16 February 2013

Yes, Yankees Were "Far Too Ruthless"


One of the things that was apparent as I researched the book on Lexington, Virginia and the Civil War, was the mistreatment of Lexington's citizens (Union and Confederate) by Union general David Hunter's army. As my memory was refreshed, I also recalled how a number of Civil War bloggers have downplayed this aspect of the war, even questioning the veracity of some of the claims of Southern civilians; while others took a "so what?" attitude and, in some cases, actually became cheerleaders in justifying such treatment for the "slave-holding rebels." They often sound more like advocates of revenge than they do objective historians. 

I recall specifically a number of historians downplaying Sherman's march through Georgia. One in particular labeled the various claims of atrocities as "myth" and "legend." Of course, much of this perspective hails from the same objective bunch that thought George Bush was guilty of war crimes, but applaud the first President in history who simultaneously holds the Nobel Peace Prize and a kill list. Frauds. But let us not forget, they are really about sociology, not history. No wonder the court historians are fawning over Spielberg's fantasy movie of Lincoln. After all, the Spielberg film's screenwriter is a big Obama fan who has referred to Reagan supporters as psychotic. It all fits so nicely into the "it's really not history, its sociology" box, doesn't it? Just connect the dots. If this ain't Orwell's 1984, I don't know what could be much closer.


This is part of the reason a particular book recently caught my attention, though I've not yet read it. The book has a catchy little title: What the Yankees Did to Us: Sherman's Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta

No, it's not written by who those in academia would automatically label a "neo-Confederate."  The book was authored by Stephen Davis:
Stephen Davis of Atlanta earned a PhD in American Studies, an MA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a BA from Emory University. His hobby since the fourth grade has been the Civil War, on which he has written more than one hundred articles. For over twenty years, he served as book review editor for Blue & Gray Magazine. His book, Atlanta Will Fall: Sherman, Joe Johnston and the Yankee Heavy Battalions, was published in 2001.

And, no, the book is not published by Pelican Publishing - another favorite target of historiography's gatekeepers. The book is published by Mercer University Press. One recent reviewer writes the following description of this book:
The richly documented tome, published by Mercer University Press, is breathtaking as a scholarly work, so meticulously researched that it can only be objective — which had to require extraordinary effort by Davis, who clearly feels Sherman was far too ruthless. . . Davis writes that Sherman didn’t care whether shells killed or wounded innocent civilians, and they did, including women and children. After Rebel soldiers had been defeated in battle, civilians endured 37 days of relentless shelling, holed up in caves, basements and “bombproofs.” Soon after Sherman’s men marched into the city, he ordered it wrecked and burned.

But what I find rather strange, is that there seems to be a deafening silence on just about all of the Civil War blogs when it comes to this new title. Are they boycotting it? Does it expose them for their own sloppy, biased posts about atrocities perpetrated on many Southerners by the Union Army? One would think that such a "breathtaking" and "scholarly work" would have gotten some mention on the more prominent CW blogs. But no - utter silence - at least from the ones I typically visit. The two exceptions I found was a mention at Civil War Librarian, which was only a cut and paste from the publisher's website and a couple of mentions at Civil War Books and Authors.



But from the same Civil War blogs which I refer to above - nothing. I wonder why. It couldn't be bias, could it? Or maybe, they're simply not interested because the book does nothing to advance their preferred narrative. Perhaps they're uncomfortable with having their assumptions challenged. Regardless, I found similar accounts of Hunter's Lexington raid. One of the chapter titles in my book is "Like So Many Savages - The War Comes to Lexington." The title came from a letter 16 year-old Fannie Wilson wrote her father, describing some of what she had witnessed and heard:



My dear Papa
You are no doubt anxious to hear what has become of us all since the unexpected arrival of the Yankees and how we were treated by them . . . the wretches galloped into the town yelling and whooping like so many savages. We kept the doors locked and the windows closed all the time they were here . . . All the Point property except the miller’s and toll houses was burned. Governor Letcher’s house was burnt with but five minutes’ notice. The Yankees took Mr. Matthew White, Jr. prisoner and he was seen Sunday afternoon marching out of town with a squad of soldiers, who shot him for bush-whacking; all the time deceiving his parents by telling them he was at home. His body was found unburied in the woods near Mrs. Cameron’s house on the evening the Yankees left. [White was shot eight times in the back.]
Of course, there was more. Much more. Hunter’s army even destroyed the presses and type of Staunton’s [VA] pro-Union newspaper, the Staunton Spectator. The paper’s publisher, Richard Mauzy, would later write that Hunter “delighted in destroying the property of southern people.” And Stonewall Jackson's pastor, Rev. W. S. White, later described Hunter as “a man whose notoriety among our people made him terrible to the timid and detestable to all.” White later wrote that he had also suffered personal loss: “They robbed me of my corn and hay worth $500. They cut the curtains from my carriage and carried off a portion of the harness.” A slave belonging to White named John told White, “Master, these yankees are the beat of all the rogues I ever saw, black or white.”

It appeared to some that Hunter, in similar fashion to Sherman, simply derived pleasure from destroying the lives of others - regardless of their loyalties.
 

It will be interesting to see, since Davis has taken somewhat of a contrarian perspective, how the book is treated by other Civil War historians or, if it's "treated" at all.

(Readers may also be interested in Walter Brian Cisco's War Crimes Against Southern Civilians


17 comments:

Anonymous said...

"But what I find rather strange, is that there seems to be a deafening silence on just about all of the Civil War blogs when it comes to this new title. Are they boycotting it? Does it expose them for their own sloppy, biased posts about atrocities perpetrated on many Southerners by the Union Army? One would think that such a "breathtaking" and "scholarly work" would have gotten some mention on the more prominent CW blogs. But, no, utter silence, at least from the ones I typically visit.

...




"But from the same Civil War blogs which I refer to above - nothing. I wonder why. It couldn't be bias, could it? Or maybe, they're simply not interested because the book does nothing to advance their preferred narrative. Perhaps they're uncomfortable with having their assumptions challenged."

--------

They probably haven't heard of it yet or had time to read it. The book was only published in December, and there's always a backlog of Civil War books.

You come across as petty and resentful -- insulting your colleagues and scoring points against them, rather than bringing them information that might interest them and advance the discussion.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"They probably haven't heard of it yet or had time to read it. The book was only published in December, and there's always a backlog of Civil War books."

That's highly unlikely.

"You come across as petty and resentful -- insulting your colleagues and scoring points against them, rather than bringing them information that might interest them and advance the discussion."

And you come across as ill-informed. It's called push back. I simply make a point in highlighting hypocrisy in academia when I see it. Those I'm criticizing are not "my colleagues", I assure you. Besides, the folks I have in mind have no interest in "advancing the discussion."

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

One more thing, Anon, you are apparently unfamiliar with this debate and issue. I would recommend you take the time to peruse my "must reads" page to familiarize yourself with the issue. Thanks for commenting.

worsham abbott said...

To begin, let me state that eight of my direct ancestors served in the Army of Northern Virginia, including Thomas Massie of Amherst, Virginia who enlisted at the age of seventy three. I realize that when a Southerner posts anything about the WAR it is obligatory to deplore slavery and claim that your ancestor's were mere poor white's fighting for their homes and that they owned no slaves. However, I come from a long line of stiff necked, Unreconstructed Virginians who despise the Federal leviathan so let me go on the record as saying that my family on both sides owned lots of slaves and I am proud of the fact. I grew up listening to elderly relatives stories of what the Yankees did in Appomattox and Buckingham counties and I was taught to refuse to pledge allegiance to their striped rag from the time I could walk. My son is now six and I am proudly carrying on the family tradition.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"let me go on the record as saying that my family on both sides owned lots of slaves and I am proud of the fact."

I see nothing about owning other humans for which to be proud. I find that quite odd.

"I was taught to refuse to pledge allegiance to their striped rag from the time I could walk."

How unfortunate. Have you ever thought about moving to another country? While I had 3 ancestors who fought under the Confederate flag, I also have 2 grandfathers who fought under the American flag in WWI and WWII. I am quite proud of that and have taught my children to honor both flags, as well as their ancestors' service to both the Confederacy, as well as the United States.

kindredblood said...

Richard,

I just heard about the book the other day. I figured I would read it first before I gave it a review. You seem to be taking the David Barton approach to history. Don't read it or watch it yet still review or pass judgment on it. But at least you did mention that in the beginning.

Here is some food for thought...

In Susan Ravenel Jervey's diary she had this to say after Sherman's Army...including my G-G-Grandfather...passed her by..

" April 4th. Aunt Bet started to-day for Aiken with a carriage, two wagons, one cart, one donkey cart, two cows and an outrider, - quite a cavalcade! We heard today that two of the ring leaders from Pineville went to the Gunboat and told how they had been treated, whereon the officers had them put in irons and sent to Charleston, and told them, if they had only known it, they would have sent a company to help the white men. We received numerous letters from Aiken this morning by the return wagons. I am sorry to say that Wheeler's men have done us more damage than the Yankees. I did not mind it at first when I thought they had only taken things needed, but I do blame them very much for their wanton destruction of property that they ought to protect. It is a shame and they ought to be exposed."

http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/jervey/jervey.html

I do look forward to reading this book and then and only then would I review it.

Corey Meyer

kindredblood said...

One also must remember that the Rebels burnt the city of Atlanta first as they evacuated the city before Sherman entered the city...it is that burning that is depicted in "Gone with the Wind" and as soon a Sherman entered the city he did not wreck it and then burn it. He used it as a base of military operations from Sept. 2 to Nov. 15, 1864. He then burnt things that could be used by the south to continue the war. He also removed the citizens to protect them...despite confederate protests.

Richard...you might also want to add "War Like the Thunder Bolt" to your list of "need to read".

Regards...Corey

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello Corey. It's on my wish list w/Amazon. I've got such a backlog though . . . Yes, I'm aware of Confederate marauders and looters and how some Confederates treated Southern Unionists. But it pales in comparison to what the Union Army did. Not moralizing here, it is what it is.

The History Book Guy said...

Would these be the same historians who go on and on about Andersonville, but "brush over" Camp Douglas?

kindredblood said...

Wheeler's men were hardly marauders or looters. They were regular Confederate soldiers and according to one southern civilian were worse than the Yanks. I to am not moralizing here...it is what it was.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

And Camp Morton and Point Lookout.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Being soldier, marauders, and looters is not mutually exclusive.

ropelight said...

I was 14 years old before I learned that 'Damn' and 'Yankee' were two different words.

General Benjamin F (Beast) Butler's atrocious misbehavior against civilians and Confederates in both New Orleans and Norfolk is well documented.

See for example "Norfolk, Historic Southern Port" by Wertenbaker and Schlegel, 1962, Duke University Press.

Under "Beast" Butler's heavy hand only Union men were allowed to vote; no ministers, physicians, lawyers, or merchants were permitted to follow their vocations without a formal Oath of Allegiance; farmers and oystermen were taxed on the food they produced; anyone including women and children was severely punished for any word or act of disrespect toward Union officers or soldiers, silence and turning away was considered a violation of the General's order.

No business could be conducted without an official permit issued under military authority and only in exchange for a heavy bribe, all goods shipped from or to the port were taxed at such high rates that prices in Norfolk were twice those in Baltimore or Washington DC.

Butler ordered every 4th dog in the district be killed unless the owner paid 2 dollars each; it was said the only difference between a Southerner and a dog was the dog's chin was a little closer to the ground.

Butler even seized the funds of Norfolk's Howard Association which supported the children of parents lost in the yellow fever epidemic of 1855.

"The people of Norfolk accepted the outcome of the war in good faith, were ready to come back into the Union as loyal citizens, were willing, even happy, to be rid of the curse of slavery, but the bitterness occasioned by the unnecessary cruelties of the three years of Federal occupation has hardly yet died out. The name of Butler will ever be infamous in Norfolk.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I have some good yankee sons in law, so I must be careful. ;-) I also hail from good New England stock on my father's side. During Hunter's raids, more than one officer was disgusted at Hunter's behavior.

ropelight said...

I too have a foot firmly on both sides of the Line, but I still like to whistle 'Dixie' from time to time.

Anonymous said...

It is now March, 2013 and there are still no reviews by *readers* at Amazon.com.

It would be helpful if the book offered the "Look Inside" feature at Amazon's website. Nonetheless, I also find it odd that the Civil War blogs have ignored this book.