Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“It was a good trick.”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on October 3, 2013

As Union forces gradually moved deeper into Confederate territory, they increasingly had to adjust to the reality that they were in among a civilian population that remained loyal to Richmond. In his memoirs, Grant described his experience of this at Memphis in mid-1862:


My occupation of Memphis as district headquarters did not last long. The period, however, was marked by a few incidents which were novel to me. Up to that time I had not occupied any place in the South where the citizens were at home in any great numbers. Dover was within the fortifications at Fort Donelson, and, as far as I remember, every citizen was gone. There were no people living at Pittsburg Landing [Shiloh], and but very few at Corinth. Memphis, however, was a populous city, and there were many of the citizens remaining there who were not only thoroughly impressed with the justice of their cause, but who thought that even the “Yankee soldiery” must entertain the same views if they could only be induced to make an honest confession.


Such considerations were compounded by the fact that, very often, large Confederate units were operating the same general area. A few months after Grant’s experience with the citizens of Memphis, his old friend Bill Sherman got his own lesson in the crafty ways of the enemy — though he was later able to look back on it with good humor:


When we rode to Oxford from College Hill, there happened a little circumstance which seems worthy of record. While [Confederate] General Van Dorn had his headquarters in Holly Springs, viz., in October, 1862, he was very short of the com- forts and luxuries of life, and resorted to every possible device to draw from the abundant supplies in Memphis. He had no difficulty whatever in getting spies into the town for information, but he had trouble in getting bulky supplies out through our guards, though sometimes I connived at his supplies of cigars, liquors, boots, gloves, etc., for his individual use ; but medicines and large supplies of all kinds were confiscated, if attempted to be passed out.
As we rode that morning toward Oxford, I observed in a farmer’s barn-yard a wagon that looked like a city furniture-wagon with springs. We were always short of wagons, so I called the attention of the quartermaster. Colonel J. Condit Smith, saying, “There is a good wagon; go for it.” He dropped out of the retinue with an orderly, and after we had ridden a mile or so he overtook us, and I asked him, “What luck ?” He answered, “All right ; I have secured that wagon, and I also got another,” and explained that he had gone to the farmer’s house to inquire about the furniture-wagon, when the farmer said it did not belong to him, but to some party in Memphis, adding that in his barn was another belonging to the same party. They went to the barn, and there found a handsome city hearse, with pall and plumes The farmer said they had had a big funeral out of Memphis, but when it reached his house, the coffin was found to contain a fine assortment of medicines for the use of Van Dorn’s army. Thus under the pretense of a first-class funeral, they had carried through our guards the very things we had tried to prevent. It was a good trick, but diminished our respect for such pageants afterward.





One Response

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  1. H. E. Parmer said, on October 5, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Thus under the pretense of a first-class funeral, they had carried through our guards the very things we had tried to prevent.

    Sounds like the opening scene in Some Like It Hot.

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