Changing the Character of the War

Major General John Pope, commanding the new Federal Army of Virginia, had promised to take the war to civilians who aided and abetted the Confederates in northern Virginia. He made good on that promise by issuing three general orders on July 18. General Order Number 5 authorized Federal troops to seize property and supplies from civilians, who would be reimbursed only if they could prove their loyalty to the U.S.:

“Hereafter, as far as practicable, the troops of this command will subsist upon the country in which their operations are carried on. In all cases supplies for this purpose will be taken by the officers to whose department they properly belong, under the orders of the commanding officer of the troops for whose use they are intended. Vouchers will be given to the owners, stating on their face that they will be payable at the close of the war upon sufficient testimony being furnished that such owners have been loyal citizens of the United States since the date of the vouchers…”

This order shocked many, including some of Pope’s own subordinates. Brigadier General Marsena Patrick noted in his diary that it allowed soldiers to “believe they have a perfect right to rob, tyrannize, threaten and maltreat any one… This Order of Pope’s has demoralized the Army & Satan has been let loose.” Another Federal officer observed, “The lawless acts of many of our soldiers are worthy of worse than death. The villains urge as authority, ‘General Pope’s order.’”

General Order Number 6 reinforced Order Number 5 for the cavalry:

“Hereafter, in any operations of the cavalry forces in this command, no supply or baggage trains of any description will be used, unless so stated especially in the orders for the movement. Two days cooked rations will be carried on the persons of the men, and all villages and neighborhoods through which they pass will be laid under contribution in the manner specified by General Orders, No. 5, current series, from these headquarters, for the subsistence of men and horses…”

General Order Number 7 threatened harsh punishment for anyone consorting with Confederate partisans:

“The people of the Valley of the Shenandoah and throughout the region of operations of this army, living along the lines of railroad and telegraph, and along routes of travel in the rear of United States forces, are notified that they will be held responsible for any injury done the track, line, or road, or for any attacks upon the trains or straggling soldiers, by bands of guerrillas in their neighborhood… If a soldier or legitimate follower of the army be fired upon from any house, the house shall be razed to the ground and the inhabitants sent prisoners to the headquarters of this army. If such an outrage occur at any place distant from settlements, the people within five miles around shall be held accountable, and made to pay an indemnity sufficient for the case; and any person detected in such outrages, either during the act or at any time afterward, shall be shot, without waiting civil process…”

Gen John Pope | Image Credit:

Pope sought to target partisans in civilian dress who “attack and murder straggling soldiers, molest trains of supplies, destroy railroads, telegraph lines, and bridges, and commit outrages disgraceful to civilized people and revolting to humanity.” These people would not be afforded the rights given to prisoners of war. Going further, this order applied the same standard to civilians who aided these partisans.

Five days later, Pope issued General Order Number 11, which directly targeted civilians suspected of disloyalty:

“Commanders of army corps, divisions, brigades, and detached commands will proceed immediately to arrest all disloyal male citizens within their lines, or within their reach in the rear of their respective stations. Such as are willing to take the oath of allegiance to the United States, and will furnish sufficient security for its observance, shall be permitted to remain at their homes, and pursue in good faith their accustomed avocations. Those who refuse shall be conducted south beyond the extreme pickets of the army, and be notified that, if found again anywhere within our lines or at any point in the rear, they will be considered spies, and subjected to the extreme rigor of the military law.

“If any person, having taken the oath of allegiance as above specified, be found to have violated it, he shall be shot, and his property seized and applied to the public use.

“All communication with any person whatever living within the lines of the enemy is positively prohibited, except through the military authorities and in the manner specified by military law; and any person concerned in writing or in carrying letters or messages in any other way will be considered and treated as a spy within the lines of the United States army.”

This order applied to anyone, even a mother writing to a son in the Confederate army. Pope issued one more directive stripping the region of any Federal protection: “Hereafter, no guards will be placed over private houses or private property of any description whatever… soldiers were called into the field to do battle against the enemy, and it is not expected that their force and energy shall be wasted in protecting private property of those most hostile to the Government.”

All of Pope’s orders were based on Major General Henry W. Halleck’s directives while heading the Department of Missouri, in which Pope had served earlier in the war. These orders, implicitly approved by President Abraham Lincoln before being issued, incurred the wrath of Confederates. Major General James Longstreet wrote that Pope’s “injudicious and unsoldierly attitude” had “intensely incensed the people of Virginia and the South generally, the Confederate army to a man, and probably to a considerable degree discomfited the most considerate and thoughtful of his own officers and the authorities behind him. The exigencies of war did not demand some of the harsh measures that he promulgated…”

At the time, both sides were working together to develop a system of prisoner exchange. When President Jefferson Davis learned of Pope’s orders, he informed General Robert E. Lee that this system would not apply to Pope or any Federal officers who carried out those orders:

“On the 22d of this month a cartel for a general exchange of prisoners of war was signed between Major-General D. H. Hill, in behalf of the Confederate States, and Major-General John A. Dix, in behalf of the United States. By the terms of that cartel, it is stipulated that all prisoners of war hereafter taken shall be discharged on parole until exchanged. Scarcely had that cartel been signed, when the military authorities of the United States commenced a practice changing the character of the war, from such as becomes civilized nations, into a campaign of indiscriminate robbery and murder… You are therefore instructed to communicate to the commander-in-chief of the armies of the United States the contents of this letter and a copy of the inclosed general order, to the end that he may be notified of our intention not to consider any officers hereafter captured from General Pope’s army as prisoners of war.”

This meant that the Confederate government would consider Pope and his officers to be outlaws, and if captured, they would be treated as felons. Lee, upon reading Pope’s directives, called him a “miscreant” who “ought to be suppressed.” Lee set out to do this by shifting his Army of Northern Virginia northward to take the fight to Pope’s Federals.

Meanwhile, Pope left Washington on the 29th to join his new army and set up what he called “headquarters in the saddle.” His growing number of critics quipped that Pope’s headquarters were where his hindquarters should have been.


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