Saturday, July 2, 2011

July 3, 1861 (Wednesday): Too Far Even For Butler

Colonel W. H. Allen-Library of Congress

                                    HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF VIRGINIA,                                                            Fort Monroe, July 3, 1861
Lieutenant-General Scott:
   SIR:  I have the honor to report that yesterday my scouts captured an enemy’s picket about five miles from Newport News, and from letters found at their quarters it appears that General Magruder left Yorktown on Tuesday last with the intention of attacking the post at Newport News: that he advanced within three miles of the News without baggage, tents, or trains, and stopped overnight on the road near the site of Little Bethel, and in the midst of a drenching rain….After advancing so as to be almost within reach of our pickets at Newport News he changed his course up the James River, and was yesterday encamped at Young’s Mills between eleven and twelve miles from Newport News, near Mulberry Point.                                                                                                                                                      ….I have further to report the arrest of Colonel Allen, of the First New York Volunteers, under the following state of facts:                                                                                                                                           There was a wheat field of some twenty-five acres belonging to the Twine estate, owned by a widow and some minor heirs, as I am informed.  The occupants had received a written safeguard upon taking the oath of allegiance and giving parole not in any way to aid, counsel, or advise the enemies of the United States. Colonel Allen, against express orders, crossed the creek near Hampton by the police guard there stationed. A small detachment of his men proceeded to the ground, arrested the parties for no other offense, as he states, save that they were getting the wheat, and sent them, six in number, to Fort Monroe and to my headquarters (which was also again orders), and ordered the wheat field to be set on fire, which was done, and the crop consumed. Upon report of these facts by General pierce in the form of charges against Colonel Allen, and upon other charges affecting his personal habits, substantial verified by evidence, I caused him to be arrested habits, and held for trial. I have caused enlisted men to be punished for the destruction of private property, and I believe this act of Colonel Allen was a most unnecessary, not to say wanton, destruction and waste. The place where it happened was wholly within our control, and if there had been any attempt an improper use being made of the wheat, it might easily have been brought within our camp and served some good purpose at least. I trust that this action will receive the approbation of the General Commanding, because it has become necessary, in order to prevent such destruction and waste of the property of our enemies even as will disgrace us.                                                                                                                  I have the honor to be, most respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                                                                                BENJ. F. BUTLER                                 Major-General, Commanding

Official Record, Series I, Vol. 2, Page 736

The movements of Magruder resulted from his apprehension that a Federal force was en route to flank his position.  Colonel Allen lead the first New York at the battle of Big Bethel.  A newspaper correspondent from the NY Times reported Allen claimed the charges were motivated by the malice of his enemies, and that local African-Americans, not his men, burned the field.  Allen also claimed the African-Americans told him the six men he arrested were horse thieves.  Complicating the matter was the fact three of the men had passes from Butler to be on the farm, and three actually had passes signed by Allen.

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