The tendency of war to make men relapse into barbarism becomes most evident when an army is living in any degree upon the enemy's country. Desolation follows in its track, and the utmost that discipline can do is to mitigate the evil. The habit of disregarding rights of property grows apace. The legitimate exercise of the rules of war is not easily distinguished from their abuse. The crops are trampled down, the fences disappear, the timber is felled for breastworks and for camp-fires, the green forage is used for the army horses and mules, barns and houses may be dismantled to build or to floor a bridge,—all this is necessary and lawful. But the pigs and the poultry also disappear, though the subsistence officers are issuing full and abundant rations to the troops; the bacon is gone from the smoke-house, the flour from the bin, the delicacies from the pantry. These things, though forbidden, are half excused by sympathy with the soldier's craving for variety of food. Yet, as the habit of measuring right by might goes on, pillage becomes wanton and arson is committed to cover the pillage. The best efforts of a provost-marshal with his guard will be useless when superior officers, and especially colonels of regiments, encourage or wink at license. The character of different commands becomes as notoriously different as that of the different men of a town. Our armies were usually free from the vagabond class of professional camp-followers that scour a European battlefield and strip the dead and the wounded. We almost never heard of criminal personal assaults upon the unarmed and defenceless; but we cannot deny that a region which had been the theatre of active war became desolate sooner or later. A vacant house was pretty sure to be burned, either by malice or by accident, until, with fences gone, the roads an impassable mire, the fields bare and cut up with innumerable wagon-tracks, no living thing to be seen but carrion birds picking the bones of dead horses and mules, Dante's "Inferno" could not furnish a more horrible and depressing picture than a countryside when war has swept over it.
The orders issued from our army headquarters in Georgia forbade soldiers from entering houses or stripping families of the necessaries of life. Most of the officers honestly tried to enforce this rule; but in an army of a hundred thousand men, a small fraction of the whole would be enough to spoil the best efforts of the rest. The people found, too, that it was not only the enemy they had to fear. The worse disciplined of their own troops and the horde of stragglers were often as severe a scourge as the enemy. Yet I believe that nowhere in the world is respect for person and property more sincere than among our own people. The evils described are those which may be said to be necessarily incident to the waging of war, and are not indications of ferocity of nature or uncommon lack of discipline.