the occupiers themselves.

As the number of Union forces in occupied areas of the Confederacy rose to more than 350,000 by mid-1862, civilians found their farms, plantations, and homes subject to the army's voracious appetite for food and supplies. Both Confederates and Unionists lost goods and property to the Union Army during the war. Some property was confiscated officially, some was taken unofficially, and some was destroyed simply for the sake of destruction. Troops not infrequently took more than they needed; some looted simply to get revenge on secessionists or for amusement. On the Hoggatt family plantation near Nashville in 1862, Union troops who were camped nearby killed livestock and dismantled rail fences for firewood. John McCline, a slave on the plantation, saw his owner and the plantation's overseer begging the soldiers to spare the animals, but their pleas fell on deaf ears until a general arrived on the scene. Mr. Hoggatt assured the soldiers he was a Unionist, but his slave doubted that they believed this.

Civilians very often had to fulfill the basic need of the ever-growing Union occupation forces for food. Kibbie Gardenhire, who was a young girl in rural Middle Tennessee during the war, perhaps summed it up best when she recalled in her memoir: ''When they would say the Yankees were coming we would not know what to expect, whether someone would be killed, the house burned or what would happen, but there was one thing sure, they had to be fed'' (Gardenhire, ''Memoir,'' 9).

Relations between occupying troops and civilians deteriorated as 1862 progressed. Confederate successes on the battlefield emboldened Southerners who opposed Yankee rule. Many residents of occupied Tennessee, for example, believed that the Confederate Army might reclaim their state. This hope fueled civilian resistance. Residents of occupied areas smuggled, spied, and adopted guerilla warfare tactics.

Military reversals for the Union in the second half of 1862, along with continued resistance to Yankee occupation by Confederate civilians, hardened soldiers against the Confederacy and all of its inhabitants. In December 1862, the bloody Battle of Fredericksburg in Virginia was accompanied by the looting of civilians' houses and the destruction of their personal property by Union troops. Soldiers helped themselves to books, bedding, china, clothing, furniture, children's toys, food, paintings, silver, glasses, and musical instruments. What the troops did not use or keep they destroyed, littering the streets with civilians' possessions. One resident of the town reported, ''I can tell you much better what they left, than what they destroyed'' (Rable 2002b, 100). Such callous behavior by Union troops enraged civilians and Confederate soldiers. The Union soldiers' actions only fed Confederate civilians' negative views of Yankees. Some of the Union forces themselves were appalled and saddened by the sack of the town. Others among the invaders sought to justify their actions, in part by blaming the Rebels for initiating the war in the first place.

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