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. 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. 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)