Skip to comments.Freeing the Unfree? Sherman on Equality
Posted on 06/09/2004 6:23:32 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
In his article "A Class War" Victor Davis Hanson paints the picture that General William T. Sherman and his army were fighting a war of equality. He seems to think average "agrarian" men of the northern states, were so inspired they would lay down their tools, leave their families and join the Union army to invade the Southern States on a campaign of social equality. Hanson states Sherman's objective was "freeing the unfree and humiliating the arrogant." This is a nicely packaged version of history that reads well, though historically inaccurate.
The Draft - Yankees Riot
Support for invading the South was not popular in 1861. Lincoln's call to conscript 75,000 men in April 1861 was met with considerable hostility, a costly mistake that cost his administration support from North Carolina and Tennessee. In fact Virginia and Arkansas rejected ordinances of secession prior to Lincoln's call to arms. Two days after Lincoln's directive, Virginia seceded; Arkansas seceded in May. Abolitionists spoke of equality among slaves, but most politicians were concerned with sustaining the Union.
Early defeats in the war had left the Union in disarray - McClellan had adequate troops, but asked Congress for more. What had been a "short war" with a 90-day conscription was now growing beyond everyone's expectations. Manpower for the Union army was required to sustain the fight. Congress put out the call for more enlistments. Northern immigrants and blue collars were incensed when it became known draftees could buy their way out of conscription for $300 - a luxury afforded only to the elite class. Hardly a system of equality.
Horace Greeley, editor of the New Yorker noted "It is highly probable that had a popular election been held at any time during the year following the 4th of July, 1862, on the question of continuing the war, or arresting it on the best attainable terms, a majority would have voted for peace; while it is highly probable that a still larger majority would have voted against emancipation."
Copperheads in New York rioted in 1863 following another call for enlistments by Congress. A mob of would-be draftees stormed the draft office and set fire to buildings. Fueled by such leaders such as Democratic Congressman Samuel S. Cox of Ohio, "who warned that the result of their serving in the Army would be to find 'Negroes filling their places' on the job", they targeted New York's black population.
New York Governor Seymour was concerned about the impact on struggling Irish immigrants with low wages and what affect a free black population might have on the labor market already under wartime inflation. Similarly, Irish protestors in abolitionist hot-bed Boston demonstrated on July 14, 1863. Some Irish rioters viewed the Union as an oppressive, overbearing force reminiscent of Great Britain. They were concerned with the economy, jobs, and the labor market; they were not interested going South to fight Lincoln's war.
Clearly public support for "freeing the unfree" was less than overwhelming. There were economic, political, and social concerns that had yet to be addressed with freeing those in servitude.
Sherman on Equality
Lincoln's views on equality were very clear early in the war, noted in his inaugural speech, by stating, "he had neither the "lawful right" nor the "inclination" to disturb slavery where it already existed", and in the now famous 1858 Douglas debates, he asserting, "I am not in favor of Negro citizenship." What were Sherman's views on equality?
Sherman wrote a long, private letter to Gen. Henry Halleck in Washington, D.C. Although soon to be revered by many Georgia blacks liberated from slavery during his March to the Sea, the following excerpt from Sherman's letter shows that he did not believe in the equality of the races and was not particularly interested in allowing blacks to fight:
"I hope anything I may have said or done will not be construed as unfriendly to Mr. Lincoln or Stanton. That negro letter of mine I never designed for publication, but I am honest in my belief that it is not fair to our men to count negroes as equals. Cannot we at this day drop theories, and be reasonable men? Let us capture negroes, of course, and use them to the best advantage. My quartermaster now could give employment to 3,200, and relieve that number of soldiers who are now used to unload and dispatch trains, whereas those recruiting agents take them back to Nashville, where, so far as my experience goes, they disappear. When I call for expeditions at distant pints, the answer invariable comes they have not sufficient troops. All count the negroes out. On the Mississippi, where Thomas talked about 100,000 negro troops, I find I cannot draw away a white soldier because they are indispensable to the safety of the river. I am willing to use them as far as possible, but object to fighting with 'paper' men. Occasionally an exception occurs, which simply deceives. We want the best young white men of the land, and they should be inspired with the pride of freemen to fight for their county. If Mr. Lincoln or Stanton could walk through the camps of this army and hear the soldiers talk they would hear new ideas. I have had the question put to me often: 'is not a negro as good as a white man to stop a ballot?' Yes, and a sand bag is better; but can a negro do our skirmishing and picket duty? Can they improvise roads, bridges, sorties, flank movements, &c., like the white man? I say no. Soldiers must and do many things without orders from their own sense, as in sentinels. Negroes are not equal to this. I have gone steadily, firmly, and confidently along, and I could not have done it with black troops, but with my old troops I have never felt a waver of doubt, and that very confidence begets success. . . ."
These are not the words of a man fighting to "free the unfree."
If Not Equality, Then What Was Sherman Fighting For?
In Sherman, Grant found a Union leader who would get results. Sherman was not afraid to get off the dime and engage the enemy. Clearly after Southern victories and mounting pressure from Washington, Grant knew he must find a man of action and he looked to his longtime friend Sherman. In 1863, Sherman was appointed commander of the Army of Tennessee in 1863.
Sherman had a clear disdain for the ruling class on Southern politicians and businessmen. In Kingston, Georgia, Sherman wrote to U.S. Major General Philip H. Sheridan: "I am satisfied...that the problem of this war consists in the awful fact that the present class of men who rule the South must be killed outright rather than in the conquest of territory, so that hard, bull-dog fighting, and a great deal of it, yet remains to be done....Therefore, I shall expect you on any and all occasions to make bloody results."
As Sherman took his war to the people, the lower classes consisting of southern dirt farmers, slaves, freedmen, immigrants, and other working class citizens suffered. In his letter to General U.S. Grant in 1864 Sherman explains how 10,000 Union men destroyed a Mississippi town proudly proclaiming: "Meridian with its Depots, Storehouses, Arsenals, offices, Hospitals, Hotels, and Cantonments, no longer exists." General Sherman proposed to test live torpedoes with Confederate prisoners in a wagon pulled by a long rope at Kennesaw.
These are not the actions of a man dedicated to equality, humane treatment, and "freeing the unfree."
Union Troops Go South - Letter's Home
As Union troops moved South, could they have been told they were fighting to "free the unfree?" It's possible, but for views on equality and freedom, we must see the war from a fighting man's perspective. The following letter was widely published in several of the newspapers of New York State in late 1864. It was discovered in the 10/15/1864 issue of the Poughkeepsie Telegraph:
"We have been favored by an old resident of Mabbettsville, in this county with the following interesting letter written to him by a nephew in the army, dated Morris Island, S.C. September 24, 1864"
Dear Uncle:--Your good advice I will try and follow. I tell you, George B. McClellan is the only man, that can carry the old ship of State safely through; already we are drifting near the rock that will submerge the noble ship, and we need a man at the helm that will take her out into the broad ocean and guide her toward and into the port of Peace. I say there is too much negro about this matter; only look at the thousands of valuable lives that have been sacrificed for the black man, but my opinion is the South are not fighting for slavery now, but for their honor; but the present administration are continually harping on the negro. They say we are determined to break the bonds of every slave--or disunion. God forbid I should ever have those feelings. No, no. The Union must and shall be preserved. Let the negro go. The white man must rule and reign.
In Louisiana, at the Olivier Plantation, the U.S. troops were surprised to find that the owner was a widowed, free lady of color who presided over a large plantation run by slave labor. A member of the Twelfth Connecticut in a letter home stated that he had been surprised to find as many free blacks down South as he had seen in the larger cities of the North. He wrote, "Some of the richest planters, men of really great wealth, are of mixed descent." He stated that these Negroes would gather to stare at the Northern soldiers as they passed, and "These are not the former slaves, observe, but the former masters." These excerpts are from the Official Records of the war and are official records held by the United States government.
Louisiana free blacks gave their reason for fighting in a letter written to New Orleans' Daily Delta: "The free colored population love their home, their property, their own slaves and recognize no other country than Louisiana, and are ready to shed their blood for her defense. They have no sympathy for Abolitionism; no love for the North, but they have plenty for Louisiana. They will fight for her in 1861 as they fought in 1814-15."
Union soldiers gave their own account they were not fighting to "free the unfree." Southern black men stated their reasons for fighting for the Confederacy.
Looting and Destruction
Hanson excuses General Sherman's wholesale looting and destruction by stating: "The Union army's embrace of the slaves, their angry shooting of the bloodhounds used to track escapees, their physical destruction of the plantation infrastructure, their psychological humiliation of the plantation class--all this helped to shatter both the material and psychological foundations of an oppressive aristocratic state."
Edward L. Pierce, special agent, Treasury Department told of the Union occupation at Pope's Plantation at Saint Helena Island as he wrote to U.S. Major General David Hunter:
"...scenes transpiring yesterday in the execution of your order...The colored people became suspicious of the presence of the companies of soldiers detailed for the service, who were marching through the islands during the night...They were taken from the fields without being allowed to go to their houses even to get a jacket..." "There was sadness in all. As those on this plantation were called in from the fields, the soldiers, under orders, and while on the steps of my headquarters, loaded their guns, so that the Negroes might see what would take place in case they attempted to get away..."
"On some plantations the wailing and screaming were loud and the women threw themselves in despair on the ground. On some plantations the people took to the woods and were hunted up by the soldiers...I doubt if the recruiting service in this country has ever been attended with such scenes before."
In another case, a Northern reporter from the St. Louis Republican witnessed the Union assault on Alexandria was so moved by this wanton, barbaric act that he wrote an account of the burning. He stated, "Women gathering their helpless babes in their arms, rushing frantically through the streets with screams and cries that would have melted the hardest hearts to tears; little boys and girls, running hither and thither crying for their mothers and fathers; old men leaning on a staff for support to their trembling limbs, hurrying away from the suffocating heat of their burning dwellings and homes."
In the wake of Sherman's destruction he had wagon trains over five-miles long full of stolen goods and provisions. Freed slaves, runaways, freedman, drifters, and the lot followed Sherman's army with hopes of nourishment, care, and the basic necessities. Sherman denied any assistance to these people leaving the foragers to their own devices.
In December 1864, Sherman wrote, "I estimate the damage done to the State of Georgia . . . at $100,000,000; at least $20,000,000 of which has inured to our advantage, and the remainder is simple waste and destruction." Sherman also noted that 75% of the destruction was wasteful and resulted in no significant military advantage. Wanton looting and destruction was the order of the day.
Hanson observes the Union Army's dedication to equality by their social structure among rank, and by carousing together: "The officers and men are on terms of perfect equality socially. Off duty they drink together, go arm in arm about the town, call each other by the first name, in a way that startles."
In the 2,000 year old "Art of War", Sun Tzu recognizes this behavior as a flaw or a liability: "If the general is kind to the troops, but cannot use them, or if the general loves the troops, but cannot command them, or if the general does not discipline the troops, but cannot establish order, the troops are like spoiled children and are useless." A well run fighting force must recognize the chain of command, superior officers, and discipline.
Looting and destruction are not demonstrative of a commitment to "freeing the unfree." Well-disciplined, principle-driven fighting forces do not advocate these behaviors.
General Sherman was ruthless and harsh on the people of the South. Sherman was appointed to overtake the Confederate forces. Although he was effective, the costs of his destruction were astronomical in terms of human life and financial ruin. In "The War's Carnival of Fraud" (1878) by Henry S. Olcott, the special investigator for the U.S. War and Navy Departments noted "at least twenty, if not twenty-five, percent of the entire expenditures of the government during the Rebellion, were tainted with fraud."
After the War, Sherman's cavalry commander Sheridan's conducted genocidal operations against the Cheyenne, Sioux, and other tribes. In the fall of 1868 General Sheridan wrote to Sherman: "In taking the offensive I have to select that season when I can catch the fiends; and if a village is attacked and women and children killed, the responsibility is not with the soldiers, but with the people whose crimes necessitated the attack."
Sherman heartily approved and wrote back the following encouraging words: "Go ahead in your own way and I will back you with my whole authority...I will say nothing and do nothing to restrain our troops from doing what they deem proper on the spot, and will allow no mere vague general charges of cruelty and inhumanity to tie their hands, but will use all the powers confided to me to the end that these Indians, the enemies of our race and of our civilization, shall not again be able to begin and carry out their barbarous warfare on any kind of pretext they may choose to allege."
General William T. Sherman was not concerned with equality or "freeing the unfree." Neither his words nor his actions show a commitment to equality. In fact, a recurring theme of destruction, perhaps in part to his volcanic personality, is evident in his actions during and after the War Between the States.
Tzu, Sun, "The Art of War", 1999, Clearbridge Publishing.
Olcott, Henry S, "The War's Carnival of Fraud" (1878), US War and Navy Department.
Official Correspondence Sherman, William T., Letter of 21 June 1864 from Sherman to secretary of war Stanton.
U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (originally printed 1891, reprinted by The National Historical Society, 1971), Part 5, Vol. 38, pp. 792-793.
WILLIAM T. SHERMAN, MEMOIRS OF GENERAL WILLIAM T. SHERMAN 5 (n.p., D. Appleton & Co. 1875).
Poughkeepsie Telegraph, October 15, 1864. ed.
Jordan, Ervin L. Blacks Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia. University of Virginia, 1995.
COMPILATION OF THE OFFICIAL RECORDS OF THE UNION & CONFEDERATE ARMIES, Series III, Vol. IV [S# 125] Correspondence, Orders, Reports, and Returns of the Union Authorities from January 1, 1864, to April 30 1865, #18.
COMPILATION OF THE OFFICIAL RECORDS OF THE UNION & CONFEDERATE ARMIES, Series III, VOL. II [S# 123] Correspondence, Orders, Reports, and Returns of the Union Authorities from April 1 to December 31, 1862,#3.
COMPILATION OF THE OFFICIAL RECORDS OF THE UNION & CONFEDERATE ARMIES, Series III, Vol. II [S# 123] Correspondence, Orders, Reports, and Returns of the Union Authorities from April 1 to December 31, 1862, 28.
COMPILATION OF THE OFFICIAL RECORDS OF THE UNION & CONFEDERATE ARMIES, Series I, Vol. XXXIV/2 [S# 62] Union Correspondence, Orders, and Returns Relating to Operations in Louisiana and the Trans-Mississippi States and Territories, From January 1, 1864, to March 31, 1864, #23.
COMPILATION OF THE OFFICIAL RECORDS OF THE UNION & CONFEDERATE ARMIES, Series I, VOL. XLV/2 [S# 94] Union Correspondence, Orders, and Returns Relating to Operations in Kentucky, Southwest Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and North Georgia, from December 1, 1864, to January 1, 1864, #4
Southern Historical Society Papers 1953. New Series, Vol. 12, Old Series, Vol. L. 1st Confederate Congress--(Fourth Session)--Saturday, January 2, 1864.
See B. L. Lee, Discontent in New York City, 1861-1865 (1943).
I. Werstein, July, 1863 (1957, repr. 1971).
J. McCague, Second Rebellion: The Story of the New York City Draft Riots (1968).
A. Cook, The Armies of the Streets (1974).
I. Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots (1989).
For your consideration
Thank you. Maybe one day some yankee family will return the silverware.
Thank you for continuing to expose Victor Davis Hansen's class warfare against the South and its history.
Exposing historical revisionists of his ilk is commendable work.
where he makes his FATAL error is that the WBTS was a PEASANT REVOLT of poor southerners (led by a handful of educated/experienced men like Davis & Lee)against the monied elitists of the northern states.
THAT is the MAIN REASON we didn't win our freedom, as PEASANT REVOLTS seldom, if ever, win against the BETTER ARMED/SUPPLIED/TRAINED national military forces. (offhand the only half-sucessful peasant revolt ,that i can think of, was the French Revolution.)
btw, had we won our war against the northern elites, the dixie plantation elites (many of whom had collaborated with the bluebellies!) might well have been NEXT on the dixie enemies list.
These innacurrate versions of history must not go unchecked.
That was a great essay....incredible actually.
BTTT...above was for you!
it was about just TWO things:
1. centralizing power in the hands of the radicals of the lincoln regime AND
2.amassing as much MONEY as possible in the shortest amount of time possible.
that's ALL, $$$$$$ & POWER for the northeastern elitists. all the other stuff is FICTION, popularly agreed on by the TYRANTS & war criminals.
Thank you for posting this, although as an Ohioan I cringe at my fellow Ohioan Sherman's methods, which tended to reverse the benefits of two or three centuries of civilizing influences on Western Man.
My original comments on the Hansen thread were provoked because he seemed to be trying to suggest that Ohio farm boys of that era had Communist values. That is simply not true. Most were fighting to preserve the Union, though doubtless some were in it, in the mistaken notion that often pops into young minds, that war could be fun and adventure; very few were involved in Quixotic notions of social equality.
Hansen would not have written the piece in the earlier thread if he did not have an agenda other than the pursuit of history for its own sake. He is no isolated case, of course. Two generations of American College graduates have been educated in a stilted curriculum which suggests not only a form of class warfare, but the active pursuit of unreality (the social equality of man) as a primary goal justifying collective action. Now admittedly, American Leftists did not invent such an agenda; evidence of the compulsion predates them. But they certainly do illustrate that compulsion to a very marked degree. (See Compulsion For Uniformity, for an historic perspective.)
It is perhaps a tad less relevant to the Cult of Equality, but not to some of Hansen's implied errors, to read what the great, self-taught, Negro educator, Booker T. Washington, had to say about the relations of the races in the Old South--particularly between the Negro and the Southern Planter class, whom Hansen appears to disparage: Address To Atlanta Exposition, 1895. Washington was a voice for constructive progress. Hansen? He is playing the Leftist game.
William Flax Return Of The Gods Web Site
Union farm boys and Southern farm boys probably had more in common than their big city, industrial counterparts. Airing dirty laundry is not the purpose of this piece, my intent was only to counter specious claims of a war of equality and roll back the two generations of socialist educational reform that you mention.
Engaging in alternate history is a dangerous behavior. A small cadre of partisians, conservatives, and patriots will keep the true history of America in check, and thus preserve our future.
BTW: I linked the Return Of The Gods Web Site on my profile.
You might be interested in this one.
On Hanson, it is a disappointment to see that on a subject in which we are well grounded, he has shown himself to be just another heavy left organ grinder with a monkey. Aside from a few of his web columns, I have read only two of his longer essays - one about an uncle who died on Iwo Jima. The point is, his credibility has been shot. He will still peddle his books, but not to anyone slightly familiar with the Recent Unpleasantness. Finally, I can't imagine why a fifth generation grape farmer in the San Joaquin Valley would be so vitriolic about the peculiar institution - he almost seems to be guilty about it himself. . . . .
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