Letter from Botts, laying “bare the tyranny of Jeff. Davis”, November 21, 1863

From the New York Times, Nov. 24, 1863:

INTERNAL WORKINGS OF THE REBELLION; Letter from John M. Botts to the Richmond Examiner. He Skillfully Lays Bare the Tyranny of Jeff. Davis. HIS SUFFERINGS AND MISFORTUNES. BOLD WORDS FROM A SOUTHERN MAN.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, NEAR BRANDY STATION, Nov. 21, 1863.

Hon. John Minor Botts:

SIR: I have been informed that previous to the recrossing of the Rappahannock by Gen. MEADE, you had prepared a letter for publication in the Richmond Press; and knowing that anything from your pen, particularly at this time, has a deep interest for the country, I would respectfully solicit a copy of the letter, on behalf of the Associated Press, for publication. Respectfully, T. BARNARD,

Correspondent of the Associated Press.

AUBURN, CULPEPPER COUNTY, VA., Sunday, Nov. 21, 1863.

DEAR SIR: Your note of to-day has been received. You have not been misinformed as to my having written a letter for publication in one of the Richmond papers, prior to the arrival of the Federal army in this vicinity, which I have reason to suppose has, before this, reached the public eye through the channel for which it was intended; I therefore inclose you a copy of the letter for the purpose indicated in your note. I am, very respectfully, yours,

JNO. M. BOTTS.

T. BARNARD, Esq., Correspondent Associated Press.

AUBURN, CULPEPPER Co., Oct. 18, 1863.

To the Editor of the Examiner:

SIR: Yours is the only paper published in Richmond, to which I could make an application with any likelihood of success, in order to set myself right before the public; and you will pardon me for saying that I am by no means confident of obtaining such a privilege at your hands, but I think I have a right to expect it, inasmuch as you have chosen to publish an extract from a letter, written by a correspondent for, and published in the New-York Herald, accompanied with some uncalled-for and ill-natured comments of your own. But I do not ask you to publish for me, without making a suitable charge, which I am more than willing to pay. I hope, therefore, you will allow me to say, that whilst I have long since foreborne to make corrections of any misrepresentations of me by the public Press yet here are some of such a nature, and calculated to beget so much prejudice in the public mind, that I do not feel that I would be acting wisely or property to let them pass unnoticed.

I am willing at all times to be held to a proper responsibility for anything I may say or do; but I am not willing to be so held for what others, who may draw upon their fancies for their facts, may choose to say for me, or of me. I have seen several statements in the Richmond papers lately copied from Northern papers calculated to excite popular feeling against me, which had no foundation in truth.

First, that I had been accosted by some Indiana Major, then engaged in a skirmish with some of the Confederate Cavalry, and on being asked which way they had gone, (which, by the way, if he was skirmishing with them, he ought to have known for himself without asking me,) I replied, “I was not at liberty to tell him, as I was on my parole,” and gratuitously added, that “I was a Union man, without any ifs or buts.” Now, whatever my opinions and position on this subject may be, it is not true that I have had any such interview. I have seen to such Major, and had no such question put to me, and have given no such answer.

Secondly — In the letter, a portion of which you have copied, I am represented by the writer as having said: “I wished the Federal Government knew half that I knew of the rebels and their resources and intentions.” I have only to say that I said no such thing, and nothing that would bear a resemblance to it; and when I read the Herald containing it. I mentioned the error to two other correspondents of that paper, and asked them to have it corrected, which they promised should be done. I see nothing in it, if I had said it, to be complained of by other parties, as it matters not what I knew of their intentions and resources, provided I did not disclose them to others. I complained of it because it made me appear in the ridiculous attitude of pre-ending to know, what every man of intelligence and reflection was obliged to show. It was preposterous in the extreme. For all know that I am not in the confidence of the Government, or the commanders of its forces, and therefore could know nothing of their intentions. And as to their resources, I profess to be profoundly ignorant, either as to what they are or where they are. What he says about my purchases in Richmond is true. For what would have cost before the war at regular market prices $64 15, I did pay $1,368 03 for. But this was disclosing no important State secret, inasmuch as you furnish them with the prices current once or twice a week; and these current prices are as well known in New-York as they are to me. But I did not tell it with any expectation that it was to get into the newspapers; for when I mentioned it I did not know to whom I was addressing myself. The gentleman came, as many others did, to pay his respects, and it was not until [???]e was going away that he handed me his card, by which I ascertained that he was an army correspondent of the New-York Herald. I incidentally mentioned the fact in speaking of the great scarcity of and high prices for every thing. To this part of his letter, therefore, I made no objection.

But in your comments on this letter, you say: “Mr. BOTTS came to Richmond on quite a different errand than on a marketing expedition. He came to draw some twelve or fifteen thousand dollars of the Government which he delights to abuse and affects so much to despise. He abhors the Government but loves its money.” In the first place let me say that whatever I may think of the Government, yet I have never felt myself entirely at liberty in this land of freedom to say half as much against its administration as I have read in your own editorial columns; but if I have never made professions of devotion to the Government, I have never ceased to feel a warm interest in the welfare of the people of Virginia, with whose prosperity and freedom my own are entirely identified; and I will take occasion to say here, what I said to Gen. MEADE, and what I have said to all, that my earnest prayer is, that this revolution may result in whatever may contribute most to the permanent peace, happiness, prosperity and freedom of the people of Virginia. These are the blessings of a good Government. This is what I suppose is desired and aimed at by all, unless the selfish politicians and the corrupt speculators in and out of the army may constitute an exception. They care not under what sort of Government they live, provided they fill the high places and have their pockets well lined. We may differ possibly, and perhaps honestly, as to the best means of attaining these desirable ends; if it is by the success of the revolution, then I pray God the revolution may succeed; but if by a restoration of the Union, then I hope the Union may be restored. What I want is a Government that has the will and the power to protect my person and my property against all abuses; and that I would prefer living as I did before the war to living as I have done since the war, is beyond all question; and I would be a madman or a fool if I did not, and a knave or a hypocrite if I were to pretend otherwise.

Secondly — I hope I committed no unpardonable offence if I did go to Richmond to collect, or by to collect, some twelve or fifteen hundred dollars, for which I furnished supplies, or rather for which supplies were taken from me for the use of the Confederate army, all of which were certified to, as being one by the commanders of regiments or by Quartermasters, but which were not paid, because he accounts were not made out in the precise form required, at what you have called the “Red Tape and circumlocution offices,” which accounts are still due and unpaid, and, I hear, are likely to remain so.

Finally, it has been announced that I have been arrested and sent to Richmond, but those who made the arrest, and those who made the announcement, have taken good care not to mention the cause of the arrest, thereby leaving the public to infer that I had committed some grave offence against the Government which you say I so much abhor. God knows it, and its agents have given me no great reason to worship it.

Let us see how the account stands. On my part I have done nothing from first to last of which this Government can complain, unless it be that I have not become democratized, and have made no concessions to Democracy, and have none to make hereafter; and because I have not chosen to follow blindly wherever Democracy might choose to lead.

On the other hand, of what have I to complain, First — The legislative power of the Government has been especially directed against me, while I was leading the most retired and secluded life, as was clearly admitted by Mr. HENRY S. FOOTE, at the recent session of Congress, when he said he had been induced to vote for the declaration of martial law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus upon a representation of the condition of things, supposed to exist in the neighborhood of the City of Richmond, but which turned out to [???]eent[???]rel[???] groundless. Secondly — The power of the Executive branch of the Government has been exercised against me, when under this detestable, unwritten, unknow code called martial law. Upon no charge preferred before the Court of inquiry, they had me arrested in my bed, between the hours of midnight and daybreak, hurried me off to a dirty, filthy negro [???]a[???], where I was kept in solitary confinement for eight weeks, when, with all the vigilance and research of their numerous detectives, they could find nothing upon which to hinge a charge; and now comes a second arrest without a charge, whilst the army itself has been turned loose upon me to destroy my property by design and by order of officers in high command, which I can establish if I can procure their arrest and trial by Court-martial; under which order my yard, garden and cornfields have been ruthlessly invaded, the fencing of each torn down to the ground, and all converted into a general camp-ground, camp files bull, and horses turned into each by the Fourth Virginia cavalry, under command of Capt. RANDOLPH, and when Dr. KIDWELL (with whom I had been until 10 o’clock picking up and nursing the wounded men of both parties, more than twenty of whom were brought to my house,) remonstrated with them, they said it was wrong and should not have done it; but they were ordered to destroy “whatever they d — n pleased.” And upon this being repeated by Dr. K. to Capt. RANDOLPH he neither affirmed nor denied that such orders had been given. From which scenes of violence, together with the effects produced by my arrest on the next day, one of my daughters has been ill of nervous typhoid fever ever since; and not only has my fencing been torn down and destroyed in every direction, but some twenty-five or thirty of my best hogs have been shot down, and I have not been left one ear of my entire crop of corn, all of which could not be used was carried off or destroyed. And I now challenge any and every man of the Southern Confederacy to come forward with any charge that can be made against me for anything said or done, for which that Government or its army can justly complain. And but for the protection now afforded me by a guard from the headquarters of Gen. R.E. LEE, none can tell to what condition I should have been reduced. Have I then, Mr. Editor, think you, had much reason for attachment or devotion to a Government by which I have been thus treated. You complain of the treatment Mr. VALLANDIGHAM has received at the hands of his Government. He made many violent speeches, in which he took active and strong grounds against his Government, and for this he was sent amongst his friends, as they supposed. But I have done nothing, taken no part, but maintained firmly and consistently, as I shall continue to do, my own private opinions, and the convictions of my best judgment, which have not been controlled by any considerations of selfishness, ambition, or fear, as I wrote the Secretary of War, whilst I was confined in MCDANIEL’s negro jail, in the Spring of 1862; and because I cannot surrender these convictions, am I thus to be oppressed and persecuted by the Government and its army? I have no better vindication for having withheld my approval of the war, than is to be found in the facts that there is not one of those who aided in bringing it on, that would do it if with their present experience it had to be gone over again, or if they could have foreseen what has followed, all of which I did foresee and foretell, and if any man, with brains in his head and a heart in his bosom, says he would, then I say flatly, I don’t believe him.

But to come back to my second arrest by Gen. J.E.B. STUART, on Monday morning, the 12th inst., following the night of the ruthless and heartless destruction of my property, Gen. STUART’s Provost-Marshal, rode up with a guard to my house with a warrant, of which the following is a copy:

HEADQUARTERS CAVALRY CORPS, Oct. 12, 1863.

Lieut. RYALIS: You will arrest JOHN MINOR BOTTS, and send him to Richmond. Charges will be forwarded from there headquarters as soon as practicable. Don’t allow him to annoy Gen. LEE, but keep him as a prisoner of State. Let me know how many prisoners.

By command of Maj.-Gen. J.E.B. STUART.

A.R. VENABLE, Major and Adjutant.

Upon this warrant, containing no charge, I was arrested about 10 1/2 o’clock on Monday morning, carried under guard to Culpepper Court-house, kept there until 5 o’clock, and then discharged on the ground that there was no charge against me. But I have been semi-officially informed from two sources, either of which would be regarded as authentic, that the sole ground of my arrest was that I had entertained Gen. MEADE and other Federal officers at my table; and if it was not that it was upon some other pretext equally frivolous and contemptible, which I hereby challenge Gen. STUART to lay before the public, and if it be any offence against the peace and dignity of Gen. STUART or of the Confederate Government that I should have entertained Federal officers at my table, which would justify my arrest, then Major-Gen. STUART has signally failed in the discharge of his duty to the peace and dignity of his Government, and to the peace and dignity of the aforesaid Maj.-Gen. STUART, by not bringing me to trial for this high crime and misdemeanor — for although it is not true that Gen. MEADE look his dinner at my table, I hereby make it known to all whom it may concern that I invited him to do so, and deeply regretted that his constant engagements prevented his acceptance of the invitation, I moreover further proclaim that if he should return to this vicinity, (which I do not at all anticipate,) I shall in all probability subject myself to another arrest by a rebellion of the offence, without consulting Gen. STUART’s pleasure on the subject.

The truth is I have entertained freely and hospitably the officers and gentlemen of both armies whose acquaintance I have enjoyed, and shall continue to do so, so long as I am master of my own house, and so long as they treat me with kindness and civility, let it offend whom it may; provided the means are left me with which to entertain them, and unless, in the meant me, I shall be prohibited by law, or by some higher authority than that of Gen. STUART.

In fact, I have met with no officer in the Confederate army, and with few privates with whom I was acquainted, from Gen. ROBERT E. LEE down, with the exemption of Gen. STUART, that I have not invited to my house — nearly all of whom have partaken of my hospitality — whilst hundreds of half-famished soldiers have been furnished with meals, for which I have never charged the first dime, whilst they were in the habit of paving, as they said themselves, to brawling Secessionists from two to three dollars a meal; but this furnished no ground of complaint with any gentleman of the Northern army, many of whom expressed their surprise and gratification on hearing that they had visited me thus freely and familiarly.

But no sooner was I arrested than the whole atmosphere was filled with rumors to my disadvantage and prejudice, among the rest that I had been caught in the National lines on the day of the fight with arms in my hands to be used against the Confederate Government.

The circumstances which gave rise to this rumor are as follows: As a portion of the Federal cavalry passed my house, about 2 o’clock on Sunday, my neighbor, Mr. BRADFORD, sent me a note, saying he had been arrested, and was then in the custody of the Federal officers, and asked me to ride over to Brandy Station, to meet him, which I did. On my return I passed Gen. LOMAX’s brigade, and when half their column had passed me, and was between me and the Federals, and in the presence of the other half, I met young SLAUGHTER, the son of Dr. SLAUGHTER, of Culpepper Court-house, who had a gun and knapsack in his hand, with which incumbrance he could not control his horse, and he asked me to take it with me to my house and keep it until he called for it. At great inconvenience I took it, and this act of kindness and accommodation to Mr. SLAUGHTER was tortured into my bearing arms against the South; though Gen. STUART himself know what had carried me to Brandy, for he had seen a letter from me to Mrs. BRADFORD, telling her of the arrest of her husband, and of my having been sent for to meet him at Brandy Station.

However, these rumors, publications and arrest have had their desired effect, as they have led to the most wanton, wicked and savage destruction of my property, such as I have already mentioned, and excited the prejudice of the army, and possibly of misled citizens, against me. But I hope to outlive it all, whilst the authors of such vandalism will be held to a just accountability at the hands of a military commander whose high moral, intellectual and military qualities are justly esteemed by the whole country, and by none more highly than myself; and, if not by him, then by a still higher military authority, to wit, the War Department; and, if not there, then by the civil tribunals of the country; and if not there, then by a just, discriminating and indignant public judgment.

And now let me inquire, has martial law been declared again? And if not — when, where, how, and from whom did Gen. STUART derive the authority to arrest me, or any other citizen, for any offence whatever, and retain me as a prisoner of State? If any charge was to be preferred against me for a civil offence, where were the civil authorities? And why was not complaint lodged with them upon affidavit, as the law requires? How came I, a private, peaceable and quiet citizen, subject to the military authority of Gen. STUART? And why was I not to be allowed, if I thought proper to appear to his superior in command, Gen. LEE, against this flagrant usurpation of power and most inexcusable instance of false imprisonment?

If I mistake not, Congress, by an express vote, refused to grant these high prerogatives of dictatorial power to Mr. DAVIS; how is it, then, that Gen. STUART undertakes first to establish a martial law for himself, and then virtually to suspend the writ of habeas corpus by a denial of my right to appeal to his superior in command?

If such power can be exercised by Gen. STUART with impunity, with whom and where does the power stop? To how low a grade of military authority does it descend? And I may further ask, why, of all the gentlemen in and around the Courthouse who entertained Federal officers, was I alone to be selected for the exercise of this military power, for this indignity and outrage? These are all questions or grave interest to the liberty of every citizen, that cannot and shall not be slurred over, if there is any justice in the military department of this Government, or independence to be found in the judiciary of this State.

Hither to I have been silent as to the wrongs, injuries and indignities that have been heaped upon me; but I am not a spa[???]el, to lie down and c[???]ou[???]h at the bidding of any master, nor to lick the hand that smites me, nor am I Christian enough, when one cheek is slapped, to turn the other; and if I am thus to be selected as a particular object of persecution and can find no protection from the law then will I protect myself. This I cannot do against the Government, or against the army; but I can and will do it, when the law, military and civil, both fail me, against any one man that this Confederacy can boast.

When I purchased my present home, it was to seek retirement and obscurity, to get out of the way of the world and to follow for the balance of my life the peaceful pursuits of agriculture; there was then no army here, nor did I suppose there would be one. I disturbed nobody, went nowhere, except among kind and friendly neighbors with whom it has been my good fortune to secure as large a share of respect and esteem as any one who has ever lived in the country, and in this condition of things it was that in imitation of the Confederate Government, “All I asked was to be let alone.”

But what is the liberty of any citizen worth if a military Commander can, in the exercise of a despotic Power, or a weak and imbecile discretion, or in a fit of spleen toward one who has offended, by reporting him for official misconduct, in which eight other gentlemen united, drag that citizen from the bosom of his family, heap upon him the indignity and wrong of having him arrested and conducted through the streets of a crowded village under guard, keep him in that condition long enough for all sorts of idle and malicious rumors to be circulated, and send over the telegraphic wires respecting him, and order his discharge upon the ground that there was nothing to be alleged against him.

And now, Mr. Editor, in conclusion, let me say that the Press may continue to misrepresent and abuse me, I may be arrested and thrown into a dungeon, my fencing may be torn down and destroyed, my crops may be laid waste and carried off, my stock may be stolen or shot down under my own eye; my house may be burned over my own head, as has been threatened; but I cannot, for all that, be induced to swerve a hair’s breadth from the line of conduct that my own judgment and conscience may dictate — which is to take no lot, part or share in the responsibility that rests upon those who have brought this whirlpool of desolation and ruin upon my unfortunate country. Nor shall I depart from the position I have taken, of doing nothing that can justly subject me to outrage, animadversion or rebuke. But if to adhere firmly and consistently to the opinions and principles that I have maintained for thirty years, and if to prefer living as I did before the war to living as I have done since the war, makes me a traitor, then a traitor’s life let me live or a traitor’s death let me die. I am respectfully yours,

JOHN M. BOTTS.

P.S. — Since the above was written a copy of the Examiner has reached me containing the following announcement:

“The battle took place on the farm of JOHN MINOR BOTTS. * * * * * * * We may here remark that the property on the farm of this extraordinary individual, of whom the Confederate States stand in such fear, had been religiously respected by the Yankees; whereas the country around was little better than a wilderness, his fence and crops were untouched. But that night made a change in its condition. Three thousand Confederate cavalry bivouacked there after the battle, and fed their horses in his cornfield. The next morning there were very few fence rails and very little corn left. The men could be heard to say while piling high their fires, Pile on, boys; they are nothing but a — a old Union rails.”

I am glad to avail in myself of the testimony of this “leaky vessel,” who fully confirms what I have said above, but although he does not state what is true in regard to the general destruction of property in the neighborhood, for it gives me great pleasure to say that a guard was furnished to every family that asked for it, all of whose property was amply protected, as every one in the neighborhood will testify; yet he certainly states what is true in regard to the general destruction of my property — and I must say that the achievement of three thousand cavalry conquering one man and a corn-field, is one of which, in the future, they can take no great pride, when their prejudices and passions shall have subsided.

Another article has also appeared in the Dispatch, recommending my imprisonment or banishment, which is altogether unworthy of notice, I will only say that whatever other difficulties I may labor under, I do not esteem it a misfortune that I have no soldiers at my command to turn loose upon any citizen, nor aids at my elbow to bring them into discredit with the people. Thank God, when there is a necessity for it, I can do my own fighting.

J.M.B.

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