Sherman's March, 150 Years Later
November 15, 2014 7:08 AM   Subscribe

On the 150th anniversary of Sherman's visit to Atlanta, a new historical marker in Atlanta recognizes that he was not the devil portrayed in Southern myth.
posted by COD (177 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Leave to (rich, white) Americans to create the one piece of History NOT written by winners.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:24 AM on November 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


Having watched Ken Burns' The Civil War more times than I can count, I can definitely say that Sherman would be the guy out of that war I'd most love to share a drink with (and the one guy to have my back in a fight).
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 7:26 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Here's the marker's official site. It reads:
The March to the Sea

On November 15, 1864, during the Civil War, U.S. forces under Gen. William T. Sherman set out from Atlanta on the March to the Sea, a military campaign designed to destroy the Confederacy’s ability to wage war and break the will of its people to resist. After destroying Atlanta’s industrial and business (but not residential) districts, Sherman’s 62,500 men marched over 250 miles, reaching Savannah in mid-December. Contrary to popular myth, Sherman’s troops primarily destroyed only property used for waging war – railroads, train depots, factories, cotton gins, and warehouses. Abandoning their supply base, they lived off the land, destroying food they could not consume. They also liberated thousands of enslaved African Americans in their path. Sherman’s “hard hand of war” demoralized Confederates, hastening the end of slavery and the reunification of the nation.

Erected for the Civil War 150 commemoration by the Georgia Historical Society and the Georgia Battlefields Association

"Billy the Torch" is remembered insufficiently as a liberator of his fellow captive Americans, whether prisoners of war or prisoners of the Southern slavery, and too much for his unsentimental insight "War is Hell"—which went against the grain of the romanticised notions of it held mainly by old-fashioned Confederate commanders.

Sherman's March shares some similarities with the (comparatively minor) Doolittle Raid: They both shattered enemy propaganda. Sherman wrote to his superior, "Thousands who had been deceived by their lying newspapers to believe that we were being whipped all the time now realize the truth, and have no appetite for a repetition of the same experience." Incidentally, on a note about mutual loyalty within the Confederacy, Sherman reported, "Many and many a person in Georgia asked me why we did not go to South Carolina; and, when I answered that we were en route for that State, the invariable reply was, 'Well, if you will make those people feel the utmost severities of war, we will pardon you for your desolation of Georgia.'"
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:34 AM on November 15, 2014 [17 favorites]


What if one, as a Union loyalist, believes Sherman was too merciful and didn't go far enough?
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:42 AM on November 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


The South will Rise Again!

Then the North will Raze Again.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:43 AM on November 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


Abandoning their supply base, they lived off the land, destroying food they could not consume.

As it has always been told to me, this is Sherman's foremost and unpardonable sin; he did not just destroy the means to wage war, he destroyed the means of survival for the civilian population. I suppose we can give him a pass and assume he had magic powers which made it possible for 60,000+ troops to plunder like this without killing or raping any civilians or burning any civilian domiciles, but nobody denies that he left them without anything to eat after their passage.
posted by localroger at 7:43 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


From the article:

“You all the time run into college kids who don’t know which side Sherman was on — and their parents and certainly their grandparents would be aghast to know that,” he said.

There was an episode of Jeopardy earlier this year where the answer concerned a Southern Capital city named after a Civil War general, and one of the (young) contestants actually attempted, "What is Sherman?". To quote Hank Hill: That boy ain't right.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 7:45 AM on November 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


One of the biggest weaknesses in appraisals of Sherman's campaigns in Georgia -- and it's in the NYT article too -- is the assumption that 'Georgia' was virtually united in hatred. Not only is that false, but in fact the majority of people in the state welcomed Sherman and the Union victory. If one counts Blacks as people, that is , which is what the war had come to be about.

In 1864 GA was 55% white, 45% black. That means if 1 in 9 whites favored the Union, we had a majority. The most common figures given for loyal whites revolve around 15%, concentrated in the northern hill country and the southern wiregrass, but clearly present throughout the state as well.

It's the great myth of the solid south.
posted by LonnieK at 7:46 AM on November 15, 2014 [31 favorites]


Surrendering and freeing the slaves was always an option that was on the table to avoid this.

And the people holding and selling human beings as property started it.

Can't hang with the big dogs, stay on the porch.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:51 AM on November 15, 2014 [18 favorites]


With such a long enduring narrative structure built up one would think and hope the same southerners who still rail against Sherman would also be the most critical of US foreign military practices. That we would have a generations of empathic citizens concerned about how we as a nation treat other people, because (no matter the veracity of it for the moment) 'hey look, we too went through the same thing and it was wrong'.

But... (from those I've met while living in the south in the 80s and 90s)too many people who still hate Sherman, would applaud similar tactics if used in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else. I grant, not all, and it isn't a sentiment reserved for those in the south. But, it befuddles me to run across folks who bemoan a wrong against them but applaud it's use against others.
posted by edgeways at 7:53 AM on November 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


But, it befuddles me to run across folks who bemoan a wrong against them but applaud it's use against others.

On the flipside, how many progressives who see no good or innocence below the Mason-Dixon line and think Sherman is a war hero think the people who built Guantanamo should be put on trial for their war crimes?
posted by localroger at 7:57 AM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sherman's march to the sea wasn't technically a march.

The word "march" has precise definitions in military terms:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_step#Marching_types

A Quick March is at 140 beats per minute. For a Slow March, the standard pace is 60 paces per minute. The Half Step March is the U.S. march pace. It is at the same tempo as Quick Time, but instead of 30 inches, the step is 15 inches.

Sherman didn't follow military protocol, allowing marches to slow enough for looting.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:00 AM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's the great myth of the solid south.
posted by LonnieK


Indeed. This is the Civil War plaque on my county's war remembrance memorial. Keep in mind that we are unarguably some distance south of the Mason-Dixon line. The South was very far from unified.
posted by workerant at 8:02 AM on November 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


With its majority and relatively affluent black population, Atlanta is becoming the blueberry in the tomato soup that is the South.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:03 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


On the flipside, how many progressives who see no good or innocence below the Mason-Dixon line and think Sherman is a war hero think the people who built Guantanamo should be put on trial for their war crimes?

Um...I do?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:06 AM on November 15, 2014 [18 favorites]


how many progressives who see no good or innocence below the Mason-Dixon line and think Sherman is a war hero think the people who built Guantanamo should be put on trial for their war crimes?

What war crimes in the Spanish-American War are you thinking of?

It's still baffling, even as someone who spent nearly all of his in-the-US childhood and young adulthood in the south, how many people assume that any criticism of the slaveholding south, or any expression of support for the war that ended several hundred years of daily horror, as a belief that there is "no good or innocence" in the south, or as a personal attack on them, or similar sentiments.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:08 AM on November 15, 2014 [12 favorites]


Um...I do?

Localroger's point is that you are a terrible person for thinking so, and that if you support what he wants to call war crimes in Georgia and South Carolina you should support all war crimes committed by anyone ever.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:09 AM on November 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


He cares nothing about becoming president. That is something.
posted by clavdivs at 8:16 AM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


[Couple of comments deleted. Please don't do the "here's what someone who is not me might say that would be stupid and wrong" thing.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:24 AM on November 15, 2014


Whenever my Southern co-workers start joshing me about "Yankees," "damnyankees," or "the War of Northern Aggression," I always sing a few bars of "Marching through Georgia" (a song that Sherman reputedly hated).
posted by Captain l'escalier at 8:26 AM on November 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


I always sing a few bars of "Marching through Georgia"

You should pause in the middle and ask to borrow a lighter. If they give you one, try to set their laptop on fire.
posted by fatbird at 8:32 AM on November 15, 2014 [23 favorites]


I suppose we can give him a pass and assume he had magic powers which made it possible for 60,000+ troops to plunder like this without killing or raping any civilians or burning any civilian domiciles, but nobody denies that he left them without anything to eat after their passage.

Well, it's hard to fight on an empty stomach. As Napoleon (or alternatively Frederic the Great) observed "an army marches on its stomach". The thing about the confederate areas was that the majority of the civilians supported the confederates. There was no such thing as "civilian food" and "military food", only "food". So Sherman destroyed the food. Hmm.

Let us also note the multiple accounts of the victims of the confederate system - the slaves - being very willing to bear any sacrifice in order to see the defeat of this system, and that certainly included hunger. I give their voices much more weight.

But hey, the confederates always had the option of laying down their arms - then they could eat their fill. They didn't. So Sherman was right - and merciful, for it hastened the end of the war, and the result was fewer victims on both sides. Or, you know, the entire point of his strategy. I'd give him a "pass" for that - devising a strategy that worked, which is the job of a general.
posted by VikingSword at 8:58 AM on November 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


It's the great myth of the solid south.

Then your true objection should be to the leaders of the states who voted for secession and voted for and funded war and troops; they are the ones who brought this upon their own people.
posted by rtha at 9:00 AM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


There was an episode of Jeopardy earlier this year where the answer concerned a Southern Capital city named after a Civil War general, and one of the (young) contestants actually attempted, "What is Sherman?". To quote Hank Hill: That boy ain't right.

Sure you're remembering that right? What southern capital city didn't exist before the war, or was renamed after a civil war general?
posted by thecjm at 9:08 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


As a southerner, I've tended to file the most riduclous-sounding tales of Sherman's savagery in the same column of bullshit as I do claims that "you know, we were once very wealthy, important people . . . before the war and if we could only find the where your great-great-great Uncle Francis buried the family silver when he thought the yankees were coming, we would be wealthy. important people again!*"

Sherman was awesome--for toppling an evil, oppresive regime, for bringing about a faster end to a brutal war, for his part in liberating an entire race of people below the Mason-Dixon line, for deflating the dangerous notion that war is anything other than violence and horror. Good work, Atlanta.

*One of my great-uncles bought a metal detector for this very purpose.
posted by thivaia at 9:09 AM on November 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


[Couple of comments deleted. Metacommentary about "people on this site" does not go on the blue. Also, please consider not ramping up the grar rhetoric to 11. We can do better; there is a more interesting conversation to be had. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:10 AM on November 15, 2014


It amazes me how some in an online community that prides itself on progressive values and nuanced thought turns to ugly pigheaded absolutism any time the subject of the South is raised.

I don't know, I think this thread has done a relatively good job at pointing out the complexities of southerner opinion during and after the war. Touching on Lonnie K's point, it is a little amusing how people who dismiss southerners as a single bloc of racist conservatives ironically overlook the huge population of southern, presumably non-racist, african americans.
posted by Think_Long at 9:13 AM on November 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


It amazes me how some in an online community that prides itself on progressive values and nuanced thought turns to ugly pigheaded absolutism any time the subject of the South is raised.

You'll note that quite a few of those absolutists, me included, are actually Southerners.
posted by thecjm at 9:22 AM on November 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Sure you're remembering that right? What southern capital city didn't exist before the war, or was renamed after a civil war general?

Obviously, you never learned about the time when Sir Walter Raleigh time traveled to 1862 and briefly sailed as a blockade runner for the Confederacy while on a mission to prove that the Lost Colony had been sucked into a Demon Dimension guarded by a crew of soul-sucking Vampire Pirates headed up by a shape-shifting, immortal Juan Ponce De Leon. He was made an honorary general by Robert E. Lee and the two of them shared a smoke outside on a misty night before Raleigh went on to track down more clues in 1899 with Teddy Roosevelt. No sign of Raleigh's appearance remained, save a single note tacked to Lee's tent, reading, "Thou shalt lose" in an Elizabethan hand. TOTALLY HAPPENED.
posted by thivaia at 9:23 AM on November 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


What southern capital city didn't exist before the war, or was renamed after a civil war general?

Well, shoot. I bet on Austin.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:27 AM on November 15, 2014


I'm sure if you asked a bunch of SCV types in Mississippi, they'd tell you their capital was named after Stonewall, not Andrew
posted by thecjm at 9:29 AM on November 15, 2014


But hey, the confederates always had the option of laying down their arms - then they could eat their fill. They didn't. So Sherman was right - and merciful, for it hastened the end of the war, and the result was fewer victims on both sides. Or, you know, the entire point of his strategy. I'd give him a "pass" for that - devising a strategy that worked, which is the job of a general.

This is the exact same logic that also firebombed Dresden and exploded two nuclear weapons over Japanese cities. (not that I don't agree with it-just pointing something out).
posted by bartonlong at 10:01 AM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


This is the exact same logic that also firebombed Dresden and exploded two nuclear weapons over Japanese cities.

Except that Sherman specifically intended to minimize civilian casualties (and civilian property losses outside his army's immediate needs) from the very beginning, and was pretty successful in doing so. Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki were largely indiscriminate uses of force with high civilian casualties, regardless of original intent. Nagasaki in particular could likely have been avoided entirely.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:12 AM on November 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


nobody denies that he left them without anything to eat after their passage

"It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged." -- Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address
posted by kirkaracha at 10:15 AM on November 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


Somebody told me the Civil War was over.
posted by newdaddy at 10:31 AM on November 15, 2014


Well there's two quotes that have fuckall to do with one another.
posted by localroger at 10:31 AM on November 15, 2014


As it has always been told to me, this is Sherman's foremost and unpardonable sin; he did not just destroy the means to wage war, he destroyed the means of survival for the civilian population. I suppose we can give him a pass and assume he had magic powers which made it possible for 60,000+ troops to plunder like this without killing or raping any civilians or burning any civilian domiciles, but nobody denies that he left them without anything to eat after their passage.

I'm not surprised you were told that - but I'd be interested in seeing actual evidence. Rather than yet more Confederate propaganda invented after the war. I have never seen credible evidence that a significant number of Georgians starved to death. Which is the fate your claim is suggesting that Sherman inflicted on the population.

There was, however, one powerful scumbag who ordered the poisoning of wells. That would be Traitor-In-Chief Jefferson Davis.
posted by Francis at 10:48 AM on November 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


Google returns me all kinds of links on Sherman the Union general, but I couldn't find a good summary of all the Native Americans he organized warfare upon. It would be really nice to have a link which lists every single battle and massacre that he had commanding authority over. He had large authority for a long time. I guess it would be a pretty long list.
posted by bukvich at 11:05 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Rather than yet more Confederate propaganda invented after the war.

Yep. The whole "he took our food" is base propaganda. The real reason for food shortages in the South at the time was the fact that manpower was diverted by the confederates from food production to military effort (plus an unlucky drought - though I suppose they can blame Sherman for the weather too, why not, they do for everything else):

"The main prewar agricultural products of the Confederate States were cotton, tobacco, and sugar cane, with hogs, cattle grain and vegetable plots. In 1862, there was a severe drought that, despite efforts to switch from cotton planting to grain farming, caused food shortages and even bread riots in 1863-64.[3] The harvests were fairly abundant after 1862, but often went to waste as they could not be harvested or moved to markets.[4] Corn was raised in large quantities, and, in general, the raising of food products instead of tobacco and cotton was a necessity.

The scarcity of food in the armies and cities was due mostly to the shortage of male labor, the disruption of transportation and finance. Compounding the problem was the ever-increasing number of refugees flooding into cities; food distribution became increasingly harder, and at times, impossible.
"

Sherman certainly targeted railroad transport, the side effect of which was that food (along with everything else) transportation was affected, but direct destruction of food was a very minor element in the strategy, and mostly confined to areas that needed to be immediately denied to confederate forces (as Sherman had to keep going, and so was compelled to leave the areas) - that way confederate forces that moved in after Sherman's departure, would be denied food for pursuit.

Civilians would have had plenty of food, had not the decision been made to launch an illegal war instead of farm for food.

And by the way, a lot of the agricultural output had been extracted under extreme duress from slaves - and it was not even limited to agriculture but to whatever industry was there too:

"The Confederacy's industrial workforce, like its agricultural workforce, was characterized by its wide and extensive use of slaves.[9] In the 1850s, anywhere from 150,000 - 200,000 slaves were used in industrial work.[9] Most, almost 4/5, were owned directly by industrial owners, the other being bonded out by plantation owners."

It is in this context that I see kirkarachas juxtaposition of quotes, which some claim to see no connection between. The confederates were happy to take by main force and consume the food the slaves produced, but when Sherman destroyed that very same food all of a sudden the confederates felt very proprietary about that food - as if they produced it - too bad they didn't have the same ownership feeling about the food when the slaves produced it, after all it should have belonged to the slaves. The food destroyed belonged to the slaves, and the confederates had no right to it. If the slaves were willing to see it destroyed by Sherman, well, it's theirs to decide. If confederates didn't like it, instead of picking up a gun, they could've picked up a hoe and worked on growing their own food.

The worst part of the post Civil War period, was the elaborate edifice of lies constructed by unreformed Southerners. It rather resembles the "they stabbed us in the back" myths and lies created by reactionary forces in Germany after the WWI defeat, and which laid the ground for WWII. After WWII, Germany learned its lesson, and they made very extensive efforts to teach the actual history of WWII, so that myths and lies don't spring up again. But for that, you needed a much more extensive defeat, and the generosity extended to Southern states after the Civil War was repaid with "the South Shall Rise Again". Should have done Reconstruction right. It's as important to win the peace after the war, as the war itself, if you want to avoid the kind of problems we've had in the South in the 150 years after the Civil War.
posted by VikingSword at 11:21 AM on November 15, 2014 [31 favorites]


From the relevant passages of Sherman's Field Orders, which have been quoted piecemeal here quite a bit:
IV. The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten day's provisions for the command and three days' forage. Soldiers must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants, or commit any trespass, but during a halt or a camp they may be permitted to gather turnips, potatoes, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock of their camp. To regular foraging parties must be instructed the gathering of provisions and forage at any distance from the road traveled.

VI. As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit, discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly. Foraging parties may also take mules or horses to replace the jaded animals of their trains, or to serve as pack-mules for the regiments or bridges. In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.
I don't doubt that troops ignored these orders; it's well recorded. But to claim that Sherman himself cared nothing for the civilian population or the rules of war is utterly uninformed thinking. And while I agree that Sherman's postbellum activities, as part of a larger system that furthered the effective genocide of Native Americans, was appalling. This does not retroactively make his march equally appalling nor the cause in which he marched as wicked as a Confederacy primarily formed for and dedicated to the preservation of slavery. And it is damned hard to discredit Special Order 15, which was about as close as anyone got to any kind of compensation to African-Americans following slavery.

If it is troubling to us that Sherman saw war as hell and victory as giving more hell to the enemy than they might give to his side...well, perhaps that's a thought to turn us from war in general. Certainly it might have occurred, as has been noted above, to those who started the war by seizing federal buildings and shelling Forts Moultrie and Sumter, or those who, long before and for years after, practically ensured it by shouting down all more peaceful efforts to dismantle the slavery.
posted by kewb at 11:34 AM on November 15, 2014 [16 favorites]


Well it doesn't take too many examples of, to pull one random totally unrelated example, troops murdering an entire family so as to conveniently gang-rape the pretty 14-year-old before killing her too, to make sure that everyone within 100 miles will teach their children to hate you and your children for a thousand years. Considering that that really happened just a few years ago in Iraq, to expect it not to have really happened at least a few times in the course of the chaos of something like Sherman's march is lunacy.

As for the food thing, the very plaque lauded as making him out to be less of a monster says he destroyed the food. If he did he's a monster and he should rot in the same pit in Hell as other monsters who had the same bright idea, including Curtis LeMay and the geniuses who bombed Vietnamese and Cambodian dams right before harvest for the same reason. He was already destroying the transportantion and manufacturing infrastructure, which also pretty much keeps you from waging war, and I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that adding starvation for the masses to that is just a wee bit overkill.

As for just laying down their arms, this was not an option for the civilians. On both sides the Civil War was declared and waged for the aims of the 1%, mostly against the wishes of the civilians who fought and died mostly for causes they cared nothing about but just because they happened to live on one side or the other of a line some rich asshole drew on a map.

The idea that war may be shortened or averted by waging terror on the civilians had been going out of style ironically until the US revolution where guerrilla techniques were so successful. It's still almost always a pernicious self-serving lazy ass lie, but the US has been quite consistent in our inability to learn that just because a thing can be done and might work doesn't mean it's a good idea to go ahead and do it.
posted by localroger at 11:52 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I suppose we can give him a pass and assume he had magic powers which made it possible for 60,000+ troops to plunder like this without killing or raping any civilians or burning any civilian domiciles...

Please provide examples from history of any army on the march in war that has managed this feat. Ever.

This is the sort of stuff that is bound to happen in war. You have thousands upon thousands of armed men for whom all the lines of right and wrong have become completely blurred, and they're under an insane amount of stress. Bad things are going to happen.

The question therefore isn't whether crimes like rape or illegal killings happened, but whether or not they were dealt with by the armies on the perpetrating army. Also, please take into account the growth curve for military justice and military police as phenomena when you look at a war that happened 160 years ago, because chances are they won't equate to what we've got now.

Of course, one could wish for a hell of a lot more investigations & prosecutions of crimes during our current conflicts, but that's not on Sherman...who was certainly no saint, regardless of the aims of his march during the Civil War. If you want to vilify him, there's still plenty of material to go on regarding his actions against Native Americans. The article cited above is much more about the strategy & tactics than it is about the man.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:53 AM on November 15, 2014


Surprised they didn't mention Ann Rubin's Through The Heart of Dixie, another of the recent revisionist histories.

See also Lieber's Code (1863), INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE GOVERNMENT OF ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES IN THE FIELD.

It is a good thing that slavery was abolished; that said, I do have to wonder if this was the best means of doing it. Mind you, and I get flack for this, but judging from what I've read, abolition was not really foremost on Billy Yank's mind, and if (corporate lawyer, politician) Lincoln is to be believed, neither was it on his. But after 400,000 dead, Preserving the Union looks a little pale as a justification for the whole enterprise.

A statesman would have achieved this without bloodshed, recrimination, and suffering; as occurred in just about every other western country. (Perhaps it would have been easier if we hadn't broken off from Great Britain.)

Assuming, as I say, that abolition was his intention rather than just a convenient post hoc fig leaf. Either way....
posted by IndigoJones at 12:00 PM on November 15, 2014


He was already destroying the transportantion and manufacturing infrastructure, which also pretty much keeps you from waging war, and I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that adding starvation for the masses to that is just a wee bit overkill.

Except he didn't induce "mass starvation for the masses" - you are welcome to look up the citations in my previous post - the hunger of civilians was caused by other factors than the active destruction of food by Sherman.

Furthermore, the destruction that did occur, was limited to very specific situations where a territory was taken over and Sherman's troops kept moving forward. The territory left behind, would then be filled by confederate forces. Now, if you want them to be unable to pursue your troops, you can't rely on "already destroying the transportantion and manufacturing infrastructure, which also pretty much keeps you from waging war" as that is slightly longer term than having an army nipping at your heels within the next 24-72 hours. The idea was that when those confederates came upon empty cupboards, they could hardly then continue marching in pursuit and attacking Sherman's troops from behind, because again "an army marches on its stomach" - that is a very immediate tactical situation that needed to be addressed and those were the most effective means. It was limited to situations where there was direct danger from pursuing confederate forces. Sherman was marching forward, it would have been stupid to confront confederates and at the same time have other confederate troops attack him from behind. But direct food destruction was not employed as a mass tactic against civilians by Sherman.
posted by VikingSword at 12:08 PM on November 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Doctor Zed
Comparing the Doolittle raid to Sherman's March is...I don't see it on almost any military level.
posted by clavdivs at 12:17 PM on November 15, 2014


Considering that that really happened just a few years ago in Iraq, to expect it not to have really happened at least a few times in the course of the chaos of something like Sherman's march is lunacy.

You're the only one positing this as an actual point of argument.

As for the food thing, the very plaque lauded as making him out to be less of a monster says he destroyed the food. If he did he's a monster and he should rot in the same pit in Hell as other monsters who had the same bright idea, including Curtis LeMay and the geniuses who bombed Vietnamese and Cambodian dams right before harvest for the same reason. He was already destroying the transportantion and manufacturing infrastructure, which also pretty much keeps you from waging war, and I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that adding starvation for the masses to that is just a wee bit overkill.

Except you haven't proved that happened. And as kewb's quote of Sherman's orders points out, it was aimed largely at the large, rich landowners (and slaveowners, naturally).

As for just laying down their arms, this was not an option for the civilians. On both sides the Civil War was declared and waged for the aims of the 1%, mostly against the wishes of the civilians who fought and died mostly for causes they cared nothing about but just because they happened to live on one side or the other of a line some rich asshole drew on a map.

"Both sides" didn't declare war, the Confederacy did. The Confederacy also started conscription first, while the Union Army had volunteers making up over 90% of their forces. And it's quite firmly established that many Confederate soldiers did indeed care--often quite strongly--about the causes (slavery foremost) they were fighting for, even if they were conscripts. The historical revisionism of the Lost Cause, taught as gospel in much of the South today, is almost wholly unsupported by any evidence. It's sore loser-dom writ large, and done in the name of literally white-washing a rightfully shameful portion of history in the name of racism and greed.

A statesman would have achieved this without bloodshed, recrimination, and suffering; as occurred in just about every other western country. (Perhaps it would have been easier if we hadn't broken off from Great Britain.)

Assuming, as I say, that abolition was his intention rather than just a convenient post hoc fig leaf. Either way....


More nonsense Lost Cause revisionism, up there with the truly idiotic "if Lincoln had just bought all the slaves, this wouldn't have happened" line of thinking. The methods by which England (among others) had abolished slavery had been tried and for the most part failed for decades, thanks to the recalcitrant slave states. It wasn't Lincoln's fault that the South was willing to ensure the the US would be one of the last large Western nations to do so.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:19 PM on November 15, 2014 [15 favorites]


It is a good thing that slavery was abolished; that said, I do have to wonder if this was the best means of doing it.

You might want to take that argument up with the traitors who decided to open hostilities.
posted by asterix at 12:22 PM on November 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


Somebody told me the Civil War was over.

You know those coal fires that will smoulder underground for hundreds of years?
posted by clarknova at 12:24 PM on November 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Not personally.
posted by clavdivs at 12:31 PM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


You might want to take that argument up with the traitors who decided to open hostilities.

The attack on Fort Sumter wasn't an unprovoked assault. It was bait and the Confederates took it. Arguably the war had already started with Bleeding Kansas in the three years before secession. Those open hostilities were started by the North.

No matter who drew first blood, the brutal conflict between abolition and slavery was inevitable.


Not personally.

Well, maybe someday.
posted by clarknova at 12:42 PM on November 15, 2014


Except you haven't proved that happened.

Then why does the allegedly revisionist plaque say it did?

"Both sides" didn't declare war, the Confederacy did.

The civilians, of whom I was speaking, of neither side declared war. The Union 1% engaged to preserve the Union and certain business opportunities -- regardless of who fired the first shot they too had the option of taking slavery off the table which would have avoided the conflict. They chose to engage, but it wasn't really about slavery, it was about the affrontery of even thinking secession could be thought an option. If it was actually about slavery the timing of the Emancipation Proclamation would have been rather different.

As for those Union volunteers, the then population of New York City would like a word with you.

The Southern 1% certainly did lay the groundwork for the war because they thought their slaves would be taken from them, and it's kind of a shame Katrina didn't finish the job of washing away Jefferson Davis' fucking shrine. That said even if some percentage of them believed in the cause, most of the Southern soldiers were fighting against their own economic interests because it's kind of hard for a working class man to compete against literal slavery.

It's a pretty safe bet that both Union and Confederate volunteers were mostly there out of loyalty to familiar leaders and in support of their homes; in those days people tended to identify much more strongly as citizens of their state than of the USA as a whole and that's where patriotism would direct them. If simply acting as citizens of their state makes them criminals then I really have to ask about your role in Guantanimo, Abu Ghraib, and those indiscriminate drone bombings that are all the rage nowadays.
posted by localroger at 12:44 PM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


It is a good thing that slavery was abolished; that said, I do have to wonder if this was the best means of doing it. Mind you, and I get flack for this, but judging from what I've read, abolition was not really foremost on Billy Yank's mind, and if (corporate lawyer, politician) Lincoln is to be believed, neither was it on his. But after 400,000 dead, Preserving the Union looks a little pale as a justification for the whole enterprise.

*sigh*

Was it the best means of abolishing slavery? Probably not. But it was the only means of abolishing slavery that the leaders of the slaveowners rebellion. Preserving the Union was another way of saying "Not having an unfriendly group of traitors on our borders who have just taken power by a self-coup* with the explicit agenda of preserving slavery."

Nothing Lincoln actually did promoted Secession. How could it? Lincoln took office on March 4 1861. By this point seven states had already seceeded. The Confederacy attacked Fort Sumter just over a month later.

And the traitors were very clear on why they were seceeding. Mississippi were particularly clear; claiming in their first substantive sentence "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world.". Georgia was just as clear, opening with the claim "The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery."

Others were only slightly less clear. Texas for instance in their own declaration of secession claimed "[Texas] was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery--the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits--a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?" Or how about South Carolina? "The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue."

The politicians were equally clear. The Cornerstone Speech being the textbook case. "Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

And if that isn't enough evidence for you, the Confederate Constitution is generally a crib of the US one - but it had tweaks such as "(4) No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed." (spot the difference?)

No, the North weren't angels. Lincoln was an abolitionist, but a moderate one. He'd have favoured means that didn't involve 400,000 people dying to free 3,000,000 slaves. But the slaveowners declared outright war and made any other means impossible.

* A self-coup is when someone who is already nominally in charge takes absolute control. An elected president declaring himself President For Life would be an obvious example. The State Legislatures of the Confederacy are another. Who were, of course, acting against the will of the people of the Confederacy; in at least two states over half the people were slaves.
posted by Francis at 12:57 PM on November 15, 2014 [22 favorites]


wikipedia says the population of atlanta in 1860 was 9,554 - in 1870, it was 21,789

in 1860, georgia's population was 1,057,286 - in 1870, it was 1,184,109

so how does that fit in with "mass starvation"?
posted by pyramid termite at 1:02 PM on November 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


Then why does the allegedly revisionist plaque say it did?

It says nothing about the "mass starvation" you keep talking about being the fault of Sherman.

The civilians, of whom I was speaking, of neither side declared war. The Union 1% engaged to preserve the Union and certain business opportunities -- regardless of who fired the first shot they too had the option of taking slavery off the table which would have avoided the conflict.

The idea that the nationwide abolition of slavery is something that was only popularized by Lincoln in 1860 is another Lost Cause lie. It was an argument that pre-dated the US itself, and the South had had the opportunity to take slavery off the table since the ink on the Constitution was barely dry.

As for those Union volunteers, the then population of New York City would like a word with you.

You mean the subset of the population of the city who was sympathetic to the Confederacy for economic and racist reasons? Perhaps you should depend on Gangs of New York for history lessons a bit less.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:07 PM on November 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


A statesman would have achieved this without bloodshed, recrimination, and suffering

Fort Moultrie and most of the federal buildings involved were seized before Lincoln's inauguration; he didn't exactly have the opportunity to employ statecraft. In fact, there was a fairly clear pattern of violence in defense of slavery, from pro-slavery senator Preston Brooks nearly beating James Sumner to death on the Senate floor to the "border ruffians" who flooded Kansas Territory to use intimidation and violence to try and rig the vote on "free or slave" there to, yes, those seizures of weapons and buildings ahead of the inauguration. The claim that statecraft was possible is ludicrous given the vocal and violent reactions of pro-Slavery, almost exclusively Southern politicians and citizenry to virtually every event in which basic civil procedure -- the very stuff of statecraft --- threatened to so much as limit the spread of slavery every time in virtually the entire pre-Civil War history of the United States.

It is genuinely hard to convey the degree to which slavery was entrenched in the American South. No doubt some of the reason was less that we broke from Britain than that we were a colony with a large plantation class; the British colonies were slower to phase out slavery than the home country.

And for what it's worth, since you mention Britain, you might recall that the South didn't much like them either, and that Britain's path to abolition was both smoother and less direct than something as simple as abolition bills convincing the world. Legal abolition only got rolling in Britain thanks to a court decision of 1772 by Lord Mansfield. In the land of Dred Scott, that was a remote possibility at best. The British exonerated the people who took over the slave ship Creole in 1841, and Southern anger was such that it actually impacted diplomatic relations between the two nations. Even before this, there was considerable outrage when the British employed their Navy to shut down the Triangle trade by force.

Nor is your other claim, that most countries ended slavery through statecraft, particularly true. In France, it was Robespierre who made it happen in 1794, and it would be rather odd to call the First Republic the product of statecraft rather than violence. In Spain it was the issue of King Charles I in 1542, not anything like a democratic or representative process, and that still provoked objections from landowners in New Spain to the point that the abolition act was never enforced in Spain's overseas colonies. When they tried again in 1811, several colonies were again excepted for many years. Chile achieved abolition int he midst of a war of independence from Spain, part of a general anticolonial effort by its first national assembly. Russia legally abolished slavery, but retained its system of serfdom until the October Revolution. In Mexico the insurgent and revolutionary José María Teclo Morelos y Pavón tried to declare slavery illegal before his defeat; actual abolition occurred during the lengthy Mexican War of Independence following the declaration of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, who had promised to end slavery to gain support and paired his decree with a declaration that those who retained slaves would be put to death.

To claim that slavery was mostly abolished by statecraft betrays a deep ignorance, or perhaps a kind of wishful thinking. The actual history of the practice, here and abroad, is that it took considerable civil unrest to achieve abolition nearly everywhere *except* Britain. They were very much the exception, not the rule. and int he United States, the record of Southern intransigence on the issue means that more than mere comparatives or counterfactual speculations are needed to support any such claims.
posted by kewb at 1:13 PM on November 15, 2014 [27 favorites]


Nor is your other claim, that most countries ended slavery through statecraft, particularly true.

Yeah, one imagines Toussaint L'Ouverture might have something to say about that...
posted by asterix at 1:17 PM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have likely read more of the historic marker signs in Atlanta than anyone else in this conversation. I live here, I take transit and walk a lot, and those signs are everywhere. I never felt like the story was being told in a particularly biased way, and I'm not positive this new sign adds that much to the story. Like I said, there are already a lot of signs. I think the comparison to Hiroshima and Dresden is fair. I also know that it is true that a majority of the residents of the south absolutely favored the end of slavery once you consider the south's black residents as people.

I will, however, dispute this idea that Sherman's march was simply about hurting the south's military power and that civilian and civilian property were not to be hurt. As a member of Central Presbyterian church, this story is well known among Atlantans (and is told on a historic marker sign at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception--like I said, I've read a lot of signs). If Sherman had no intention of burning churches to the ground, why did Father O'Reilly have to intercede?

One of the great ironies of this is that Atlanta was not Georgia's capital during the Civil War--Milledgeville was. If Sherman had not nearly destroyed what was at the time just a small community that had sprung up at the place where the railroads met, it might not have become the great city it is today. But as a direct result of the war, Atlanta became the capital and history was changed yet again.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:17 PM on November 15, 2014


Arguably the war had already started with Bleeding Kansas in the three years before secession. Those open hostilities were started by the North.

Reputable historians generally pin the blame on the border ruffians, the pro-slavery loons stoked by the incendiary rhetoric of Missouri's David Rice Atchison, who armed themselves and entered Kansas in November, 1854 and rigged the vote so badly that more illegal votes were cast than legal ones. It was in the next year that, faced with a renewed campaign by the border ruffians, that abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher responded in kind by arming abolitionists and sending them into Kansas as well to oppose the vote-rigging.

These events were followed by the murder of Free State advocate Charles Dow by a pro-slavery fanatic, and the subsequent death of another Free Stater, Thomas Barber and the burning of a hotel known to house Free Staters by still another group of pro-slavery advocates. And when Charles Sumner condemned the violence and the institution of slavery, Souther senator Preston Brooks beat him on the floor of the Senate so badly that Sumner never fully recovered, physically. Sumner was hailed as a hero in the South afterwards.

Still later, President Franklin Pierce, a pro-slavery politician, sent in 500 troops, who dispersed Kansas's Free State legislature by pointing a cannon directly at the building where they met. Despite the evidence of vote-rigging, Pierce continued to support the pro-slavery legislature.

I suppose you can consider Pierce, a Northener who was pro-slavery, as an example of "the North" provoking the violence...but that is not what most people mean or have ever meant when discussion "the North" int he context of the Civil War. Usually that phrase is a metonym for the (mostly) Republican, pro-Union, and anti-slavery (if often by default) side of the conflict. Or perhaps you're thinking of John Brown, but Brown came to Kansas well after the initial wave of border ruffians, and even after the second wave that led to abolitionists entering the Territory with "Beecher Bibles" in retaliation.

In any case, it strikes me as an oddly put, poorly contextualized sentiment, and might have been presented more thoughtfully.
posted by kewb at 1:29 PM on November 15, 2014 [12 favorites]


It's amazing that after 150 years the Lost Cause myth is still a thing for some folks both North and South.

I've spent the summer and fall reading American Civil War histories. I thought I understood what the war was all about. Color me surprised that I didn't know as much as I thought I did. One of the eye openers was a set of essays edited by Gary W. Gallagher, one of the leading historians on the Civil War and especially the eastern theatre (Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac), titled The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History. Even this white boy from the Pacific Northwest believed some of the stories.
posted by jgaiser at 1:40 PM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


wikipedia says the population of atlanta in 1860 was 9,554 - in 1870, it was 21,789

in 1860, georgia's population was 1,057,286 - in 1870, it was 1,184,109

so how does that fit in with "mass starvation"?


If you go on a spree and kill three people, you will be called a mass murderer. It's the usage.

For the most part we only have the rather unreliable stories of biased witnesses as to the results of Sherman's march, because the march itself swept away all the infrastructure, including whatever passed for law enforcement, that might have recorded such things in the aftermath. But we know from more modern examples where fewer soldiers were involved with supposedly better controls that such things happen with some regularity, and you don't set blooded men loose on a mostly unarmed population with orders to steal what you have to without understanding that some of them are going to confront folks who object.

The plaque and most accounts say unambiguously that Sherman's men were told to take what they needed and burn the rest of the food. When you are also systematically destroying all the other means of production and transportation, you would have to be a total idiot not to realize you are leaving a lot of people in your wake to die of starvation that way. Sherman thought it was worth it ("War is Hell" indeed). Thing is, that argument can be used to justify anything, and as far as I'm concerned the argument itself is an giant leap onto a slippery slope that leads to #GODWIN.
posted by localroger at 1:47 PM on November 15, 2014


I will, however, dispute this idea that Sherman's march was simply about hurting the south's military power and that civilian and civilian property were not to be hurt. As a member of Central Presbyterian church, this story is well known among Atlantans (and is told on a historic marker sign at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception--like I said, I've read a lot of signs). If Sherman had no intention of burning churches to the ground, why did Father O'Reilly have to intercede?

But how does that prove that Sherman was intent on destroying civilian property apart from military application? I mean, if buildings are dual-use, then it is denying the opponent military use of those buildings, regardless of original civilian purpose.

You also underestimate the fact that Atlanta was in fact a central military target from the very beginning, and it was made so by Confederate forces:

"Concerned after the Vicksburg Campaign that Atlanta would be a logical target for future Union Army attacks, the Confederate Chief of the Engineer Bureau Jeremy F. Gilmer contacted Atlanta businessman and entrepreneur Lemuel P. Grant and asked him to survey possible enemy crossings of the Chattahoochee River, a broad waterway that offered some protection from a Northern approach. Grant complied, and after a thorough investigation and survey, explained that the fortification of Atlanta would be as difficult as that of Richmond, Virginia, due to the many possible enemy approach routes. Gilmer gave Grant the approval to develop a plan to ring Atlanta with forts and earthworks along the key approaches to the city.

Grant planned a series of 17 redoubts forming a 10-mile (16 km) circle over a mile (1.6 km) out from the center of town. These would be interlinked with a series of earthworks and trenches, along with rows of abatis and other impediments to enemy troops. Construction on the extensive defensive works began in August 1863. They were bounded on the north on high ground (the present location of the Fox Theatre), the west by Ashby Street, the south by McDonough Drive and the east by what is today known as Grant Park. Gilmer inspected the completed work in December 1863 and gave his approval. Because of how the subsequent campaign unfolded, most of these fortifications were never really put to the test.
"

It was a militarised city from the very center of the city, built so by the Confederates. It was a legitimate military target. And it became an military operations center for the Confederate forces, with an arms industry and vital transportation hub:

"The city was a vital transportation and logistics center, with several major railroads in the area, including the Western & Atlantic Railroad, which connected the city with Chattanooga, Tennessee, 138 miles to the north. A series of roads radiated out from the city in all directions, connecting Atlanta with neighboring towns and states.

Thought to be relatively safe from Union forces early in the war, Atlanta rapidly became a concentration point for the Confederate quartermasters and logistics experts; warehouses were filled with food, forage, supplies, ammunition, clothing and other materiel critical to the Confederate armies operating in the Western Theater.

The Atlanta Rolling Mill, established before the war, was significantly expanded and provided a major source for armor plating for Confederate Navy ironclads, including the CSS Virginia. It also refurbished railroad tracks. A large number of machine shops, foundries and other industrial concerns were soon established in Atlanta. The population swelled to nearly 22,000 as workers arrived for these new factories and warehouses.
"

Furthermore, the destruction of Atlanta did not begin with Sherman, but with Confederate forces - their general decided that rather than surrender any military assets, they'd destroy them all, including public buildings:

"On September 1, 1864, Confederate General John Bell Hood evacuated Atlanta, after a five-week siege mounted by Union General William Sherman, and ordered all public buildings and possible Confederate assets destroyed."

I'm sure that there were missteps by Sherman and Union troops and civilians and their property were affected. But in the vast majority of the cases, there were legitimate military and political objectives that drove their actions, and not the desire for wanton destruction.
posted by VikingSword at 1:50 PM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Kweb
I find it funny how the men in the convention who supported this before 94' were killed by the revolution. The decision to free the colonist slaves was done out of fear and with the hopes of these folks harassing the Brits down the line. The irony of the revolution was the Statecraft of semiotics in the face of terror. Statecraft brought about the revolution, not violence. In a phrase, it started because of money and much needed social reform. I believe a petition was sent before the convention concerning this when Danton was the man. Need to verify...
posted by clavdivs at 1:51 PM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


The attack on Fort Sumter wasn't an unprovoked assault. It was bait and the Confederates took it.
Are you talking about this point, which was discussed earlier?
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:53 PM on November 15, 2014


Whenever my Southern co-workers start joshing me about..."the War of Northern Aggression"

I can't remember who on this site said it, but I find just delicious their retort of, "Oh, you mean the Slavers' Revolt?"
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:54 PM on November 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


But we know from more modern examples where fewer soldiers were involved with supposedly better controls that such things happen with some regularity, and you don't set blooded men loose on a mostly unarmed population with orders to steal what you have to without understanding that some of them are going to confront folks who object.

So all you have is that the idea of occupying armies leads to atrocities. Not making Sherman in any way worse than any other general who has fought in enemy territory. I can accept that as an argument. From a pacifist.

Is there any war in history in enemy territory you have supported or thought was necessary? Including World War 2?

When you are also systematically destroying all the other means of production and transportation, you would have to be a total idiot not to realize you are leaving a lot of people in your wake to die of starvation that way.

So you've no actual evidence, just assertion that there must have been starvation. Right, gotcha.
posted by Francis at 1:55 PM on November 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


So you've no actual evidence

I just got finished saying that the march itself made most of the evidence disappear, which is a phenomenon that has let a number of other war criminals get away clean. Oddly Google doesn't seem to have the child mortality statistics available for Georgia that year, if you know where to get them I'm sure they will be illuminating.
posted by localroger at 2:09 PM on November 15, 2014


VikingSword: I'm not sure that we actually disagree about anything at all. My only point was that Sherman's objective was always greater than just harming military targets and supply lines, and what you're saying supports that. I just don't know that everyone who agrees with you had necessarily thought that would include churches, and Father O'Reilly's story is an interesting story, which I don't think is well known outside of Atlanta (and maybe not even outside of people who hang out Downtown.) I'm not sure your point in bringing up the fortification of Atlanta by the Confederate Army. Nobody here is saying the Confederate Army were the good guys.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:25 PM on November 15, 2014


I just got finished saying that the march itself made most of the evidence disappear, which is a phenomenon that has let a number of other war criminals get away clean. Oddly Google doesn't seem to have the child mortality statistics available for Georgia that year, if you know where to get them I'm sure they will be illuminating.

So. Sherman was intensely reviled by a group of wealthy and highly articulate people both before and after the war. He both personally offended the wealthy and influential by taking away their capital, and offended the martial pride of the south by kicking them hundreds of miles. And literally the best you have as evidence against him is an argument from silence? And an argument based on something that Sherman's orders literally said shouldn't happen? ("and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.")

If that's really the best you've got against Sherman I'm coming to the conclusion he was as close to a saint as an aggressive general could be.
posted by Francis at 2:38 PM on November 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


Let's say you're active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Thanks to record keeping and research, you know when and where you great-great-granddaddy was born, where he enlisted, where he trained, what generals he served under, what battle he was wounded at, and what limb was lost due to that wound, what prison camp he spent that last 6 months of the war at, and when he was discharged.

Funny how none of those records exist of Sherman's supposed war crimes.
posted by thecjm at 2:55 PM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


And literally the best you have as evidence against him is an argument from silence?

It's only silence because you discount the accounts of survivors as exaggerated sour grapes.

As for things orders say shouldn't happen, orders said My Lai shouldn't happen, and I think they're still looking for the ones about Abu Ghraib.

he was as close to a saint as an aggressive general could be.

I think history has shown that in very general terms, you cannot be an aggressive modern general and hope to get past St. Peter. Sadly, it seems to be a modern trope that you can't win a war without committing a few war crimes, which is really strange considering who won WWII. The lesson people seem to have taken from that seems to have been "hey, those guys MIGHT have won so we need to be willing to be MORE LIKE THEM."

It's quite easy to discount the stories about what happened when your victorious army marched through "living off" the countryside as exaggerations and propaganda when you write the history books, and when there are no other witnesses and your side controls all the documents that are created and survive. Thing is, I'd guess there are reasons other than mad Southern propaganda skillz that so many folks remember him as "Billy the Torch."

As I said above, it doesn't even take too many murdered sons and raped daughters to make the other side hate you for a thousand years. I had a professor in college who went on a rant about this and mentioned that the Turks and Greeks have hated each other for over two thousand years because, ultimately, of a few mass murders (where the oriinal mass was probably in the high two figures) that occurred before the time of Christ. The residents of the South have been remarkably forgetful by comparison.
posted by localroger at 2:57 PM on November 15, 2014


A statesman would have achieved this without bloodshed, recrimination, and suffering


Barely six years before the war, a man was beaten with a cane in the Senate chambers for advocating abolition.

There's only so much that statesmanship can do.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:00 PM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


For the most part we only have the rather unreliable stories of biased witnesses as to the results of Sherman's march, because the march itself swept away all the infrastructure, including whatever passed for law enforcement, that might have recorded such things in the aftermath.

so there was a paper shortage, too?

---

but on to something i think everyone forgets about the civil war -

Arguably the war had already started with Bleeding Kansas in the three years before secession. Those open hostilities were started by the North.

i say the war started in africa, when europeans kidnapped africans

i say the mere status of slavery was an act of violence against americans

so, yes, the south was responsible - even before bleeding kansas it was responsible
posted by pyramid termite at 3:00 PM on November 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


i say the war started in africa, when europeans kidnapped africans

i say the mere status of slavery was an act of violence against americans

so, yes, the south was responsible


You do realize there was slavery in the North and that they were regularly returning escaped slaves right up until the beginning of hostilities, right?

I won't argue if you want to lay a lot of the blame with those guys who signed documents in 1776 and 1789 that left the institution intact, kicking the can down the road for the sake of an alliance against Britain instead of taking a stand on the situation. But those documents were ratified by everybody. You don't get to hide behind the Mason-Dixon line if you want to go back that far.
posted by localroger at 3:06 PM on November 15, 2014


so there was a paper shortage, too?

Sherman: "War is a paper shortage." Yep, that fits.
posted by localroger at 3:08 PM on November 15, 2014


Robespierre gave the governor of the colony (now Haiti) broad powers and he freed the slaves in Oct. 93. Robespierre just rubberstamped it. Though he did advocate the abolition of slavery for many years.
Remember, The Declaration of rights of man and of the citizen should have addressed the issue. The Fraternite' et secours of 1792 really should have resolved this issue. So, Robespierre did not free slaves.
posted by clavdivs at 3:14 PM on November 15, 2014


It's only silence because you discount the accounts of survivors as exaggerated sour grapes.

You mean accounts like that of Sherman saving a church? Oh, wait. That doesn't fit with your attempt at a narrative. Find these accounts of survivors.

As I said above, it doesn't even take too many murdered sons and raped daughters to make the other side hate you for a thousand years.

And yet everything I've found says assaults on white women were rare - and that the rate of VD in Sherman's army was low (which adds credibility to this). (Also " It must be emphasized that Sherman's forces refrained from raping white women and from killing civilians." Also "There is a general consensus (pace Walters) that there was almost no raping in Georgia". And the President of the Georgia Batlefields association says outright "A second myth is that all women were threatened and many were raped. It’s understandable that any person (woman or man) would feel threatened when thousands of enemy troops are on your land or even passing nearby; but incidents of physical abuse are rare and of rape even more rare."

Every single first hand source I've read that actually lists supposed atrocities is worried about property, first and foremost. A lot of people arguing without primary sources (as you are) talk about rapes. But that's people talking 150 years after the event.

Now. Please stop inventing atrocities based on hearsay.
posted by Francis at 3:22 PM on November 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


As the person who brought the story up, "Sherman saving a church" is not even vaguely a summary. Sherman's troops were going to burn down 5 churches, but a Catholic priest intervened and pursuaded the largely Irish Catholic Union troops not to do so. They did burn churches elsewhere, just not in downtown Atlanta.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:32 PM on November 15, 2014


(Just want to thank the people dropping real history into this thread. Despite receiving nearly all my education in U.S. schools, I pretty much know fuck-all about the Civil War, which I don't like)
posted by crush-onastick at 3:43 PM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's quite easy to discount the stories about what happened when your victorious army marched through "living off" the countryside as exaggerations and propaganda when you write the history books, and when there are no other witnesses and your side controls all the documents that are created and survive. Thing is, I'd guess there are reasons other than mad Southern propaganda skillz that so many folks remember him as "Billy the Torch."

I'm seriously flabbergasted at the idea that we would know the real truth, if only it wasn't for the Union 'writ[ing the history books.' Half the reason we're even having this debate right here is because there's pushback against the dominate pro-Confederate narratives that have been popularized and widely accepted since Reconstruction. Southern propaganda has, in fact, substituted for history for a very long time, and 'guess[ing] there are other reasons' without addressing evidence to contrary isn't helpful to determining what is and isn't myth.
posted by cjelli at 3:50 PM on November 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


I had a professor in college who went on a rant about this and mentioned that the Turks and Greeks have hated each other for over two thousand years because, ultimately, of a few mass murders (where the original mass was probably in the high two figures) that occurred before the time of Christ.

Dude, there was a bit more going on between the Greeks and Persians than "a few mass murders".
posted by mr. digits at 3:55 PM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


You mean accounts like that of Sherman saving a church? Oh, wait. That doesn't fit with your attempt at a narrative.

Wait for it...

As the person who brought the story up, "Sherman saving a church" is not even vaguely a summary. Sherman's troops were going to burn down 5 churches, but a Catholic priest intervened and pursuaded the largely Irish Catholic Union troops not to do so. They did burn churches elsewhere, just not in downtown Atlanta.

Ouch. Well a church is a large structure that can be used for staging and meetings, so a proper military target, just like the food supply, amirite.

And there are those accounts...these cherries, they are so delicious, and so easy to pick! Wait, what's this...

It must be emphasized that Sherman's forces refrained from raping white women

Wait a minute, that cannot possibly say

from raping white women

*BOGGLE*

OK, whatevs, I think I am done here. We probably don't really want to know the truth anyway. But I will blame Sherman for the excesses that he inspired by demonstrating that an evil seeming strategy can win and when it wins it can claim it isn't evil, a lesson taken to heart by dozens if not hundreds of like minded fellows in the following century. G'night.
posted by localroger at 3:59 PM on November 15, 2014


Most of my Father's family immigrated straight to California. I did have a great-great uncle who fought in the Confederate army who had a long standing hatred of General Sherman. Ironically, while working in a railyard in Southern California he rescued a mentally unstable priest from getting run over by a train, who turned out to be General Sherman's son! He even got a thank you letter and gift from the family, about which he had a lot of very mixed feelings.
posted by eye of newt at 4:07 PM on November 15, 2014


After destroying Atlanta’s industrial and business (but not residential) districts, Sherman’s 62,500 men marched over 250 miles, reaching Savannah in mid-December. Contrary to popular myth, Sherman’s troops primarily destroyed only property used for waging war – railroads, train depots, factories, cotton gins, and warehouses. Abandoning their supply base, they lived off the land, destroying food they could not consume.

I think the language on the plaque is problematic because it normalizes things I believe are war crimes. Noting that Sherman attacked the industrial and business (but not residential) districts, it reveals that Sherman attacked civilian targets. It also presents a list of property used for waging war that is so broad that what's striking are the limited types of property not mentioned. And it conflates as living off the land both foraging for food to feed an army (which is questionable in itself) and destroying food they could not consume (which is heinous).

I have absolutely no support for the Southern cause and regard the Civil War as the result of military aggression by the Confederate states, but I think Sherman's sense of what was justified in the name of victory was both monstrous and unfortunately influential, as exemplified by his sanctioning the Union army's behavior at Ebenezer Creek. Sherman's subordinate ordered his provost marshall to prevent hundreds of freedmen who had been following the soldiers to use a pontoon bridge to cross the Creek, and finally destroying the bridge, leaving the panicked throng to death by drowning or enslavement by the approaching Confederate cavalry.
posted by layceepee at 4:09 PM on November 15, 2014


You do realize there was slavery in the North and that they were regularly returning escaped slaves right up until the beginning of hostilities, right?

slavery in the north was done with decades before the civil war - and the fugitive slave act was part of the compromise of 1850, which was just another attempt to appease those stubborn southrons and their love of human chattel - and was commonly resisted in the north

I won't argue if you want to lay a lot of the blame with those guys who signed documents in 1776 and 1789 that left the institution intact, kicking the can down the road for the sake of an alliance against Britain instead of taking a stand on the situation.

if they had taken a stand, there wouldn't have been a united states of america - the south would not have ratified and it's anyone's guess whether a fragmented 13 colonies would have been able to resist british suppression

oh and now you've outdone yourself on preview -

But I will blame Sherman for the excesses that he inspired by demonstrating that an evil seeming strategy can win and when it wins it can claim it isn't evil, a lesson taken to heart by dozens if not hundreds of like minded fellows in the following century. G'night.

genghis khan, attila the hun, various roman emperors, napoleon, all students of total warfare at the feet of the immortal general sherman

you're smarter than this, localroger, come on
posted by pyramid termite at 4:10 PM on November 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


You do realize there was slavery in the North and that they were regularly returning escaped slaves right up until the beginning of hostilities, right?

Oh yay! More bullshit Confederate apologism based on the merest technical truth.

Yes, some of the North was returning escaped slaves. Why? Because the Fugitive Slave Act was the (Federal) law. And you know what one of the grievances of the South was? That the North wasn't enforcing it.

South Carolina listed among its reasons for secession that The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States. ... But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution." Mississippi echoed it "It has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain." (This alone is enough to show how much bullshit the States Rights claim is). Georgia has an entire paragraph bitching about how the Union wasn't following the Fugitive Slave Act (the one starting "A similar provision of the Constitution requires them to surrender fugitives from labor.) Texas' objection to the way the Fugitive Slave Act was implemented has possibly a little more heft. "They have for years past encouraged and sustained lawless organizations to steal our slaves and prevent their recapture, and have repeatedly murdered Southern citizens while lawfully seeking their rendition."



Then there's the claim about there being states in the North that contained slaves. This is true on two counts - and both of them are distractions.

The first is the Border States. A map is pretty revealing about this. As anyone can see, the Deep South was solidly slave. The North was solidly free. And there are five states north of the Mason Dixon Line that were slave. Four broke for the Union and are known as Border States Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. One (Virginia) broke for the Confederates.

Now, let's map that up to the proportion of slaves according to the 1860 Census. Virginia: 30.7% (Confederate) Delaware: Not listed in table but the smallest (Union). Kentucky: 19.5% (Union). Maryland: 12.7% (Union). Missouri: 9.7% (Union). So no state with fewer than 24.8% slaves was other than Confederate. No state with more than 19.5% slaves was other than Union (and that because the Confederates attacked them when they were trying to stay neutral.

So yes, it is true that the states that enslaved less than 1/5 of their people fought for the Union, so there was slavery in the North.

Or possibly you meant that even in the Free States there was slavery? This too is true in limited circumstances. This time thanks to the Supreme Court. Dredd Scott vs Sandford - possibly the worst Supreme Court decision in history, allowing slaves to be taken into free territories and remain free.


And mea culpa, hydropsyche. I'll withdraw that tangental point and should have checked before posting. Which is why I link things in discussions like this rather than rely on unsubstantiated assertions and nitpicks that sources I'm quoting qualify their statements.
posted by Francis at 4:22 PM on November 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


(Small point: the Mason Dixon Line is the northern border of Maryland - so MD and VA and are below it. Delaware's "above" it, or really east of it. KY and MO are too far west to touch it, so for them it depends how you reckon things.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:28 PM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


(Oh, but following wikipedia links, maybe you mean those states were north of the Missouri Compromise Line.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:31 PM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Guh. I got confused between the Mason Dixon line and the line of the Missouri Compromise.
posted by Francis at 4:32 PM on November 15, 2014


(I mention it only because for a long time, I believed -- with embarrassing conviction -- that the Mason-Dixon Line was much further south than it actually is.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:50 PM on November 15, 2014


"Who claims Truth, Truth abandons. History is hir'd, or coerc'd, only in Interests that must ever prove base. She is too innocent, to be left within the reach of anyone in Power,- who need but touch her, and all her Credit is in the instant vanish'd, as if it had never been."

-Pynchon, 'Mason & Dixon'
posted by clavdivs at 5:33 PM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


in 1860, georgia's population was 1,057,286 - in 1870, it was 1,184,109

so how does that fit in with "mass starvation"?


Do you have any idea how many carpetbaggers could fit in one carpet bag?

I mean, they were, like, the clown cars of the 1860s.
posted by thivaia at 5:53 PM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


genghis khan, attila the hun, various roman emperors, napoleon, all students of total warfare at the feet of the immortal general sherman

Napoleon? Really?

There is a much wider gulf between those other fellows and Sherman than there is between Sherman and the folks who crossed the T of technological total warfare in the early 20th century. The biggest problem with the Civil War isn't even the half million plus people who died in the festivities. It was the rest of the world watching and getting ideas which would be realized in the next round, where the casualties would be in eight figures instead of merely six, and for even more dubious reasons. Is that "mass" enough for you?
posted by localroger at 5:57 PM on November 15, 2014


I am fairly certain that industrial warfare would have happened even if it weren't for Sherman.
posted by The Gaffer at 6:05 PM on November 15, 2014


Carl von Clausewitz would tend to agree.
posted by mr. digits at 6:09 PM on November 15, 2014


I am fairly certain that industrial warfare would have happened even if it weren't for Sherman.

Actually the system that sent Sherman out with his mission; he wasn't the only one, but there was a core group of people who were channeling the unborn fetus of Ayn Rand who thought all this shit was a really good idea and if they hadn't staged such a groovy demonstration it's nearly certain World War I would have been, if not ultimately better, surely a lot different than we remember.
posted by localroger at 6:11 PM on November 15, 2014


Who was this cabal and what do you reckon would not have happened in WWI without them?
posted by The Gaffer at 6:16 PM on November 15, 2014


It's not like a big fucking secret who the generals, financiers, and industrialists of the Civil War were. Both sides were in a race to find ever more creative ways to make mass murder but the North had all the industrial advantages. It's not exactly a controversial viewpoint that the Civil War was the debut of a new way of waging war that would fully mature in the next century. WWI was in many ways a ham-handed attempt to apply the lessons everyone thought they learned from the American Civil War, applied with better machining and power sources. And WWII was the maturation of understanding of those lessons taken to seven decimal places.
posted by localroger at 6:23 PM on November 15, 2014


Jomini
posted by clavdivs at 6:40 PM on November 15, 2014


And his middle name was Tecumseh.
posted by clavdivs at 6:53 PM on November 15, 2014


To link Jomini and Shermans' Philosophy: "war and individual ruin are synonymous terms"

-WTS
posted by clavdivs at 7:29 PM on November 15, 2014


Wasn't economy of force a major point in Jomini's theory? How does Sherman accord to that?
posted by mr. digits at 7:34 PM on November 15, 2014


Napoleon? Really?

the peninsular war was pretty savage - and if you think sherman's march to the sea was bad, maybe you should ask the peasants of the 30 years war how it went for them

you just aren't getting it - sherman's innovation wasn't mass destruction of infrastructure and resources - it was that he focused on what the enemy forces needed to continue to fight and actually was moderate when it came to everything else

but of course, what we really have here is another case of american exceptionalism - we're better than those old world countries and nasty savage nations - we're not supposed to do things like that and things like that sure aren't supposed to happen to us

you can't put ww1 and it's tactics on sherman - sherman, along with many other generals on both sides, moved around - in ww1 they dug trenches and stayed put and attempted suicidal attacks based on a clusterfuckian misunderstanding of the weapons that were being used

ww2? - sure, hitler, and then the allies figured out that forces had to be mobile to have an impact and that infrastructure needed to be destroyed - but people had done this in medieval and ancient times, too - it's just that modern technology made it so much more effective - although i have to mention that genghis khan was capable of killing more people in one day than hiroshima, dresden and nagasaki combined, with swords and horses

the difference between genghis and sherman is that sherman let the atlanteans evacuate the town before he burned it down and gave them time to do it

genghis khan, on the other hand, was a real bastard

but he didn't do it to americans - i guess that makes it different

p. s - the south lost - for god's sake get over it will you?
posted by pyramid termite at 7:35 PM on November 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


for additional perspective, here's wikipedia's utterly depressing list of casualties for great wars

if you arrange it by number of casualties, you'll find that the american civil war is way, way down on the list - and the vietnam war and our current war on terror have been more destructive of life

that sucks, doesn't it?
posted by pyramid termite at 7:53 PM on November 15, 2014


Mr. Digits
How did Sherman accord to Jominis' theory of economy in warfare... By his following it?
There are numerous examples if one excepts the premise of economy as use of all force effectively.
A. Sherman did not waste men on occupying captured territory
B. He used raids to maximize his AO
C. Concentrated forces and worked well with others example, the navy
D. Sought to crush the rebellion rather then just supress it and sue for Peace which is political strat.
He would study his ops and update when needed. He had uncanny recall and an appetite for data.
Sure, Hood moved faster after Atlanta hitting Shermans rear and supply lines but that was the point, to counter-attack. Sherman hit the military, civilian, and industrial centers because a hit on one was a hit on All three thus maximizing damage.

The better question is how do we know he even read Jomini unless he spoke French or Italian perhaps Russian as his work was not translated into English until the 1850s' and not introduced to West Point until 1862...I think it was well my edition has the 62' preface.
posted by clavdivs at 9:30 PM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Thanks -- that's more interesting than observing that William Tecumseh Sherman is an anagram of "meantime, chums, war is hell".
posted by mr. digits at 9:52 PM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's not exactly a controversial viewpoint that the Civil War was the debut of a new way of waging war that would fully mature in the next century.

It's not exactly a controversial viewpoint that Southern claims of victimization in the postbellum period was how the continuation of slavery by other means was carried out well into the 20th century. This is why discussions of possible war crimes or wrongs on the part of the North are taken with huge grains of salt, and why discussion of them has to do a lot of work to disentangle itself from the aforesaid line of racist bullshit. It requires, I think, a real effort to consider that there was another, sizable group int he South more victimized than any other, and primarily (but certainly not entirely) by the Southern theory of society and governance that came to fruition in the Confederacy and the secession.

If you find this unfair, blame the Lost Cause mythologizers who have made skepticism about Southern victimhood into a broadly necessary corrective to a sometimes literally whitewashed history, and who have hidden behind claims that Sherman or Lincoln or whoever ran roughshod over the rights and dignity of Southerners without ever quite acknowledging all those people in the South whose dignity, rights, and even personhood the Confederacy was forthrightly designed to deny and continue denying.

So if you want to call to account every atrocity in the period, let's call to account *every* atrocity. And if you only want to point out what the Union forces did wrong...well, you might be able to guess why that raises a red (and starred, and barred) flag.

Your tenuous claim that Sherman invented the atrocities of 20th-century warfare -- and it is tenuous, despite your putting in the effort to type the word "uncontroversial" without going to the additional trouble of digging up any sort of credible external support -- desperately needs to be framed by an acknowledgement of what it is that both the antebellum South and, crucially, the postbellum South invented and dragged into the 20th century and even the 21st.

Rather like postbellum Germany, the South had a pretty fucking big historical hole to dig itself out of before it got to complain about how its slave system was dismantled, or moan about the impure motivations of those who ended up doing the dismantling.

But unlike Germany, the South still flies the flag most associated its disgusting, racist past with pride, still pretends that the confederate dead perished in defense of a noble cause, and still monumentalizes what it ought to have long since condemned. Long after the war, it did every damned thing it could and more to see to it that the cause of racial equality was set back and diminished. Perhaps when the South's defenders manage a tenth of the disavowal of its past that Germany, in particular, has managed, we can have this discussion. Even Japan, for all its denialism, has managed a few apologies and accepted a new constitution after the second World War. The South, in contrast, hated every second of Reconstruction and invented Jim Crow the second it became politically feasible.

If that strikes you as an unfair burden upon your position, I'd urge you to look at the region's history in the period we discuss to see if you can see any group of people other than white Southerners who might have been placed under an "unfair burden," if I may use so tame a euphemism.
posted by kewb at 5:02 AM on November 16, 2014 [15 favorites]


It's funny you bring up Germany, because I totally missed the part where the occupying forces burned the crops in the post-D-Day advance. Probably because we were too busy trying to shore up our position vis-a-vis the Soviets in that case, and that meant making nice with the parts of the country we managed to grab as quickly as possible.

It is well documented that the Germans expected us to exterminate them. I wonder what would have given them that idea?

You are definitely right that I'm not getting something about your position, and that's the part where the large fraction of the population, by many accounts the majority, who did not own slaves and were if anything also victims of the slave economy were somehow deserving of this crap just becuase they happened to live there.

That's a thing I hear every time this comes up and it's always bullshit. There is no "south" that did these things, there are people, mostly rich assholes who were using their power to shore up their interests at everyone else's expense, just like today. But when you decide it's OK to burn the crops and bomb the cities and bomb the dams just before harvest and round up all the $population_subgroup you are on the wrong side of a line, and for our country and our civilization Sherman is pretty much the pioneer as far as unapologetically stepping over that line and going "Line? What line? Hey I won, that's what matters" when called on it.
posted by localroger at 7:23 AM on November 16, 2014


It's a good thing that he didn't see that everyone who wasn't killed was enslaved, or he'd really be a pioneer. You know, like Caesar two millennia before.

I guess you could argue -- "persuasively" is another matter -- that Rome didn't influence Western civilization, though.
posted by mr. digits at 7:53 AM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


The South was a democracy and voted for those rich assholes.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:08 AM on November 16, 2014


I think the claim of Sherman was not -- I won, therefore it was right, but -- I shortened the war, therefore I saved many lives, therefore I was right. As I remember from Ken Burns' documentary, confederate army was running short on food, when Sherman took part of the food from population, they could no longer share with the confederate army, they kept most of what's left for themselves. This was a big part of cowing the confederate army into submission. One of the first things that happened after surrender (as in, on the same day of surrender), was that Grant promptly sent over 50,000 MREs to the confederates.

You can't magically deprive an army of food without partly depriving the population that supports said army of food, when conflict is taking place on the territory of that population. Is the argument really that it would have been humane to shoot every single confederate soldier dead, (and by extension, as the conscription was ongoing, to kill many who would be forced into ranks after the time of Sherman's raid?)
posted by rainy at 8:39 AM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


It is well documented that the Germans expected us to exterminate them.

well, it's what they would have done, isn't it? - at least for certain kinds of people

There is no "south" that did these things, there are people, mostly rich assholes who were using their power to shore up their interests at everyone else's expense, just like today.

and yet, mostly poor assholes joined the confederate army by the droves to fight for those interests and many of their descendants commemorate them and cry that "the south will rise again" and weep over the lost cause and the war of northern aggression and billy the torch

speaking of "the wrong side of a line", i had the weird notion that saying you own another human being was on the wrong side of a line

and that is what a good part of the south defended
posted by pyramid termite at 8:41 AM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


was that Grant promptly sent over 50,000 MREs to the confederates.

now THAT would have been a war crime

(anachronisms can be fun ...)
posted by pyramid termite at 8:44 AM on November 16, 2014


There was a large number of pro-north people in the south, whenever they would be in contact with union armies, they would be helped and not harmed, even though they were geographically 'on the wrong side of a line'.
posted by rainy at 8:44 AM on November 16, 2014


I thought you were afraid to make these kinds of arguments, localroger? I'm glad you've gotten your courage up to do it.

Anyway, the idea that the Nazis were at all comparable to Sherman is really too ignorant to argue with. The better analogue, if one must make an analogue to the Nazis at all, is that southern slaveholders were comparable to Nazis.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:40 AM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


localroger: the large fraction of the population, by many accounts the majority, who did not own slaves and were if anything also victims of the slave economy

That's... not how economies work, and your attempt to make the South out to be some kind of uniquely oligarchal society has been debunked many times before. This piece is paywalled, but I'll quote some portions that are relevant:
In accordance with the customary emphasis, historians often include all of the slave states in their statistical presentations. If one is interested in the deterministic impact of slavery, however, it would appear more appropriate to consider only the Confederate states, where fully 31 per cent of the white families owned slaves in 1860. Thus, every third white person in those states had a direct commitment to slavery and, barring occasional dissidents, had cause to be a supporter and propagandist for that system. This appears to be an amazingly large, rather than small, base of support for any economic order, and the figures are more impres- sive when we consider the seven states of the lower South in the pre- cise order of their secession from the Union: South Carolina with 48.7 per cent of the white families owning slaves; Mississippi with 48 per cent; Florida with 36 per cent; Alabama with 35.1 per cent; Georgia with 38 per cent; Louisiana with 32.2 per cent; and Texas with 28.5 per cent.

Even more pertinent is the fact that the significance of these per- centages has been distorted because of an eagerness to view slavehold- ing as something that could be equated with, say, voting percentages, or the possession of horses or cows, or the popularity of styles of dress. But while 31 per cent may not appear large as a voting or even isolated ownership statistic, it is enormous if, as suggested by Turner and Geno- vese, slavery is viewed as the economic foundation of an entire social system and the distribution of slaves is compared to analogous factors in a free society.

The problem of determining the appropriate comparisons for such a test is too complex to be thoroughly examined here, but some rough suggestions can be made. [...] In the first instance, taking for the year 1949 the very modest estimate of $5,000 as an investment comparable to the in- vestment in one slave in 1860, we discover that in 1949 only 2 per cent of the spending units (families) in the United States held stock worth $5,000 or more. If one is concerned with estimating the extent of a di- rect personal interest in the profits of a particular labor system it would then seem appropriate to compare this figure of 2 per cent with the 31 per cent of the white families in the Confederacy who owned slaves. We are excluding, of course, the entire southern black population and the entire question of general welfare, but what we are interested in is the comparative extent to which southern whites directly invested in slavery. In this respect the proportion of whites who invested in and profited from slavery far exceeds the proportion of the total population investing in our own free labor system.

The significance or influence of the large slaveholding minority of the antebellum South was additionally enhanced by a wide variety of fac- tors that usually and mistakenly have been identified only with the in- terests of the planter elite. For example, slave owners were, on the whole, the more successful and influential members of the white popu- lation, and in addition their interests were championed by many non- slaveholders who were directly or indirectly involved with the benefits of the slave economy. The geographical concentration of slavery also increased its political power in key regions within the various states, while that power was sometimes further strengthened by slave or prop- erty representation at the state level. What is being suggested is that while particular advantages did exist for the slaveholding minority within the South, these advantages were being exploited by a remark- ably large proportion of the total white population; and the large size of this minority was crucial to the strength of racism, slavery, and the Confederacy.
The point here is that 31 percent, while not a majority, dwarfs comparable measures of participation in an economy, which demonstrates that slavery was integral to the economic fortunes not only of slaveholders, but of nearly every southerner. Your view of slaveholders as economic elites that concentrated wealth among themselves and ran roughshod over the political process to "victimize" non-slaveholders is thoughtless ahistorical apologia masquerading as an argument.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:47 AM on November 16, 2014 [12 favorites]


And here's more on the prevalence of slavery among the Confederacy from Andy Hall for the Atlantic: Small Truth Papering Over a Big Lie (emphasis in original)
"Ninety-eight percent of Texas Confederate soldiers never owned a slave." So says Texas State Senate Resolution No. 526, designating April as Texas Confederate History and Heritage Month.

This is an extremely common argument among Confederate apologists, part of a larger effort to minimize or eliminate the institution of slavery as a factor in secession and the coming of the war, and thus make it possible to maintain the notion that Southern soldiers, like the Confederacy itself, were driven by the purest and noblest values to defend home and hearth. Slavery played no role it the coming of the war, they say; how could it, when less than two percent (four percent, five percent) actually owned slaves? In fact, they'd say, their ancestors had nothing at all to do with slavery.

Bullshit.

It's true that in an extremely narrow sense, only a very small proportion of Confederate soldiers owned slaves in their own right. That, of course, is to be expected; soldiering is a young man's game, and most young men, then and now, have little in the way of personal wealth. As a crude analogy, how many PFCs and corporals in Iraq and Afghanistan today own their own homes? Not many.

But even if it is narrowly true, it's a deeply, deeply dishonest statistic. It is, as TheRaven would say, a small truth used to paper over a big lie. A majority of those young men who marched off to war in the spring of 1861 were fully vested in the "peculiar institution." Joseph T. Glatthaar, in his magnificent study of the force that eventually became the Army of Northern Virginia, lays out the evidence.
Even more revealing was their attachment to slavery. Among the enlistees in 1861, slightly more than one in ten owned slaves personally. This compared favorably to the Confederacy as a whole, in which one in every twenty white persons owned slaves. Yet more than one in every four volunteers that first year lived with parents who were slaveholders. Combining those soldiers who owned slaves with those soldiers who lived with slaveholding family members, the proportion rose to 36 percent. That contrasted starkly with the 24.9 percent, or one in every four households, that owned slaves in the South, based on the 1860 census. Thus, volunteers in 1861 were 42 percent more likely to own slaves themselves or to live with family members who owned slaves than the general population.

The attachment to slavery, though, was even more powerful. One in every ten volunteers in 1861 did not own slaves themselves but lived in households headed by non family members who did. This figure, combined with the 36 percent who owned or whose family members owned slaves, indicated that almost one of every two 1861 recruits lived with slaveholders. Nor did the direct exposure stop there. Untold numbers of enlistees rented land from, sold crops to, or worked for slaveholders. In the final tabulation, the vast majority of the volunteers of 1861 had a direct connection to slavery. For slaveholder and nonslaveholder alike, slavery lay at the heart of the Confederate nation. The fact that their paper notes frequently depicted scenes of slaves demonstrated the institution's central role and symbolic value to the Confederacy.

More than half the officers in 1861 owned slaves, and none of them lived with family members who were slaveholders. Their substantial median combined wealth ($5,600) and average combined wealth ($8,979) mirrored that high proportion of slave ownership. By comparison, only one in twelve enlisted men owned slaves, but when those who lived with family slave owners were included, the ratio exceeded one in three. That was 40 percent above the tally for all households in the Old South. With the inclusion of those who resided in nonfamily slaveholding households, the direct exposure to bondage among enlisted personnel was four of every nine. Enlisted men owned less wealth, with combined levels of $1,125 for the median and $7,079 for the average, but those numbers indicated a fairly comfortable standard of living. Proportionately, far more officers were likely to be professionals in civil life, and their age difference, about four years older than enlisted men, reflected their greater accumulated wealth.
The prevalence of slaveholding was so pervasive among Southerners who heeded the call to arms in 1861 that it became something of a joke; Glatthaar tells of an Irish-born private in a Georgia regiment who quipped to his messmates that "he bought a negro, he says, to have something to fight for."
[...]
You don't have to talk to a Confederate apologist long before before you'll be told that only a tiny fraction of butternuts owned slaves. (This is usually followed immediately by an assertion that the speaker's own Confederate ancestors never owned slaves, either.) The number ascribed to Confederate soldiers as a whole varies—two percent, five percent—but the message is always the same, that those men 150 years had nothing to do with the peculiar institution, they has no stake in it, and that it certainly played no role whatever in their personal motivations or in the Confederacy's goals in the war. But it's simply not true in any meaningful way. Slave labor was as much a part of life in the antebellum South as heat in the summer and hog-killing time in the late fall. Southerners across the Confederacy, from Texas to Florida to Virginia, civilian and soldier alike, were awash in the institution of slavery. They were up to their necks in it. They swam in it, and no amount of willful denial can change that.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:01 AM on November 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


The South was a democracy and [the white male landowners] voted for those rich assholes.

FTFY.

You can construct economic arguments until you are metafilter-blue in the face but that does not change the fact that "they could give up their slaves and avoid it" is a lie when applied to individuals, individuals do not choose where to be born, and a very large fraction of the individuals in the South were either indifferent to or outright victims of the slavery system.

Since the topic of the South is so loaded and distant, though, let's discuss where it went, because that's a big part of my problem. Sherman didn't just burn the crops, as his "not the devil" plaque admits, he started a trend. And Sherman's march was a funny cat video compared to the careers of many who followed his example. Let's talk about Curtis LeMay.
We were going after military targets. No point in slaughtering civilians for the sake of slaughter. Of course there is a pretty thin veneer in Japan, but the veneer was there. It was their system of dispersal of industry. All you had to do was visit one of those targets after we'd roasted it, and see the ruins of a multitude of tiny houses, each with a drill press sticking up through the wreckage of every home. The entire population got into the act and worked to make those airplanes or munitions of war...men, women, children. We knew we were going to kill a lot of women and kids when we burned [a] town. Had to be done.
Now, as with the CW you can say that maybe LeMay was right. Maybe it was his campaign of bombing out Japan's residential districts that softened them up to cave instead of forcing an invasion. Maybe it saved lives in the end. Sucks if you were one of the people roasted in Tokyo or the relatively minor codas of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the population supported their government, right?

The damning thing though is what LeMay did after WWII. He proceeded to spend every moment of the rest of his career campaigning tirelessly to pick a nuclear war, one everyone admitted would cause hundreds of millions of casualties, because the longer we waited the poorer our position would be. This was his conclusion, starting from the same position and using exactly the same logic, that started for our country when Sherman decided it was a proper military move to abandon established protocol and steamroll the civilians because, when you get the right words in the blender, "the entire population is a proper military target."

Protip: If your biography includes a quote about how you would probably be considered a war criminal if your side had lost, you probably are a war criminal. It took a country that had swallowed Sherman's logic to swallow LeMay's, and to further put up with him for over a decade as he repeatedly undermined his own superiors in a bid to pick a war he knew would kill hundreds of millions.

If you want to dance with the Devil you had better be prepared to finish the song. Sherman's march did not end at the sea, it ended at World War Three, and we are very lucky his heirs fucked that up. And that is why I have zero tolerance for the language of militarizing normal civilian activities. That road may sometimes be paved with good intentions, but it still only leads to Hell.
posted by localroger at 11:30 AM on November 16, 2014


localroger: You can construct economic arguments until you are metafilter-blue in the face

And you can continue to duck economic arguments with evidence-free recitations of your premises after making an economic argument of your own, but that's not very sporting of you.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:44 AM on November 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Maybe you could address the rest of my last comment, which explains why I tend to see less gray in this than you realize. The fine details of who did or did not benefit from slavery are less relevant than the fact that obviously some didn't, and they get caught up in the whole "proper military target" bullshit which can justify anything.

Or maybe you think LeMay was right that we should have struck first and killed the entire population of Russia before they got the chance to do the same thing to us? Because that is exactly the same logic, and my objection to whitewashing Sherman has less to do with the Confederacy than with the very real trend that he seems to have started in how it's OK to consider civilians military targets.
posted by localroger at 11:55 AM on November 16, 2014


he started a trend. 

This is patently, obviously false, as even a cursory study of human history will confirm. Your understanding of war is as accurate as your statement that you were leaving this thread.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:56 AM on November 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


This is patently, obviously false

Well I'm glad you cleared that up. I was previously unaware that Genghis Khan, for example, was an American general and established American military tactics.
posted by localroger at 12:04 PM on November 16, 2014


localroger: Maybe you could address the rest of my last comment

"Please don't sidestep the argument I made after sidestepping your argument."

Or maybe you think LeMay was right that we should have struck first and killed the entire population of Russia

Right, because the only two choices are (a) accepting your version of events, where the 31% of actual slaveholders are the only ones we can pin moral culpability for slavery on, or (b) being a supporter of indiscriminate killing of civilians.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:09 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh, and on my "statement that I was leaving the thread," that was more being left speechless by the rather elephant-in-the-room implications of this quote:
It must be emphasized that Sherman's forces refrained from raping white women
Now I realize that language usage changes over the time but I really cannot think of any non-horrific reason for the word white to be in that sentence.
posted by localroger at 12:11 PM on November 16, 2014


Right, because the only two choices are (a) accepting your version of events, where the 31% of actual slaveholders are the only ones we can pin moral culpability for slavery on, or (b) being a supporter of indiscriminate killing of civilians.

That is more or less exactly what Curtis LeMay said. Your neighbor's drill press is a good enough reason to burn down your home. The people who founded our country did not, I am pretty sure, consider Imperial Rome and Genghis Khan role models. Somewhere between 1776 and 1945 that changed in a big way, and I tend to think it changed between 1860 and 1865.
posted by localroger at 12:14 PM on November 16, 2014


The founders of our country kept slavery and the slave trade legal, and they counted slaves as 3/5 of a person to enhance the power of people with vested interest in perpetuating that brutal system. Whether or not Imperial Rome or Genghis Khan were role models for those founders hardly matters for the Civil War. Laying the developments of 20th Century warfare at General Sherman's feet is at best a red herring and at worst simply grasping at straws.
posted by haiku warrior at 12:34 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's an odd parallel, to say the least. Confederate army suffered a few significant defeats, and was facing much greater populated and economically / industrially vigorous North. They were making a stand until most of their soldiers were dead or most of their bread was eaten, whatever comes sooner. Sherman merely ensured that bread runs out sooner than confederate (and union) soldiers' blood.

To make a parallel to WWII fire bombing, nuclear bombing, etc, requires such mental gymnastics that your cerebral cortex must have turned into a pretzel.

In fact, I think the main issue here is that you're just barking up the wrong tree. In case of Sherman, it's not about unacceptable tactics becoming acceptable. There were no previous American Civil wars so there was no standard in this sense. In case of Independence war, if American troops could somehow invade England and burn English army's food supplies to weaken their war effort, I have strong doubts they would prefer the alternative of losing the war.

Instead, what you can compare the Civil War with is European wars of 16th-18th centuries where two armies would meet in battle, and the winning side would extract financial / land concessions in most cases, until the next war. In Civil War, the objective was utterly different. The North did not want war reparations or to carve a chunk out the South, they wanted to re-join the Union in their entirety; and by the end of war, sans slavery.

The essence of the thing is that there was a deep philosophical rift at play and the options were either that North allows South to have slavery and independence, or decimates Southern armies, or starves them. Sherman chose the last option as the more humane, and if there was anything WW1 and WW2 leaders had to learn from him, it was to always try for the more humane option, which they certainly did not do.
posted by rainy at 12:39 PM on November 16, 2014 [4 favorites]




Somewhere between 1776 and 1945 that changed in a big way, and I tend to think it changed between 1860 and 1865.

that utterly ignores the conflicts between native americans and settlers, as the man of twist and turns just pointed out

you might also investigate how the boer war was conducted, too

in fact, you might consider actually reading a few history books so you can actually know what you're talking about

and tonycpsu, thanks for some informative information
posted by pyramid termite at 1:08 PM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


that utterly ignores the conflicts between native americans and settlers,

Seriously. Read up on King Philip's War, if nothing else.
posted by rtha at 2:09 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


SHERMAN SHOT THE FOOD
posted by rocketman at 2:17 PM on November 16, 2014


If nothing else, you get to marvel at human ingenuity in finding justifications for a preferred point of view even when it is in blatant conflict with plain facts. The Confederate Cause defenders who peddle the myth of The War of Northern Aggression, tend to be especially skilled in that ability. At its simplest, it's often merely an exact inversion. Even if they fired the first shot, well, how about - "they made us do it!" "they tricked us into it!" From this thread:

The attack on Fort Sumter wasn't an unprovoked assault. It was bait and the Confederates took it.

It's like that old Soviet joke, except meant to be taken at face value, not as a joke: "Comrades, it's untrue that we fired a missile at the building! Our Soviet missile was on a peaceful flight and the building attacked it, unprovoked!"

I have some interest in the Civil War, though by no means do I consider myself any kind of expert or even particularly knowledgeable, so I'm always open to hearing other opinions, which I eagerly cross reference. There's plenty of controversy to go around, but little about certain facts on which it seems there is general agreement. I've read a few books and watched a bunch of documentaries, and the official start of the war is naturally of great interest to people, so a lot of attention is paid to the events connected with Fort Sumter. It's astonishing that anyone would try to portray the naked aggression at the end of a whole series of illegal actions to be anything but a clear-cut case of treason. Yet, someone manages to read the situation as the perfidious North tricking the Confederates into attacking - it wasn't an "unprovoked" assault, apparently it was "provoked" and the Confederates just couldn't withstand such horrible provocation. In other words, the building jumped into the path of the missile and attacked it. The mind boggles.
posted by VikingSword at 2:38 PM on November 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


To make a parallel to WWII fire bombing, nuclear bombing, etc, requires such mental gymnastics that your cerebral cortex must have turned into a pretzel.

You know the comparison isn't about the degree but rather the logic? As the first industrialized war (this is commonly accepted among military historians) it made sense to target the civilian population that supported the war effort as a way to win a war of attrition (which the war had turned into by this point). The exact same thinking (total war targeting the support systems as well as the actual fighting men) led to large scale bombing and eventually nuclear strikes.

I promise if the union had B-17's it would have used them to the same affect as the march to the sea.

Note: I am not taking a side on the should/shouldn't have right or wrong or the rest of the civil war/northern aggression discussion-I just want people to see that the righteousness of the cause is independent of the tactics used and just because it is a war you agree with or the losers are ones you find abhorrent or someone less than deserving of humane treatment does not make it ok or not ok. I always find the cognitive dissonance-on both sides-of these threads baffling.

Sherman's goal was that of his leadership (Abraham Lincoln) to end the war and reunite the states as quickly as possible. As such the march to the sea was an obvious move-in no way was it unique before or after. War is hell.
posted by bartonlong at 3:14 PM on November 16, 2014


I think it's a bit of a distraction if you take a more strategic view of the war.

What do we have? North is much bigger and more industrial, and growing faster, elects a president who dislikes slavery. For the South, it's a matter of either losing slowly to the emerging, powerful North, or to take a gamble and strive for independence.

From this angle, it's not material who exactly was more guilty in the bleeding Kansas or who fired first shots in the war proper. There was a deep rift and Southern slavery was not acceptable to the North *in perpetuity* and abolition was not acceptable to the South. So choosing the time and place for the first shots is probably more of a tactical questions.

South secedes and now the ball in Union's court: the choice is to allow disunion or not to allow, which eventually means waging war.

Then you have the 2 essential questions: first, is it within state's rights to secede given that two systems were clearly becoming incompatible and that North wasn't completely abiding by the compromise of 1851 (the fugitive act); and second, even if states are in theory allowed to secede, should they be allowed for an immoral reason of maintaining slavery?

In other words, if you take the slavery out of the equation, Southern positions seems fairly reasonable: we can no longer work as a union, we don't want to fight, we don't want to harm you, let us be separate but friendly.

Of course slavery was in fact a part of the equation.
posted by rainy at 3:18 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I must admit I am a bit shocked to hear in this place that, essentially, the solution to our shameful past with the Native Americans is not to start viewing them as people, but to view everyone else as animals worthy of extermination too. I guess any group will find the language that justifies genocide sweet when it comes from the right orifice.

The reason I am not interested in your detailed history is that there is no detail which overcomes the basic statement, which is stated flatly by the OP, that Sherman's forces destroyed the food they could not consume themselves. My basic point is that if it happened, that is an unqualified evil, and if it didn't happen why is it on a plaque that is being lauded for painting Sherman as not being such a demon?

I also still haven't heard an explanation of what Sherman's men were doing while they were generously refraining from raping the white women.

It's true my real interest isn't so much in the civil War as in the also tragic history of atomic development. Instead of justifying Sherman's atrocities maybe you should consider shoring up the case that they didn't happen, because if they happened there is no defense I'm interested in hearing. You cannot correct evil with another evil. We got into that mess in the first place because correcting the evil of slavery might have risked not correcting the evil of British domination and exploitation, which looked more important at the time. But I suppose this is a lesson America is congenitally incapable of learning.
posted by localroger at 3:21 PM on November 16, 2014


You know the comparison isn't about the degree but rather the logic?

My reading was that comparison was precisely that Sherman made a conscious decision to make war more barbaric than it had to be, and then in WW1 & 2 everyone was like, wait we can do what Sherman did but more of it? Who's got two thumbs and WMDs? This guy!

I mean, gee, the logic of a general is always the same: use available means to achieve present goal. If a general happens to be an, if I can put it this way, "a nice guy", he tries to do it with minimal bloodshed. This logic runs through the ages. The logic is the same, but what is different.. the means and goals are different - in a different conflict it might be enough to have your Gettysburg and then the enemy sues for peace and agrees to your demands. Not so in this war.

The unique thing was the determination of large swaths of Southern population, and of the Southern standing armies. Sherman was addressing this unique challenge, just like any talented general would have done, whether from 300AD, or 1776, or 1914.
posted by rainy at 3:29 PM on November 16, 2014


"Despite popular claims that LeMay advanced the notion of preventive nuclear war, the historical record indicates LeMay actually advocated justified preemptive nuclear war. Several documents show LeMay advocating preemptive attack of the Soviet Union, had it become clear the Soviets were preparing to attack SAC or the US. In these documents, which were often the transcripts of speeches before groups such as the National War College or events such as the 1955 Joint Secretaries Conference at the Quantico Marine Corps Base, LeMay clearly advocated using SAC as a preemptive weapon, if and when such action was necessary."
-from wiki on Lemay
posted by clavdivs at 3:33 PM on November 16, 2014


[LeMay] proceeded to spend every moment of the rest of his career campaigning tirelessly to pick a nuclear war, one everyone admitted would cause hundreds of millions of casualties

Well, he didn't say we wouldn't get our hair mussed.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:34 PM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


localroger, 600k+ people died in the Civil War, if it continued a year or two longer, the toll would unquestionably be much higher. I don't know what kind of a fantasy world you live in where it's preferable to kill 100k or 200k people rather than, god forbid, burn a field of grass. I just don't understand people on the internet sometimes.. not the tiniest bit.
posted by rainy at 3:35 PM on November 16, 2014


Somewhere between 1776 and 1945 that changed in a big way, and I tend to think it changed between 1860 and 1865.

What changed was not how to wage a war of attrition in America or anywhere else. It was the machinery and weapons for conducting it.

As for justifying General Sherman's actions, for many including me, it comes to lesser of many evils. Act in the more civilized way suggested by localroger, leading to far greater bloodshed, pain, and mutilation on the battlefield, which also would allow the barbarity of slavery to continue for who knows how long? Or do what Sherman did to shorten the war and end slavery as soon as possible?

Before starting the war, the CSA should have considered that the possibility that they would lose the war and have to suffer the deprivations and pain that people they enslaved or their ancestors suffered.
posted by haiku warrior at 3:43 PM on November 16, 2014


I must admit I am a bit shocked to hear in this place that, essentially, the solution to our shameful past with the Native Americans is not to start viewing them as people, but to view everyone else as animals worthy of extermination too. I guess any group will find the language that justifies genocide sweet when it comes from the right orifice.

No one here is saying that. I don't understand how you can possibly -- let alone reasonably -- read anything to mean that. You have claimed, repeatedly, that Sherman "started a trend" and that he represents a break from (to paraphrase) the America of 1776 and the world before. The mention of past conflicts was not, as you imply, to retroactively justify them, but to point out that you were wrong in your claim that Sherman (a) 'started a trend' and (b) represents a methodological or ethical break with the past.

He did not and he does not.

Regardless of what one thinks of what he did, and regardless of what one thinks he did, what he did fits neatly into a long, tragic history of war, for good or for ill.
posted by cjelli at 4:20 PM on November 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Despite popular claims that LeMay advanced the notion of preventive nuclear war

You might try Richard Rhodes instead of Wikipedia. He actually talked to everyone still alive who remembered the principals when he wrote Dark Sun, and he makes it clear that LeMay lived in a nearly continuous state of outrage that we hadn't yet gotten into it with the Soviets.

I don't know what kind of a fantasy world you live in where it's preferable to kill 100k or 200k people rather than, god forbid, burn a field of grass.

As with the even more evil and unconscionable atomic bombings, I seriously doubt that the Civil War needed war crimes to end it at that point. Destroying the manufacturing and transportation infrastructure was the coup de grace. It was not "fields of grass" that were burned, it was the food supply (especially critical when you've destroyed the transportation infrastructure, for more militarily justifiable reasons) for the civilian population.

"The long history of war" has featured several walk-backs from the idea that anything goes if you win, partly because the lesson was learned that if you aren't going to really exterminate your enemy to the last infant, you're going to have to live with them and their memory of what you did. Unfortunately, the US seems to have spent most of its history walking that idea in the wrong direction.
posted by localroger at 5:49 PM on November 16, 2014


But that's what we're arguing about - whether these were war crimes or not. If the war could stop by itself without Sherman cutting off South's food supply, then why did it not stop right then and there? North had the victories, had the larger armies, bigger economy. The only thing I can think of is that South was set to fight to the last tooth and nail, which is indeed supported by contemporary accounts.

Hiroshima is as different from Sherman's march as day is different from night. The bombs were not dropped on food supplies but on large cities. IF they were dropped on granaries and fields, away from population centers, that would be comparable to Sherman's march.
posted by rainy at 6:11 PM on November 16, 2014


I must admit I am a bit shocked to hear in this place that, essentially, the solution to our shameful past with the Native Americans is not to start viewing them as people, but to view everyone else as animals worthy of extermination too.

you're not really engaging with us are you?

The reason I am not interested in your detailed history is that there is no detail which overcomes the basic statement, which is stated flatly by the OP, that Sherman's forces destroyed the food they could not consume themselves.

you're not interested in our detailed history because it proves you wrong

you may as well argue that sherman taught the restaurant and grocery industries to destroy food that others could eat, simply because it's expired - i await eagerly your denouncement of mcdonald's, safeway, walmart and pizza hut, who aren't even at war with anyone, for their participation in this "unqualified evil"

more seriously, i think what really bugs you isn't just that sherman did what he did - but he had the gall to do it in the south
posted by pyramid termite at 6:14 PM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I must admit I am a bit shocked to hear in this place that, essentially, the solution to our shameful past with the Native Americans is not to start viewing them as people, but to view everyone else as animals worthy of extermination too.

This is just embarrassing. You have claimed that Sherman did a thing no one had done before and you manage to read people pointing out the many, many previous examples as people justifying those actions? Dude.
posted by rtha at 6:18 PM on November 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


To be fair, I always thought that LeMay was the template for the Tasmanian devil with roadrunner and Yosimite Sam a close 2nd and 3rd.

Rhodes, ok, does he correlate events of the time to explain his predeliction with soviet distrust? Does explain his work transforming the army Air Force into an effective force. His tactics saved many, many people and needlessly firebombed many others.

Comparing Lemay and Sherman is like comparing cavalry to aircraft.
posted by clavdivs at 6:47 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Rhodes, ok, does he correlate events of the time to explain his predeliction with soviet distrust?

He not only does so, he meticulously dots all the i's and crosses all the t's and offers a hundred pages or so of footnotes. He is fair describing how LeMay corrected the outrageous mess he found when he took over SAC. But LeMay is like the punctuation mark to a recurring theme in Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun, that being the best of intentions gone horribly wrong and with such force that nobody can do anything but watch it unfold in all its horrible splendor.
posted by localroger at 7:00 PM on November 16, 2014


"Sherman cut off the food supply." Oh, come on. No serious historian north or south has ever suggested that.
An army of 62k took what it needed to live as it passed through an abundant fall harvest. It organized the foraging, and it piled surplus at crossroads for refugees, black and white. There was no famine during or after Sherman's march.
The army concentrated its destructive power upon the property of rich, per Sherman's orders. They had caused the war, he said; the poor tended to be pro-Union or neutral.
An event east of Milledgeville was a good example. The armies were camped in the fields, and Sherman made HQ in a small house. At some point he learned that it belonged to a manager of Howell Cobb's plantation.
Cobb was CSA secy of state and a leading rebel. Without hesitation Sherman ordered Cobb's plantation, gin, barns, cotton stores burned to the ground -- except for the slave quarters. The captured foodstuffs he gave to the (former) slaves.
posted by LonnieK at 7:11 PM on November 16, 2014


Well then localroger, we can agree that drinking rainwater and wood grain alcohol will preserve the precious bodily fluids.
Don't poo-Poo wiki because the cite on that qoute is good as it CAME FROM HIS OWN WORDS.
I respect Rhodes and read his work but it has nothing to do with comparing WTS and LeMay.
posted by clavdivs at 7:36 PM on November 16, 2014


Lonnie, I'm not sure what you imagine 'cutting off food supply' to look like. What you describe had that precise effect -- the supplies consumed or destroyed were denied to the Lee's forces. I'm not sure where you imagine Lee was getting his rations!
posted by rainy at 7:47 PM on November 16, 2014


An event east of Milledgeville was a good example. The armies were camped in the fields, and Sherman made HQ in a small house. At some point he learned that it belonged to a manager of Howell Cobb's plantation.

Cobb was CSA secy of state and a leading rebel. Without hesitation Sherman ordered Cobb's plantation, gin, barns, cotton stores burned to the ground -- except for the slave quarters. The captured foodstuffs he gave to the (former) slaves.


And you seem to find this act of petty revenge, with no military value at all, a source of pleasure. It never occurred to Sherman that these resources he was destroying might benefit someone other than the son of a bitch that putatively owned them, so he destroyed them "without hesitation."

How can you not hear the hate in your own words? How can someone who posts here not see how that paragraph would read if instead of "CSA" it was "palestinian" or "jew" or "sunni" or "shiite." Your cute little story is the essence of senseless and wanton destruction, and there is a very straight line connecting that kind of shit to the senseless and wanton destruction of life.
posted by localroger at 7:49 PM on November 16, 2014


because the cite on that qoute is good as it CAME FROM HIS OWN WORDS.

Of course it did. LeMay was an asshole but he wasn't an idiot, and he knew not to say what he really felt in the wrong venue.
posted by localroger at 8:04 PM on November 16, 2014


Yo dun $ukkked up roger. I have dibs but will concede...in 5 minutes.
posted by clavdivs at 8:08 PM on November 16, 2014


this act of petty revenge, with no military value at all

"The moral is to the physical as three is to one."

(attributed--dubiously--to Napoleon)
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:21 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


The wrong venue? It is not a bloody football match brother, it was a speech or two advocating pre-emtive nuclear war with assurances the fall-out would be limited.
That is my wiki qoute yeah?

Then you counter well with Rhodes but don't supply cite which is fine, common knowledge with web cites and all. But you posit that the individuals interviewed came to the conclusion LeMay is more Taz (no offense Taz) in private and more Yosimite Sam in public.
So what.
posted by clavdivs at 8:25 PM on November 16, 2014


First off
Cobb was not a sec. of state.
If it was Howell cobbs' crib that got torched, fine with me. Andersonville.
That was not revenge, it was a message with symbolism. The stupid fucker even fought on after the truce which makes him some form of XX traitor.
And your flailing comparisons and haughty outrage really, really has been...cathartic.
Thank you for playing.
posted by clavdivs at 8:49 PM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


There is no "south" that did these things, there are people, mostly rich assholes who were using their power to shore up their interests at everyone else's expense

I always enjoy it when the Metafilter gets posts from parallel universes. I'm looking forward to localroger's explanation of how W.W.II started with France's unprovoked invasion of Alsace Lorraine, and only ended with Germany's successful Sealion invasion across the English channel. It's an odd world he lives in.
posted by happyroach at 9:05 PM on November 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's like theatre.
Perhaps roger was hoping to draw Judah Benjamin into the Jack the Ripper case via steampunk Shermans creased laugh and bronzed air-ship.
posted by clavdivs at 9:55 PM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


localroger: I must admit I am a bit shocked to hear in this place that, essentially, the solution to our shameful past with the Native Americans is not to start viewing them as people, but to view everyone else as animals worthy of extermination too. I guess any group will find the language that justifies genocide sweet when it comes from the right orifice.

Holy cats, someone's getting high on their own supply!

Let's roll the tape back a bit, shall we?

The people who founded our country did not, I am pretty sure, consider Imperial Rome and Genghis Khan role models. Somewhere between 1776 and 1945 that changed in a big way, and I tend to think it changed between 1860 and 1865.

Your contention here was that there was something uniquely brutal about how Southerners were treated by Sherman that fell far below the moral standards that our founders set. Of course that's total nonsense, and I'm quite certain the native population of this country would have begged to receive the very worst treatment that the Confederate troops and civilians ever had to endure. Having had bullshit called on your bullshit, your response is to somehow accuse those who refuse to accept your distortion of history of being apologists for the brutal treatment of Native Americans by the founders you said were men of only the highest moral caliber who would never do such a thing.

Are you for real? Seriously, read the words you're writing here, and look at how you keep changing your argument when flaws in your logic are exposed. Consider that maybe your attachment to a conclusion is far stronger than your attachment to a process of reasoning that flows logically from the historical record. Realize that Sherman may have taken some very regrettable actions while waging war against an enemy that was inflicting major casualties on his men, but that those regrettable actions were not out of the ordinary by the standards of war-making at that time.

Or, you know, just keep rattling off ahistorical observations and accusing anyone who disagrees with you of wanting all military enemies to be brutally murdered, since that seems to be working out really well for you.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:28 AM on November 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's really astonishing how thoroughly deranged the Southern apologists can get when confronted with facts.
posted by tavella at 12:05 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, this thread is *baffling*.

It's astonishing and very sad watching localroger, someone who I respect greatly for his writing ability, go on like this. It's like he has some inability to even process information regarding Sherman that doesn't fit his ideas, and so just keeps repeating them without any evidence or support.

I've seen Confederate apologists go off before, but never like this.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:32 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


In looking up information about the March To The Sea, I noticed that the New York Times has been running a really interesting series on the Civil War -- 'Disunion' -- that touches on a lot of the questions raised by the NYT article in the initial post here.

The Burning of Atlanta
On the evening of Nov. 15, 1864, Union Lt. Col. Charles Fessenden Morse sat on the roof of a house and watched Atlanta burn. It was a “magnificent and awful spectacle,” he wrote later to his brother Robert. “For miles around the country was as light as day, … the flames shooting up for hundreds of feet into the air.”
Who Burned Atlanta?
While Sherman never ordered the wholesale burning of Atlanta, he did little to stop many of his increasingly undisciplined soldiers from escalating targeted destruction into arson and rioting. It is difficult to avoid concluding that he arranged matters so that he could deny responsibility if Atlanta’s destruction became morally condemned, but accept credit if it was celebrated.
The Civil War's Environmental Impact
Gen. William T. Sherman famously explained that he wanted the people of the South to feel “the hard hand of war,” and he cut a wide swath on his march to the sea in November and December 1864. “We devoured the land,” he wrote in a letter to his wife.

Gen. Philip H. Sheridan pursued a similar scorched-earth campaign in the Shenandoah Valley in September and October 1864, burning farms and factories and anything else that might be useful to the Confederates. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant told him to “eat out Virginia clear and clear as far as they go, so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their provender with them.”

But the war’s damage was far more pervasive than that. In every theater, Northern and Southern armies lived off the land, helping themselves to any form of food they could find, animal and vegetable. These armies were huge, mobile communities, bigger than any city in the South save New Orleans. They cut down enormous numbers of trees for the wood they needed to warm themselves, to cook, and to build military structures like railroad bridges. Capt. Theodore Dodge of New York wrote from Virginia, “it is wonderful how the whole country round here is literally stripped of its timber. Woods which, when we came here, were so thick that we could not get through them any way are now entirely cleared.”
Different writers for each piece; the emphasis and viewpoint varies, but it's interesting stuff.
posted by cjelli at 12:56 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Lonnie, I'm not sure what you imagine 'cutting off food supply' to look like."
In the context of this thread, I took it to mean deliberately depriving the civilian population of food. I think some others thought that too. And no, I don't think Sherman's march did that.
I agree with you that Sherman's destruction deprived Lee to some degree. I don't know what proportion of Lee's provision came from GA, but I suspect the smashing of the rails had a bigger effect.

@Clavis, you're right. H Cobb was a founder of the CSA, but not S of State.
posted by LonnieK at 1:16 PM on November 17, 2014


LonnieK, here's my original quote:

If the war could stop by itself without Sherman cutting off South's food supply, then why did it not stop right then and there?

I did not make it clear in that comment, but the context of my previous comments was the Sherman's goal of cutting off Lee's supply to push them into surrender, so read South as Southern armies.

Sherman's smashing of railroads was of course part of cutting off food (and other) supplies from Lee.
posted by rainy at 3:10 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Remembering Sherman's March to the Sea, Robert Bateman, Esquire Politics Blog, 18 November 2014
posted by ob1quixote at 1:42 AM on November 20, 2014


From way before the war, when Sherman was a professor at a military academy in Louisiana, his attitude toward the South’s Planter culture was like a fond uncle watching his idiot nephew stumbling into a fast car, planning to drive drunk into the nearest tree.
Why Sherman Was Right To Burn Atlanta
posted by clarknova at 10:04 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Whew, clarknova. That author would have a hard time on the green, calling opponents 'idiots' & 'pus-filled sacks.' The worst thing, though, is that he revels in something Sherman didn't order at all -- willful destruction of the homes of ordinary civilians.
posted by LonnieK at 11:32 AM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's a popular revisionist trope amongst Civil War buffs that Sherman's campaign stuck to military and commercial targets. I've heard this myself at certain group I've attended.

You may want to revisit what you imagine he did and didn't order. From Special Field Order 120, which you can read on Wikipedia:
V. To army corps commanders alone is entrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, &c., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.
Without too much agonizing he burned other towns completely.
“The burning of the town of Rome,” Sherman said, “gives the enemy the clue to my intentions.”
Northerners seem to want to whitewash guys like Butler and Sherman. While I've read things which apparently exonerate the former, trying to bathe the latter in some rosy light just doesn't work. Sherman didn't commit any civilian massacres. But when it came to property destruction the historical record supports Brecher's analysis.

If you don't like his tone I guess that's just too bad.
posted by clarknova at 1:54 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Brecher's tone (i.e. obscenties left & right) is the tantrum of 15-year-old, and his 'analysis' is even more pedestrian. He repeatedly ascribes the Civil War to 'stupid' CSA leaders, but the greatest revolution of the 19th century was a bit more complex than that.

This has nothing to with 'Northerners' whitewashing events. I'm born and bred in ATL. It has to do with willingness to examine the record objectively. Mr. Brecher's position is Yes, Sherman was a monster, and yes, Southern civilians -- all traitors -- deserved the monstrous destruction he wrought upon them. History is soooo easy.

Before advising me to revisit Sherman's orders (or my 'imagining' of them), you might want to reread the actual order you cited. "In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted." What don't you understand about that sentence?

And when it came to houses, WTS was explicit. When circumstances demanded, he said, concentrate fire on the rich, because the poor are generally loyal or neutral. He understood the South a good deal better than the self-described 'war nerd' you cite!

That's not to say some poor peoples' houses were not burned, but Sherman simply did not order wholesale destruction. The president of the GA Historical Society (hardly a 'Yankee' whitewasher) explains this -- yet again -- in a subsequent NYT piece.
posted by LonnieK at 8:55 AM on November 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


The War Nerd is hilarious if you happen to agree with his opinions but it's more of a polemic than any kind of an invitation for discussion. I have zero understanding of nostalgia for the Confederacy, perhaps because I have nearly no conscious value for any tradition of my own. My parents moved over a thousand miles from their home towns and I subsequently moved over a thousand miles from my own. I have a professional colleague who has told me with tears in his eyes and with vocal cracking that the single most treasured heirloom in his family is a letter written home by a dying Confederate soldier with drops of his blood visible on the paper and with even undeniable physical evidence of this man's emotional condition right in front of my own eyes and ears I STILL DO NOT GET IT. I can even remember such detail as this person died at Vicksburg. But I have no idea what this dude was going on about.

google fails me in my quest to find out if the Liberty Monument in New Orleans still has the brass plaque on it which cites its dedication to White Supremacy. The statues of Lee and Davis and Beauregard are still prominent I have absolutely no doubt. I'm not even going to have a look at the things on google street view. Have you ever seen the Genghis Khan monument?
posted by bukvich at 9:42 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


the greatest revolution of the 19th century was a bit more complex than that.

so much for mexico and most of latin america
posted by pyramid termite at 9:49 AM on November 23, 2014


Bukvich, the white supremacy marker at the foot of Canal St was moved to a less prominent place some years back. I seem to recall it's now on private land.

Pyramid, the Mexican Revolution was not in the 19th century. But yes, the US Civil War had a greater impact on the world than any of the other revolutions of that century, in that it cleared the way for US industrial capital, the US working class, and the class struggle in the US. It's not a moral question, but a political and historical one.
posted by LonnieK at 10:03 AM on November 23, 2014


you know there was more than one mexican revolution, right?

you might look into the social and political history of georgian britain, too
posted by pyramid termite at 10:40 AM on November 23, 2014


Liberty monument is here: (29.951234,-90.063771). It's about 500 feet from the New Orleans Holocaust Memorial. If you had a strong throwing arm and they had any rocks in New Orleans it would be a stone's throw.
posted by bukvich at 10:42 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


you know there was more than one mexican revolution, right?

There were more than one French revolution too, but most people understand which one is meant by 'French revolution.' And the point stands: Mexican independence from Spain, as worthy and historic as it was, changed the world less than the US Civil War. Have I missed a 19th-century British revolution that had similar significance on a world scale?
All freedom struggles are important, but they don't all have the same impact. Historical fact.
posted by LonnieK at 12:26 PM on November 23, 2014


And the point stands: Mexican independence from Spain, as worthy and historic as it was, changed the world less than the US Civil War.

it was the first 3rd world country to rebel against its colonizers and succeed - and over the next 200 years was followed by the rest of the third world

your view of all this is too western-centric

also, a good part of the territory that was part of the north/south debate over slave and free states orignally belonged to mexico and might not have been taken over so easily from the spanish empire - so that revolution had an actual influence on the civil war itself

it took awhile, but the british events of the early 19th century eventually ended up in more representative government, the idea that there might be something like worker's rights, and the outlawing of the slave trade and slavery in the empire - a significant influence again on the civil war, as southerners had to make do with what they had

one could argue that the real revolution was that of civilization against slavery and colonization - and the CSA's secession wasn't a revolution, but a reactionary attempt to stop one
posted by pyramid termite at 1:47 PM on November 23, 2014


It's about 500 feet from the New Orleans Holocaust Memorial.

Ooooh that sounds really horrible until you observe that the Holocaust Memorial is placed along the Woldenberg Park river walk, so you literally cannot miss it if you are taking the scenic river view path from the foot of Canal Street, the ferry, and the aquarium toward the French Quarter, but the Liberty Monument is behind the aquarium, an electrical substation, and One Canal Place, along a railroad track which blocks access to Woldenberg and in a place where nobody but the users of one small car park (or dedicated seekers) will ever likely stumble upon it.
posted by localroger at 2:52 PM on November 23, 2014


the CSA's secession wasn't a revolution, but a reactionary attempt to stop one
Duh. Did you think anyone was arguing otherwise?

The first 3rd world country to rebel? That's a meaningless construct. What were the first two worlds -- in 1810? Mexican independence, as I said, was historic. But in world-changing significance, it hardly compares to real 3rd world victories, e.g. Vietnam.

Which British 'events' -- I don't discount them, but they didn't include anything so deep as a revolution -- had the impact on the world that the US Civil War did?

No, I'm not western-centric, whatever that means. I'm with Vietnam, Cuba, the Kurds, the Koreans at Kwang-ju. And the Walmart workers too. All have a place in history -- and it's concrete, not a moralistic fairy tale.

The US Civil War was the most important event of the 19th century, just as the French Revolution was in the 18th. As to the 20th, with all due respect to the Vietnamese & the Cubans, I'd have to say the Russian Revolution made the greatest impact on the world.

Anyone is welcome to disagree but please, don't 'West bait.'
posted by LonnieK at 3:20 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


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