‘Your obedient servant.’ Kilpatrick threatens to shoot Rebel prisoners, but observes the social niceties.

Some colleagues and I were recently musing over the formalisms often observed in military communications during the Civil War. Union Cavalry Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s use of “your obedient servant” to conclude this note to his Confederate counterpart would be amusing if it weren’t for the content of his communique:

In the Field, S.C., February 22, 1865.

Major-General WHEELER,
Commanding C.S. Cavalry:

GENERAL: Yesterday a lieutenant and seven men and a sergeant of a battery were taken prisoners by one of your regiments — if I am correctly informed, a Texas regiment — armed with Spencer carbines and commanded by a lieutenant-colonel. This officer and his men, after surrendering and being disarmed, were inhumanly and cowardly murdered. Nine of my cavalrymen were also found murdered yesterday, five in a barn-yard, three in an open field, and one in the road. Two had their throats cut from ear to ear. This makes in all eighteen Federal soldiers murdered yesterday by your people. Unless some satisfactory explanation be made to me before sundown, February 23, I will cause eighteen of your soldiers, now my prisoners, to be shot at that hour, and if this cowardly act be repeated, if my people when taken are not treated in all cases as prisoners of war should be, I will not only retaliate as I have already mentioned, but there shall not be a house left standing within reach of my scouting parties along my line of march, nor will I be responsible for the conduct of my soldiers, who will not only be allowed but encouraged to take a fearful revenge. I know of no other way to intimidate cowards.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brevet Major-General, Commanding Cavalry.

(Boldface mine.)

Good to know that Gen. Kilpatrick still knew how to observe the niceties in concluding a letter, in spite of the exigencies of the occasion.

(Source: The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. 47, Chap. 59, Part 1, Reports. Page 860.)

General Kilpatrick and his staff, Brandy Station, Virginia.
Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick (on porch, 2nd from left) and 3rd Division staff, Union Cavalry Corps. At winter quarters, Brandy Station, Va., Dec. 1863-April 1864. Source: Library of Congress.

ARB — 18 Sept 2020

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