Goldsboro: Union Accounts
In Goldsboro, Sherman controlled the railroads – thus supplies – from coastal North Carolina. With the new supply line, generals called off the liberal foraging that had been standard for much of the march since Georgia. General Oliver Howard of the Union announced the new restrictive policy on foraging in Special Field Orders No. 69, on March 23. In the order, “The present foraging system is hereby abolished” and left the more conservative practice of foraging to “regiments or brigades, with officers present.” Through this order, Howard also enforced restrictions on which persons could be mounted , effectively taking horses away from the bummers that had foraged excessively and wreaked havoc on the Confederate home front. (Item 386) Although the orders curtailed the bummers’ work Sherman emphasized the good deeds of these men in a conference with General Ulysses Grant and President Abraham Lincoln on March 27, 1865 in City Point, Virginia. When asked what would stop the South from relaying railroads, Sherman stated “my ‘bummers’ don’t do things by halves. Every rail, after having been placed over a hot fire, has been twisted . . . and they can never be used again.” President Lincoln took pleasure in such tales of the bummers, who played significant roles in bringing war to the South’s home front. (Item 393)
Although Sherman no longer used the bummers as he once had, he still ordered acts to destroy southern property in an attempt to put down the rebellion. Union soldiers killed hundreds of horses before they left Goldsboro. Citizens that lived in the small town of Moseley Hall, just outside of Goldsboro, requested horses and mules to help work land before Sherman advanced towards Raleigh. Sherman knew he could not “supply horses or to encourage peaceful industry in North Carolina until the State shall perform some public act showing that . . . the war is over.” Sherman still sympathized “with the distress of families, but cannot undertake to extend relief to individuals.” (Item 166) To Sherman it was vital to take away economic means, like the cotton factories in Fayetteville and animals for farming, to end the war. However, Sherman did place some limits on this type of work. Union officials convicted James Preble, a soldier of the 12th New York Cavalry, of rape in Goldsboro and sentenced him to death. A correspondent of the New York Tribune reported that the execution occurred to “prove . . . a warning to evil disposes and reckless men, and they will know acts of barbarity will not be tolerated.” (Item 396) But as Joseph Glatthaar stated in The March to the Sea and Beyond (1985), “no one in Sherman’s army was ever brought to trial for unauthorized foraging.” (Glatthaar 1985, 129) Acts of “barbarity,” as the New York Tribune writer put it, only extended to serious offenses like murder and rape, and not the excessive pillaging of food or personal possessions like that done by those under Sherman’s command.
Although Sherman and his men reached Goldsboro after battles in Averasboro and Bentonville, generals cut back practices like foraging, as they saw necessary. Key elements, such as the destroying of economic resources, still occurred to defeat North Carolina’s ability to fight a war. Just before Sherman left for Raleigh, he wrote to his wife Ellen on April 9, 1865. “Poor North Carolina will have a hard time, for we sweep the country like a swarm of locusts . . . . but now they realize that war means something else than vain glory and boasting.” (Item 398)