27 September 2014

The Burning - 150 Years Ago

Custer's Division Retiring from
Mount Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley,
October 7, 1864, by Alfred Waud,
Library of Congress
Robert Moore posted some interesting comments regarding Phil Sheridan's "burning" of the Shenandoah Valley in the fall of 1864. You can read Robert's post here. My take on The Burning differs somewhat from Robert's and I wrote quite a bit about it in The Battle of Waynesboro. What intrigued me is the fact that Sheridan's activities against civilian targets in 1864 were a warm up (no pun intended) for his war against the Plains Indians:
Sheridan’s tactics in the Shenandoah Valley, with the blessing of Ulysses S. Grant, achieved the desired objectives. Its people were demoralized, and its value as a source of sustenance for Early’s forces (as well as for the rest of the Confederate army) was destroyed. Sheridan was delighted with the results and was convinced that “total war” was a necessary and justified means of combatting an enemy. In later years, he would use the same strategies against the Plains Indians:

Following the tactics he had employed in Virginia, Sheridan sought to strike directly at the material basis of the Plains Indian nations. He believed—correctly, it turned out—that attacking the Indians in their encampments during the winter would give him the element of surprise and take advantage of the scarce forage available for Indian mounts. He was unconcerned about the likelihood of high casualties among noncombatants, once remarking that “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.” (Source.)


Robert Moore said...

I'm not so sure our views differ, Richard. It might be merely a small difference in conclusions, based only on the information that fuels the respective points of view. For example, Sheridan's actions against the Plains Indians was more likely fueled not entirely from his experience in the Valley, but because of what was more socially acceptable at the time. I'd argue that ethnicity, fueled with beliefs in manifest destiny, steered Sheridan's course against the Indians... and those were not factors at hand in 1864.

Robert Moore said...

... and, as another example of how we see things, I think we'd have no problem agreeing with the brutality dished out when it comes to things like the Davy Getz incident.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"more socially acceptable at the time"

No doubt, though I have to believe his "success" in the Valley was not from from his thoughts. Thanks for commenting!