HDQRS. CAV. DIV., DEPT. VA. AND N. C., Numbers 4.
Near Point of Rocks, Va., June 4, 1864.
In consequence of some acts of pillaging and plundering on the recent expeditions that have come to his notice, the general commanding finds it necessary to call the attention of the command to the subject, with a view to its correction on future expeditions within the enemy's lines. Officers are admonished that there is nothing that so seriously demoralizes a command than the neglect on their part to check, by the most stringent and arbitrary measures, all disposition to plunder or pillage on the part of the men. Soldiers should know that pillaging and plundering are among the most serious offenses that they can commit, and that the custom of commanders has been to cause the summary execution of men caught in the act. Officers have usually been directed to shoot down on the spot men engaged in these crimes. A few men by their conduct in this respect can cancel all the credit which the command would otherwise receive through its achievements, and those that have the misfortune to be captured are at the mercy of the enemy, as such acts cause to the perpetrators and their associates a forfeiture of their right to be treated as prisoners of war.
It is, therefore, the duty of every soldier, on the ground of self-protections, to aid in bringing to punishment offenders of this nature. The enemy have natural rights, which should be respected, and all soldiers should treat their foes as they should claim to be treated if the misfortunes of war placed them at the mercy of their opponents. Retaliation, which is sometimes the excuse for such offenses, cannot be left to the discretion of individuals, but must be directed by proper authority. The principles regarding captures should be understood by all soldiers, as well as officers; they are fixed by law and regulations, and are constantly reiterated in orders. (See General Orders, Numbers 10, headquarters Department of Virginia and North Carolina, current series.*)
All captures by the army are the property of the Government, which requires that everything seized from individuals in the enemy's lines shall be taken by officers and receipted for in the name of the United States, and regularly taken up and accounted for as any other similar property claimed by the Government. Officers who neglect to do this lay themselves liable to the penalties prescribed for the embezzlement of public property. The peculiar character of the cavalry service affords facilities and temptations greater than in the other arms of the service, and renders stringent measures to correct evil more necessary. The general commanding warns offenders that he will sue every effort to bring them to punishment. He is satisfied that there is no unusual tendency to steal and rob (for such are the names of these offenses in times of peace) in the command, but he is anxious to have it entirely free from such imputations, and to make it so will be the object of his labors, and he trusts to the hearty co-operation of the officers and men to accomplish this end.
By command of Brigadier-General Kautz:
M. J. ASCH,
Captain and Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.
*See Vol. XXXIII, p. 549.