Review of "Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman" Vol. II

See here for the review of volume I.

The most interesting bits of the second volume deal with the Atlanta Campaign and Sherman's March to the Sea.

The former was a series of battles between Sherman and Johnston and later Hood (after Johnston was removed for not being more aggressive – unfortunately Hood was too aggressive).

The most interesting bit of the discussion of the Atlanta Campaign, is Sherman's defense of his aggressive tactics.  He shelled the city, while it was still occupied by civilians.  Once he took the city over, he kicked out all the residents.  He then burned down most of the buildings.  Finally, he left the city, largely destroyed and uninhabited, and left to march to the sea to do the same to Savannah or Charleston (the opposition was not sure where he would go).

In justifying these decisions, Sherman wrote:

I had seen Memphis, Vicksburg, Natchez, and New Orleans, all captured from the enemy, and each at once was garrisoned by a full division of troops, if not more; so that success was actually crippling our armies in the field by detachments to guard and protect the interests of a hostile population. . .   If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity-seeking.  If they want peace, they and their relatives most stop the war. . . .

I knew that the people of the South would read in this measure two important conclusions: one, that we were in earnest; and the other, if they were sincere in their common and popular clamor "to die in the last ditch," that the opportunity would soon come.

There is an exchange of letters between General Hood and General Sherman that is worth reading in its entirety.  The sample above gives a summary of Sherman’s logic, the excerpt below gives Hood’s arguments (from one of his letters to Sherman):

You charge my country with "daring and badgering you to battle."  The truth is, we sent commissioners to you, respectfully offering a peaceful separation, before the first gun was fired on either aide.  You say we insulted your flag.  The truth is, we fired upon it, and those who fought under it, when you came to our doors upon the mission of subjugation.  You say we seized upon your forts and arsenals, and made prisoners of the garrisons sent to protect us against negroes and Indians.  The truth is, we, by force of arms, drove out insolent intruders and took possession of our own forts and arsenals, to resist your claims to dominion over masters, slaves, and Indians, all of whom are to this day, with a unanimity unexampled in the history of the world, warring against your attempts to become their masters.  You say that we tried to force Missouri and Kentucky into rebellion in spite of themselves.  The truth is, my Government, from the beginning of this struggle to this hour, has again and again offered, before the whole world, to leave it to the unbiased will of these States, and all others, to determine for themselves whether they will cast their destiny with your Government or ours; and your Government has resisted this fundamental principle of free institutions with the bayonet, and labors daily, by force and fraud, to fasten its hateful tyranny upon the unfortunate freemen of these States.  You say we falsified the vote of Louisiana.  The truth is, Louisiana not only separated herself from your Government by nearly a unanimous vote of her people, but has vindicated the act upon every battle-field from Gettysburg to the Sabine, and has exhibited an heroic devotion to her decision which challenges the admiration and respect of every man capable of feeling sympathy for the oppressed or admiration for heroic valor.  You say that we turned loose pirates to plunder your unarmed ships.  The truth is, when you robbed us of our part of the navy, we built and bought a few vessels, hoisted the flag of our country, and swept the seas, in defiance of your navy, around the whole circumference of the globe.  You say we have expelled Union families by thousands.  The truth is, not a single family has been expelled from the Confederate States, that I am aware of; but, on the contrary, the moderation of our Government toward traitors has been a fruitful theme of denunciation by its enemies and well-meaning friends of our cause.  You say my Government, by acts of Congress, has confiscated "all debts due Northern men for goods sold and delivered."  The truth is, our Congress gave due and ample time to your merchants and traders to depart from our shores with their ships, goods, and effects, and only sequestrated the property of our enemies in retaliation for their acts–declaring us traitors, and confiscating our property wherever their power extended, either in their country or our own.  Such are your accusations, and such are the facts known of all men to be true.

You order into exile the whole population of a city; drive men, women and children from their homes at the point of the bayonet, under the plea that it is to the interest of your Government, and on the claim that it is "an act of kindness to these families of Atlanta."  Butler only banished from New Orleans the registered enemies of his Government, and acknowledged that he did it as a punishment.  You issue a sweeping edict, covering all the inhabitants of a city, and add insult to the injury heaped upon the defenseless by assuming that you have done them a kindness.  This you follow by the assertion that you will "make as much sacrifice for the peace and honor of the South as the best-born Southerner." And, because I characterize what you call as kindness as being real cruelty, you presume to sit in judgment between me and my God; and you decide that my earnest prayer to the Almighty Father to save our women and children from what you call kindness, is a "sacrilegious, hypocritical appeal."

You came into our country with your army, avowedly for the purpose of subjugating free white men, women, and children, and not only intend to rule over them, but you make negroes your allies, and desire to place over us an inferior race, which we have raised from barbarism to its present position, which is the highest ever attained by that race, in any country, in all time.  I must, therefore, decline to accept your statements in reference to your kindness toward the people of Atlanta, and your willingness to sacrifice every thing for the peace and honor of the South, and refuse to be governed by your decision in regard to matters between myself, my country, and my God.

You say, "Let us fight it out like men."  To this my reply is—for myself, and I believe for all the free men, ay, and women and children, in my country–we will fight you to the death!  Better die a thousand deaths than submit to live under you or your Government and your negro allies!

Sherman denies any desire to put blacks in charge of Southern whites (no doubt Sherman had no such desire), but the history of Reconstruction makes the issue at least a little fuzzy.  It didn’t take long for Sherman to see that not everyone in the North agreed with him:

The negro question was beginning to loom up among the political eventualities of the day, and many foresaw that not only would the slaves secure their  freedom, but that they would also have votes. I did not dream of such a result then, but knew that slavery, as such, was dead forever, and did not suppose that the former slaves would be suddenly, without preparation, manufactured into voters, equal to all others, politically and socially. . . . He [Secretary Chase] was the first man, of any authority or station, who ever informed me that the Government of the United States would insist on extending to the former slaves of the South the elective franchise, and he gave as a reason the fact that the slaves, grateful for their freedom, for which they were indebted to the armies and Government of the North, would, by their votes, offset the disaffected and rebel element of the white population of the South.

I can’t help but quote Sherman one more time, in rebuttal to Hood:

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will.  War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.  I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country.  If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war.  The United States does and must assert its authority, wherever it once had power; for, if it relaxes one bit to pressure, it is gone, and I believe that such is the national feeling.  This feeling assumes various shapes, but always comes back to that of Union.

Also interesting is Sherman’s discussion of Johnston’s surrender to him, following Lee’s surrender to Grant.  At the time of Johnston’s surrender, Lincoln had been killed.  Those in charge following Lincoln’s death were not excited about the lenient terms that Grant offered Lee.  So, they at first objected to Sherman accepting Johnston’s surrender on the same terms.  Eventually, thankfully, Sherman, Grant and Lincoln’s terms prevailed and the Southern armies surrendered.  One can’t help but wish Lincoln had stayed alive for reconstruction.  The third tragedy of the era (i.e. Reconstruction following the Civil War and Slavery) may have been avoided if Lincoln had lived.

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