03 October 2014

More On The Burning At 150

Cheering Firebug Phil
After the war, the thirteen-day burning of the richest agricultural counties in Virginia was only mentioned in passing, if at all, in the regimental histories of the units who had an active part in it. After detailing the Battle of Fishers Hill in their accounts, historians went almost directly to the cavalry battle at Toms Brook, which took place on October 9, perhaps to forget the time in between those two fights and what they had been required to do. Even in more modern times the devastation of such a large part of the Shenandoah Valley has been overshadowed by other campaigns, but recently scholars have taken note. Stephen Starr wrote in his Union Cavalry in the Civil War: “The deliberate planned devastation of the Shenandoah Valley has deservedly ranked as one of the grimmest episodes of a sufficiently grim war. Unlike the haphazard destruction caused by (Gen. William T.) Sherman’s bummers in Georgia, it was committed systematically, and by order.” The residents of the Valley remembered. If nothing else stuck in their minds, the time the burners came did, and individual stories of the sufferings of the people were passed from generation to generation. ~ John Heatwole (Emphasis mine.)


Robert Moore said...

John was spot on in the statement, but I'll add that it is also worthwhile to consider how the Burning merged, often in the collective memory of Valley descendants, with the burnings waged by Hunter. Two distinctively different and brutal activities in their own right. Regretfully, I've encountered some who have merged their ancestral memories of burned barns and mills with the thoughts that their homes were also burned... but nothing to support that memory that seems to have been "built" since the war.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hunter was definitely in a class all his own. His motivation seemed to be more than just military conquest in that he actually derived some sick pleasure from the destruction he caused (on civilians).

ropelight said...

Stephen Starr is partly correct, The Burning of the Shenandoah Valley was a well planned and deliberate act of devastation, one indisputably committed systematically, and by order.., specifically by the order of Commanding General US Grant with the explicit approval of President Abraham Lincoln. (If committed today, or openly examined in historical context without the victor's deceptive patina of misleading oversights, The Burning would be recognized for what it was: a war crime.)

And, contrary to Starr's denial, the equally deliberate devastation later visited on Georgia and South Carolina by (Gen. William T) Sherman's bummers was in fact nearly identical to Sheridan's Burning both of which (in addition to the efforts of both Sigel and Hunter) sprang from shared origins: Union General Thomas Ewing Jr's August 25th 1963 General Order #11 evicting the citizens of 4 SW Missouri counties along the Kansas border.

Missouri residents with proven Union loyalty were forcefully removed to designated encampments - their farms ostensibly marked for protection - while all other residents were required to vacate the entire 4 county area. Then, virtually all man-made structures, even those marked for pass over, were first looted, then burned - homes, barns, smokehouses, stores, warehouses, shops, mills, bridges, churches - all systematically burnt to the ground by infamous Jayhawker Charles (Doc) Jennison.

Citizens unlucky enough to be caught trespassing and unable to prove previously held Union sympathies were often killed where they stood, even some loyal citizens, those with good horses or pretty wives and daughters, were also shot no matter how well or how long established their allegiance to the Union.

Missouri's Burnt District was a place of lawlessness, murder, and wanton indiscriminate destruction, a burning smoldering hell of vicious depravity.

And, like The Burning, too few historical accounts written by the victors include even grudging mention of the horribly sad and bitter story of Missouri's Burnt District. Although for many long years after the war ended isolated standing stone and brick chimneys, called Jennison's Monuments, offered silent proof of the Union's first official scorched earth campaign and the monstrous human suffering it caused.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks for the comment and the education RL.

ropelight said...

RGW, if you can, please edit my comment to correct the date of Thomas Ewing's Order #11.

It was issued in 1863, not 1963.

Additionally, If you're interested, I have more information on Ewing's directly personal and long standing connections to both Sherman and Sheridan. The dots connect.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Can't edit - but I assumed the typo. You corrected with your request. Yes, I'd be interested.