HDQRS. ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, December 12, Numbers 71. 1864.
The general commanding has heard, with pain and mortification, that outrages and depredations, amounting in some cases to flagrant robbery, have been perpetrated upon citizens living within the lines, and near the camps of the army. Poor and helpless persons have been of those upon whom they had a right to rely for protection. In one instance an atrocious murder was perpetrated upon a child by a band of ruffians whose supposed object was plunder.
The general commanding is well aware that the great body of the army which so unselfishly devotes itself to the defense of the country regards these crimes with abhorrence, and that they are committed by a few miscreants unworthy of the name of soldiers. But he feels that we cannot escape the disgrace that attends these evil-doers, except by the most strenuous exertions on our part to restrain their wickedness and bring upon them the just punishment of their offenses. This can only be accomplished by the united efforts of those good and true men who are no less desirous of being esteemed for virtue by their countrymen than of being respected for courage by their enemies. Laws and orders will prove ineffectual unless sustained by the hearty co-operation of those who feel that the existence of the evil is a reproach to themselves. The aid of all such is earnestly and confidently invoked to remove this stain from the fair name of the army. Let each man guard its honor as zealously as his own, regarding those who bring reproach upon it as enemies of his own reputation, and remembering criminals is to be morally a participant of their guilt.
The attention of officers is particularly directed to this subject. Their responsibility is greatest, for upon their care and vigilance necessarily depend, in a great degree, the prevention and detection of unlawful acts by these men.
Those commanding regiments, companies, or in charge of camps, hospitals, or detachments, will be required to account for all who fail to attend the roll-calls under existing orders, or for such of their officers and men as may be arrested absent from their commands without proper authority by the guards and pickets of the army.
Corps commanders will habitually keep out patrols to arrest all who are improperly absent and to protect the persons and property of those residing in the vicinity of their commands. When arrested the parties themselves and the officers responsible for their conduct will be brought to trial without delay.
By command of General Lee:
W. H. TAYLOR,
HEADQUARTERS FIRST ARMY CORPS, December 12, 1864-7 p. m.
General R. E. LEE, Petersburg:
Your dispatch* of to-day is received. There is no indication of a move on the part of the enemy on this side. The troops that are reported to be moving to the enemy's left, may be the Sixth Corps returning. I shall be ready to re-enforce you as you may direct on very short notice.