Friday, June 29, 2012

Athens, Alabama

Captain Cox had little to say about this day in 1862.

At 4 o'clock this mornning we were again on the move.  Athens, Alabama, at 2 o'clock, a distance of 13 miles from our camp of last night.  We are now one mile east of said town and rumor says we will remain here during the summer.  I hope it's true, for we need a rest.*

The Captain expresses no knowledge of  the actions of  Colonel Turchin just two month's prior in this small town of 1200 people.  If he had known, he surely would have been more apprehensive about staying for the summer.  Although there were many instances of abhorrent behavior throughout this summer in northern Alabama, Turchin and his men are credited for setting a new standard  of deviancy in the  American Civil War.  Incidents like this would eventually lead to charges and inquiries of officers from Turchin to Mitchell and, eventually, General Buell himself for failing to maintain military discipline.

Throughout the war, the Seventeenth will follow in the wake of Turchin and others of similar mind.  Although it is likely that a few rogues may have participated in similar behavior, there are no records of any such misconduct.  There is, however, evidence that these volunteers from Kentucky were decidedly more civl in the treatment of their neighbors to the south than most Federal units and their  officers from Col. McHenry to Capt. Cox. would never tolerate mistreatment of civilians or their property.  Their tenacity on the battlefield was tempered with compassion for the civilians and hatred for the secessionists who, in their minds, started this bloody war. This will become more evident through personal letters, diary entries and Special Orders as the months unfold.

After "The Rape of Athens", General Mitchell came under increasing pressure to control his troops.  The following orders, issued May 20, reflect his personal feelings toward such behavior.

[Inclosure No. 11.]
Extract of order to Col. J. B. Turchin, dated May 20, 1862.
I wish the troops that are quartered in town to be removed as early as possible. No private dwellings must be occupied by troops. * * *
The examination of soldiers' baggage ordered on yesterday must be thorough and rapid.
I trust a full report will reach me on to-morrow. * * *

[Inclosure No. 12.]
Extract from order to Colonel Lytle, dated May 20, 1862.
See that your men do not pillage and plunder. They shall not steal horses or mules or enter private houses on any pretense whatever.
I would prefer to hear that you had fought a battle and been defeated in a fair fight than to learn that your soldiers have degenerated into robbers and plunderers.

*Cox, Samuel K., CIvil War Diary 1862-1865 of Captain Samuel Kennedy Cox, courtesy of Daviess County Public Library, Kentucky Room, unpublished manuscript, p.17

**ORE Correspondence courtesy of my Favorite Link, Ohio State's eHistory

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