A Plunderer’s Letter Home: the Yankee Soldier’s Code of Conduct
FRIDAY, JULY 28, 2017
Camp near Camden, S.C.,
February 26, 1865
My Dear Wife:
I have no time for particulars. We have had a glorious time in this State. Unrestricted license to burn and plunder was the order of the day. The chivalry have been stripped of most of their valuables. Gold watches, silver pitchers, cups, spoons, forks, &c., are as common in camp as blackberries. The terms of plunder are as follows: Each company is required to exhibit the results of its operations at any given place. One-fifth and first choice falls to the share of the commander-in-chief [General Sherman] and staff; one-fifth to the corps commanders and staff; one-fifth to field officers of regiments, and two-fifths to the company. Officers are not allowed to join these expeditions unless disguised as privates. One of our corps commanders borrowed a suit of rough clothes from one of my men, and was successful in this place. He got a large quantity of silver (among other things an old milk pitcher) and a very fine gold watch from a Mrs DeSaussure, at this place (Columbia). DeSaussure is one of the F. F. V.’s of South Carolina, and was made to fork out liberally..
Officers over the rank of Captain are not made to put their plunder in the estimate for general distribution. This is very unfair, and for that reason, in order to protect themselves, subordinate officers and privates keep back every thing that they can carry about their persons, such as rings, earrings, breast pins, &c, &c. of which, if I live to get home, I have about a quart. I am not joking. I have at least a quart of jewelry for you and all the girls, and some No. 1 diamond rings and pins among them. General Sherman has silver and gold enough to start a bank. His share in gold watches alone at Columbia was two hundred and seventy-five.
But I said I could not go into particulars. All the general officers and many besides had valuables of every description, down to embroidered ladies’ pocket handkerchiefs. I have my share of them, too. We took gold and silver enough from the damned rebels to have redeemed their infernal currency twice over. This, (the currency), whenever we came across it, we burned, as we considered it utterly worthless. I wish all the jewelry this army has could be carried to the Old Bay State [Massachusetts]. It would deck her out in glorious style; but, alas! it will be scattered all over the North and Middle States.
The damned niggers, as a general thing, prefer to stay at home, particularly after they found out that we wanted only the able-bodied men, and to tell the truth, the youngest and best-looking women. Sometimes we took off whole families and plantations of niggers, by way of repaying influential secessionists. But the useless part of these we soon managed to lose; sometimes in crossing rivers, sometimes in other ways. I shall write you again from Wilmington, Goldsboro, or some other place in North Carolina. The order to march has arrived, and I must close hurriedly.
Love to grandmother and Aunt Charlotte. Take care of yourself and children. Don’t show this letter out of the family.
Your affectionate husband,
Thomas J. Myers,
P.S.—I will send this by the first flag of truce to be mailed, unless I have an opportunity of sending it to Hilton Head. Tell Lottie I am saving a pearl bracelet and earrings for her. But Lambert got the necklace and breast pin of the same set. I am trying to trade him out of them. These were taken from the Misses Jamison, daughters of the President of the South Carolina Secession Convention. We found these on our trip through Georgia.”
The letter is from the Alderson, West Virginia Statesman, dated October 29, 1883. It was authenticated and republished in the Southern Historical Society Papers in March 1884. I found a copy of this very revealing letter in the book “The Confederate Cause and Conduct in the War Between the States” by George L. Christian and Hunter McGuire, published in 1907.