Was Sherman A War Criminal?

So asks this Atlanta paper.

It will be interesting if people who complain about political correctness and presentism find themselves forced to concede that one needs to answer this question according to the standards of the time, and not some present-day notion of what the terms “war criminal” and “war crimes” mean. Mr. Davis’s case falls short, in part because he’s violated the rules of sound historical practice. But that doesn’t mean that someone more informed about these matters might not make such a case.

18 thoughts on “Was Sherman A War Criminal?

  1. Matt McKeon June 15, 2014 / 6:39 pm

    What did Sherman do exactly? He destroyed a lot of property and wrecked some railroads. Raphael Semmes did much to same and no one calls him a war criminal and for a very good reason: he wasn’t. Sherman was not guilty of war crimes as understood in the 19th century and not by the standards of the 20th or 21th either.

    If someone wants to argue to deliberately frightened civilians and his actions resulted in a certain level of hardship, I would agree. But if his actions in Georgia and South Carolina shortened the war and avoided a few more glorious bayonet charges, saving the lives of hundreds or even thousands of young men: then he should get a humanitarian award.

    I don’t think he’s going to get such an award, but he would deserve it more than some.

    • George Randall June 28, 2014 / 5:22 am

      you need to learn your history. we were invaded, they wrecked peoples lives. starved women and children, they are all war criminals then carpet baggers and yankee soldiers stole from us..

      • Christopher Shelley September 29, 2014 / 10:10 am

        What do you mean “we”? How old are you, anyway? Or do you have a mouse in your pocket?

  2. Rob Baker June 15, 2014 / 6:49 pm

    Ahhhhhh, you beat me to it. I’ve got this article tabbed up writing about it.

  3. centerforhistorystudies June 15, 2014 / 7:20 pm

    Mark Grimsley’s _Hard Hand of War_ puts Sherman’s March in context. At the risk of sounding corny, the Civil War was, well, actually usually quite civil. Except for those who hanged their prisoners, I mean.

  4. Al Mackey June 15, 2014 / 9:22 pm

    Mr. Davis strikes me as someone who wanted something to be true and went out to cherry pick what he wanted and twisted it to make it appear as though what he wanted to be true was true. I think it’s instructive that his book was panned in the Civil War Monitor review by Prof. Frank Towers.

  5. jfepperson June 16, 2014 / 4:22 am

    Davis has served as the book review editor of Blue and Gray, and always seemed reasonable in that guise. I don’t know if he has slipped a mental gear lately or what, but this is very slipshod on his part.

  6. Noma June 16, 2014 / 8:02 am

    My son works on rural development in Congo, and compared to what happens there on a monthly basis, it’s very hard to think of Sherman as a war criminal. “Mom, they said there was an attack on one of the neighboring farms. Mai Mai, I guess. They killed 36 people. They shot 18 men with AK 47’s. The rest were women and children. They used machetes on them.” And, Sherman burnt some barns? I’m going with Matt McKeon: Give him a humanitarian award.

    And, I’m definitely interested to see how Robert O’Connell’s book, “Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman” is going to handle all this…

    • George Randall June 28, 2014 / 5:27 am

      what does that got to do with , us the subject is what was done to us don’t try to suger coat what Lincoln and grant and Sherman did

  7. John Foskett June 16, 2014 / 9:48 am

    Davis apparently has abandoned the notion of being a historian. Among other things, he’s not saying much about Hood’s use of the torch in Atlanta. His recent book reads like a propaganda tract. I wonder if he’d label Jubal Early as a “war criminal” based on the events at Chambersburg. Suffice to say I’m skeptical.

  8. Flyer75 June 18, 2014 / 8:57 am

    I’m no historian, but right off the bat, how can one use the Nuremberg Charter to argue a point dating to 1864? That’d be like a police officer charging someone with a crime that wasn’t on the books when the “crime” was committed.

  9. E.g. Schwetje June 18, 2014 / 11:34 am

    I’m stunned there are no comments here or at the original article from “those people” (apologies to Bobby Lee). Thanks for posting the soccer poster.

  10. Barry Lynn Colbaugh September 28, 2014 / 1:37 am

    Of course there are many stories from Cassville including Lizzie Gaines

    http://www.cassvillehistoricalsociety.com/history/

    Sherman’s 1864 Trail of Battle to Atlanta By Philip L. Secrist

    http://books.google.com/books?id=86…6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=cassville, georgia&f=false

    The Union Occupation of Bartow County, Ga May – November 1864 by Karen Rozar Hamilton.

    Page 23

    Three homes in Cassville burned including Warren Aiken’s, David Conyngham observed,” For several days a most disgraceful scene of rifling houses, breaking up furniture, ripping up bedticks, and after making a general mess of things, then firing the house ensued.” In one particular instance, Conyngham was passing a home when he witnessed this scene.

    ” The yard was covered with the debris of furniture, beds and bedding; dead poultry and pigs lay around, while soldiers were making desperate charges on others that had not yet fallen. All the beehives were rifled, and the infuriated bees were flying around like so many little demons. To add to the savage scene children were rushing about screaming for their lives; on going into the house I found four miserable women huddled together and trembling in fear.”

    According to Lizzie Gaines ( Cassville Citizen) The Yankees lost no time, after entering town, in ransacking and plundering every house from cellar to garret.” She added,

    “No closet, drawer, nook, or corner escaped their search. They took the the most valuable articles and sent home trophies to their friends. Some of us who remained did not even find a change of clothing ore one morsel of provisions – they had torn sheets, pillow cases, counterpanes, dresses, and everything of every kind into strings, broke crockery and cooking utensils,destroyed furniture, took what provisions they wanted , and if there was any left, messed it up in such a manner that it could not be eaten. For instance, they would mix meal, flour, soap, molasses, lard, sugar, preserves, etc. together so as to render it unfit for use.”

  11. Barry Lynn Colbaugh September 28, 2014 / 1:37 am

    Kennesaw Gazette March 1st 1889 Vol IV No.5
    Old Cassville Ga
    Editor Kennesaw Gazette
    Cassville was once a beautiful and attractive village
    situated within a little less than three miles of the W. &
    A. Railroad, north of Cass Station, near the center of
    Bartow County; but happening to be directly in Sherman’s
    war-path, it was shorn of its glory and laid in ashes by
    the federal Torch. Various reasons are assigned for the
    cruel deed. Some said it was on account of the name of the
    place being changed by our legislators from Cassville to
    Manassas, soon after the battle of Bull Run; others said
    it was done in revenge for the waving of a black flag at
    Cass Station by two young ladies whose patriotism was
    greater than their prudence. Again it was said that being
    so near the railroad it was a harbor for the rebel scouts.
    The Federals entered Cassville on the night of May
    19th 1864, and seemed eager to apply the torch at once.
    Early the next morning they burned one of the hotels. Next
    day Col. Akins residence was burned. On the 24th Wheelers
    cavalry made a raid on a wagon train near Cassville and
    captured a number of prisoners, wagons, mules, etc. Orders
    were repeatedly issued for the citizens to leave, and the
    utter destruction of the place was threatened; but the
    threats were not executed till October 12th, when the male
    college and several private residences were burned. The
    male college was burned by a detachment of Wilders brigade
    composed of parts of the 98th Illinois, 1st, 3rd & 4th
    Ohio regiments and on the 5th of November Col. Heath of
    the 5th Ohio came with about three hundred cavalrymen and
    completed the destruction which left many poor women and
    children without shelter from the storms of winter which
    were fast approaching.
    The morning was bright and clear, but in the
    evening the smoke arose and formed a dark and threatening
    clouds, which for a while suspended over the doomed spot
    and then seemed to melt away in the tears of grief. It
    seemed as if nature was weeping over the sad fate of old
    Cassville.
    Mrs. B.B. Quillian​

  12. Barry Lynn Colbaugh September 28, 2014 / 1:41 am

    The Union Occupation of Bartow County, Ga May – November 1864 by Karen Rozar Hamilton.
    Page 23
    Three homes in Cassville burned including Warren Aiken’s, David Conyngham observed,” For several days a most disgraceful scene of rifling houses, breaking up furniture, ripping up bedticks, and after making a general mess of things, then firing the house ensued.” In one particular instance, Conyngham was passing a home when he witnessed this scene.
    ” The yard was covered with the debris of furniture, beds and bedding; dead poultry and pigs lay around, while soldiers were making desperate charges on others that had not yet fallen. All the beehives were rifled, and the infuriated bees were flying around like so many little demons. To add to the savage scene children were rushing about screaming for their lives; on going into the house I found four miserable women huddled together and trembling in fear.”

  13. Barry Lynn Colbaugh September 28, 2014 / 1:42 am

    “It ravaged parts of Georgia, gave hope to slaves and, historians say, planted the seeds of an enduring Southern myth: that of Sherman the monster, Sherman the malevolent war criminal, Sherman the Hun.
    “There’s no doubt that [his men] took livestock and emptied the granaries,” said Brooks D. Simpson, a professor of history at Arizona State University and co-editor of a selection of Sherman’s Civil War correspondence.
    “But if we talk about violence against private dwellings or against individuals . . . we don’t find the sort of evidence that would support some of the stories we hear,” he said.
    Relatively few lives were lost during the trek that began in Atlanta on Nov. 15, 1864, and ended when Union forces entered Savannah on Dec. 21, 1864.
    “What Sherman did more than anything else was to break Confederate will,” Simpson said. He accepted the image of a brute and a madman, and understood that “if you get the reputation as being a lunatic . . . that was a psychological advantage,” Simpson said.
    Sherman’s bark was far worse than his bite, Simpson said.
    But his bark was ferocious.”
    Gen. William T. Sherman, the restless warrior who led the ‘March to the Sea’ Gen. William T. Sherman, the restless warrior who led the ‘March to the Sea’
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/gen-william-t-sherman-the-restless-warrior-who-led-the-march-to-the-sea/2014/09/11/ba165c9a-32b1-11e4-9e92-0899b306bbea_story.html

    No evidence of violence against private dwellings or individuals. Wow Evidence you choose not to recognize?

    • Brooks D. Simpson September 28, 2014 / 8:08 am

      As I didn’t say that there was no evidence, why would you lie about what I had said, Barry? So you’ll cite a few stories, then imply that they are representative of a widespread practice. They aren’t. That has been documented by comparing census records documenting before and after. Hard to hold antebellum home tours if they were all destroyed, unless you are arguing that Georgians are tricksters and liars.

      What your response shows is that Sherman’s psychological warfare was so effective that it got into your head, too. Nothing about bummers or Wheeler’s cavalry (those sweet southern boys). Nothing about white Georgians beseeching Sherman’s men to be even harsher on South Carolina.

      Tell me, Barry … why are some of the same people who are so eager to charge Sherman with war crimes for the deliberate destruction of southern property also so anxious to acquit Nathan Bedford Forrest for the slaughter of surrendering African Americans at Fort Pillow? Is it because they value property over human life … especially when those human lives are no longer the property of white people?

      Why don’t you discuss that at Civil War Talk, Barry?

      Given that you misrepresented what I said, I ask: are you dishonest, incompetent, or both?

      • John Foskett September 28, 2014 / 11:40 am

        Maybe Barry could weigh in with some newspaper reports about the conduct of Early and McCausland in the Chambersburg area in summer ’64 while he’s busy gathering stories.

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