Monday, July 1, 2013
"In 1862 Sherman was having difficulty subduing Confederate sharpshooters who were harassing federal gunboats on the Mississippi River near Memphis. He then adopted the theory of "collective responsibility" to "justify" attacking innocent civilians in retaliation for such attacks. He burned the entire town of Randolph, Tennessee, to the ground. He also began taking civilian hostages and either trading them for federal prisoners of war or executing them.
Jackson and Meridian, Mississippi, were also burned to the ground by Sherman’s troops even though there was no Confederate army there to oppose them. After the burnings, his soldiers sacked the town, stealing anything of value and destroying the rest. As Sherman biographer John Marzalek writes, his soldiers "entered residences, appropriating whatever appeared to be of value . . . those articles which they could not carry they broke."
After the destruction of Meridian Sherman boasted that "for five days, ten thousand of our men worked hard and with a will, in that work of destruction, with axes, sledges, crowbars, clawbars, and with fire.... Meridian no longer exists."
In The Hard Hand of War historian Mark Grimsley argues that Sherman has been unfairly criticized as the "father" of waging war on civilians because he "pursued a policy quite in keeping with that of other Union commanders from Missouri to Virginia.” Fair enough. Why blame just Sherman when such practices were an essential part of Lincoln’s entire war plan and were routinely practiced by all federal commanders? Sherman was just the most zealous of all federal commanders in targeting Southern civilians, which is apparently, why he became one of Lincoln’s favorite generals.
In his First Inaugural Address Jefferson said that any secessionists should be allowed to "stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” However, by 1864 Sherman would announce that "to the petulant and persistent secessionists, why, death is mercy.”
(by Gary Adams)