Thursday, July 5, 2012

General Orders No. 59

On July 16, 1864, Union Major General Stephen Gano Burbridge issued General Orders No. 59 from the headquarters of the District of Kentucky in Lexington. The order was an attempt to curb the violent guerrilla actions that the Commonwealth had been experiencing. In reality, its issuance and prosecution may have caused more problems than it cured. It read:

"The rapid increase in this district of the lawless bands of armed men engaged in interrupting railroad and telegraphic communications, plundering and murdering peaceful Union Citizens, destroying the mails, &c., calls for the adoption of stringent measures on the part of the military authorities for their suppression. Therefore, all guerrillas, armed prowlers, by whatever name they may be known, and rebel sympathizers are hereby admonished that in future stern retaliatory measures will be adopted and strictly enforced, whenever the lives or property of peaceful citizens are jeopardized by the lawless acts of such men. Rebel sympathizers living within five miles of any scene of outrage committed by armed men, not recognized as public enemies by the rules and usages of war, will be arrested and sent beyond the limits of the United States, in accordance wit instructions from the major-general commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi. So much of the property of rebel sympathizers as may be necessary to indemnify the Government or loyal citizens for losses incurred by the acts of such lawless men will be seized and appropriated for this purpose. Whenever an unarmed Union citizen is murdered four guerrillas will be selected from the prisoners in the hands of the military authorities and publicly shot to death in the most convenient place near the scene of outrage."

Burbridge's order was carried out on more than one occasion as will be shown in future posts. The order, when enacted, was viewed by conservative Kentuckians as overbearing and unnecessary hard-handedness on the part of the federal government and Burbridge, a native Kentuckian. Along with Lincoln administration measures such as the Emancipation Proclamation, enlistment of African American Union soldiers and other crack downs like General Orders 59, white Kentuckians slid further and further away from their once beloved sense of Unionism.

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