Digital Library of Georgia > Civil Unrest in Camilla, Georgia, 1868

Letter: [Headquarters, Department of the South, Atlanta, Georgia] to Governor [Rufus B. Bullock], Atlanta, Georgia, [1868 Oct. 2]

author: Meade, George Gordon, 1815-1872
date: [October 2, 1868]
extent: 4p
summary: George Gordon Meade, commander of the Department of the South's Third Military District in Georgia writes to Georgia Governor Rufus B. Bullock. This letter is written sometime after Meade received, on October 2, 1868, an investigative report by Captain William Mills on the Septmeber 19 outbreak of violence between freedmen together with Republicans who attempted to hold a political rally in Camilla, Georgia, and the white townspeople who opposed them; yet Meade must have written this before writing a seperate letter to Commanding General U. S. [Grant], dated October 3, 1868, in which he enclosed both this letter to Bullock and Captain Mills' report. In this letter to Bullock, Meade encloses Mills report, the affidavits Mills collected, and remarks on the conclusions he has drawn from these materials as to the biggest contributing factors to the incident in Camilla. The first major factor Meade cites is the negligence of Republican candidate William Pierce and Republican elector John Murphy in not advising the freedmen to comply with the Sheriff Mumford Poore's request of them to leave their arms outside of town, while the second major factor Meade cites is the Sheriff himself, as facilitator of the ensuing violence. In closing, Meade justifies the absence of troops at Camilla and explains to Bullock his difficult position in deployment of troops in these matters, as according to departmental instructions he must only intervene at the behest of local civil authorities. He assures Bullock that if such authorities are prevented from acting, that he is prepared to send troops.
repository: DeSoto Trail Regional Library (Camilla, Ga.)
collection: Civil Unrest in Camilla, Georgia, 1868

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Enclosed you will find a printed copy of the instructions sent to me from the General-in-chief, for my guidance, in determining when and how, the forces under my command may be used "to preserve the peace" - You will perceive they require not only that the call must be made by some marshal or Sheriff, but that this call must be made in accordance with law, and that the application with the facts in the case, should be sent if practicable to the President of the United States before action is taken - and action can only be[unclear text: taken by a] subordinate officer, on an emergency justifying [illegible text] he will be held to a strict accountability.

The laws referred to in these letters of instruction, having been enacted at periods, when the present anomalous condition of affairs, at this time existing in the several states of this Military Department - was never anticipated; - they do not provide that prompt and summary action - which in cases of riot and unpremeditated disorders, is so necessary for its immediate suppression - and they throw directly and entirely on the Marshal or Sheriff, the duty of initiating the process by which military aid can be given "to preserve the peace"-as much latitude may be given to this expression "preserving the peace," and to guard against unnecessary or improper and illegal use of the United States troops - subordinate officers are required in all cases to obtain if practicable from their superiors the authority to act when called on.

These remarks are said to explain to you my course in the recent occurrence at Camilla in this State - The moment I received intelligence [unclear text: of the disorders occuring there] I directed troops to be held in readiness [unclear text: to meet any call] from the properly constituted authorities [unclear text: and at that same] time dispatched an intelligent [unclear text: officer] whose judgment I have implicit confidence [illegible text] investigation and report to me the facts [illegible text] report of that officer Captain William Mills 16th Infantry with accompanying affidavits is herewith forwarded for your consideration, and such action as you may deem proper; - making the following remarks; which may be deemed pertinent in view of the delicate duty devolving on me, and my further action in similar cases. -

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I. I consider the conduct of Messrs. Pierce and Murphy in the highest degree reprehensible if not subjecting them to an action at law. Whilst I raise the question as to whether your proclamation, referred to such assemblages as met together in Camilla - whilst I acknowledge the constitutional right of every citizen to bear arms for a peaceable purpose - I must insist that when a civil officer charged with the preservation of the peace - commands or requests citizens to put away arms - on the ground, that unless they do so he must inform them, that it is the duty of every good citizen to submit to the mandate of the law officer, whether he is acting from right or wrong motives, or whether his command is strictly and technically legal or not - it is evident, that in the existing condition of the public mind - if individual citizens are determined, to put their construction on laws and maintain them by force of arms - that collision riot and bloodshed are inevitable - Therefore in my judgment, it was the duty of Messrs. Pierce and Murphy as the principal parties - to have counselled [counseled] and urged compliance with the mandate of the Sheriff and held him responsible afterwards for any assumed authority he may have exercised. The strongest evidence of this, is to be found in the report of Capt. Mills, in which he states, that after the riot commenced, it ended in a few minutes, by the fleeing of the negroes who composed the mass of the meeting, having their arms were utterly useless and might just as well have been left, for all the ability it [unclear text: gave them] to maintain their constitutional rights.

II. The [illegible text] Sheriff in returning to Camilla and [illegible text] to meet a riot he seemed determined [illegible text] seem to indicate he had more[illegible text] break the peace on the part of [illegible text] holding the meeting, and [illegible text] as to subject him to the grave [illegible text] the guard of the law, and his duty he was responsible for the wanton and unnecessary destruction of life which subsequently ensued - For there is no evidence that after all resistance was over, and the negroes were flying in terror, that the Sheriff made any effort to control his posse, and prevent them from continuing till night-fall and for miles from town, wounding and killing the fugitives - This is a grave and

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serious charge - almost too terrible to believe - and I should be most glad to resist the conclusions which have forced me to believing, there is so much prima-facie evidence as not only to warrant but to demand - that such legal action, as the code of the State authorizes, should be immediately taken and an investigation according to the forms of law be had, and all guilty parties whether Sheriff - coroner or citizens should be either acquitted, or if found guilty punished with the severest penalties the statutes admit - and now I come to the material part of this communication - There were no troops at Camilla, not only because [unclear text: no reason] for their use was anticipated but because the place is so remote and obscure, that had I been distributing troops - they would never have been sent nearer than Albany, some thirty miles distant - but supposing troops had been present - you .can readily perceive how embarrassing would be the duty of the officer in command - unless he was better posted up in local matters than it is reasonable to believe he could - for in this case, the testimony would seem to point to the civil officer, whom he is instructed to obey, as the very one who is apparently most guilty - I refer to this because I am repeatedly applied to to scatter and distribute the troops, to which I have replied, that I have not the force to occupy every village in the State, that the condition under which the troops can act, requires the soundest discretion and good judgment, which all subordinate officers do not possess - and that I deem it better to hold the troops ready in masses, to intervene in large bodies - when the proper time comes, and if the riot at Camilla had continued or have [unclear text: been followed] by retaliation on the part of the colored people once [unclear text: I would have] have sent sufficient troops [illegible text] I beg now to say to you, that [unclear text: you must] investigate this matter and punish [unclear text: [the offending parties. If ]] you report to me any difficulty, in executing [unclear text: justice in the] Courts, or in serving the processes of Sheriff and [unclear text: I am] prepared to sustain the law officers of the State, to the fullest extent of the military power under my command - I have no authority to act independent of the civil authorities, and the laws must be adhered to, wherever they are defined - but if in executing these laws - you or your subordinate officers meet with resistance, more than you can overcome - I am prepared on being so

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advised - to use all my power to sustain you.

Perhaps the announcement of this fact may remove some delusions, and have the effect to prevent in future - occurrences like the one at Camilla - an affair I trust there will be no delay in investigating, and punishing the guilty -and to aid the action of any officer charged with this investigation, is the object of sending to you Captain Mills' report and accompanying documents.

Very respectfully
Your obedient Servant
Geo. G. Meade
Major-General U.S.A. Official
R C Drum
Asst Adj't Gen [Assistant Adjunct General]

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