General J. D. Imboden, Confederate General, gives a lengthy account of General David Hunter’s incendiarism, while he had command of the Federal troops in this Valley, during the late war; from which we extract the following from the Philadelphia Times:
MORE OF HUNTER’S INCENDIARISM.
I shall conclude this already long narrative by citing a few more instances of Hunter’s incendiarism in the lower valley. It seems that, smarting under the miserable failure of his grand raid on Lynchburg, where, during a march of over two hundred miles, the largest force he encountered was under Jones at Piedmont, and he routed that, thus leaving the way open to reach Lynchburg within three days, destroy the stores there and go out through West Virginia unmolested, he had failed to do anything but inflict injury on private citizens, and he came back to the Potomac more implacable than when he had left it a month before. His first victim was the Hon. Andrew Hunter, of Charlestown, Jefferson county, his own first cousin, and named after the General’s father. Mr. Hunter is a lawyer of great eminence and a man of deservedly large influence in his county and the State. His home, eight miles from Harper’s Ferry, in the suburbs of Charlestown, was the most costly and elegant in the place, and his family as refined and cultivated as any in the State. His offense in General Hunter’s eyes was that he had gone politically with his State, and was in full sympathy with the Confederate cause. The general sent a squadron of cavalry out from Harper’s Ferry, took Mr. Hunter prisoner and held him a month in the common guard-house of his soldiers without alleging any offense against him, not common to nearly all the people of Virginia, and finally discharged him, without trial or explanation after heaping these indignities upon him. Mr. Hunter was an old man, and suffered severely from confinement and exposure. While he was thus a prisoner General Hunter ordered his elegant mansion to be burned to the ground with all its contents, not even permitting Mrs. Hunter and her daughter to save their clothes and family pictures from the flames, and, to add to the desolation, camped his cavalry within the enclosure of the beautiful grounds of several acres surrounding the residence till the horses had destroyed them.
INCENDIARISM AT SHEPHERDSTOWN.
His next similar exploit was at Shepherdstown, in the same county, where, on the 19th of July, 1864, he caused to be burned the residence of the Hon. A. R. Boteler, “Fountain Rock.” Mrs. Boteler was also a cousin of General Hunter. This homestead was an old colonial house, endeared to the family by a thousand tender memories, and contained a splendid library, many pictures, and an invaluable collection of rare and precious manuscripts illustrating the early history of that part of Virginia that Colonel Boteler had collected by years of toil. The only members of the family who were there at the time were Colonel Boteler’s eldest and widowed daughter, Mrs. Shepherd, who was an invalid, her three children, the eldest five years old and the youngest eighteen months, and Miss Helen Boteler. Colonel Boteler and his son were in the army and Mrs. Boteler in Baltimore. The ladies and children were at dinner when informed by the servants that a body of cavalry had turned in at the gate from the turnpike and were coming up to the house.
THE BURING OF BOTELER’S HOUSE.
It proved to be a small detachment of the First New York Cavalry, commanded by a Captain William F. Martindale, who, on being met at the door by Mrs. Shepherd, coolly told her that he had come to burn the house. She asked him by what authority. He told her by that of General Hunter, and showed her his written order. On reading it she said, “The order I see, sir, is for you to burn the houses of Colonel Alexander R. Boteler and Mr. Edmund J. Lee. Now this is not Colonel Boteler’s house, but is the property of my mothers, Mrs. Boteler, and therefore must not be destroyed, as you have no authority to burn her house.” “It’s Colonel Boteler’s home, and that’s enough for me,” was Martindale’s reply. She then said: “I have been obliged to remove all my personal effects here, and have several thousand dollars’ worth of property stored in the house and outbuildings which belongs to me and my children. Can I not be permitted to save it?” But Martindale curtly told her that he intended to “burn everything under roof upon the place.” Meanwhile some of the soldiers were plundering the house of silver spoons, forms, cups, and whatever they fancied, while others piled the parlor furniture on the floors, and others poured kerosene on the piles and floors, which they then set on fire. They had brought the kerosene with them in canteens strapped to their saddles. Miss Boteler, being devoted to music, pleaded hard for her piano, as it belonged to her, having been a gift from her grandmother, but she was brutally forbidden to save it; whereupon, although the flames were roaring in the adjoining rooms and the roof all on fire, she quietly went into the house and seating herself for the last time before the instrument sand her favorite hymn: “Thy will be done.” Then shutting down the lid and locking it she calmly went out upon the lawn, where her sick sister and the frightened little children were sitting under the trees, the only shelter then left for them.
THE COMPLAINT OF MRS. LEE.
Martindale’s written order from Hunter also embraced another Virginia home. He burned it, too. The story is told by the gifted mistress of that household in the following letter, which was delivered to Hunter. I have been furnished a copy with permission to publish it. This letter will live in history for its eloquence and sublime inventive:
Shepherdstown, Va, July 20, 1864
General Hunter: Yesterday your underling, Captain Martindale, of the First New York Cavalry, executed your infamous order and burned my house. You have the satisfaction ere this of receiving from him the information that your orders were fulfilled to the letter; the dwelling and every outbuilding, seven in number, with their contents being burned, I, therefore, a helpless woman whom you have cruelly wronged, address you, a major general of the United States Army, and demand why this was done? What was my offense? My husband was absent— an exile. He has never been a politician or in any way engaged in the struggle now going on, his age preventing. This fact your chief-of-staff, David Strother, could have told you. The house was build by my father, a Revolutionary soldier, who served the whole seven years for your independence. There I was born; there the sacred dead repose. It was my home, and there your niece (Miss Griffeth), who has tarried among us all this horrid war up to the present moment, met with all kindness and hospitality at my hands. Was it for this that you turned me, my young daughter and little son out upon the world without a shelter? Or was it because my husband is the grandson of the Revolutionary patriot and “rebel,” Richard Henry Lee, and the near kinsman of the noblest of Christian warriors, the greatest of generals, Robert E. Lee? Heaven’s blessings be upon his head forever! You and your government have failed to conquer, subdue or match him; and disappointed rage and malice find vent on the helpless and inoffensive. Hyena-like you have torn my heart to pieces! for all hallowed memories clustered around that homestead; and demon-like you have done it without even the pretext of revenge, for I never saw or harmed you. Your office is not to lead like a brave man and soldier your men to fight in the ranks of war, but your work has been to separate yourself from all danger, and with your incendiary band steal unaware upon helpless women and children, to insult and destroy. Two fair homes did you yesterday ruthlessly lay in ashes, giving not a moment’s warning to the startled inmates of your wicked purpose; turning mothers and children out of doors, your very name execrated by your own men for the cruel work you gave them to do. In the case of Colonel A. R. Boteler, both father and mother were far away. Any heart but that of Captain Martindale (and yours) would have been touched by that little circle, comprising a widowed daughter just risen from her bed of illness, her three little fatherless babes– the eldest not five years old– and her heroic sister. I repeat, any man would have been touched at that sight. But, Captain Martindale! one might as well hope to find mercy and feeling in the heart of a wolf bent on his prey of young lambs, as to search for such qualities in his bosom. You have chosen well your agent for such deeds, and doubtless will promote him! A colonel of the Federal army has stated that you deprived forty of your offices of their commands because they refused to carry out your malignant mischief. All honor to their names for this at least! They are men– they have human hearts and blush for such a commander! I ask who that does not wish infamy and disgrace attached to him forever would serve under you? Your name will stand on history’s page as the Hunter of weak women and innocent children; the Hunter to destroy defenseless villages and refined aud beautiful homes— to torture afresh the agonized hearts of widows; the Hunter of Africa’s poor sons and daughters, to lure them on to ruin and death of soul and body; the Hunter with the relentless heart of a wild beast, the face of a fiend, and the form of a man. Oh, Earth, behold the monster! Can I say, “God forgive you?” No prayer can be offered for you! Were is possible for human lips to raise your name heavenward, angels would thrust the foul thing back again and demons claim their own. The curses of thousands, the scorn of the manly and upright, and the hatred of the true and honorable will follow you and yours through all time, and brand your name infamy! infamy! Again I demand why have you burned my house? Answer as you must answer before the Searcher of all hearts; why have you added this cruel, wicked deed to your many crimes? HENRIETTA E. LEE.
I have only recited the more prominent incidents of Hunter’s brief career in the Valley of Virginia. The United States Government could not stand it, his army could not stand it, as many of his prominent officers yet living tell how keenly they felt the stigma of such acts— beyond their control— brought upon them. Shortly after the date of Mrs. Lee’s letter he was removed, to the honor of the service, and General Sheridan was his successor— of his career, perhaps, anon! If the people fo Chambersburg will carefully read this record of wanton destruction of private property, this “o’er true tale” of cruel wrong inflicted on the helpless, they will understand why, when goaded to madness, remuneration was demanded at their hands by General Early, and upon is refusal “retaliation was inflicted on the nearest community that could be reached, and it was their misfortune to be that community. Contrast Lee in Pennsylvania in 1863 and Hunter in Virginia in 1864, and judge them both as history will tell.
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