I wrote for The Herald an account of the battle, which I directed to a friend at Cairo, and placed in the mail on board the head-quarters’ boat. The day after mailing my letter, I learned it was being read at General Sherman’s head-quarters. The General afterward told me that his mail-agent, Colonel Markland, took my letter, among others, from the mail, with his full assent, though without his order.
I proceeded to rewrite my account, determined not to trust again to the head-quarters’ mail. When I was about ready to depart, I received the letter which had been stolen, bearing evident marks of repeated perusal. Two maps which it originally contained were not returned. I proceeded to Cairo as the bearer of my own dispatches.
On my return to Milliken’s Bend, two weeks later, I experienced a new sensation. After two interviews with the indignant general, I received a tender of hospitalities from the provost-marshal of the Army of the Tennessee. The tender was made in such form as left no opportunity for declining it. A few days after my arrest, I was honored by a trial before a military court, consisting of a brigadier-general, four colonels, and two majors. General Sherman had made the following charges against me:—
First.—“Giving information to the enemy.”
Second.—“Being a spy.”
Third.—“Disobedience of orders.”
The first and second charges were based on my published letter. The third declared that I accompanied the expedition without proper authority, and published a letter without official sanction. These were my alleged offenses.
My court had a protracted session. It decided there was nothing in my letter which violated the provisions of the order regulating war correspondence for the Press. It declared me innocent of the first and second charges. It could see nothing criminal in the manner of my accompanying the expedition.
But I was guilty of something. There was a “General Order, Number 67,” issued in 1861, of whose existence neither myself nor, as far as I could ascertain, any other journalist, was aware. It provided that no person should write, print, or cause to be printed “any information respecting military movements, without the authority and sanction of the general in command.”
Here was the rock on which I split. I had written a letter respecting military movements, and caused it to be printed, “without the sanction of the general in command.” Correspondents everywhere had done the same thing, and continued to do it till the end of the war. “Order Number 67” was as obsolete as the laws of the Medes and Persians, save on that single occasion. Dispatches by telegraph passed under the eye of a Government censor, but I never heard of an instance wherein a letter transmitted by mail received any official sanction.
My court was composed of officers from General Sherman’s command, and was carefully watched by that distinguished military chieftain, throughout its whole sitting. It wavered in deciding upon the proper “punishment” for my offense. Should it banish me from that spot, or should I receive an official censure? It concluded to send me outside the limits of the Army of the Tennessee.