On April 24, 1863—-just three months after the cruel and retaliatory Emancipation Proclamation–Lincoln issued an order drafted by Columbia University law professor Francis Lieber that codified the generally accepted universal standards of warfare, particularly as it related to the lives and property of civilians. Among the actions it deemed to be criminal and prohibited were the “wanton devastation of a district,” “infliction of suffering” on civilians, “murder of private citizens,” “unnecessary or revengeful destruction of life,” and “all wanton violence…all robbery, all pillage or sacking…all rape, wounding, maiming, or killing.”
It is true that it also provided, in its articles 14 and 15, a slippery provision called “military necessity,” under which “destruction…of armed enemies” and of “other persons whose destruction is incidentally unavoidable” was completely permissible, and allowed “the appropriation of whatever an enemy’s country affords” by the conquering army. But it is clear that the overall intent of the Code was to rein in atrocities by the Union Army, particularly toward civilians.
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