Thanks for reading and commenting about my blog postings. My goal is to accurately document the genealogy of my family and allied families living in Chesterfield County, SC and Anson County, NC. If you have a Chesterfield County surname you are interested in please send me an e-mail.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Bummers in the County – Private James M. Miller Executed

The history of a county or state is integral to the research of your family. If we don’t know the history of an area; how can we adequately research and make conclusive and informative decisions.

Early March 1865 was a traumatic time in the lives of the residents of Chesterfield County, South Carolina. Unfortunately, very little research has been done to document what transpired in Chesterfield and surrounding counties during this time.

We know the Civil War was winding down; but to the local residents it wasn't so apparent. Union General’s Sherman and Kilpatrick were on their march to and through the Carolina. I’m sure news of the destruction and out-right killing of residents in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and especially Atlanta had reached the local residents. Advance action was being taken by local residents to hide their valuables and food.

Ahead of this massive Union Army was a group of men who roamed, ransacked, took and destroyed just because they could; these men were known as foragers or “bummers.”[1] Their sole purpose was to provide the necessary food, animals and accessories necessary to feed and clothed the Union Army.

While fleeing the Union Army at Columbia, SC; Confederate General James Chestnut came upon a house where a Mother and young daughter were along with no men in sight. He advised them to flee. They refused resulting in the rape and murder of the young girl and the Mother later found in an “insane” state. The mother said that seven Yankee soldier had tied her up and raped her daughter.

This willful destruction, killing and plundering angered the residents and the Rebel Army. The Confederate tracked the seven and killed them.

On February 22, shortly before reaching Chesterfield County, 18 Union soldiers were found dead with a sign stating “Death to all foragers” left on their bodies.

This prompted General William T. Sherman to send letters to Major-General Howard (Union) and General Wade Hampton (Confederate).

Letter to Major- General Howard (Union): [2]

Letter to General Wade Hampton (Confederate).[3]

To which GENERAL WADE HAMPTON sent the following response:[4]

In the Field, Feb. 27, 1865.
Maj. Gen. W.T. Sherman, U.S. Army:
GENERAL: Your communication of the 24th instant reached me today. In it you state that it has been officially reported that your foraging parties are "murdered" after capture. You go on to say that you have "ordered a similar number of prisoners in our hands to be disposed of in like manner", that is to say, you have ordered a number of Confederate soldiers to be "murdered." You characterize your order in proper terms, for the public voice, even in your own country, where it seldom dares to express itself in vindication of truth, honor, or justice, will surely agree with you in pronouncing you guilty of murder if you order it carried out. Before dismissing this portion of your letter, I beg to assure you that for every soldier of mine "murdered" by you, I shall have executed at once two of yours, giving in all cases preference to any officers who may be in your hands.
In reference to the statement you make regarding the death of your foragers, I have only to say that I know nothing of it; that no orders given by me authorize the killing of prisoners after capture, and that I do not believe my men killed any of yours, except under circumstances in which it was perfectly legitimate and proper that they should kill them. It is a part of the system of the thieves of whom you designate as your foragers to fire the dwellings of those citizens whom they have robbed. To check this inhuman system, which is justly execrated by every civilized nation, I have directed my men to shoot down all of your men who are caught burning houses. This order shall remain in force so long as you disgrace the profession of arms by allowing your men to destroy private dwellings.
You say that I cannot, of course, question your right to forage on the country - "It is a right as old as history." I do not sir, question this right. But there is a right older, even, than this, and one more inalienable - the right that every man has to defend his home and to protect those who are dependent on him; and from my heart I wish that every old man and boy in my country who can fire a gun would shoot down, as he would a wild beast, the men who are desolating their land, burning their homes, and insulting their women.
You are particular in defining and claiming "war rights." May I ask if you enumerate among these the rights to fire upon a defenseless city without notice; to burn that city to the ground after it had been surrendered by the inhabitants who claimed, thou in vain, that protection which is always accorded in civilized warfare to non-combatants; to fire the dwelling houses of citizens about robbing them; and to perpetrate even darker crimes than these - crimes too black to be mentioned?
You have permitted, if you have not ordered, the commission of those offenses against humanity and the rules of war; you fired into the city of Columbia without a word of warning; after its surrender by the mayor, who demanded protection to private property, you laid the whole city in ashes, leaving amidst its ruins thousands of old men and helpless women and children, who are likely to perish of starvation and exposure. Your line of march can be traced to the lurid light of burning houses, and in more than one household there is now an agony far more bitter than that of death. The Indian scalped his victim regardless of age or sex, but with all his barbarity he always respected the persons of his female captives. Your soldiers, more savage than Indian, insult those whose natural protectors are absent.
In conclusion, I have only to request that whenever you have any of my men "murdered" or "disposed of," for the terms appear to be synonymous with you, you will let me hear of it, that I may know what action to take in the matter. In the meantime, I shall hold fifty-six of your men as hostages for those whom you have ordered to be executed.
I am, yours, &c.,

So the line has been drawn – “an eye for an eye” or in the words of General William T. Sherman to Major-General Howard “ for life.”

On 2 March 1865, Headquarters, 17th Corps issued Special Order 56[5] directing the selection of one Confederate prisoner be delivered for execution (shot to death) in retaliation for the murder (beaten to death) of a Union forager named Private R. M. Woodruff of the 30th Illinois Volunteers.

          56          } Thirteen Miles From Cheraw, SC , March 2, 1865
I. In accordance with instructions from the major-general commanding the army, directing that for each one of our men murdered by the enemy a life of one of the prisoners in our hands should be taken, Maj. J.C. Marven, provost-marshal, Seventeenth Army Corps, will select from the prisoners in his charge one man and deliver him to Brig. Gen. M.F. Force, commanding Third Division, to be shot to death in retaliation for the murder of Private R.M. Woodruff, Company H., Thirtieth Illinois Volunteers, a regularly detailed forager, who was beaten to death by the enemy near Blakeney’s Bridge on about the 1st day of March 1865.
By Command of Maj. Gen. F.P. Blair:
Assistant Adjutant-General

The murder of Union Private R. M. Woodruff set in motion actions that resulted in the execution of Chesterfield County resident Private James Madison Miller on 2 March 1865.

Several stories have circulated about this incident. Burke Davis in his book “Sherman’s March” has a  somewhat different version than reported in the official records presented in the foregoing paragraphs. In Sherman March, page 104, Mr. Davis refers to the victim as Private Woodrough. On the same page he makes the following statement:

“Guards were sent to the prison corral, and the captive rebels were forced to draw lots. A soldier passed among them holding aloft a hat with several slips of paper, one of which bore a black mark. A gray-haired old man named Small drew the black-marked slip.
Chaplin Cole of the 32st Illinois prayed with the victim and led him into a ravine where he was to be shot.”

Regardless, of what the book says, there is no doubt that James Madison Miller,[6] Confederate Soldier, was killed as revenge for the killing of Private R. M. Woodruff.

Pvt James Madison Miller
Birth: Apr. 7, 1816
Chesterfield County, South Carolina, USA
Death: Mar. 2, 1865
Chesterfield County, South Carolina, USA
Methodist Minister and Guard at Florence POW Stockade during US Civil War. Was executed in retaliation for killing of a Union Soldier of the 30th Illinois by drawing at random a short lot. Brother of Major John Simpson Miller
Family links: Parents:
Michael Miller (1784 - 1874)
Frances Welsh Miller (1782 - 1852)
Francis Shehorn Blakeney Miller (1819 - 1881)*
Burial: Methodist Five Forks
Pageland, Chesterfield County, South Carolina, USA
Maintained by: Robert Miller
Originally Created by: P Fazzini
Record added: Nov 22, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 61996385

No braver man has ever died for his country than Private James Madison Miller. 

During the pavement of SC Highway 151; the remains of Private R. M. Woodruff were found, as buried in March 1865. He was re-interred on the hillside North of Beauford Baptist Church, Chesterfield County SC. [7]

Private R. M Woodruff, Co. H. 30th Illinois gave the New Year Address for The Soldiers of Sherman’s Grand Army at the close of 1864 and the start of 1865. A brochure can be found on file here. It's part of  Duke University, NC Digital collection.

In the interest of brevity I left out the transcription of several section of the Official Record (OR) and only enclosed an image. If you find them hard to read I apologize and have included shorten hyperlinks in the footnotes so that you may be able to read any of the articles cited within this posting. 

[2] United States War Department, "The War of The Rebellion: A Compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate Armies," compiled official records, Cornell University, Making of America ( : viewed and copied 10 January 2013), Gen. Sherman Letter to Major General Howard (foragers-bummers); citing Volume 47 (Part II); page 537.<>
[3] United States War Department, "The War of The Rebellion: A Compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate Armies," compiled official records, Cornell University, Making of America ( : viewed and copied 10 January 2013), Gen. Sherman Letter to Gen. Wade Hampton (bummers); citing Volume 47 (Part II); pages 596-597.<> 
[4] United States War Department, "The War of The Rebellion: A Compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate Armies," compiled official records, Cornell University, Making of America ( : viewed and copied 10 January 2013), Gen. Wade Hampton Letter to Gen. Sherman (bummers); citing Series 1, Volume 47 (Part II); page 546.  <>
[5] United States War Department, "The War of The Rebellion: A Compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate Armies," compiled official records, Cornell University, Making of America ( : viewed and copied 10 January 2013), Sherman's March through Carolinas (Special Order 56); citing Volume 47 (Part II); pages 649- 650.  < >
[6] Jim Tipton, Find A Grave, digital image,; Headstone for Pvt. James Madison Miller; (7 April 1816–2 March 1865); Memorial # 61996385; Record of the Methodist Five Forks; Pageland, Chesterfield County, South Carolina, USA; Accessed on 10 January 2013.
[7] <>
[8] My thanks to J. Pigg, Burke Davis, John G. Barrett and Cornell University for information and access that made this article possible.


  1. I never knew of this incident until reading it on your blog. Was this common during Sherman's March in the south.

    Regards, Jim
    Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

  2. Jim,

    I'm sure there were "war atrocities" committed by both side. However, in my studies and readings about Sherman's March, especially through Georgia and the Carolina's, it was atrocious. Keep in mind that Chesterfield is the "Home of Succession".

    Thanks for reading my blog and commenting.


  3. Charlie,
    This post is incredible...and your hardworking research makes it even more fabulous. Sir, my hat is off to you.

    As a Civil War buff, I'm curious, how is Chesterfield the 'Home of Succession'? Did I miss a post ?

    Your cuz,
    Elizabeth Davis Stephens

  4. Elizabeth,
    No you didn't miss a post; but, the next time you are in Chesterfield take a look at the Big Rock to the left of the OLD COURTHOUSE and read the plaque attached to the rock.


  5. Charlie, I entered a post earlier and I don't see it here. Does it need time to be online?

  6. Matt,
    I'm unable to find your first post but I do remember it and I'm sure I posted it. However, it's not in the published folder, the awaiting moderation or the spam so I'm at a loss as to what happen to it. I apologize but I do remember it.