the plan from the beginning, and both you and he have been so advised. You must aid his retrograde movement all you can without risking your own troops. You must be aware that 2, 0000 men, which is about yours and Boyd's effective strength, is a small body to cover the Iron Mountain Railroad. Poten must of necessity still guard the bridges, whatever attack may be made on you.
Circular letter to all Commanding Officers.
HEADQUARTERS NORTHEAST MISSOURI DISTRICT, Macon City, Mo., September 27, 1862.
GENTLEMEN: The general has learned with surprise and regret of many instances in which houses have been burned and other property wantonly destroyed by the troops in this division. This is not only entirely unauthorized, but has been over and over again positively prohibited. In at least several of the cases reported the grossest injustice was committed upon innocent persons, and several poor families have been left houseless and dependent, when a very slight investigation would have shown that there was no possible ground for doing the burning. The laws of war, as well as common humanity, forbid the devastation of a country except in extreme cases; and the necessity for an act for which the commanding general is held responsible cannot be left to the discretion of any subordinate who may think such a measure necessary.
In some few instances in which this has been done it was not only necessary but right that it should have been done, but the practice is becoming common to burn and destroy without limitation or common discretion, and it must be promptly stopped.
If it is necessary that a house, which is the resort and protection of guerrilla bands, should be destroyed, a report of the facts will
be made to these headquarters, and if he necessity really exists it may be done by proper authority, and the troops not disgraced by the excesses which on several occasions have marked such conduct.
Your attention is also again and for the last time called to the unauthorized taking of private property by officers and soldiers of this command. In many cases private houses have been entered by soldiers not acting under authority of an officer and articles taken for which there was no shadow of authority. Besides the goes outrage thus committed, the effect upon the troops has been the worst possible. It demoralizes them and entirely destroys discipline. Such conduct is the direct result of officers permitting a violation of the order against straggling and entering private houses.
This order must be strictly enforced. No officer or soldier can be allowed on the march to leave his ranks or colors without the direct permission of the commanding officer, of the column, and then only on the most urgent necessity; to permit natural necessities, halts will be made of five minutes at the end of every hour. In camp the men and officers must remain in their camp, except expressly permitted by the commanding officer to leave it. Under no circumstances will a soldier be permitted to enter a private house except upon duty and by order of the officer or non-commissioned officer in charge of the party, who will be held to a strict responsibility for any impropriety committed.
I am, gentlemen, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. M. HOUSTON,
Major and Assistant Adjutant-General.