Wednesday, October 3, 2012

His Death Caused The Burning Of A Town

Union Major John Rodgers Meigs was killed October 3rd 1864 under a cloud of controversy which led to the burning of a town in Virginia as retaliation.

John Rodgers Meigs was born February 9th 1841 the son of Major General Montgomery C and Louisa (Rodgers) Meigs.  He received an appointment to the United State Military Academy at West Point in 1859.  He took a short leave from the school following the First Battle of Bull Run to serve as aide-de-camp to Union General Philip Henry Sheridan.  Meigs returned to West Point graduating at the top of the class of 1863.

Following the Battle of Gettysburg, Meigs became a staff officer for Brigadier General Benjamin Franklin Kelly in West Virginia.  He saw action at the Battle of New Market, and was with Sheridan during the actions in the Shenandoah Valley.  Meigs received a brevet to Captain and then to Major for action in the Third Battle of Winchester and the Battle of Fisher’s Hill.

On the rainy night of October 3rd 1864 Meigs and two other Union soldiers were traveling to Union headquarters in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  They came onto three Confederate cavalrymen riding on the same road.  Both parties demanded the surrender of the other.  There was an exchange of gunfire during which Meigs was killed, one of the men riding with him was taken prisoner, and the third man escaped.  The man who escaped told Sheridan that Meigs was killed without the chance to defend himself.  Thinking Meigs had been murdered; Sheridan ordered the town of Dayton, Virginia to be burned to the ground as retaliation.

Meigs’ father had him buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, DC, but would latter have him re-interred in Arlington National Cemetery.


Steve Jones said...

Your blog site inspired me to create Civil War Bummer….foraging food for thought. As your time permits please visit the bummer site and comment or critique. Thank you in advance.
The origin of this term, applied to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s foragers during the March To The Sea and the Carolinas Campaign, is obscure but was common army parlance by 1864. Possibly deriving from the German Bummler, meaning “idler” or “wastrel,” the name was embraced by many soldiers, who believed it struck terror in the hearts of Southern people. The soldiers of the Army of Georgia were authorized to live off the land, since it was Sherman’s intent to “make Georgia howl” and to lay just as heavy a hand on South Carolina, which many Federals considered a “hellhole of secession.” On the road from Atlanta to the sea and then north, Sherman’s columns left their supply bases far behind, and their wagons could not carry provisions sufficient for all. Nevertheless, the Union commander sought to regulate and limit foraging, keeping it within accepted rules of warfare. Each brigade leader was to organize a foraging detail under “discreet officers.” The details were empowered to gather rations and forage of any sort and quantity useful to their commands and could appropriate animals and conveyances without limit. Soldiers, however, were not to trespass on any private dwelling, were to avoid abusive or threatening language, and, when possible, were to leave each family “a reasonable portion [of provisions] for their maintenance.” In regions where the army moved unmolested, no destruction of property was permitted. But where bushwhackers or guerrillas impeded the march, corps commanders were enjoined to “enforce a devastation more or less relentless, according to the measure of hostility.” Many who marched through Georgia and the Carolinas disregarded these prohibitions. Too often, foraging parties became bands of marauders answering to no authority. One conscientious bummer wrote to his sister about the depredations inflicted on South Carolina:

How would you like it, do you think, Ab, to have troops passing your house constantly … ransacking and plundering and carrying off everything that could be of any use to them? There is considerable excitement in foraging, but it is [a] disagreeable business in some respects to go into people’s houses and take their provisions and have the women begging and entreating you to leave a little when you are necessitated to take all. But I feel some degree of consolation in the knowledge I have that I never went beyond my duty to pillage.

Source: Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War

LivingInVermont said...

Love the information you shared. Would like to see more things like this.