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June 23, 1863: Lee orders foraging troops to pay for supplies

Jun. 23, 2013 - 10:40AM   |  
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HARRISBURG, PA. — The vanguard of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia is said to be foraging in southern Pennsylvania for food and other supplies.

Yesterday, Lee issued “General Orders 72” requiring commissary commanders and supply officers to obtain local goods at fair market value.

“While traveling in the enemy’s country,” ordered Lee, “the following regulations will be strictly observed.”

Among them:

■ No private property will be damaged or destroyed.

■ Leaders should try to buy from willing sellers.

■ Any property that must be seized for the good the Army should still be paid for.

Anyone caught violating the orders, writes Lee, will be “promptly and vigorously punished.”

Lee’s troops, suffering from chronic supply shortages through the long winter along the Rappahannock River, have no doubt viewed Federal territory as a land of plenty, ripe for the taking.

Aides close to Lee, however, say the general is hoping to win the hearts and minds of the local population in a bid to force U.S. leaders to the negotiating table.

The degree to which the letter of Lee’s law is being interpreted is unclear. Some troops report a sudden bounty of new provisions that would be difficult for any army to pay for.

“Some of soldiers were inclined to disregard this order from our noble general, since the enemy ravaged our Southland without hinderance by those over them and thought we ought to pay them back in kind,” said Pvt. Gordon Bradwell of the 31st Georgia Regiment.

He said his small unit just obtained “two hindquarters of very fine beef, a barrel or two of flour, some buckets of wine, sugar, clothing, shoes, etc. All this for about twenty men!”

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