HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE RAPPAHANNOCK,
Opposite Fredericksburg, May 26, 1862.
Colonel Meredith, commanding the Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers, will furnish from his regiment a guard for the home and property of Mr. L. J. Hoffman, who lives near Belle Plain.
Colonel Meredith will see that no more corn is taken from Mr. Hoffman and that no more fencing is disturbed. The guard will be so placed as to make this sure, even if it should be necessary to place a sentinel over every panel of fence.
By command of Major-General McDowell:
E. P. HALSTEAD,
Captain, Assistant Adjutant-General.
Colonel S. A. MEREDITH,
Commanding Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers.
(Sent by Mr. Hoffman.)
I am told that that Hoffman, whose every panel of fence is to be guarded by a soldier paid for out of our pockets, is as arrant a traitor as there is on the face of God's earth. Now, sir, what say you. Can we reach that property? Can we forage on the enemy? The Senator says Numbers Restrained by the Constitution, are we? We cannot even take it on the field!
The high place Mr. Wade occupies in my native State and in the Senate, his known ardor in the prosecution of this war, and his devotion to the country, caused, I am told, this unfavorable comment on the little that seems to have reached him respecting my policy, to lower me in the eyes of many good people and to do me much harm with my men.
Another prominent complaint was my protecting certain wheat fields near the Lacy or Chatham house, belonging to an officer in the enemy's service. When we arrived opposite Fredericksburg these fields were green with a promising crop of wheat in drills, then growing most luxuriantly. Contrary to orders, a regiment of cavalry, rather than take the trouble to cut wood, which was near in great abundance, burned several panels of the fence, and thus allowed the animals to enter the fields to tread down the wheat. I caused the regiment to rebuild the fence and the fields to be guarded till the wheat matured. Then it was harvested, thrashed out, taken to a mill near by, ground into flour, and fed to the troops. This matter was simply a question of economy for the Government. (See evidence of Colonel Schriver, proceedings December 15, and Captain Chandler's evidence.)
This is the case on which the charge was built of my harsh conduct to General Shields' division. They were in no way concerned in it.
As to protecting property generally, I did so, and for the reasons stated. There is such a thing as economy in war. There is no need to destroy what you may afterward want yourself. Whether the growing grain was the property of Union men or not I protected it. In either case the army would need it. The same with houses; to burn and destroy simply because the property belongs to the enemy and will irritate him can have no effect on the war, except to strengthen the feeling which causes it to be maintained on the other side.
If the buildings or the crops were likely to fall into the enemy's hands it would be different. In such cases I have caused them to be destroyed.
As to the effect on the discipline of the troops of the policy pursued by me in this respect General King states (evidence of December 17):