I sent the following reply to General McPherson regarding complaints from rebel supporters at Deer Creek:
TO JAMES B. MCPHERSON
Headquarters Fifteenth Army Corps, Camp on Big Black
September 1, 1863.
Major General J. B. McPherson
Commanding Seventeenth Army Corps, Vicksburg:
Yours of August 31 is received. I will strengthen my picket (now two regiments) at Oak Ridge by two more regiments and a battery tomorrow, and will order a picket of four companies to be sent to the valley road east of Haynes’ Bluff. Our telegraph at this moment is interrupted, and as soon as it operates I will dispatch to you the same assurance.
The negroes at Blake’s plantation have been for some time a nuisance. I think it would be advisable for you to send up and bring them all into Vicksburg, the available men to work on the forts and the women and children to be sent to Island No. 10. It is represented to me that there is an officer there who does not attempt to control or restrain them, for they wander all about the country doing no good, but infinite mischief. The negroes naturally cluster about the old negro inmates of abandoned plantations and put on the majestic air of soldiers. I have had occasion to punish some of these already.
I have read with pain the narrative of James Pearce, Thomas H. Hill, and others, of Deer Creek. When citizens represent to you that General Sherman sends negroes out to kill and plunder you may safely assure them that it is not only false, but the very reverse of my practice. On the contrary, I have done more than most persons to restrain the violence and passion of the negro. But I do say, and have said to these very planters, both before they would have war and since, that by breaking up the only earthly power that could restrain the negroes—by openly rebelling against the Government of the United States— they prepared the way for those very acts against which they now appeal to us to shield them.
I know the parties named and have been on their plantations, and with the exception of Mr. Fore, who is simply one who acts either way, the others were extreme secessionists & rebels. The Hills were notoriously so. We cannot undertake to guard them in their isolated swamps, and all we are bound to do in the name and cause of humanity is to invite them into our lines for personal safety and to leave their property to revert to a state of nature for the use of alligators and negroes. This is not our act, but the natural immediate, and necessary result of their own conduct.
It is in this very Deer Creek country that are nursed and harbored the banditti who fired on our boats at Greenville Point, and of all the people of this region they, least of all, are entitled to the generous protection of any government, because they profess not to have done this with their own hands. They claim to be non-combatants, but I was there on Hill’s and Fore’s plantations last winter and know they were not our friends. They fled from us, gave us no information, but, on the contrary, aided Ferguson in his efforts to entrap the gunboats. I deplore the calamity that has now overtaken them, but repeat it is the natural fruit of their own conduct.
With great respect,
W. T. Sherman, Major-General, Commanding